Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
A Review by Tyler Foster
The key to Star Wars is its familiarity. As hard as it may be to admit, there aren't a lot of surprises in A New Hope, just well-defined characters and a wonderful sci-fi universe set to the familiar tune of classic mythology. Nearly 30 years later, after a lot of meddling and two lackluster efforts, George Lucas has finally captured that familiarity again, creating an exciting, shocking, and awe-inspiring chapter that ranks as the second best Star Wars film of all time. Anakin's dark spiral into the hands of the Emperor is chilling, as Lucas draws on the mythos he's made his own, delivering the unique experience of watching it all fall into place. Impressive. It's the Star Wars movie we've been waiting for.
War! The movie's dramatic and exciting opening scroll sets the tone for the rest of the film, livelier and better-written than the prequels before it. Anakin (Hayden Christensen) has matured, well on his way to becoming a Jedi. One of the movie's greatest accomplishments is that Christensen has finally been allowed to craft a believably troubled character, his internal struggle affecting on a level it seemed the prequels would never achieve. It would have been easy to do another immature, angry Anakin, but instead we get a person truly torn between right and wrong. His relationship with Padme (Natalie Portman) is his only refuge, and even while that is threatened by tormented dreams and increasing questions about the nature of the Force, we cannot forget the good man he really is as he begins to make the wrong choices.
Meanwhile, the Jedi Council is increasingly worried about Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and his plans for the future. The resulting dramatic interplay between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Yoda (Frank Oz) and Anakin as they search for the truth about Palpatine is like watching a time bomb tick away seconds. McDiarmid is riveting not only with Christensen (their scenes brooding with an understated evil), but especially when the Jedi Council arrives to arrest him. That sequence's performances by McDiarmid and Jackson provide Episode III with a giant burst of energy, resulting in one of the movie's most electrifying moments. McGregor, meanwhile, has perfected his Obi-Wan in the final chapter, getting his own energy in a battle on a planet harboring enemies.
The visual effects are almost flawless. Character movement is still not perfect, and explosions look a little unrealistic, but the cityscapes are wonderful, filled with all sorts of detail and finally feeling like they're really there. Lucas, for his part, hasn't slowed down at all, using the same massive amounts of computer-aided visuals as the other two prequels, but this time it works. He truly creates scenes of grandeur, especially an amazing space battle and various confrontations throughout the film, not merely complex but also entertaining. General Grevious (Matthew Wood), especially during his second battle, is a mighty impressive creation, while Jar Jar Binks barely shows up and even then delivering nary a single line. John Williams's score is wonderful, haunting, and features many of the classic themes emerging underneath.
The final confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan is truly astonishing. Portman gets in a few more strong moments in a somewhat reduced role (despite it being a key to the plot) before the battle is off and running. Sometimes Lucas's camera is too close to the action, making it confusing, but usually the fight is in plain view and exciting to behold. The surroundings of searing, spraying lava flows are an amazing visual and striking backdrop, and the eventual conclusion (shockingly graphic -- moreso than in any pictures you may have seen) is one of the movie's most dark and deeply haunting moments. In the end, the only things keeping Episode III back from being perfect are a few moments of strong cheesiness, an overly abrupt ending, and more of the clunky, hard-to-deliver dialogue that leaves a few kinks in even the best performances.
I say again, impressive. As the credits came up, I felt the sensation I'd been looking for in Episodes I and II: true satisfaction, complete with the wonder and awe that the series used to deliver. The final film in the saga has been worth the wait, so far above the problems of the other two and so well-made and executed that it's almost as if Lucas just threw off two crappy films just to get to the one that really mattered. As the black mask drops toward the screen, lowering until we can only see through the two eyepieces, one gets chills in the way only something truly iconic, yet startlingly familiar can deliver. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the man behind the mask was a mystery, and the truth was shocking. Only in a fantastic film -- a great Star Wars film -- could the familiar be just as powerful.