Viewpoint: Star Wars at the Dome TJN's Review of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
TJN's Review of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
If you've been paying attention for the past 28 years, you already know where Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith is going. Anakin Skywalker will embrace the dark side of The Force and become James Earl. . .um, Darth Vader. That's it. The success of the entire prequel trilogy depends on how well George Lucas pulls this off.
Unhappily, he doesn't—not convincingly, at any rate. Oh, Anakin becomes Vader, all right. He's seduced by Senator Palpatine, who became Supreme Chancellor in Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones. Here, he declares the Republic to be an empire with himself as Emperor. Palpatine is also revealed to have been, all along, the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Sidious, and probably First Lord of the Admiralty. None of that comes as much of a surprise; he started twirling his moustache early on in Attack of the Clones.
But there's so much wrong with the way Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith plays out that it's hard to know where to begin. Yes, the film has garnered a lot of very positive reviews, but I can't imagine why, unless it's because the critics were juiced by the film's obvious jabs at the Bush Administration. Annoyed, I was, by the overt attempts to drag current politics into a saga beloved by millions who are spread across all points on the political spectrum. I would have been just as distracted had Lucas shilled for the other camp. The filmmaker has denied such intentions, of course, stating that the story was written years ago. But you don't have to be a film expert to know that reshoots, overdubs, and other alterations are made to all films right up to the release date.
But all of that was trivial compared to the movie's dramatic and structural flaws. The dialog was often cringe-inducing. Lucas not only seems incapable of recognizing clunky lines, but he doesn't seem to understand when words are unnecessary and are better left unsaid. And the acting, with two exceptions, came right out of the lumberyard. Fortunately, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan and Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine—at least before he turns into Emperor Snidely Whiplash I—proved that good actors can make something out of even the worst lines.
I could write a book. I won't, but two plot points demand to be addressed. When Anakin finally gives into the dark side, his conversion is totally unconvincing. He helps Palpatine dispose of Mace Windu, then laments, "What have I done?" Two seconds later, he's pledging his loyalty to Palpatine.
Lucas does not make a believable case for Anakin turning on the Jedi with whom he has worked and fought loyally for some 20 years. He immediately starts wiping them out, younglings (awful name) included. Yes, he was an ambitious, impatient whiner who had shown some instability in the past. Yes, he had experienced nightmares about a possible tragic end to his wife Padmé's pregnancy, an end that Palpatine had suggested the power of the Dark Side might be able to avert (though it seems incredible that a society with the technology on display here would have any trouble with a happy completion to even the most challenging childbirth).
But none of this was enough to convince me that Anakin had Darth Vader in him. The problems actually began in Episodes I and II, when Lucas should have given us a deeper look at the qualities in Anakin that would inevitably drive him from innocent youngster to Darth Vader. Lucas has spent too much time on the special effects and too little on the plot in all the films.
I was also dismayed when Palpatine issued Order 66, which directed the clones to start wiping out the Jedi (most of whom immediately seemed to forget their martial skills). The clone army had fought for three years side-by-side with the Jedi in the war against the Separatists; a plot twist that has them murdering their long-time brothers and sisters-in-arms with a virtual flip of a switch was hard to swallow for anyone who knows anything about loyalty. The clones may have been duplicates of a rather shady character, but they were also human. This development might be believable if the Jedi were martinets who had lorded over and antagonized their clone subordinates, but Lucas never even hints at this possibility. It wouldn't, in any event, have fit into the idealistic Jedi universe that Lucas had so painstakingly created.
All of this left me emotionally detached from the story. In fact, the only one of the six Star Wars films with a strong emotional hook was The Empire Strikes Back, and that's why it remains, by a large margin, the best of the six episodes. Yes, the new films are visually mind-boggling in a way that filmgoers of a quarter-century ago could never imagine. But they can also be over-the-top. Sometimes there's so much going on in Sith that sensory overload kicks in. During the opening scene, I couldn't help but wonder why there were droids designed to start tearing fighters apart in mid battle, when it would be much more efficient if they simply attached themselves to the ships and blew up. And the final showdown seemed to occur on a volcanic planet simply because that would make for really neat backgrounds and explain why the Darth Vader we know and hate had to hide behind that black suit and mask.
The Revenge of the Sith is the most disappointing of all the Star Wars films not because it is the worst—it isn't. I rate it low because it will be the last Star Wars film (that we know of), and as such, it needed to provide a rousing and emotionally satisfying capstone to the entire saga. In short, it really had to be the best of the films to succeed, and it isn't. If that's holding it up to a high standard, so be it. Fans of the series (and I count myself among them) deserved no less.
Star Wars as an epic series started to totter on the tracks when the Ewoks showed up in Return of the Jedi. It managed to barely navigate a few curves after that in the anticipation of reaching its destination. But it went off the rails long before it got there.