Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!!!
“The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.” –Yoda
It can be argued that “Revenge of the Sith” is the most complex story in the “Star Wars” franchise, delivering the tragic end of Jedi student Anakin Skywalker and the becoming of the dark lord Darth Vader. Though, I won’t go as far as to say it’s the best film in the series, as it does have its problems that keep it from the status of either the original “Star Wars’ or “The Empire Strikes Back.” But it is still an important chapter in the series that, in a way, improves the other chapters.
“Revenge of the Sith” is the entry in the saga that fans have waited for since the late-1970s. How did Anakin become Darth Vader? In 2005, with George Lucas’ third prequel, they finally got their answer. Anakin was not merely seduced by the power of the dark side of the Force but influenced into believing the dark side can help him save the one he loved, only to pay a hefty price in the end as he became the ruler of the evil Empire we know from the original trilogy. His passion and fear was exploited by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who turned him away from the Jedi. The Jedi themselves can’t be ignored either, for they played a part in the creation of Darth Vader by making poor decisions.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The film begins with one of the best extended action sequences in the history of the franchise, as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) are on a mission to rescue Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from the clutches of Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and his droid ally, General Grievous. This takes up the first half-hour of the film. It’s thrilling, it looks great, and even has time for some humor and banter between our two heroes. (I also give it extra points for our favorite droid, R2-D2, managing to take out enemy droids with his resources—I don’t care who you are; that is awesome.) What they don’t know is that it was all staged to give Palpatine a chance to connect with Anakin in order to manipulate him. Palpatine works like the devil, doing a very good job getting to Anakin and feeding his inner demons. This is a crucial time in Anakin’s life—his secret wife, Padme (Natalie Portman), is pregnant, which is going to be an issue seeing as how Jedi are forbidden to fall in love. Anakin also has visions of Padme dying in childbirth and fears for her life. At the same time, the Jedi council have their doubts about Anakin as a Jedi, despite Yoda claiming he is “the Chosen One.” Thus, when Anakin has to make decide what to do for Padme as well as his own life, Palpatine is there to lure him over to the dark side…
Manipulation. Betrayal. Tragedy. Irony. All that and more help make “Revenge of the Sith” become, in my opinion, one of the best “Star Wars” films. Even if we know how it will all end (with Anakin turning evil, the Jedi facing defeat in the war, Obi-Wan confronting Anakin, and Anakin becoming Darth Vader), the joy comes from seeing how everything will play out. It leads to an ending that is all the more tragic in that the very thing he swore to protect has died (in childbirth, having given birth to Luke and Leia, the heroes of Episodes IV-VI) and now he has joined the Empire as a dark lord. To add on to that final nail in the coffin, Palpatine makes Anakin believe it was his fault, and by default, the Jedi’s fault too!
Palpatine is one of the most joyfully despicable villains in film history. Fans are quick to make fun of him for his cackling and screaming (and his infamously silly “NO…NO…NO!!!” scream), but when he’s not doing any of that nonsense, he’s cold and calculating, manipulating Anakin cunningly and effectively. He’s able to use Anakin’s fear, guilt, hopes, etc. to see the Jedi in a different way and lose sense of who he is and what he’s fighting for. He’s responsible for the Empire’s most horrifying ally and you can see he’s able to make anyone join him if given the right amount of time with that person.
George Lucas has always been a masterful storyteller, even if his direction and writing still don’t work as strongly as they should. Some of the dialogue is better than in the previous prequels, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” with the exception of some (thankfully-) brief romantic banter and moments when they simply bellow how they feel (I’ll get to Darth Vader’s big reaction at the end later), but his direction still shows some weaknesses occasionally. He’s much better at directing darker material than comedic moments and when it comes to directing actors, he has a lot of responsibility he sometimes isn’t able to follow through with. (I’ll get to that latter element in the next paragraph.) The bigger moments in the film are very well-handled and give fans probably more then they expected to see, especially after seeing what Lucas did wrong with the previous two films.
Hayden Christensen is often criticized for his performance as Anakin Skywalker. But I think it’s unfair, because personally, I think Lucas has had some trouble directing actors to say dialogue properly in these movies. Christensen does his best when reciting these lines, and honestly, he’s better as the tragic figure than as the whiny teenager Anakin was in “Attack of the Clones.” But there are times when he is unable to successfully pull these lines off (especially when he yells) and he comes off as dull. I can’t blame it on him, because he’s not the director—Lucas should have given more guidance to this performance, as well as the other actors’ performances, for that matter. Even Ewan McGregor, who is usually known as the best actor in the prequels, has his offbeat moments as well (remember the close-up on his eyes, during which he taunted and grunted sporadically?) that can be blamed on mediocre directing. That can also explain McDiarmid’s silliness in certain parts of the film. And so, I’d leave Christensen alone—he’s trying, he’s acted well in other films (like “Shattered Glass”), he’s better here than in “Attack of the Clones,” and when his character turns to evil, it’s very believable.
And yes…let’s get to that infamously laughable reaction from Darth Vader upon learning of Padme’s death. He stands himself up and shouts “NO!!!” Audiences were laughing and/or groaning at this response…but I didn’t mind it that much. Yes, it can seem silly out of context and it is another example of Lucas allowing his characters to shout how they feel rather than physically show it. But when you really think about the situation and what Anakin went through to try and save Padme (really think about it—the very reason he joined the dark side in the first place was to protect the woman he loved), it’s hard to blame him for having that reaction. It is a bit perplexing for one of the most badass villains in cinema history to do something Anakin Skywalker would do (hey wait a minute!), but when you think of the dread he must’ve been feeling, it’s a sensible response.
Overall, I feel that “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” is a good film. It’s leaps and bounds above Episodes I and II and arguably even better than Episode VI (which is a fine chapter in its own right). It’s suitably dark, full of several little moments that make up for the film’s weaknesses (Anakin’s reaction to Padme being pregnant; the scene in which Palpatine uses a story to further influence Anakin; moments that lead into Episode IV, which the film obviously brides into; and more), and adds plenty of depth to all the other chapters of the series. And you can tell this is the “Star Wars” film Lucas has wanted to make for a long time and it’s the story fans wanted to see. The result is not a perfect sci-fi film but a compelling one nonetheless.
NOTE: I forgot to mention the final confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan on a river of lava… It looks like a video game level. There, I said it. This review’s already pretty long, so I’ll just say I’ll forgive the film for that flaw.