R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Some Revenge of the Sith Thoughts

It’s odd to think about Star Wars finally coming to an end. For the first 26 years of my life, no other series has given me the joy that Star Wars has. The first theater experience of my life that I can remember was The Empire Strikes Back and I’ve never looked back. From the toys, to the games, to the films themselves, Star wars hasn’t just been a movie series, it’s been a big part of my life.

As I sat there writing a review for Episode III it dawned on me that I needed to use my column this week to really get my feelings out on the film. I know this is not my typical format for my column, but Star Wars has never been an ordinary subject with me. Anyone that would like my usual plot synopsis can find it here in my original review. Thanks for bearing with me this week as I just want to be able to express my thoughts. I’ve been so desperate to write about Star Wars that I even devoted a whole column to The Ewok Adventures, so its nice to be able to just write about one of the main films. Consider this an appendix to my main review.

Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith Starring Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. Directed by George Lucas.

For those of you who were disappointed by The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones but stayed true to your Star Wars love, Revenge of the Sith bears sweet fruit. George Lucas’ Epic series culminates in the death of a Republic, the birth of Luke and Leia, the rebirth of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, and perhaps the best cinematic sword battle ever. Episode III moves at a breakneck pace as Clones, Droids, Jedi, and Wookies fight epic battles, The Emperor takes control of the galaxy and Anakin loses his soul. The film easily weaves the two trilogies together as Lucas takes his place as creator of the greatest series of films ever. But Lucas does not do it all on his own, he has help from an amazing array of cast and crew.

Ewan McGregor is simply awesome as Obi-Wan. In his other outings in the role, he was criminally underused, specifically in Phantom Menace. While the film was bogged down with Jake Lloyd’s terrible line reading and the digital shenanigans of Jar Jar Binks, McGregor and consummate professional Liam Neeson did their best to shoulder the burden with good chemistry between them. McGregor was even partly responsible for the film’s real bright spot, the three-way duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui Gon Jinn (Neeson), and Darth Maul (Ray Park).

McGregor seemed a little more comfortable the second time out in Attack of the Clones. Reveling in his scenes, McGregor’s Obi Wan was a confident Jedi, trying to deal with an apprentice coming into his powers too fast for either of their good. While audiences groaned at the love scenes of Episode II, McGregor’s Obi-Wan was on a spy mission to seek out the identity of a bounty hunter who had tried to assassinate Natalie Portman’s Senator Amidala. Obi-Wan once again was a man of action, taking on Temuera Morrison’s Jango Fett in fierce hand to hand combat, and shining in scenes opposite Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku.

Revenge of the Sith is McGregor’s shining achievement in the series. Before, McGregor seemed to be only adequately filling the shoes of a legend. Here McGregor creates real chemistry with Hayden Christensen as he is able to drop most of his role as mentor for Anakin and instead just be his onscreen friend. Many of McGregor’s scenes are light and his quips are razor sharp. The final duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan is truly noteworthy, not only because the fight itself is fast and furious, but because there is real drama in the fight. For the first time in the series since Darth Vader threatened to turn Princess Leia to the dark side of the Force in Return of the Jedi, a lightsaber fight has a real dramatic heartbeat. You want the two to stop and work it out, but once the inertia of the fight gets going, there’s no stopping until its inevitable conclusion. McGregor is the heart of Episode III and is the rightful heir to title of the Galactic Republic’s greatest Jedi.

The other consistent actor of the Prequels is Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine. Through all the problems with dialogue and plot development, McDiarmid has made Palpatine into one of the best cinematic villains of the genre since…well, since Darth Vader. McDiarmid nimbly steps through the film’s dialogue as Palpatine weaves doubt into Anakin mind. Palpatine persuades Skywalker not with dreams of power and riches, but by treating Anakin as a real person with very human feelings and tendencies. Because the Jedi treat Anakin as a child and really don’t listen to his problems, Anakin feels he has no choice but to follow Palpatine. Palpatine confides in him, trusts him and acts like a father figure should. Palpatine is able to tap into the one thing that would drive him to the dark side of the Force; his love for Padme and his concern for her safety.

It is odd to note that there are really three exemplary performances in the film, but the last one is totally digital. The wizards of Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas, and Frank Oz all combined their efforts to make Yoda seem as real as he ever has on screen. Perhaps no character is rooted for so vehemently as the little green Jedi that we first saw in The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda’s screen time is enough to make those in audiences rejoice as he helped the Wookies in their battle on Kashyyyk, and then as he dispatches Clone assassins who turn on him, without much effort.

All eyes are fixed on the Jedi Master as he fights for his life in the Republic’s Senate Chamber against the evil Palpatine. The scene is difficult to watch at times as one of the Republic’s biggest heroes is humbled by the new Emperor and sent scurrying through tunnels to try and make it to safety. Many things were done to make Yoda as real as possible from improved CGI to little touches like making him rub the back of his head (a salute to Seven Samurai’s Takashi Shimura who frequently did that as he was deep in thought). Yoda’s virtual performance is another stepping stone in the world of effects and CGI characters just as Gollum was in Lord of the Rings.

