Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Review
So this is where it all ends. After the abomination that was Episode I (The Phantom Menace), George Lucas redeemed himself with Attack of the Clones (well, at least the last forty minutes was pretty good) and then we saw the superior Clone Wars. These animated shorts (that could have quite easily sustained a movie) were almost exactly what we wanted from the main feature films and also went some way to make up for what had gone before. Now we get the concluding part in the Star Wars franchise - the movie that links this new trilogy of prequels to the original trilogy.
Right at the outset I have to WARN you that this review WILL contain SPOILERS. If you want a review without them then all I can say is that, like many 'important' concluding chapters (Matrix Revolutions, Return of the King and the concluding chapter to the original Star Wars Trilogy, Return of the Jedi all spring to mind), despite all of the possible flaws, it is worth completing the saga. Ideally for this review, you will have seen all of the preceding (and succeeding) movies, along with the Clone Wars animated saga (I will discuss the reasons why these are an integral part of the proceedings later on). If you haven't then you have your reasons and it is not worth convincing you to go and see the concluding chapter to a storyline that you will scarcely be able to fathom without having followed all the Star Wars lore that founds it. You have been warned.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”
Arguably Star Wars began with a series of ideas Lucas borrowed from the late, great Japanese Director Akira Kurosawa's signature Samurai movies - most notably The Hidden Fortress, which was about a Samurai and a Princess (escorted by a couple of bumbling servants) trying to get an important package across hostile territory. Lucas took this basic idea and ported it over into a futuristic universe, changing Samurai to Jedi (the only major difference being that they have light sabres instead of swords) and bumbling peasants to bumbling Droids and throwing in a fun mix of action and humour (as personified by Hans Solo) to counterbalance the more serious 'drama' - something which many have deemed is distinctly lacking from the more recent episodes, particularly this, the darkest, concluding chapter.
“You have become a far greater Jedi than I could ever hope to be.”
Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) was a resounding success and two sequels soon followed, concluding the first trilogy in the Star Wars legacy. A couple of decades later and Lucas went to work on a trilogy of prequels, which were to form the founding story behind the characters that went on to populate the original stories. The first movie introduced Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, who has now warmed to a role that was originally made by Alec Guinness), still a young apprentice to his Jedi Master when they come across the mysteriously gifted child, Anakin Skywalker (to be later played by an utterly wooden Hayden Christensen). Other than that it was a largely pointless escapade, a mixture of vapid pod-racer sequences, lacklustre light sabre battles and contrived dialogue. Not to mention Jar Jar Binks who irritating, hapless CG idiot who embodies the single worst in a long line of bad decisions Lucas made. The second movie developed the character of Anakin, graduating him to the apprentice position Ob-Wan held within the first film, with Kenobi himself moving up to become Anakin's Master. It also saw the major political machinations develop, as the purportedly good Republic is forced to unleash their new Clone army upon the Droid army commanded by the Separatist forces. Hence we get the Attack of the Clones. Often the outnumbered underdogs, it is fortunate that the Clones are effectively spearheaded by Jedi frontrunners and three years of ongoing conflict between the two determined forces seem interminable.
“Army or not, you must realise that you are doomed.”
During the Clone Wars animated series, we get to see how the war evolves, with Anakin facing increasing threats from the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, proving with this and Lord of the Rings that actors can sometimes have a second wind, even in their eighties) - who defeated him at the end of Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan becoming a General and facing his own demons whilst leading his Clone troops into battle and the Republic finally looking as it is turning the tables on its Separatist enemies. Then we meet General Grievous, an almost entirely robotic assassin whose sole purpose is to slaughter Jedi. Trained by the Dooku, Grievous wields up to four light sabres, with an insect-like number of appendages and inhuman reflexes. The Clone Wars see him dispatch numerous experienced Jedi, depicting him as an almost unstoppable foe who could prove the turning point in the war, shifting the power balance back in favour of the Dooku-led Separatists under the watchful eye of the mysterious (well, to those who had not guessed the obvious) Emperor.
“I have a bad feeling about this.”
Revenge of the Sith picks up directly after the events in the final Clone Wars episode during which we saw General Grievous sweep into Coruscant (the Republic's Capital) and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (the dubious leader of the Galactic Senate). After a massive chase sequence, where several Master Jedi fall whilst trying to stop the devious Grievous, it seems that only the Senior Jedi Master Mace Windu (the ever-excellent Samuel L. Jackson) can hold his own against the General, managing a powerful 'Force Crush' manoeuvre which leaves the multi-limbed cyborg damaged while fleeing from Coruscant, but with his hostage intact. The opening crawl of Sith sums up as much, although - to be honest - those few words scrolling across your screen whilst you listen to that all-too-familiar Star Wars theme do not do justice to the long and hard Clone Wars and their unfortunate climax. In the movie, we cut straight to the action, following Anakin and Obi-Wan's star-fighters as they dart through the upper atmosphere of Coruscant, trying to dodge the ensuing space-battle between huge intergalactic vessels and get to the General's ship. Right from the start you can tell this is going to me almost non-stop action as the two Jedi have to face not only the indefeasible Grievous but also his master, the evil Count Dooku.
“Something's happening. I'm not the Jedi I should be. I want more. But I know I shouldn't.”
