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THE SHORT VERSION: Paramount owns Star Trek and everything to do with it. I make no money off this site; it's just for fun. For more details, read the long version. Live long and prosper.

 

Revenge of the Sith

Right off the bat, this definitely makes up for the previous two crappy movies. In fact, the previous two crappy movies could well have been distilled into twenty or thirty minutes of backstory, and a bit of the politics could have been trimmed out of this, for one wall-to-wall amazing prequel. But we're talking about Lucas here, so...

My, my, this here Anakin guy, may be Vader, someday later, now he's just a small fryThey're not kidding when they call this a "dark" film. Anakin's seduction by power and fear is (with a few false notes) very believable. The capitulation of the Republic to the politically bloodless rise of the Empire is equally saddening and sickening. Yes, those parallels to modern life are quite deliberate. There is a lot of violence, and many innocents die (not just robots and expendable baddies). The horror which requires Anakin to wear the big black suit was so gruesome that I had to turn my face away from the screen for a full minute until the scene was over. Yet the film manages not to end on a wrenchingly depressing note, as the twins are placed with their respective families and Yoda and Obi-Wan go into temporary exile to wait and plan, not to die. And there are so many throwaway laugh-out-loud lines that I really felt I was watching Star Wars again, not a political screed with way cool CGI.

The acting varies, with the Dark Side chewing the scenery and the Light Side (is it the Light? or the Good Side? I've forgotten) mostly wooden. Ian McDiarmid gives Palpatine a credible and shaded evil. He's power-hungry, but not yet so power-crazed that it's overwhelmed his tactical sense. Christopher Lee's brief scene as the expendable Count Dooku is clearly a personal outtake from Saruman's cameo in Return of the King. General Grievously Ill must be a technological first: a cyborg with severe osteoporosis and a smoker's hack. The Yellow Peril Viceroy is still a dumb piece of cardboard. Ewan McGregor and an entirely (and improved) CGI Yoda are the best actors on the Jedi team; Samuel Jackson was channeling Robert Beltran, Jimmy Smits's Senator Organa didn't have enough screen time to come to life, and most of the other good guys barely had lines. (And these people are not bad actors. Only the Scots and the 'bots were allowed to ignore the lousy directing?) C3PO was a grace note mostly for continuity. R2D2 had some amazing James Bond upgrade -- spewing gasoline and lighting it on fire, popping out of the fighter like a piece of toast, and bristling with more weapons and gadgetry than a Swiss Army Borg. (No idea what happened to all that in later films. Maybe he got half-wiped when C3PO was erased?) Padmé, still lovely, is sadly reduced to a helpless, sobbing, fashionable idiot by her pregnancy. She goes through an astonishing number of outfits, hairdos, and hair ornaments, but her one session in Congress is spent quietly watching Palpatine froth at the mouth. You'd never know that she had once been a Senator, let alone a Queen who risked herself in a shootout or sought out the Gungans for help against an army of droids. (Speaking of whom, Jar-Jar shows up twice, but mercifully never speaks. Ahmed Best still got an early-end-credits mention, strangely enough.) Hayden Christensen doesn't show a lot of range, but when he breaks out of his tired sulk, you can easily see his fury catapulting him into darkness.

The opening twenty minutes are a video game come to dizzying, cheering, stomach-lurching life. The two Jedi and their ship droids wheeling through the fighting and Anakin scraping the fleabots off Obi-Wan's fighter. R4 losing his head, literally. Not one but two elevator rise-and-plummets, which came up to but never quite crossed the line into ridiculous. The bigass ship plunging straight down to Coruscant, threatening to smear everyone inside into chunky salsa and parts is parts.

The political and emotional thickets in which Anakin has snagged himself are mostly straightforward and easy to empathize with. He's a young adult chafing at the bit to prove himself, not an irritating teenager who needs to dig ditches to break his bad attitude or a precocious nine-year-old who's just irritating altogether. But he is young, and with the arrogance and blind surety typical of a twentysomething with the capacity for reason and action but without the experience to mature him. When Yoda tries to explain to him that the only way to overcome his fear is to let go of that which he fears to lose, he doesn't get it. It's a Zen kind of concept -- if you don't have anything or anyone, by definition you don't fear any loss because you have nothing which you can lose -- but a lonely one. Little wonder that passionate confused Anakin, already struggling with divided loyalties, is loathe to give up any of them!

Palpatine plays on that skillfully. His seduction of Anakin to the Dark Side is almost perfect, with two weak spots. The moment when he reveals his hand is two scenes too soon, and too much all at once -- he should have drawn Anakin along more, let him have more time to think about the power over death which he was offering with the power of the Dark Side. Similarly, when Anakin distracts Mace Windu enough to enable Palpatine to kill him, Palpatine immediately demands Anakin declare his allegiance. That could have waited one more scene also, for Anakin to realize on his own that he had nowhere to turn and that he needed Palpatine's help and power. But those scenes were only rushed -- I never felt like we were making leaps and being asked to accept some transformation which we didn't see. It was a fine mythological piece of storytelling.

Perhaps because the Jedi are accustomed to a quasi-Vulcan way of life, where emotions are controlled and personal attachments discouraged, they couldn't see that Anakin needed parenting as well as mentoring and scolding. That's why Anakin held to Obi-Wan as long as he did, and why Palpatine was able to win him in the end: the Emperor offered individual attention and praise, corrupt and twisted as it was, while Obi-Wan eventually had to take the side of the Council over his much-loved little brother.

