|Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith
As everyone knows, it all started back in 1977 with STAR WARS, George Lucas’ ode to the
sci-fi space operas of his youth. Before audiences fully embraced the mythology and the characters,
though, they were somewhat dismissive, at least the ones I recall. When the trailer for the first film
played in theaters in Boston in early 1977, people would mutter and there were even hisses and boos.
The movie looked cheesy and the expectation was that it would be on par with the low-budget serials
of the 1930s. Few knew that STAR WARS would become the massive phenomenon that it did.
What’s also curious about that first trilogy is that Lucas wise ceded much of the actual work
on the two sequels. Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan crafted the screenplay from Lucas’
detailed story and the direction was turned over to Irvin Kershner for THE EMPIRE STRIKES
BACK (1980). Similarly, Kasdan collaborated with Lucas on the script and Richard Marquand
handled the direction for THE RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). One might argue that the influx
of other talent enervated the franchise. Lucas could do what he did best (conceive the vision) and
trust others to realize it for him.
When after what seemed like eons, Lucas decided to tell the first part of his story in three films
beginning with THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) and extending through THE ATTACK OF
THE CLONES (2002) to the latest REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005), he opted to write and
to direct all three. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that these are some of the weaker entries into the
franchise. Still, REVENGE OF THE SITH manages to provide a certain amount of thrills, beginning
with its slam bang opening, with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewen McGregor) and Annakin Skywalker
(Hayden Christensen) on a mission to rescue the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).
It’s an exciting, videogame-like shoot ‘em up that immediately plunges the audience into the fray.
This final chapter is less talky and less expository than the first two prequels, which is an
immediate improvement. There’s some clever interpolation of contemporary politics (the Sith revenge
means the destruction of the Republic and rise of the fascistic Empire, and Lucas gently but pointedly
gets the point across by having Amidala (Natalie Portman) say, “So that’s how liberty dies. With
thunderous applause.” It’s a chilling moment.
When it comes to romance, Lucas seems to have attended the same classes as James Cameron,
whose script for the visually stunning TITANIC (1997) was its weakest link. The dialogue between
Annakin and Amidala is sappy at best and does little to advance the plot.
The main thrust of the film, of course, is how and why Annakin went over to the Dark Side
and evolved into the creature audiences know as Darth Vader. The explanation provided is plausible,
but lacks something. It’s less the fault of the actors involved, than in the tepid screenplay.
Of course, REVENGE OF THE SITH is going to be one of those “critic-proof” films. Some
will embrace Lucas’ vision. For my part, I found my attention wandering and was less than engaged.
One of the drawbacks of this prequel is that audiences know who survives and who doesn’t (at least
anyone who has seen the films from the 1970s and 80s). So when certain characters are imperiled,
the rooting interest isn’t there as I already was aware of the outcome of the life or death situation.
(As an example, we know Obi-Wan Kenobi survives, so when he faces off against a villain, it’s clear
who is going to go down.)
As a storyteller, Lucas has a great deal of skill. As a filmmaker, he seems more interested in the
visual and digital effects than in the actors. As such, it’s been pretty much up to the performers to inject
life into the characters. Whether it’s because they know this is the last time they will be playing these
characters or if some other Force is at work, the cast more than rises to the challenge. McGregor is
more relaxed, Christensen is more centered, and Portman (although she doesn’t really have much
to do) manages to make a stronger impression than in the other films.
Lucas is perhaps to be commended for finally achieving his vision and completing the first part of
the story. While there was once talk of sequels to the original films, he appears to have backed off on
that, at least for now. But in Hollywood, one never says never.
Running time: 140 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images
Viewed at the Ziegfield Theater
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.