A Force, Not Forced
Movie Review - Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith
By David Parker
May 10, 2005
No other film series has created moviegoer division quite like Star Wars. Some loved every moment of every film and would never admit any fault by Lucas. Others never saw the draw of the series, even hated the films, and eventually all six people formed an alliance that sparked the genesis of Box Office Prophets (I kid, I kid). Most, though, either liked or loved the original series, including critics who generally consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the greatest science-fiction film in history.
Things became even more devisive once The Phantom Menace hit theatres. Again, there were some who - however puzzlingly - loved each moment, placing it on the altar of worship just like the holy trilogy before it. The haters still hated, except now they had a trump card. It was easy enough to point to the horrific Phantom Menace and say, "They all sucked. You guys just didn't notice it before." Still, the majority had a sinking feeling that George Lucas had simply lost the ability to make the type of films he did before. There was no passion in his filmmaking anymore. Ironically, he was more machine now, twisted and evil (well, it's hyperbole, but have you seen his neck? It may take over the world.) Lucas has constantly warned of technology overtaking humanity, but had begun doing just that in his own filmmaking. Gone were the sets. We were left with green screens; puppets were replaced with computer-generated characters; even the celluloid itself was upgraded with ones and zeroes. Progress, for Lucas, meant a reliance on special effects over story. The magic was gone.
Nothing much changed with Attack Of The Clones. The congregation again prostrated toward everything Star Wars. The haters hated. A final 30 minutes that gave us a glimpse of the Clone Wars was only a marginal improvement over the atrocious first film. The magic was still nowhere to be found.
Here's where I stand on the first five films: Star Wars, while flawed, is the best "go get the bad guys" film ever made; The Empire Strikes Back is compelling and beautifully told. Return of the Jedi is unfairly judged due to the Ewoks, but might have the best storyline and action sequences of all six films. The Phantom Menace never engaged me and left me cold. Other than the final battle, I could say the same for Attack of the Clones.
Which leads us to Star Wars Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith. First, let's focus on what is still bad. The dialogue is just as stilted and forced. In this trilogy, more so than the first, Lucas seems intent on having his characters speak some other language. The actors aren't quite sure how to speak it, and I was just as uncertain hearing it.
Terms like "younglings" instead of children just grated on my nerves, especially with the emotional impact those characters are supposed to convey. The awkward wording falls flat because the actors don't seem to be married to the dialogue. Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor - all great performers - fall victim to the pitfalls of Lucasspeak at one time or another. The actor needs to be able to convey the emotion of the lines while making us understand just what the hell they are saying. Imagine an unsure Olivier delivering the "To Be or Not To Be" speech.
Tied to the wording deficiency is a gag-worthy romance. I think it might be possible to get more chemistry from two mannequins or one amoeba than Anakin and Padme. It's as if Lucas is trying to hypnotize his audience into believing the couple is in love by having his characters say it over and over again. One hilarious moment has Padme wistfully remembering a time in "Attack of the Clones" when all there was was her and Anakin's love. Filmmaking sleight-of-hand 101: If you can't create a feeling in a certain scene, have the actors think of a time when it did occur, then just go on merrily like it just happened again. The effort is frustratingly sophomoric, and honestly, had Padme pulled a scrapbook riddled with "Mrs. Anakin Skywalker" signatures, I wouldn't have been surprised.
Now, on to the improvements. The directing is much more focused. This film actually is faster and more intense than previous installments. Although the actors are given horrid dialogue, Lucas seems to have been able to express the emotion of each situation to them far better than anything in the first two films. It helps that "Revenge of the Sith" is probably the only film in the trilogy that truly needed to be told. Really, all the important aspects of films prior could have been told in a five minute flashback or an added paragraph on the opening plot scroll. Would any fans really miss the Gungan battle in "The Phantom Menace"?
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
Lucas must have realized early on that this had to be a convincing internal struggle for Anakin and directed accordingly. There are actual quiet moments of anguish, confusion, betrayal, and loss for Anakin, Obi-Wan, and even Yoda. People aren't thinking about feeling in this installment, they really are feeling. There's no better evidence of this than Chancellor Palpatine's seduction of Anakin.
There have been comparisons to Othello in the Emperor/Vader turn to the darkside and rightfully so. The lines of good and evil are blurred. Anakin is simultaneously asked to both spy on Palpatine and be a spy for him, neither of which is in the Jedi code. On top of that, Anakin has nightmares of Padme's death during childbirth and is told by Palpatine that only the dark side of the force can save her. When the eldest Skywalker chooses to try to save his bride, it's somewhat understandable. The Jedi are veiled in secrecy and are asking him to betray himself just as much as Sidious is. Sidious alone offers answers for Anakin. What he believes will be the saving of Padme in reality becomes the sole reason she dies. It's a tragedy that we all knew was coming, but it unfolds in shades of grey that I wasn't expecting.
Outside of The Empire Strikes Back, the final 30 minutes of Revenge of the Sith might be the greatest in Star Wars history. Only a silly droid line about Padme's impending doom mars the landscape. The molten lava-filled Obi-Wan and Anakin lightsaber duel is magnificent, but it's the scene that follows that packs an emotional punch. It is heartbreaking to watch a teacher see his student fall so far into darkness. It's also a revelation to know that even after his turn from grotesquely burned, half-man into the mechanical Darth Vader, Anakin still only wants Padme to live. Darth Vader: the calculating, epitomy of evil in the first trilogy is now forever reduced to a broken-hearted, love-obsessed, power monger. Viewing the Stars Wars universe will be so much different now. The magic might still be dead, but the force of George Lucas' filmmaking is once again alive.