The final fight on the lava planet, or whatever that was, started impressively but wore a bit thin near the end. I was practically getting tired for the characters! There's one moment about mid-way through the indoor scenes where both men stop their saber-bashing to waggle their hands at one another. Their forces (heh) are equally matched. In that moment, I was really hoping that Obi-Wan would lunge forward and grab Anakin's hand, as a literal reaching-out to try to save his student one last time. By the time they got outside into the seventh level of hell, it was beginning to strain my suspension of disbelief that these two could keep leaping about like ants on a hot brick but continue to stick the landings. Near the end, Obi-Wan jumps onto a large chunk of debris and then Anakin finds a convenient probe droid to step on, and the two of them surf through the lava. That pretty much lost me until Anakin got baked on the hillside. (yecch!) From that scene, Moogie's complaint is that while a lightsaber slice would instantly cauterize a wound, it should still smoke from the liquids in the body boiling away, and that wasn't shown. (I think there was plenty enough mayhem going on without adding that nasty li'l detail.)

The parallels between Anakin being wired into the black suit and Padmé being prepped for surgery and delivery were visually quite nice. (She got anesthetic, he didn't.) The horror on Anakin's face as the mask descends on him, and then the camera shot through that familiar silhouette, were a big emotional wallop. John Williams scored the moment perfectly. The Emperor's theme starts at half-tempo as the iron lung kicks in, and the table rises to present Darth Vader for the first time. (Kudos to James Earl Jones for matching Christensen's style of delivery of his few lines.) I couldn't buy that Padmé had lost the will to live -- okay, I should say I couldn't buy that Queen Amidala or Senator Amidala would have lost the will to live, but the Barbie doll in this film was fairly fragile. (Granted, she slept in a nightgown trimmed with pointy brooches and ropes of beads and wearing a hair dingbat, but that's being a fashion victim.) However, in Return of the Jedi, Leia says she remembers her mother a little. Is she referring to Senator Organa's wife? Padmé doesn't even hold either sprog before she sails into the West.

They must pay Senators some astonishing salary for Padmé to be able to afford that apartment, complete with marble terrace and landing strip. And not for anything, but if she didn't want anyone to know she and Anakin were married, maybe he shouldn't be living with her and coming and going from her home so often? A little sneaking, or attempt at sneaking, would have sufficed.

It took me a little while to understand -- to remember, actually, since Episode II was such a snoozefest -- that the stormtroopers were all clones, quite possibly programmed with General Order 66. Palpatine didn't need to convert or convince his legions; he already owned them.

More awesome critters and creatures from the ILM workshop: the mosquito-things the Wookies were flying, the lizard-horse Obi-Wan saddled, another woman from the same species as the doomed dancer in Jabba's den, more bizarre aliens in non-speaking background roles than I can remember. The bots were also cool, although sometimes a bit too convenient. (The banana-headed Roger-Roger droids walking around Grievous muttering comebacks were hilarious. That alone will be worth getting the DVD just rewind and hear all that.) CGI and background and planets and ships were all amazing. They'd filmed a much larger battle on Kashyyk, the Wookie planet, but it was seriously cut. I suppose we'll see it in the Director's Edition.

At times the only way to track the movements of various Jedi was the spinning and parrying of the glowing lightsabers in the misty murk. I'm sure some of that was necessary because the saber fight was being rendered out of whole cloth, so to speak, rather than a choreographed fight between actors or stunt folks, but it made the characters oddly anonymous. (Except for Mace Windu. He gets the special purple lightsaber. That was allegedly at Jackson's request, because he wanted to be able to pick himself out in one of the aforementioned dimly-lit fights.) And why do they shut the lightsabers off the moment they're done fighting? Saving battery life?

You know, given the high incidence of precipice-dangling, you'd think they'd start building lower, wider cities.

I guess Jedi insurance carriers consider "getting one's hand(s) chopped off" as a standard occupational hazard. Or maybe amputation is like comp-and-collision. (I'm sorry, even though I had to look away, poor Anakin is lying there with both legs and an arm gone still clawing his way up the hill, and I'm thinking "It's just a flesh wound!") Count Dooku's double amputation and then double decapitation was a little overkill, but I guess the point had to be made that Anakin was capable of some serious bloodshed.

My brother was saying that using the Dark Side of the Force was apparently destructive to the wielder. Anyone on the Dark Side was disintegrating a little every time they did something. Palpatine got a huge blast of bad vibes feedbacking on him with Mace Windu's saber, which is why he went the whole hag all at once. Grievous, who had organic parts under all the shiny plates, sounded like a plague victim. But when Yoda fights, he collects all the energy and then lets it go in a blast, sort of restoring the balance.

Yoda! Boy, he's a spry one! He's always reminded me of my beloved grandfather Papá, especially where he sort of totters around with the cane on Dagobah. But Papá never stopped moving even though he slowed down in later years (to the store and back, to the club and back, to the salumeria and back...), and Yoda proves that he can fence with the best of them. It's still ridiculously funny to see a Muppet trading full-strength blows with a full-size human, though.

You know a prequel has succeeded when it makes you want to go back and see the original material, looking for the connections which have now been established. And that's exactly what I want to do now. :)