Monday, December 19, 2016

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

We're back with the Star Wars saga, and though Rogue One is already in theaters, I couldn't review it without first talking about the most underrated film in the franchise, Revenge of the Sith. This was the first Star Wars movie that I was old enough to buy my own ticket, drive myself to the theater, and even skip a day of school to wait in line on opening night. I had seen every trailer, TV spot, and featurette that had been released, and I was beyond ready to see how the prequel films would be able to tie into the original trilogy. Beyond that, however, my curiosity was at its peak for Anakin's turn to the dark side, which was promised by the film's title.
First, I'm going to get geeky for a second, because I have to defend this movie's opening crawl a little bit. Many people claim the phrase "there are heroes on both sides" makes no sense in the context of the Clone Wars. How could the Separatist droid army possibly have any heroes? What people fail to realize is that the Separatist movement isn't just a cabal of a handful of dissenting voices, but in Attack of the Clones we hear that many systems are breaking away from the Republic and joining the Separatists. To the people on the Separatist side, General Grievous or Count Dooku would certainly appear to be heroic as they lead the resistance against what is seen as an increasingly corrupt governing entity.

Enough about the crawl, let's talk about what happens after the crawl. Man, is that opening space battle amazing to behold! We follow Anakin and Obi-Wan as they fly past an early generation Star Destroyer and enter into an eye-popping melee directly above the capitol system of Coruscant. The screen is packed with incredible visuals, and we can only watch in awe as the two ships navigate through the dangerous battle toward General Grievous's ship, where Palpatine has been "captured". It's a great opening, but the action scene that happens once they've landed is perhaps even better, as the two Jedi unleash their lightsabers upon the awaiting battle droids with a precision and skill we have yet seen, even by the likes of Darth Maul.

If there's one thing this movie does better than any other Star Wars before or since, it's the lightsaber duels. Not only have we never seen a Star Wars movie open with a lightsaber fight, but it is easily one of the best ones of the series... and it gets topped twice more later in the same film! We see just how powerful Anakin has become as he handily defeats Count Dooku, who had previously gotten the better of Anakin in Attack of the Clones. The choreography is terrific, and we see a glimpse of darkness in Anakin as Palpatine goads him into decapitating the disarmed (literally) and defenseless Sith Lord.

Across the board, the action is top-notch in Revenge of the Sith, and even the acting has taken a step up as well from the previous movies. Hayden Christensen is much more relaxed and confident in the role, Jar Jar is reduced to a single line ("Excuse me"), and Ewan McGregor is perhaps the best he's ever been in this series. The dialogue scene between where Obi-Wan is delivering the council's mission for Anakin to spy on Chancellor Palpatine had me riveted, which has never happened before in this entire prequel trilogy! They do quite a bit to set up the growing tensions between these two characters, while also solidifying the bond that will make their ultimate conflict all the more tragic.

We also get to see some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) manipulations by Palpatine as he attempts to sway Anakin to the dark side of the Force. Ian McDiarmid is a fabulous actor, and he's chewing up the scenery in every line of dialogue he has here. It's a welcome change of pace for the formerly stoic and unemotional performance we'd previously seen from him. I still hold the theory that this entire plot (namely the death of Padme) is being orchestrated from Palpatine from the get-go. How else would he know about her death, or that they were even romantically involved? There's a really good video that goes into more depth about this theory, which you can see HERE. I don't know that guy, but he seems really smart.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this movie, but I'll spare you the really geeky details about Darth Plagueis (yes, he is the father of Anakin Skywalker, or so it is strongly hinted in the James Luceno novel of the same name), Order 66, or the reason why Anakin cut off Mace Windu's hand. Suffice it to say that this movie is dark, exciting, unnerving, and a little depressing... but all in a good way. There are some obvious problems with some line readings later on in the film that are tough to defend, but overall this is a pretty masterful film that ties up a lot of loose threads between the prequels and the original trilogy. The climactic lightsaber battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan is one of the high points of the entire saga, and the conclusion of that fight easily the most tragic. This is easily the best of the prequels, and I'm going to give it a well-deserved three and a half stars. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned from my review of Rogue One very soon!

STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images