Sunday, January 1, 2017

Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith (2005) (Movie Review)

     “Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace” was a movie I loved when I was a child, but it got worse with repeated viewings, and now I just plain don’t watch it. I had kind of the opposite effect with the 2005 movie “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”. When it first premiered, I was just getting out of middle school, and didn’t think much of it. The whole film just came off as very “okay” to me, but nothing too special. Over the years, I’ve found myself liking it more with repeated viewings, to the point where I'd call it a small favorite in the series. While I still can’t call this movie “great”, I certainly wouldn’t call it bad. At the very least, I’d put "Revenge of the Sith" in the category of “good”, but that’s “good” with a lowercase “g”. I certainly admire this one for its overall tone, pace and honest ambition. It just felt like the creatures were more passionate about this project, and the effort definitely shows, even if they didn’t hit a bull’s-eye every step of the way.

     Here’s the set up, war is waging all across the galaxy, but thanks to several successful missions involving our two Jedi hero’s Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, victory seems to be on the horizon. However, when Anakin learns that his wife Padme is pregnant, he begins to fear for her life and the life of his unborn child, which leads him down a dark and twisted path. The evil Darth Sidious, under the guise of Emperor Palatine takes full advantage of Anakin’s situation and twists his mind, leading him to become the evil Darth Vader. Soon, our hero’s find themselves losing everything, all their closest allies betray them, the Jedi get wiped out in the massacre of Order 66, and the fate of the galaxy looks bleak, save for one last gimps of hope that comes in the form of two infant children. Not a bad set up, all things considered. It’s a much darker story, it feels like an epic even in the timeline, there’s lots of action, the pacing is great, and as a prequel, it segues into the original trilogy fairly well.    

      Just like “Return of the Jedi”, the movie begins with a half hour long bonus adventure, involving our hero’s sneaking aboard an enemy ship and performing a rescue mission. Christopher Lee makes a quick appearance as the villain Count Dooku who engages our hero’s in one last light saber dual, which is a welcome addition. The scene doesn’t have much barring on the plot, but it does a decent job setting up some things that will come into play later, and seeing our two hero's working side by side as best friends is a great contrast to what happens at the end of the film. It shows how diverse Anakin’s relation with Obi-Wan gets between the opening and closing acts of the film, and I love the shift in tone, going from lighthearted fun, too dark and brooding.  The transition between these two tones is very natural, the pacing is great, and there are plenty of moments when I find myself getting really invested in the situation at hand.

       One of my favorite things about this movie is how it makes up for its predecessors problem of explaining everything. This time things play out naturally, and there’s even a strong touch of atmosphere that brings the films universe to life. Take the Opera house scene as a prime example, it’s a pivotal moment in which Anakin learns of the Sith’s ability to keep people from dying. However, instead of having the villain give one big exposition dump, he talks to our hero about this by means of reciting a legend from old, and nothing adds more substance to a films mystical universe then its own mythos. Another great scene is when Anakin makes his fatal diction to join the dark side, as there’s no dialog in this moment at all, it’s just the raw expressions on his face while he stares out a window, and as we watch the gears turning in his head, and there’s a haunting score adding to the atmosphere of the moment. While I could praise the overall presentation of this movie all day, the devil is unfortunately lurking in the details.

     First of all, while the conversations aren’t exactly boring in the film, the dialogue itself can get downright atrocious. The romantic banter between Anakin and Padme is complete garbage, and it didn’t need to be. There was actually a perfect opportunity here for them to bond over something, and that’s their unborn, still to be determined child. Take the balcony scene for example, it’s just a lot of forced romantic dialog with Anakin describing how attractive Padme is, but picture this ... they could have shared a really touching conversation about what their child’s name should be. That would have made the ending so much more effective, and it’s such a missed opportunity. Some of the remaining conversations are completely out of context. For example, there’s a moment at the end when Anakin says to Padme that he’s done all of this to protect her, but then 5 seconds later he says he wants to take over the whole galaxy and make things the way he wants them to be, which has nothing to do with his motivations for turning evil in the first place.   

    That leads me into my biggest problem of the whole movie, and once again it's Anakin Skywalker himself. As I stated in my previous review, they made it impossible for me to care for this guy, and turning evil seemed more like a natural thing for him, when it really should have been a shock. Worse is how quickly he turns evil, and with pore motivations. If you’ve seen the movie, you know it’s his fear of losing Padme that initially gets him to switch sides. Personally, I think it would have been a lot more effective if Padme died half way through the movie, and the Jedi were unintentionally responsible, and then Anakin goes evil. That would have been far more tragic and fitting for the character.

