After striking out with The Phantom Menace and doing little to inspire confidence with Attack of the Clones, George Lucas takes one more crack at Star Wars, this time charged with bringing everything full circle and ending the sagas of the prequel trilogy and setting up what previously saw in the original series.
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz
Run Time: 140 Minutes
Release Date: 19 May 2005
The colossal disappointment of The Phantom Menace still hurts many to this day, and while Attack of the Clones was a slight improvement on things (though admittedly it didn’t have a high hurdle to overcome), it still put tremendous pressure on Lucas and co. to bring some sort of respectability to a franchise that was failing. All those who spent decades praising Lucas for all achieved with the original trilogy could no longer be heard; that was a voice no longer speaking out. He had to get it right with this one, Revenge of the Sith had to be the Star Wars movie that George Lucas kept telling us he could make. His characters – unfairly treated with shoddy under-development, given horrible dialogue and shunted to the background in favour of unnecessary CGI – were ready to take centre stage. This was the last chance for ol’ George.
What a time to get it right.
Starting off with the action that just didn’t seem to come in the previous two outings, the main difference you’ll find here is that even when the action takes a break, coherent, sensible storytelling enters in its place. The path this film needs to take is a simple one, and Lucas is smart enough to know that sometimes you would be wrong to deviate from that path. The opening scenes also give us that rarest of things; Hayden Christensen almost looking like he belongs. The actor has taken severe criticism over the course of the trilogy – and rightfully so, in many cases – but here he is the best we have seen him. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some instances of acting that really shouldn’t be present in a film of this stature, but we’ll take any improvement at this point. It is possible, maybe even likely, that the stronger story and emphasis on his character is the impetus for Christensen to come out of his shell more and deliver this kind of performance. Whatever the case, it is a welcome surprise. Indeed, an early scene alongside the excellent Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku is a lot stronger than it would have been in The Phantom Menace, purely because the veteran is now acting alongside a young actor who, maybe, has finally come to grips with the role he’s been given. The chilling scene with a lightsaber-wielding Ani confronting a group of terrified children is suitably sinister, and though short in length, is performed ably.
Elsewhere, McGregor proves as dependable as ever, an actor totally at ease with his ability and playing a character he is clearly comfortable with. His transformation into the Alec Guinness of the prequel trilogy has been a predictable, yet enjoyable, one to watch. Much like Lee, the opening battle scenes alongside Christensen’s Anakin (and a superb R2-D2 in a delightful sidekick role) breeze by, and are fun to witness. Lucas appears to have learnt that sometimes it’s fine to let a scene be what it needs to be; no extra words or scenes, or in previous film’s cases, unnecessary political or romantic additions, tacked on for the sake of it. A breakneck pace is exactly how this film needed to start, and equally needed was a swift transition into the main body of the movie’s story; with every man and their dog knowing how this film needed to go and where it needed to get to, this was not the time for exposition and drawn-out, dare we say boring storytelling. This is a tale of corruption, and a dark one at that. The 12 certificate is not because of gore or anything of that nature, for this is a much darker Star Wars. Given his approach to previous entries in the series, you would be forgiven for expecting Lucas to stay true to his child-targeting movie-making approach, however this needed to be dark, the story that had to be told needed to be done so in this manner. Credit then for Lucas going with the higher certificate to suit the movie and not the audience.
A word about the CGI. In the two previous films, the major criticism (amongst other things, of course) was the frequency with which Lucas went to his Industrial Light & Magic toolbox in the search for the perfect shot. Every scene seemed to come complete with a picture-perfect background, a complete departure with the look and feel of the originals. Nothing looked real, except the actors, nothing looked like it belonged. And while I can’t say that all of those flaws have been eradicated here, there is a definite improvement. The official word is that Revenge of the Sith contains 2200 effects shots, and you have to say that none of them falter. Truly, on this occasion, this really is a technology breakthrough.
The big moment of this film, of course, is the culmination of Anakin’s journey to the dark side, a move slowly but surely sold to him by the impressive McDiarmid. The problem is that when the time comes with the switch to the dark side to complete, the moment is rushed and not given the sufficient time to make it’s full impact. Lucas’ treatment of Anakin over the three films has been shocking, making what could – nay, should – have been a classic story of good-to-evil, paving the way nicely for the chronological segue into A New Hope. Instead, the way that the character has been portrayed in Episodes I and II meant that far too much ground had to be made up in Episode III, meaning that we got a hurried tennis match where Anakin went backwards and forwards over the Sith net between Windu and Palpatine.
However, despite the rushed nature of the turn to the dark side, it is made up for with the final act battle between mentor and student; it is obvious that Obi-Wan and Anakin’s face-off in Mustafa has been in Lucas’ mind for a long time, with the director finally having the canvas – and technology – to craft the masterpiece in his mind’s eye. From this point on, everything is a hit; the battle’s conclusion, the aftermath showing the creation of the big bad we will come to know, and the final pieces being moved into position for the start of A New Hope.
It’s a funny thing; you would think that making a Star Wars shouldn’t be that hard. Considering a trilogy of stories are already there to build towards, a worldwide fan base ready to excuse anything in return for something new from a universe that they love so much…so the question remains; what went wrong? Why has it taken three movies to one of them to finally approach the same level of the original trilogy?
True praise of a Star Wars film is to say that it belongs with the original trilogy, such is the high regard in which they are held. In that case then, it is a joy – and huge relief – to say that Revenge of the Sith does belong. Providing the necessary setup for what we would see in 1977, it is everything the earlier movies should have been. Truth be told, this film doesn’t need the other prequels. Sure, they introduced the characters and put them in their necessary places on the chess board that is Revenge of the Sith, but they are really irrelevant. While the overall trilogy is still – and will always be considered a major disappointment – the series has been redeemed here.