In anticipation of the brand new Star Wars films, I will finally be expressing my thoughts on the original trilogy plus its prequels. And we only have this one left:
Calling Revenge of The Sith the best of the Star Wars prequels isn’t saying a great deal. Most of the praise directed at this movie concerns the things that aren’t in it, ignoring the problems that still are. There’s no prominent child character, there’s almost no Jar-Jar Binks, and there’s not as great a focus on that forced, chemistry-less excuse of a love story. Instead, this is by far the darkest film of the three, and I am not sure how you go to a movie about child slaughter and genocide from one where a funny CGI rabbit-thing steps in poop.
Episode III opens on a space battle above Planet Coruscant and I’ll try to explain the convoluted bullshit at hand as delicately as I can. Our two favorite Jedi knights Obi-Wan and Anakin (Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen) fly aboard a ship that belongs to some goofy cyborg-lizard-thing called General Grievous (Matthew Wood). Their mission: to save Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has been kidnapped by Grievous with a little help from devious Sith lord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), the latter of whom Anakin kills in cold blood, taking his next step towards the “Dark Side of The Force”. Now, it’s not a spoiler to anyone that Palpatine is really the Sith master Darth Sidious so you gotta seriously wonder how much of the kidnap was part of his scheme, and whether or not Dooku and Grievous truly (1) knew who Palpatine is and (2) were in on having their lives put in danger. My advice is to give it no thought whatsoever since thinking about stuff has thus far proven to only make these movies worse.
After the rescue mission, Anakin learns that his “secret” wife Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is pregnant, and like the whiny emo he still is, he immediately starts having nightmares about Padmé dying at childbirth. This is perfect for Palpatine because now he can use Anakin’s paranoia to lure him into the death-cheating abilities he could be taught with The Force, not by a Jedi, but by a Sith. And with all his sudden talking about the Dark Side, plus the fact that he recently ordered Dooku to be killed without trial and Obi-Wan to be left behind on Grievous’ ship during the rescue, it STILL takes Anakin a while to figure out that Palpatine is Darth Sidious. Like I said, Palpatine’s overly ambitious plan only succeeds thanks to the stupidity of everyone else in the galaxy.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan travels to some mountain planet to fight Grievous as wisest Jedi of ’em all Yoda (Frank Oz) brings an army of Clone Troopers to the Wookie planet of Kashyyk (oh fuck) so that we can have a forced cameo from Chewbacca, played again by Peter Mayhew. In fact, most of the Jedi are spread across the galaxy, fighting off what’s left of the Separatists and Grievous’ forces, each with their own squad of clones. This, too, works perfectly for Palpatine when Anakin reaches his breaking point, kills off fellow knight Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) in a certainly undignified manner just as he too has learned of Palpatine’s plan, and finally joins the Dark Side as Sidious’ new apprentice – Darth Vader. It is also from this point on that Palpatine’s at his most hammy and, honestly, the best character in the movie. I’m so glad he wins at the end, which I will now spoil.
And so Palpatine safely orders all the clones in the galaxy to execute the remaining Jedis, leaving only Obi-Wan and Yoda alive, and also tells Anakin to go to the lava planet of Mustafar to wipe out Viceroy Gunray (Silas Carson) and the Separatists. However, Obi-Wan and Padmé follow him here and shit gets real. Feeling betrayed by them both, Anakin mortally wounds Padmé by strangling her with The Force (?) and then has the biggest, longest, and most insufferably boring lightsaber battle of them all with Obi-Wan, all while we occasionally cut to Yoda having an epic saber duel with Sidious until Jimmy Smits rescues him (why characters as awesomely powerful as Yoda and Sidious need to fight with swords in-between shooting lightning and throwing giant objects at each other I know not).
At last, Obi-Wan defeats Anakin and leaves him to burn to death (again, what good friends they are) only for Sidious, now calling himself Emperor Palpatine, to rescue him at the last minute and put him inside the Darth Vader suit, all whilst Padmé indeed dies during childbirth elsewhere in the galaxy. As Padmé draws her last breath, Vader takes his first.
