Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

I suppose I am the last person in the free world to see Episode 3, or at least the last person who is likely to. At this point, I figure everyone has either seen it or isn’t interested. Me, I loved the original 3 Star Wars movies. Not dress-up-and-stand-in-line loved, but would-re-watch-them-any-time loved. Basically I am a normal Star Wars fan, and it is a testament to how bad the first 2 episodes in the new series are that I just now got around to watching the final installment. After 2 movies filled with Jar-Jar and obnoxious incarnations of Anakin Skywalker, I just couldn’t be bothered. Finally I decided to slap the movie on my Netflix queue and find out how Anakin goes over to the dark side. Great move! I didn’t think it was possible, but this film actually redeems the series. It is the payoff we have been suffering for!

If you don’t already know the plot, don’t worry, I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you. All the big secrets are already obvious if you watched the first 2 episodes. Everyone knows that Anakin Skywalker will become Darth Vader and that Chancellor Palpatine looks an awful lot like the evil emperor from the original movies. More convoluted, but equally obvious, is that the rebellion staged by Count Dooku and the cyborg General Grievous is just a giant con job so that Palpatine can get the intergalactic Senate to grant him more emergency powers. In this episode the Jedi Council becomes ever more suspicious of Palpatine’s power grab, but they buy into the basic validity of the war. They hunt Count Dooku thinking he is the Dark Sith master, but they learn, too late, that he is just a puppet of the evil Palpatine.

If some of this seems to have eerie parallels to modern affairs, I don’t really think it is because George Lucas was trying to make a commentary on current politics. It’s just that every tyrant since the beginning of history has used a war to distract the populace and get people to give up their liberties. George W. Bush is just the latest in a long line, and far from the best at it.

As for Anakin’s slide to the dark side, Yoda pretty much foresaw it when he noted, “Much anger has this one.” It is Anakin’s passion that is his undoing, which makes it a shame that George Lucas didn’t cast an actor more capable of passion. I would envision an Anakin with a truly charming but mercurial personality; something like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Gangs of New York.” (Am I the first to suggest DiCaprio as an alternative to Hayden Christensen? I doubt it.) Christensen seems to have only two emotions: wounded pride and constipation. Anyway, this is a moot complaint, so I won’t belabor it.

As for the other actors, they face the same challenge they did in the first 2 episodes, which is that there is really too much plot and action going on for the actors to do much in the way of developing their characters. They do a little better in this episode. Obi Wan and Yoda get fleshed out a little more here, which really benefits the film. I was relieved to see Ewan McGregor get a chance to actually act, and of course there’s no such thing as too much Yoda. We also get to know Chancellor Palpatine, aka The Evil Emperor, better. Which is nice.

Episode III has the same killer special effects as the first 2 episodes, but the action is better because it is linked to a more comprehensible plot, and we actually get a chance to care about the characters this time. There are plenty of great light-saber fights, and we finally get to see the Evil Emperor show his stuff. The final Obi-Wan/Anakin face-off is stellar, with a truly chilling finale. The duel is especially resonant in light of the light-saber rematch that we know is coming in Episode IV.

To the extent that human emotions are allowed to exist in these films, it is the relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker that ultimately drives Episode III and makes it worthwhile. By the end of this film, we have a much greater understanding of what drives old Ben Kenobi, the grizzled Jedi we first met in Episode IV (Star Wars) back in 1977. That film was subtitled “A New Hope,” and it is only now I can appreciate how much that hope must have meant to Obi-Wan. Luke Skywalker doesn’t just represent a chance to defeat the Empire, he embodies a second chance for the potential that Obi-Wan had seen and tried to nurture in Luke’s father, Anakin. I feel the same way about Episode III.

4 stars.

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