|Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Jimmy Smits
Director: George Lucas
And so it has come to this. It seems strange that the world is so impatient to see a movie with an ending they’ve known for 22 years. But there is an odd appeal to seeing someone fall from grace, and an even greater appeal to seeing them pay dearly for doing so. This is what carries “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” in the end. It is not the fight sequences (though they are exquisite), or the fantastic new worlds (even if it begs the question of how things were more advanced in the early days of the series than they are at the end), and it sure as hell isn’t the wafer thin love story. No, what makes this movie work is watching Anakin Skywalker break our hearts, and ultimately serve as a textbook example of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The story continues where “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” left off. The Republic is still at war with the clone army, which is run by a four-armed baddie named General Grievous. Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDarmaid) has requested that Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) become his new representative on the Jedi council. The Jedi council has a problem with this, since to do so would mean to make Anakin a Jedi master, for which they do not feel he is ready. However, they do allow Anakin to join the committee (without the ranking of Master) and want him to keep spy and report on the Chancellor’s dealings to the council, which is technically an act of treason.
This puts Palpatine in the odd position of looking like the righteous one compared to the Jedi council, and Anakin believes that his new master will do the right thing. Fool. Palpatine has his own plans for Anakin, and uses Anakin’s love for the pregnant Padmé (Natalie Portman, likely doing a happy dance as you read this) as a means to manipulate Anakin and lure him into betraying the Jedi council. I do believe you know the rest.
The same things that crippled Episodes I and II are at work here; the dialogue is painfully stilted, and some truly gifted actors come up shockingly lame (Samuel L. Jackson and Portman in particular, hence the happy dance). To Lucas’ credit, these flaws are nowhere near as considerable as they were the last two times around, though nearly each actor dies a small thespian death. Witness:
Anakin, after realizing that he has betrayed the Jedi: “What have I done?”
Padmé, when she sees how power has corrupted Anakin: “I don’t even know you anymore!”
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor), in his climactic fight scene with Anakin: “I loved you like a brother!”
Anakin/Darth Vader, when presented with a horrible truth: “Nooooooooooo!”
Dreadful, right? Luckily, while dialogue continues to elude and mock Lucas, he has the story in his corner, for the first time since “Return of the Jedi.” That Midichlorian, Jango Fett nonsense is history, and in its place is something that we can invest some actual emotion into. Anakin’s comeuppance is both brutal and well deserved (if you haven’t heard what becomes of him yet, you won’t hear it here), but also pitiful. Lucas said early on that when he finished the prequels, he wanted people to feel sorry for Darth Vader the first time they see him in Episode IV. He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams.
Now that the story has come full circle, it appears that Lucas was always his own phantom menace. Since the success of the first three “Star Wars” movies afforded him the luxury of working outside the studio system and making the movies himself, Lucas never had to deal with script meetings, or studios bringing in ringers to punch things up, two things that, while seemingly evil, would have done a world of good to the prequels as a whole. After all, everyone still loves “Star Wars,” but people generally agree that “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” benefited from snappier dialogue under someone else’s direction. As good as “Revenge of the Sith” is, one can’t help but think that a studio would have found the right people – James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, Doug Liman, Kevin Smith, even Michael Bay – to make it something extraordinary. And there you are. “Sith” is excellent, but it had the makings of being something otherworldly.