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Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith
Reviewed by Jeff Quick, © 2005

Format: Movie
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   Wide release May 19, 2005
Review Date:   May 17, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Star Wars and I have a relationship. This isn’t saying much to an American between the ages of roughly 30 and 40. We all have relationships with Star Wars. My girlfriend says she went with her very first boyfriend in fifth grade because he looked a little like Luke Skywalker.

My relationship, however, is deeper than most. I was editor-in-chief of Star Wars Insider magazine for a while, and I got to see inside the Lucasfilm machine. About a year and a half past Episode I, I sat in the more-comfortable-than-my-bed overstuffed chair in the screening room at Skywalker Ranch and saw a very rough cut of Episode II. The going was geeky, and the geek turned pro.

I also carried a dirty secret. I didn’t like Episode I or Episode II. Now, disliking those two movies is hardly earth-shattering, even for professional geeks. In fact, it’s more of a sign of good taste. But as an emissary of Star Wars, I had to be positive. I couldn’t say I didn’t like those movies. When people asked me what I thought, I would talk about how impressive the special effects were, and how neat it was to see Jedi in full bloom with super powers and sword fights to shame Errol Flynn. Again and again, my own little Jedi mind trick removed me from the awkward situation of having to say, “They were kind of terrible, actually.”

And now there’s this new thing, Revenge of the Sith.

Creator and director George Lucas, says people might not like it because it’s dark and doesn’t have a happy ending. Once again though, despite George’s powerful imagination, he tells us in so many words that he doesn’t imagine his audience well. We don’t care if a movie has a downer ending. We love The Empire Strikes Back, and that movie has such an inconclusive, unsettling end that sometimes I still wonder if I missed something.

No, dark endings are fine, as long as we get a good story. What we want are believable, interesting characters. We want to watch them make tough choices and react to hard consequences. We want to feels a story’s teeth instead of gums.

Finally, for the first time since circa 1983, a Star Wars movie has it.

In every Star Wars movie, some character says, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan Kenobi gets it out of the way within the first 10 minutes. Happily for theater-goers — and in marked contrast to the two most recent Star Wars films — he’s not just making meta-commentary.

Now, let’s be clear. Revenge of the Sith is not a really good movie. It has plot holes and awkward moments and some unconvincing acting, the likes of which you would not tolerate from a movie called Revenge of the Cyber-Spaceulons, or, say, I, Robot. But it isn’t actively bad like the The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and it does sport fun, sometimes moving moments.

The Power of the Dark Side

It’s hardly a spoiler to tell you that Revenge of the Sith reveals the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, and a civilization from an enlightened republic to a despotic empire.

Anakin’s fall receives plot justification, but feels forced. You see Anakin conflicted in the dialogue, but the emotion is too herky-jerky. In one scene he’s frightened and wants to learn the power of the Dark Side; in another scene he’s humble and thankful to Obi-Wan for teaching him; in another, he’s angry because he thinks the Jedi Council disrespects him. But there’s no cohesion in this conflict. Anakin’s descent doesn’t snowball as much as pinball into the Dark Side. One non-kid-friendly scene (on multiple levels) is just the right kind of horrific, though, cementing his villainy.

This aside, the principals now seem to have found the zen of acting in front of green screens. Natalie Portman has gone on record saying as much, but a few more years as a working actor have also seasoned her. Hayden Christiansen had some nigh-unwatchable moments in Attack of the Clones, although he had awful material; frankly, R2D2 had better lines in Episode II. Here he seems more in command of his craft. Ewan McGregor continues his yeoman-like work at making, if not silk, then at least a nice muslin out of a sow’s ear. Ian McDiarmid is never as compelling with his hood off as he is with it on, but he gets the job done. Perhaps George himself has even grown as a director of humans, though it still lags behind his mastery of editing and overseeing computer generated gew-gaws.

Technically, it’s easy to overlook just how striking Star Wars is, and always has been. Lucasfilm’s special effects department, Industrial Light and Magic, with no hyperbole, sets and breaks computer generated special effects standards. Other great effects houses exist, but none are as good as ILM.

Advances in this field are incremental these days, and comparitively subtle. Still, Revenge of the Sith is simply the best-looking sci-fi movie that’s happened yet. The look of the movie is superb, even compared to its prequel siblings.

However, computer horsepower is meaningless without a good design sense. Fortunately, Episode III has this by the truckload too. The design of Revenge of the Sith moves away from the semi-Art Deco look of the prequels, blending into the grungier classic look of the first set of movies. Architecture, ship design, costuming — all clearly veer toward A New Hope, making the visual transition a little more comfortable for when you inevitably go to watch it again.

Other points of interest:

Whoever makes mechanical hands in the Star Wars galaxy must be a billionaire, because people lose those things like car keys. The hand loss count here is the highest ever. Six go flying in this episode, though when a four-armed cyborg shows up, you’re really just telegraphing potential limb loss.

C-3P0 finally appears in his golden glory. But don’t expect him to be any less inept for the effort.

The oddest couple: Who knew Chewbacca and Yoda had a history?

The lava fight that geeks have been waiting for since they saw Ralph McQuarrie’s seminal painting in 1977 finally arrives, and leaves you with an icky feeling.

Where it all ends — smack in the middle — is a dim but satisfying place. It’s not dark like Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. I’m not sure Lucas has that kind of dark in him. But for sure, no Ewoks dance.

The Mask

Objectively, Revenge of the Sith probably won’t be on anybody’s top anything list. But I don’t know of anyone with enough objectivity to weigh in on this. So let’s not even pretend to try.

Instead, take this away with you to the theater (because you and I both know you’d go to see this movie even if this review consisted solely of the words “bantha poo-doo”): The thing that allowed our imaginations to jump to hyperdrive lo, the many years ago has caught up with us again.

Though flawed, Revenge of the Sith is powerful and flashy and the most enjoyable Star Wars movie of the recent batch. The running time of 2:20 is long, but never tedious, and when Darth Vader slips on the helmet and you hear James Earl Jones’s ominous voice, it’s appropriate and satisfying.

And mercifully, when someone asks me what I thought, I won’t have to resort to tricks. It’s not great cinema, but it’s a good enough movie. And it’s refreshing for a relationship to end so well.

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