Originally reviewed on 5/20/05
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars)
by Andrew Olson
To watch Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is to return to a magical place. For me, that time and place began in 1977 when I went to Uptown Theater in Richland, Washington, on a warm summer's night. I remember hearing a few good things about Star Wars from other kids, but I wasn't prepared for the out-of-body experience the film would induce.
I remember watching that opening shot of star destroyer flying overhead for what seemed like 10 minutes, and I must have stopped eating my popcorn. I went home and dreamed of the battle over the Death Star all night. Little did I know that the effect of Star Wars would only grow stronger as I got older.
I bring up that first Star Wars experience, because after seeing Revenge of the Sith I felt the same level of excitement as I did when I was 10 years old?but Revenge of the Sith has five other Star Wars films to build on. It also has the advantage of being the final piece of the puzzle.
Revenge of the Sith is, as one critic put it, "A flawed masterpiece." George Lucas has succeeded in creating a film where you can't tell the difference between the special effects and reality. While great effects have always been the hallmark of the Star Wars films, they really seem to shine in this one. The screen vibrates with color.
The film opens with one of the most spectacular space battles ever seen on the screen. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are on a mission to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). There's more action and special effects in the first 10 or 15 minutes of Sith than probably the entire Star Wars Episode IV film.
After the opening battle, the film centers on Anakin's turn to the Dark Side of the Force. But that crucial plot point doesn't happen until about the middle of the film, so there's a lot of buildup. Unfortunately, the part that should be the strongest?Anakin's love for Padm� (Natalie Portman) and fear of losing her?is the film's weakest element. In short, all of the scenes between Anakin and Padm� are almost unwatchable. You come away thinking Natalie Portman is a terrible actress, and Hayden Christensen isn't any better. But I wondered if this wasn't how Lucas wanted it. He's heard enough criticism about Episode II, so this must be why he's clearly going through the motions with the love story. This is why the film is a flawed masterpiece.
And just when you think the bad acting and writing is limited to the love story, you get Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) acting like a cardboard box. (And we all know Samuel L. can act.) Obviously the director didn't mind the wooden performances.
This wooden, one-dimensional acting also robs the audience of experiencing Anakin's fear and conflict, which eventually leads him down the dark path. Again, I don't know if it's Hayden's acting chops or Lucas's directing. In the end, it doesn't matter. You see what he's going through; you just don't feel it.
All these weaknesses aside, as Anakin slips toward the Dark Side, the momentum picks up and emotions run high. There were times I felt myself getting a little choked up (no, I didn't cry). You realize that this young man, who was just a kid in Episode I, is really changing into Darth Vader. And as he becomes Vader, his actions become truly horrific.
Two actors really shine in this movie: Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid. Both create complex characters and make you feel the emotions they're feeling. I was particularly impressed with McGregor's Obi-Wan, who displays bristling confidence and shattered pride at the same time. At the end, you feel his pain of knowing he made the wrong choice in training Anakin.
There are also two digital characters that come off really well, too: Yoda and R2-D2. Yoda was digital in the last film (with Frank Oz doing the voice), but in this one you forget you're watching computer animation. I'm pretty sure that much of R2 was animated in Revenge of the Sith, too, but you can't tell.
Throughout the entire film, you start to see things that resonate with the other films. It's as simple as seeing the stark white interior of the Tantive IV (the ship that becomes the blockade runner corvette, the first image we see in Episode IV) getting chased by the Star Destroyer. Or seeing the new Jedi Starfighters that look a lot like TIE Fighters. Or seeing the Darth Vader mask for the first time. All these images are mythically loaded, and Lucas uses them to his full advantage.
At the end of the film, you realize we've come full circle. Lucas drops us off where the adventure began (for many of us in 1977). It's more than pure nostalgia; it's the sense of seeing all the pieces fit together. And even though Lucas has said he won't do any more Star Wars movies, you can bet there will be more Star Wars stories?on the big or the little screen, in books or games, or maybe on Broadway (hey, it could happen). The Star Wars universe has a life of its own and will continue to entertain us well into the future.
Here are a few stills:
Anakin turns to the dark side
Queen Amidala and Obi-Wan
Chewie and friend
Darth Vader comes to life
Star Wars fire fighters
The Leia hairstyle returns
Dual of the Fates II
Star cruiser battle