Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith
It certainly took long enough, but George Lucas is about to have his day in the sun. After the most beloved trilogy in history (Star Wars Episodes IV, V, and VI) garnered a well-deserved spot in film history, fans of the mythology-inspired space saga were somewhat disenchanted when the reclusive director brought forth the first two prequels. Critics derided the films as organically deprived, while Star Wars aficionados strung up Jar-Jar Binks in effigy and then glumly accepted Episode II as at least marginally better than its predecessor. In short, it’s been a pretty bad decade for the Skywalker clan.
But as the fate of Lucas’ fictional galaxy heads for the dark side of the force – that mystical energy that surrounds all beings and seemingly keeps the merchandizing franchise afloat – his level of public adoration steps from the shadows and into the sun. Episode III is a well-crafted, inspired motion picture, the kind that will have fans cheering and returning to the Cineplex over and over again in a dazed desire to see evil lord Darth Vader be born again and again in a singular sequence that will likely be remembered as the most fulfilling culmination of a multi-picture project ever conceived.
And perhaps therein lies the genius of Lucas: it cannot have been easy to patiently suffer the disfavor of the Star Wars devotees over the last few years while slowly architecting a thematic crescendo that to many of us seemed a long time to come in a galaxy far, far away. But in holding steadfast, he has certified the wild popularity of this final chapter: the three prequels are certainly one film, without whose climactic conclusion feels appropriately incomplete. “The Revenge of the Sith” is, for all its merits, one of the best pictures to come out in years.
The story picks up rapidly – you won’t believe how fast – with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) fighting to end the clone wars that erupted at the end of the second film. Kenobi is sent to bring General Grievous (digital) to justice, and his absence proves deadly: without his benevolent guidance, Anakin is increasingly prone to the dark proddings of Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has begun transforming the war-weary Republic into the Galactic Empire. Anakin’s descent into the dark side, held in check for some time by his love for Princess Padme (Natalie Portman), shifts the balance of power in formidable ways, and the struggle for the galaxy accelerates to high speed.
Lucas, for all of his vision, has yet to find the directing chops to generate a human story from his digital landscape; his attempts are cogent, as when, during the pivotal scenes wherein Anakin’s emotions are torn between good and evil, he gazes across the sunset skyline of Coruscant to where Padme awaits him - a pretty moment. But Lucas’ lack of theatrical directing experience remains his greatest weakness, exemplified by his repetitive inability to cull from Christensen and Portman anything resembling a realistic love scene. In that sense, the necessary machinations of the prequels worked against Lucas: these films, ultimately, are about one man’s descent into darkness, as mythological – and as human – a story as one could hope to tell. Christensen is not up to the task, and with Lucas at the helm, the emotional trajectory of even this last film wanders off its spine, weakening the thematic undercurrents of the plot. But McGregor once again offers up stellar work as the young Obi Wan; without his stalwart center, the first half of the picture never would have held together. And it’s time to recognize Ian McDiarmid for his ongoing contribution to the franchise – as Palpatine, he has now been in four of the films, chewing the scenery with high skill.
Yet there is one person – aside from Lucas – who has been with us since the real beginning, and his thoughtful progression over the last three films has been nearly as significant. Music composer John Williams here executes a musical progression from the themes he invented for the first two prequels to those we’ve been humming since 1978. As the first stanzas of “Luke and Leia” begin to move ephemerally through the aural landscape of “Revenge of the Sith,” it becomes clear that Williams, too, has played us a lengthy progression that packs nearly as much punch as Lucas’ wizardry.
As the rough-hewn first half of the film – past the whirlwind opening sequence and into the lengthy, occasionally awkward, first and second acts – resolves and Anakin chooses his path, you’re apt to feel something entirely unusual occur that sets your pulse racing: a coalescence of artistic intent and hard-won experience finally pushes past the carefully-constructed constraints of the last five years and you can actually feel the picture pick up speed. George Lucas has put the petal to the metal... and from that moment, the picture is pure moviemaking magic. It doesn’t matter that we already know how the story ends, or even that it does so in a downward spiral. Portman’s character utters during the scuttling of the Republic, “So this is how liberty dies—to thunderous applause." For certain, "Revenge of the Sith" chronicles the slippery downward slope that claims the heart of most civilizations with time: corruption at the heart resulting in tyranny. It’s a cautionary tale for our time, ripped from the pages of the Roman Empire. And though the cause of the applause is not deceptive in the case of George Lucas’ (possibly) final chapter, it will be thunderous indeed.