After this explosive prologue, we return to Coruscant where we find Anakin is finally being given the recognition that his superior skills warrant, although he is still increasingly power-hungry, desperate to become a Jedi Master despite his young age. All the while the snivelling Chancellor Palpatine is whispering in his ear, sowing the seeds of corruption that will eventually lead to Anakin's transition to the Dark Side - and that is just one of the many loose ends that need to be tied up by the time the closing credits roll. It does not take a brain surgeon to do the maths for the rest of this story - Episode IV, A New Hope saw all but two of the Jedi dead - those remaining two exiled to respectively wander the swamplands or deserts - Darth Vader (complete with black suit) and the Emperor dominating the Galaxy and the Rebel Alliance desperately struggling to survive against the evil Empire.
“You were The Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy The Sith, not join them! It was you who would bring balance to The Force, not leave it in Darkness!”
Revenge of a Sith does a pretty good job at tying up all of these twists and turns, as well as the ones that the previous films have created afresh (like the fate of Grievous). Clearly the single most important part of this movie, however, is the evolution of Vader and it is also probably the single most contrived part of the plot. Lucas has made a movie which is much darker than his previous two lacklustre spectacles, with more light sabre battles and significant lead deaths than those two combined, but he spends so long finishing up what the Clone Wars started that he does not have enough time left to cover the more important stuff. After all, it takes little over two scenes to cement Anakin's conversion to the Dark Side, after which he seems perfectly willing to go running around killing all of those who he once called friends. Sorry, I just don't buy it. The physical transition from a young warrior to the battle-damaged half-human, half-machine that is Darth Vader is done quite well (and quite graphically for a PG-13) but the change in mentality (and sanity) from desperately ambitious and courageous Jedi Knight to Sith Lord and genocidal maniac, is positively unbelievable.
“Do what must be done, Lord Vader. Do not hesitate. Show no mercy.”
On a lesser scale, I have to also criticise the depiction of the unstoppable General Grievous - mainly because in this movie he is distinctly stoppable. During the Clone Wars, this lead bad guy was capable of holding his own against five experienced Jedi. Here he spends most of his time coughing as if he has a chest infection and running away from fights. When faced with the Jedi in the opening sequence, he does not even try to combat them, merely choosing to flee like a coward. Did Lucas really want to portray such a purportedly tough villain in such a wimpy, fragile light? Well, if his involvement with the Clone Wars is anything to go by then clearly not, but if you have not seen the Clone Wars then you are probably wondering what the big fuss is about General Grievous being so tough. You see, the Clone Wars explain a great deal, not least the behaviour of Grievous (the move Mace Windu performs on his chest is probably where that nasty cough came from, however much Lucas' commentary contradicts this). Although, even if you take this into account, it is still inexplicable why Grievous is such a pushover. He's been trained by Count Dooku, he has killed over half a dozen Jedi and he is the single biggest threat to the Republic and yet it takes mere seconds for him to be overwhelmed, after which he is off running again. What a wasted character.
“Back off, I will deal with this Jedi slime myself.”
There are plenty of other niggling aspects to the way in which Lucas rounds up his loose ends (are the Jedi really so unskilled that only one of them can sense a betrayal? and did Yoda's mammoth fight with the Emperor really end in such a way that Yoda's only option was to go into exile, on a marsh planet of all things?) but they could have all been overlooked in favour of getting the big stuff right. Hell, I'd have even forgiven him for ruining Grievous and for giving us such cringe-worthy interaction - “You are so beautiful.” “It's only because I'm so in love.” “No, it's because I'm so in love with you.” - between Anakin and Padme (the lovely, talented and utterly wasted Natalie Portman) if Lucas had just gotten Anakin's shift to the Dark Side right but, as is, all we have left going for the movie is the fighting itself.
“You have allowed this dark lord to twist your mind until now you have become the very thing you swore to destroy.”
Well this is where Sith does truly excel. Every single light-sabre duel is superb - and, believe me, there are plenty. You have Yoda, Mace, Anakin and Obi all picking up their sabres to go one on one with the likes of the Emperor and his apprentices, including Count Dooku. Whilst you might assume that 'you've seen one sword fight, you've seen them all', this is simply not the case here. Every single battle has its own significance, every confrontation amasses a huge amount of tension and, even if you are aware of how things have to play out, Lucas is innovative enough to keep you holding on until the last second. Revenge of the Sith is worth seeing for the sabre-fights alone. So, quibbles aside, this is a very watchable movie that tries its best to click everything into place so that it makes sense when watched before a movie made nearly thirty years ago. Admittedly this is a tough task and Lucas has done well to at least round everything off, it is just a shame that he has had to 'fudge' so many things just so that all of these puzzle pieces can fit together.
“I have waited a long time for this moment, my little green friend. At last, the Jedi shall be no more.”
My suggestion would have been to scrap the first movie, start this new trilogy with the story from Attack of the Clones, then make a second movie from the stories that were used to do the Clone Wars (and finish it with the rescue mission that started this movie), then that would have left Lucas enough time to tell this final chapter in the saga in a more relaxed, plausible fashion. Anakin's shift to the Dark Side could have had more time to evolve (once he had struck his first blow, he could have been allowed time to come to terms with his actions rather that just take it as a cue to kill absolutely everybody he was - just moments before - in allegiance with) and the near dozen tacked-on fade out segments at the end of the movie (to round off what happens to the babies, the droids, the remaining Jedi and Anakin himself) could have been integrated more fluidly. But that is something we will never see and instead we will have to make do with a perfectly entertaining couple of hours' worth of explosive battles and noteworthy sabre-fights. Scrap the plot, scrap the acting, if fighting is what you came here for then you will not be disappointed.
“This is the end for you, my master. I wish it were otherwise.”