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Star Wars: Ep III - Revenge of the Sith

 

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, et al.

Director: George Lucas

Rating: PG-13

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: 05.19.05

Review Posted: 05.19.05

 

By Sara M. Fetters

 

The Force Returns to Star Wars

 

After roughly 350 minutes of exposition (two prequels and about 80 additional minutes at the start of this supposed final chapter), the Force is finally back with George Lucas and his Star Wars saga. Let me be blunt, there is much wrong with Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, but after young Jedi Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) makes, quote-quote, THE DECISION, Lucasí film takes off to stratospheric heights. The final third of this dark, brooding epic is utterly mesmerizing, building magnificently to a coda setting up all the events in the original trilogy with an as-to-now (at least in the prequels) unforeseen brilliance.

 

Picking up three years after events depicted in Attack of the Clones, the Republic still finds itself enmeshed in war with the Trade Federation and their massive droid army led by the nefarious Sith Lord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Dooku has recently kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the Jedi Council sending Skywalker and his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), to stop him. They do this with relative ease, the younger Jedi ordered by Palpatine to kill a defenseless Dooku in the process of their escape. A great victory for the Republic, it looks as if this massive Clone War might finally be coming to an end with the Countís demise.

 

Unbeknownst to all, Palpatine is actually the evil Darth Sidius, a Sith master whoís been pulling all the strings of this war deftly behind the curtain. For his new apprentice he has his eyes firmly set upon Skywalker, sure the impetuous and emotional Jedi can be turned to the Dark Side of the Force. For Anakinís part, while he is upset by some of the Jedi Councilís decisions, he isnít about to wander from the path of righteousness anytime soon. But when dark visions of Padmť (Natalie Portman), the former Queen of Naboo and Skywalkerís secret Ė and very pregnant Ė bride, start tormenting him with images of her death, Palpatineís ovations towards a power that could save his beloved start to look more and more appealing.

 

I havenít given anything away here. Itís not like we donít already know how this story plays out a generation later in Return of the Jedi. Stunningly, the preordained conclusion of Revenge of the Sith isnít as much of a problem as youíd think. Somehow, someway Lucas manages to meet the majority of his massive audienceís expectations where it comes to Anakin Skywalkerís downfall into the Dark Side and resurrection as the malevolent Darth Vader. The final series of events roll downhill like an avalanche looking to crush a peaceful village, the humanity in this destruction neither moral nor decent. Lucas does not pull punches, when Obi-Wan explains to Luke in A New Hope that Vader hunted down and destroyed all of the Jedi, he ainít kidding. Anakin does just this during a horrific assault on the Jedi Temple, massacring Jedi left and right, this devastation nearly bringing tears to my eyes.

 

For two prequels, this is what weíve been waiting for. As weak as The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were (and I donít find them anywhere near as repugnant as some critics seem to), their design and structure almost makes sense now with penultimate big picture revealed. Sure, Lucasí direction is still a bit heavy handed, and his writing of dialogue is as silly and stilted as ever, but thatís never really mattered all that much when it comes to the action. Episode III is filled to breaking point with some of the most spectacular battle and fight sequences ever constructed, opening with the proverbial bang and then closing with a lightsaber duel between master and pupil thatís every bit as stunning as we could have hoped.

 

Granted, there are a lot of extraneous bits to slog through before getting to that wondrous final hour. While itís nice to see Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and his home planet (and great fun seeing the wookies smash and pound their way to victory) the moment doesnít add anything other than being great for nostalgia doing little to propel the story forward. Worse, itís over before it even has a chance to begin, none of the big fluffy characters given even a smidgen of screen time that could allow them to resonate. Anakinís incessant whining gets older far faster here than it ever did in Attack of the Clones, while Padmť has so little to do (other than bare twins and cry over her husbandís downfall) she might as well not even be around.

 

Luckily, Lucas does let some of his other actors emerge from all the computer generated chaos. McDiarmid is the consummate villain. Icky and oily and full of twisty verbal innuendos that could sucker a Bantha to take part in his own BBQ, he is every bit the perfectly evil monstrosity the Galactic Emperor is feared to be. Samuel L. Jackson has some nice moments reprising his role as Jedi leader Mace Windu, his final scene staring down Palpatine electric. Lee is a strong presence as Dooku, but heís dispatched so quickly you kind of have to scratch your head and wonder why everyone has spent the last three years fearing him.

 

But the big prize has to be awarded to McGregor. For the first time in the prequels he gets a chance to make Obi-Wan a well-rounded, emotionally complex character. For all his training, Anakinís betrayal rocks him to the very core, the seasoned Jedi unable to believe his student could have turned evil so completely. The pain on McGregorís face is palpable, as is his resolve when it comes to meting out the justice he knows he must. Itís a portrayal so well rounded it canít help but pay just-homage to the wizened wizard Alec Guinness brought to screens in A New Hope. And yet, this Obi-Wan McGregor has managed to make entirely his own, so well-rounded and multifaceted his might just be the one we remember the most decades down the line.

 

By the time things start to heat up, even what doesnít work can ultimately be forgiven when struck with the sheer majesty of all that does. While Iím still not a huge fan his now CGI created features, watching Yoda (Frank Oz) square off against Sidius is still a rousing, one-of-a-kind affair, while a raucous engagement between Kenobi and General Grievous (Matthew Wood), the mechanical leader of the droid army, is astonishing in its complexity and visceral enjoyment. Part me does have to wonder, however, if Episode III isnít some sort of subtle commentary on President Bush, the Iraq War and the far-reaching powers of the Patriot Act. If he is, the statement tends to get lost in the explosions, although Obi-Wanís offhand comment in regards to firearms, ďuncivilized weapons,Ē he call them, could easily be construed as to the directorís own thoughts in regards to current world events.

 

Be that as it may, in the end itís hard not to get caught up in the dynamics at the center The Revenge of the Sith. For someone brought up on Star Wars (it is, in fact, the very reason I do what I do, had I not seen Lucasí original epic as a child I doubt Iíd be in my current profession), watching Darth Vader rise for the first time is enough to raise a legion of Goosebumps. And when the dual suns of Tatooine start to set and John Williamsí magnificently iconic theme starts to sound, I was satisfied, content that Lucas had regained both my love and respect where it comes to this franchise. For at least one, brief, shimmering moment I smiled, the Force right back where it has always belonged.

 

Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2  (out of 4)

 

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