Hayden Christensen gives Anakin all he’s got this time out. Already in the hole when he inherited the role from Jake Lloyd, Christensen won little support last time out with his flat delivery of lines. The dialogue between him and Padme was bad, but McGregor and McDiarmid both had shown in the past that good acting can get you by. Scenes with Padme are not much better this time out. Visually each scene works spectacularly, but when they speak, the sentiments from the Hallmark Greeting Card Store of Naboo return. Much better are his scenes with McGregor and McDiarmid. Anakin’s friendship with Obi-Wan never seems anything less than genuine. They finish each others lines and have a banter that seemed a little forced in Clones, but is quite natural here. McDiarmid and Christensen also seem very comfortable on screen together, making the slow portion of the film go quite smoothly when sharing screen time.

The scenes showing Anakin’s inner struggle between what he thinks is right for the Jedi and what is right for him personally are actually quite effective. Much has been made about Anakin’s turn and how people think it happens too quickly. Anakin’s turn actually began in the last film as the loss of his mother was a tragic event leading to the slaughter of an entire village of Sand People. In Revenge of the Sith is he supposed to let Padme suffer the same fate as his mother (as the Jedi suggest), or does he listen to the man who has listened to him more than anyone else? A wordless scene with Anakin alone in the Jedi Temple and Padme alone in her apartment is striking for its visual poetry. It paints a somber picture of a man torn between what he needs for himself and what he owes his Republic. Anakin’s rage also helps fuel the fight with Obi-Wan, and Christensen does some of his best work here. He is full of hate and anger without chewing up too much scenery or hamming it up. Much of the work is done simply with his eyes.

Natalie Portman finally gets to really emote in this installment of the Prequels. Not held down with huge costumes or platitudes, she gets to simply be a woman trying to deal with a husband suffering with difficult personal choices. Not worried about her pregnancy, she simply wants to be with the man she loves and raise her new child. Unfortunately she is still saddled with dialogue that the cast of Golden Girls would find old fashioned to a fault. Two good scenes for her character Padme are included in the film though. A final scene with her and Obi-Wan brings to the forefront her feelings for Anakin and her helplessness to save him. Another is her last attempt to sway Anakin from the dark side. Her heartbreak is evident all over her face as she does the best she can with what she is given.

Other performers in the film make the most of their limited screen time. Jimmy Smits is surprisingly good as Bail Organa. It almost makes me sad that his involvement has been so small in the last two films because his screen presence in Revenge of the Sith is warming and fits in quite nicely as to what the character should be in the series. Samuel L Jackson’s Mace Windu is a behemoth of masculinity. Jackson’s only fight scene is a smackdown of epic proportions and the look on his face at one point in the fight would make a normal man shrivel up with fright.

I may have been taking John Williams for granted the last few years. After disappointing scores for the previous two installments as well as the excruciatingly sappy Patriot score, the composer is in top form here. The man who gave us unforgettable works in The Indiana Jones Trilogy, the original Star Wars Trilogy and Superman gives us a score that perfectly mirrors the emotions George Lucas creates with images . Making the high points count, William’s score is perfection.

The “Wow” factor in special effects films hasn’t really been as impressive in the last few years. With exceptions, like Lord of the Rings and Spiderman 2, many effects laden blockbusters have left viewers numb. Over indulgent junk-food cinema such as Van Helsing and The Matrix Reloaded rubbed audiences the wrong way as plastic looking werewolves and Neos fought with other fake combatants in video game style combat. This is not the case in Revenge of the Sith. Lucas and ILM have crafted a vibrant world that outdoes either of its own predecessors. Episode II had the tendency to make things look as though its actors were walking through digital paintings. They were beautiful paintings, but not as real as some of the worlds could have been. Sith feels as if the planet around the actors is real and the danger they are in is real also. While neither of the Prequels have won the Best Special Effects Oscar, Sith not winning would be an absolute crime.

George Lucas has finally made good on the promises of Prequel Trilogy. Even with the disdain of fans disappointed with Menace and Clones, Revenge of the Sith is brave film making that goes as dark as needs to be. Lucas also constructed a story that turns the greatest villain of THE popcorn movie franchise of all time into a real human being, whose motivations are about love and loss, not a typical power struggles. While Lucas the writer made some definite wrong choices, such as Vader’s “Noooooooooooooo” at the end of the film or the inclusion or the reason for Padme’s end, Lucas the director is amazingly confident here. His opening shot of the two fighters keeps going and going in this Brian Deplama-esque shot (only on a much grander scale). Lucas also had the foresight to include locations for action sequences that Star Wars cultists have dreamed of including the Republic Senate Chamber and the Wookie planet of Kashyyyk.

As I go into Star Wars withdrawal, I have a big smile on my face knowing that my faith in George Lucas’ Force has never faltered, and now I’ve been rewarded. Revenge of the Sith is a wonderful experience that left me exasperated with delight. Now that my Star Wars euphoria has lifted, I remain really excited, but also very sad. No more will I witness lightsaber battles or Force lightning on the big screen. No more will a film series make me feel just as I did when I was five years old and saw Return of the Jedi for the first time. I’m left with a lifetime of happiness that this one series has brought me and I wonder if anything else can even come close to it. I can only hope that the next generation has a tale that will fill their lives with the joy Star Wars has brought me.