And so we're faced with the third Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, simultaneously the most anticipated and dreaded film of the summer. Nearly a decade of hype, dashed expectations, and Jar-Jar Binks jokes have finally come down to this, Lucas's third Star Wars prequel and, by all accounts, the last Star Wars movie that will ever be made.
Cutting to the chase, there's a lot to like about the new prequel, so much so that I don't hesitate to recommend it to both Star Wars enthusiasts and casual fans -- no matter what you thought of the last two movies. Finally, Lucas delivers the film we've been waiting for, full of action involving characters we actually care about, and telling along the way the genuinely soulful story of a young man's fall from grace. The executive summary is that Episode III is easily the best of the prequels and it's considerably better than the bloated and nonsensical Attack of the Clones. It may even be better than Return of the Jedi.
Aside from a number of impressive set pieces (the movie's got light saber showdowns galore), Sith's best feature is that it finally answers all those nagging questions about the galaxy from long, long ago, particularly about the role of the clones/stormtroopers in the future Emperor's monumental conspiracy to gain power. Here we get to see exactly how the clone wars go down, what happens to the Jedi, how the Republic turns into the Empire, and how earnest Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) plays the ultimate pawn in all of this. It's a long way from Attack of the Clones to A New Hope, but Lucas deserves credit for getting us from point A to B -- logically (for once), and in just 138 minutes.
Rest assured, Sith is not without a litany of problems. A number of contrived and gratuitous sequences -- notably an 11th hour battle on the wookiee planet Kashyyyk which unites Yoda and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, in his first movie since 1983!) -- feel like the cinematic padding that they are, designed to make old guard Star Wars fans feel like there's more of a connection to the original New Hope.
Sith also continues in Lucas's grand tradition of cornball dialogue (particularly in the first hour, which tidies up the "love story" between Anakin and Natalie Portman's Padmé). Christensen's overacting is outmatched only by a terrible showing from Portman, who comes across without a trace of the grace she had in Phantom Menace. Also, Lucas's non-sequitur humor is painfully out of place, the worst being when a wookiee swinging on a vine does the famous Tarzan/Carol Burnett yodel. Why, George? Why? (Several readers have written in to tell us this yell appeared previously in Jedi.)
Perhaps the strangest bit is the entire first act, which features an extended hunt for a droid commander (huh?) named General Grievous (Lucas reportedly lets his children name his characters, and you can tell), which ends up being a kind of cyborg creature heretofore unseen in the Star Wars series. He's got what looks like a shriveled-up hot dog for a heart, located in his chest under some armor plating. His posture, voice, and coughing(!) make him come across more than a little like The Grinch. But he can wield four light sabers. Now there's something I bet you didn't think you were gonna see in a Star Wars movie.
Ewan McGregor deserves special mention for carrying much of the film on his shoulders as Obi-Wan, genuinely getting across his crushing disappointment at mentoring Skywalker, who eventually turns to the dark side. The film is improved further by the simple fact that you know where the tale is going to end up: Since you already know that by the end of the film Anakin will become Darth Vader and be horribly disfigured and that Luke and Leia will be born and separated, it's just easier to enjoy the ride.
There's nothing quite as thrilling as Episode I's show-stealing pod race in Sith, but the film gets by fine without it. Much has been made of Episode III's "darkness" and more gruesome moments, and the rumors are true. Frankly it's just the shot in the arm the series needed to take it out on a high note (albeit not a very heartwarming one). Finally, fans can put the days of "Yippee!" and Jar-Jar in the past. Star Wars, people, is back.
Act badly and carry a blue stick.
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Run time: 140 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 19th May 2005
Box Office USA: $380.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $850M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Lucasfilm
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 202 Rotten: 51
IMDB: 7.7 / 10
Director: George Lucas
Producer: Rick McCallum
Screenwriter: George Lucas
Starring: Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Natalie Portman as Padmé Amidala, Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine, Frank Oz as Yoda (Voice), Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, Jimmy Smits as Senator Bail Organa, Jay Laga'aia as Captain Typho, Temuera Morrison as Commander Cody, Rohan Nichol as Captain Antilles, Jeremy Bulloch as Captain Colton, Kenny Baker as R2-D2, Silas Carson as Ki-Adi-Mundi / Nute Gunray, David Bowers as Mas Amedda, Keisha Castle-Hughes as Queen of Naboo, Wayne Pygram as Governor Tarkin, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca