By Vic Holtreman
Short version: With far more strong points than weak, the curse of Episodes I & II has been lifted at last.
No, not for Anakin Skywalker... for George Lucas.
Although not perfect, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith rises far above the awfulness of Episode I and the mediocrity of Episode II. Time will tell, but for me I think this one will fall right behind The Empire Strikes Back in terms of overall Star Wars excellence. This says a lot considering that I'm in Lucas' "over 25" group that was weaned on the original trilogy and thought I & II were pretty awful.
I'm going to keep spoilers to a minimum.
The film opens with the familiar "crawl" which describes events which have transpired during the Clone Wars cartoon series. That series was definitely worth watching as it gives a lot of backstory to the Clone War, Anakin's personality, the Jedi and General Grievous. Senator Palpatine has been kidnapped and Obi-Wan and Anakin have been sent to rescue him.
Right off the bat we start in the middle of a HUGE space battle with the most dizzying shots seen yet in a Star Wars film. It was like a roller coaster ride and I couldn't help but grin as I saw many cues to Episode IV, the original film, in the designs of the ships. We get a great sense of the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan, much more believable and not forced like it was in Episode II.
Another total and complete grin-inducer is R2D2's role in the opening sequence, where we get a full dose of the pluck that made the character so beloved in the original trilogy. It's just a blast to see the dedication and resourcefulness of the little fellow. :-)
Soon we meet General Grievous, who sounds kind of like Darth Vader with a bad cough. I found the cough annoying, although I suppose it was to highlight the fact he is a cyborg and that it's not a perfect meld of living creature and machine. He is appropriately menacing, especially when close-ups of his face (specifically his eyes) are shown.
I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying the Palpatine is rescued and returned to Coruscant, the home of the Republic. Anakin is reunited with Padme, who reveals she is pregnant (again, that's not giving anything away since we know she is Luke and Leia's mother). Anakin takes the news kind of well, but it's clear that his primary love is Padme and not any forthcoming child.
More and more we see Senator Palpatine corrupting Anakin, slowly drawing him to the Dark Side. To his credit, Anakin fights it as much as he can, but like the snake in the Garden of Eden, Palpatine is very smooth and plants seeds of doubt concerning the motives of the Jedi Council. Although we know that inevitably Anakin turns to the Dark Side and seeds are planted early on and throughout the film, somehow Anakin's actual decision seemed to happen too quickly. The reason for this is that the focal point for his decision is his love for Padme, and that is once again the weak point in the story.
I've been vocal in my criticism of Hayden's performance as Anakin in Episode II, but here it was Natalie Portman's performance as Padme that left me cold. She seemed a pale imitation of herself from the previous two films and I just didn't buy the "true love" aspect of the relationship... that was the weakest part of the film.
Hayden Christensen on the other hand was far better in this film than he was in the previous one. His angst over being pulled towards the Dark Side while wanting to be a Jedi was much more convincing and moving in Revenge of the Sith than it was in Attack of the Clones.
There are many scenes of battles taking place during the Clone War, including one that takes place on the Wookie home world. On the one hand it was cool to see where Chewbacca was from, but on the other hand the scene felt completely gratuitous. The only reason it was in the film was because, well, to show the Wookie homeworld since everyone likes Wookies. BTW, hearing the term "Wookie" used repeatedly during a council meeting by the venerable Master Jedis sounded kind of silly.
There is lots of action, lightsaber and otherwise and it was thoroughly entertaining. I would say that the first two thirds of the film were solidly PG (except for one scene involving Count Dooku early on), but the final third is most definitely PG-13. For a Star Wars movie it was quite violent, both explicitly and implied, and near the end it got downright gruesome.
Those of you with 5-6 year olds: You have been warned.
I really enjoyed seeing the designs of ships and such getting closer and closer to those of Episode IV, and if you look closely you'll even see a fleeting glimpse of the Millenium Falcon in one scene. Lucas really made an effort to connect this film to the original and many questions are answered: Why Darth Sidious looks the way he does, why Yoda went into exile, how the Republic turned into the Empire, who decided where Luke and Leia would be raised, what happened to all the Jedi and lots of other details.
They even selected an actor that looked strikingly like a young Peter Cushing for a quick scene near the end of the film. As we approach the end of the film it ties in more and more to the original Star Wars which was really great to see. George didn't muck this up like Berman and Braga did with the finale of Star Trek: Enterprise.
We get to see more Yoda battle action which is great, and the final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin was well done, but for me not on the level of the Luke/Vader fight in "Empire". A couple of things that bothered me about that final fight was one cheesy line of dialogue, and the way (story-wise) that Obi-Wan left Anakin alive, although I suppose one could argue that Obi-Wan thought that Anakin was dead.
There's a nice self-fulfilling prophecy angle as far as Anakin and Padme are concerned, but one thing that bugged me as well was her death. I don't want to give away details, but I'll just say that she had two children to live for.
But after all is said and done I think this is one of the best of the series and a fitting end to George Lucas' big screen Star Wars journey. I'd give it on a "Star Wars" scale, but I have to say overall. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was lots of fun, suspense, excitement and yes, even drama. I just wouldn't bring the "younglings" to see it, or at least the final act.
Well done, George. Well done.