Watching Revenge of the Sith was a frustrating way to spend two and half hours. Since the kitchen’s the only part of the house I could be in last night, it was a good opportunity to go out and catch a movie. I may give away a plot point or two, so you may not want to read this just yet if you haven’t seen the movie.
I should start by saying I like the original trilogy, and I was totally crazy about it when I was a kid (my mom brought me to Star Wars on its opening night in 1977). They’re hardly cinematic perfection, but they’re enjoyable films. Episodes I and II, however, were completely forgettable – my proof being that I completely forgot what they were about within a month after seeing them. But I saw all the very positive early reviews of Episode III, so I got my hopes up. With Revenge of the Sith, I think Lucas has benefited from the low expectations game, like George Bush did in 2000. Just as Bush “won” the 2000 Presidential debates simply by not making a fool of himself, Lucas is getting kudos simply for making a movie that’s not quite as awful as his last two.
The first act of the film is dreadful, but fortunately it gets better as it goes, achieving mediocrity by the end. The opening is a prolonged battle sequence. We’re thrown right into the action with Obi Wan and Anakin, which would be ok if Lucas had succeeded in giving us an emotional investment in these characters in the first two movies, but since he didn’t, I didn’t feel pulled into the action. The effects are top notch, but since there’s no way to tell the good guy ships from the bad guy ships, and the space battle consists of a series of seemingly random explosions, I was more confused and indifferent than engaged. Most of the light-saber sequences in this act are also tiresome, as we watch the Jedi duo slice up bad guy robots like so much firewood. Also, I’m generally not one to nitpick physical impossibilities in sci-fi films – I’m perfectly happy to hear explosions in space – but watching the long sequence of everyone falling sideways as the ship lists in space crossed the threshold into annoying-land: there is no “sideways” in space!
The second act mostly consists of a lot of exposition. This was more interesting to me, but I was continuously distracted by Lucas’ incredibly wooden and flat writing. I particularly felt sympathy for Samuel L. Jackson – here’s a really terrific actor, and you can see him straining to bring some kind of feeling to the completely antiseptic lines he must deliver. The one exception to all this is Palpatine – it really felt like his character was transplated from a different, better movie – his lines are good, and his presence is the one bright spot in movie. The biggest letdown in Episodes I-III is Anakin. Lucas had a fantastic opportunity to craft a complex and interesting anti-hero, but instead we’re presented with a spoiled, whiny kid whose descent into evil mostly consists of a series of petulant bad moods, interspersed with the occasional slaughter of innocents.
The third act is pretty much non-stop fighting. There’s Obi Wan battling the completely forgettable General Grievous. Sure, Grievous looked cool, but there was no character there at all – he’s no Jabba the Hut. There was the showdown between Palpatine and Yoda, which was my favorite part of the movie, because : 1. it was well done, and 2. I had some emotional investment in the characters (Yoda was well developed in the original trilogy, and Palpatine was the only interesting character in this film). The final battle between Obi Wan and Anakin was also well done, but its end was quite gruesome. I half-expected Anakin to threaten Obi Wan with a good nibbling, like the limbless black knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “The black knight always triumphs!”
By the end I had lost track of how many limbs and heads had been severed. That’s not a criticism in and of itself, but when they take place in a film with comic relief that’s geared towards 7 year olds, it leaves me baffled as to who the intended audience is. We let Kai watch the original trilogy, but there’s no way he’s watching this. I’m surprised I haven’t seen this point mentioned in any of the reviews I’ve read. Spielberg got a lot of criticism from parents who brought their kids to Temple of Doom, which wasn’t nearly as kid friendly as the first Indiana Jones movie. Seated next to me watching Revenge of the Sith was a mother and her 6 year old son. I bet this movie is going to give him nightmares for a month.
I left feeling like Lucas had wasted a monumental amount of time and money making three lousy films. It’s a real shame, as it’s rare to have Hollywood backing for a decidedly non-Hollywood storyline: the descent of a good person into evil. Even if Lucas had done a better job with the secondary characters, the central failure of this trilogy is Anakin. In the final act of Return of the Jedi, you can really feel for Luke as his intellect and his emotions struggle with each other as the Emporer slowly works at him, tempting him to the dark side. Luke’s final refusal represents the climax of the development of his character. In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s turn to the dark side should be the defining moment of the trilogy. Instead, it feels rushed and has no emotional impact. After unthinkingly killing Windu and exclaiming “What have I done!” in horrified shock at his own actions, his very next words to Palpatine are “I’ll do anything you ask.” It didn’t make much sense, and it was hardly a memorable moment in cinema.