Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

1 out of 5

Directed by: George Lucas

I did not enjoy the first two prequel Star Wars, but they each had sections during which I thought the movies might not be so bad, and would perhaps be better than history (I’m only first watching them decades after the fact) had led me to believe.  Other sections would end up negatively weighing down that thought, but at least moments of hope existed.  I can’t say the same for Episode III: the opening action sequence, a rescue of Senator Palpatine by Obi-Wan and Anakin, has some inventive design work and acceptable choreography, but it’s tired; it’s a retread of things already attempted in Episode II, if showing off some atypically spirited direction from Lucas.  The punctuation of this sequence is the first of several groan worthy moments during which Anakin is “manipulated” – in quotes because I’m not sure if holding someone’s hand and telling them what to do is manipulation – toward the Dark Side of the Force, and Episode III makes clear its sole agenda: to connect this film, as obviously as possible, to the original trilogy.  We get a rinse and repeat of this process throughout: forced, extensive action sequences (that seem rather video game inspired); some obvious moment where Anakin says or does something that can’t possibly be interpreted as anything other than self-serving, but his wife and mates are just like, “aw, Ani, you so silly;” and then some Star Wars IV, V or VI callback.  It starts to become painful when we need to track both Obi-Wan’s storyline – on the hunt for the separatist General Grevious – and Anakin’s – hanging out with Palpatine – storyline, as Lucas (and / or editors Roger Barton and Ben Burtt) proves to have the most atrocious sense of pacing: when one side of the story reaches a crescendo, we cut to the other.  That builds, then we cut back.  Instead of stacking up peaks, it just creates disruption, and that each scene simply picks up right where it previously left off makes the passage of time nonsense, as well as calling into question the need to do the back and forth in the place.

And then: Order 66.  This is the order called in by the badguy which kicks off the turn of events that essentially leads to The Empire, but it’s hilarious overkill: everyone in the Republic, except the Jedi, Padmé, and Senator Organa, just flips an on-switch to be evil, including our wavering Anakin, who suddenly has it in him to just put up his Dark Lord hood and be all killy, earning us a PG-13 rating.

From here on out, it’s just boss showdowns (againly horrendously stitched together) and beating us over the head with original trilogy “symbolism.”  I tried to halt my frustration with this and ask: would this be effective if I hadn’t seen the original trilogy?  Meaning: maybe I’m triggered because I think the callbacks are forced, when, perhaps if taken on their own terms, they work?

I’ll accept that argument.  But the overly soapy and obvious manner in which Lucas has constructed these films really prevents me from seeing that: he’s assumed meaning and importance this whole way through his prequels, never quite serviced by what we see or hear, and that’s at its worst – in my opinion – in Revenge of the Sith.

Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan) and Jimmy Smits (Senator Organa) struggle through their clunky dialogue to deliver relatively solid performances, but Natalie Portman (Padmé) is whittled down to a cliché bleating idiot, although sufficiently matched by Hayden Christensen’s (Anakin) mealy-mouthed idiocy and whining.