      There aren’t too many new characters, but the cast is definitely improving on their craft. Ewan McGregor delivers his sharpest performance yet as Obi-Wan Kenobi, despite some silly puns. Yoda is a bad ass through and though, as every time he’s on screen is an exhilarating glee moment. Samuel L. Jackson regrettably has little to do in the role of Mace Windu, and his performance comes off as really tiered. Natalie Portman returns as Padme, and to her credit, she’s putting a lot of honest effort into this performance. In the past two movies, her delivery was so wooden and stiff, but now she’s putting a lot more heart and soul into the delivery. While not quiet at Oscar winning standards yet, it's clear that she's at least trying.

      There’s a new villain called General Grievous, who’s kind of like a cyborg, with organic parts underneath a robot body. He has a cool design and some awesome action scenes, but the character himself just comes off as very boring and generic to me. There’s just nothing menacing about this character, especially with him wheezing like he has a cold. The real star who owns the show is Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine. Despite some really silly moments, he still retains the same menace of his role from the original, and gives him a lot of variety. Sometimes he’s quiet and manipulative, while other times he’s over the top and creepy. It’s everything you’d want from a classy villain, and Ian McDiarmid just savors every juicy moment of it. I also like how we’re only hinted at the Emperors back story, without going into specific details. This way we can have some clue of his origins, without spoiling his mysterious overtone.  

    There’s a lot more fan service in this film, but it’s kept subtle, and for the most part is kind of cool. Giving Chewbacca a little cameo was a nice touch. Padme is seen with the bread bun hair due that Princess Leia originally made popular. We get a quick glimpse of the Death Star under construction, and I really like that we briefly see a Peter Cushing lookalike as Governor Tarkin. There’s even a moment at a landing dock in which you can just barely see the Millennium Falcon. Of course the highlight comes at the end when we see Darth Vader all suited up. Sure it was stupid to hear him shout “NO”, but it was cool just to see him in another Star Wars movie, and voiced again by James Earl Jones. Now there are some small continuity errors that don’t match with the original trilogy. Most notably is Padme dying after she gave birth, when in “Return of the Jedi” Princess Leia described seeing her real mother at a young age, but I really don’t care to nitpick at things like that.  

      John Williams also hits it out of the park again with the new musical score, which really livens up the action. His track titled “A Hero Falls” is especially good, and highlights Anakin’s story with a score that’s haunting, epic and somber all at once. The Order 66 segment was handled and shot very well. Even though I didn’t really care for any of these Jedi characters, it was still very effective and tense to see them get executed on such a large scale. The action scenes are exhilarating, and this time I feel that they complement the story, but they also lack the subtlety of the original films. A lot of that has to do with all the visual effects, which are very impressive, but there also a little too over blown and distracting. There’s a massive space battle in the opening of the film that’s stuffed with so much going on that I can hardly tell what I’m looking at. Still it is impressive when viewed from a technical perspective, and the opening tracking shot is a thing of beauty in it's own right. 

      This movie also has the biggest collection of lightsaber duals in the whole series, which is great, but the actual choreography can get a little over blown at times, to the point where it looks like the characters are dancing. The climax is a genuinely thrilling finale as it cuts back and forth between two huge lightsaber duals. Seeing Yoda battle the Emperor was a dream come true, because these were the old masters that always seemed at the top of their craft, and it was awesome to see them finally clash. The final dual between Anakin and Obi-Wan once again is a big spectacle, but I also miss how the original films could get me thrilled without such an overblown setting like this volcanic planet. Regardless, this is still a riveting final battle, and can be regarded as the most grand scale light-saber duel of the whole franchise. Although, in my opinion it still doesn't hold a candle to the final duel from "Return of the Jedi". The real highlight of this ending is seeing the birth of Darth Vader inter-cut with the birth of his children Luck and Leia ... that was very effective, and it dose a great job setting the stage for the original trilogy.  

      I realize my opinion in this review has been all over the place, but that’s kind of how I feel when watching this film. It’s obvious that when this film is bad, it’s annoyingly bad, but when it’s good ... it’s actually pretty damn good. At the very least, I think this film hits more often then it misses. The story flows very well, there’s some rich atmosphere, the action scenes (while over the top) are still a lot of fun, the music is stunning, and for once there was a lot of honest effort from both the writers and the respected cast. While it’s not on par with the originals, I find it leaps and bounds better than any of the previous prequel films, so take that for what it’s worth.

All my "Star Wars" movie grading's reflect how I personally feel when comparing this film to other installments in the franchise, and not movies in general, so with that said ... I give Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith” 3 ½ stars out of 5, it earns that much.

    To Be Continued ...

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