Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III Review

I'm probably wrong, but I think it was Dostoevsky who said that you cannot truly know something without first loving it. I'll begin this review, then, by saying that I know Star Wars and freely acknowledge its influence on my childhood and even adulthood. I was born two months after the first movie came out and Episodes I and III were released one week after my undergraduate and business school commencements, respectively; at the very least, I'm able to mark several important events in my life by these movies. I've been able to accept - more so than others, at least - the inferior storytelling in the first two prequels by enjoying their spectacular visuals and action sequences. More than that, however, I accepted that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were the long ago and far, far away story that George Lucas wanted to tell. My favorite movies are all ones that inspire me when the filmmaker's imagination explodes onto the screen. The Star Wars movies - all of them - do that for me, despite their shortcomings.

And Episode III - Revenge of the Sith - has many fewer shortcomings than its immediate predecessors. It's second act is a bit slow, Natalie Portman is underused, and Anakin's motivation for going to the dark side is somewhat unconvincing. Plus, there's still too much political speechifying, with actors too often expressing loyalty to democracy and political principles, even if the Jedi are not much more than Republic marshals with supernatural powers. That being said, ROTS is a fantastic movie with incredible action, beautiful visual effects, and many heartfelt moments that appealed both to my inner SW geek and movie-lover in general.

The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master. -Darth Vader in Episode 4 - A New Hope

(spoilers from here on in)

ROTS starts off with a spectactular space sequence that has the deliberate pacing and attention to detail rivaling the series' best dogfight at the end of Return of the Jedi. Anakin and Obi-Wan defeat Count Dooku, confront the Federation's new arch-villain General Grievous, and crash-land a huge starship on Coruscant. Reunions abound and the Jedi Council and Chancellor Palpatine begin their tug-of-war on Anakin's conscience. Basically, Anakin is seduced by the power of the dark side by its promise to save Padme from death in childbirth. Unfortunately, the weak love story makes this reason unconvincing; Anakin wants mostly to get his way and will use any means to that end. A scene with Palpatine and Anakin at the opera, with the Chancellor relating stories of the Sith, implies that Anakin was either Palpatine (who is Darth Sidious) or his Sith mentor's creation, manipulating the prophecy of the Chosen One to eventually destroy the Jedi.

The action again picks up with Yoda dispatched to Kashyyk to lead the Wookiees against a droid army attack. Obi-Wan is sent to Utapau to dispatch General Grievous, and Palpatine eventually reveals himself as Darth Sidious to Anakin and the Jedi. Obviously, this plan works to separate Anakin from the Jedi he actually trusts, so when he turns against the Jedi, there is no one to stop him. Palpatine's transformation into the wrinkled emperor is also very graphic and well done. The action at this point is very cool and Senator Organa (Jimmy Smits) actually plays a major role at this point, orchestrating Obi-Wan's and Yoda's rescue.

The final act has the long-imagined duel between Obi-Wan and the newly appointed Darth Vader on a spectacular lava world called Mustafar. Intercut is the duel between Yoda and Sidious set in the Galactic Senate. This duel shows why Yoda says in ROTJ "do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor." After a vicious lightsaber duel above incredibly-realized lava flows, Obi-Wan defeats Vader and leaves him for dead. The final tragic scenes that include the twins birth and separation, Padme's death and funeral, and the transformation of Vader into the suit are very moving. Lucas ends his epic just as I imagined he would, on Tatooine, with the setting suns and John Williams memorable score. The circle is now complete and we are left with the haunting need to remember how the story really ends.


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