So now it’s happening. You’re sitting there in the theater in the year 2005, and you’re finally about to see Vader make an honest-to-God actual appearance. After being teased with promises of seeing Darth Vader on the big screen one final time and getting an epic tie-together of two epic trilogies, fans were hopeful that maybe, just maybe this was gonna make it all worth it. Instead the movie eventually ended, and I’d say the fans reacted similarly to the way Vader reacted when he finally spoke and his first instinct was to ask how his moronic girlfriend was feeling. Hint: it’s the opposite of shouting “yes”.
And that’s it. That’s how The Trilogy of Grave Disappointment ends. I don’t even know what to say at this point besides briefly recapping all the things that went wrong here. This movie yet again lacks the emotional connection between the audience and the characters, there’s no true tension during any action scene they partake in, the actors seem as bored and unconvinced of their digital surroundings as we are, there’s nothing stylistically interesting about the cinematography or editing, most action scenes are too long and too cluttered by too much stuff happening at once, the dialogue scenes are tedious as ever, and the references to the classic movies are either desperate attempts at evoking nostalgia or just major headscratchers.
For example: why erase the memory of C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) to explain why he can’t remember Tatooine or the true identity of Vader in the films that take place after this one, but leave R2-D2’s (Kenny Baker) memory untouched? Why does Obi-Wan take one of Vader’s children to the planet where Vader himself grew up when the plan is to “hide” the child? Oh and what’s with Palpatine’s face melting off and looking more like his face in Return of the Jedi? Is it an effect of the Force lightning he gets thrown back at him by Windu or is that his true form? Who knows? Who cares?
I will admit once more that this is better than both Attack of the Clones and Phantom Menace, and acknowledge some of the highlights. Hayden’s acting isn’t quite as bad as in the last one, even if he’s still whiny and non-badass; McGregor and McDiarmid are both great and/or fun in their roles; some shots are of actual interest (but only the ones Spielberg helped with); the scene where all the Jedis are destroyed is probably the most honestly emotional moment in the entire trilogy and John Williams‘ music during the overlong climax is actually pretty good. I also liked General Grievous in a “so bad it’s good” way. Oh and C-3PO looks 100% like C-3PO now, gold tint and everything, so there’s that!
All-in-all, I just don’t know what George Lucas was thinking. I don’t know why he would pick the whiny Hayden Christensen to fill the shoes shared by David Prowse and James Earle Jones, I don’t know why he thought Darth Vader’s backstory needed to be that of a prophecised Space Jesus, I don’t know why he started the prequel trilogy on a goofy movie with cartoony slapstick and ended it on forced amputation and burning people alive, I don’t know why he thought kids would care about political debates in-between the excessive fighting, and I don’t know why he cared so much about spectacular effects when a spectacular story is all we really wanted. I suppose it was to make money and sell toys, something that should be a by-product of the film’s success as opposed to the reason it is being made. That’s it. That’s why I will always stick by my opinion that these films don’t even hold the faintest candles to the Star Wars films released between 1977 and 1982, and that whatever J.J. Abrams got planned, it cannot possibly miss the point more gravely than this did.
If you prefer these movies over the old ones because you like how wacky they are or because you like laughing at all the stupid lines or tonal inconsistencies or whatever else they got, that’s all fine and good. I just hope a part of you still understands what these movies got wrong that the original films got right and why Star Wars truly does mean so much to so many. It’s not about the groundbreaking 3D effects or the merchandise. It’s the characters, and the adventures we got to go on with them; adventures that back then felt completely real, not only thanks to how real the world looked, but thanks to how real the characters felt and the impact they left on us all. That is what Star Wars is, and what it will always continue to be.
In the unlikely event that you’ve never seen these films but still desire to do so in spite of my warnings, might I at the very least suggest that you watch them with the RiffTrax commentary, the RedLetterMedia commentary or anything that would otherwise make the viewing experience endurable? Another option is that you simply search for Backstroke of the West on YouTube, which will show you a bootlegged version of the film where Chinese subtitles have been “translated” directly back to some semblance of English. Backstroke of the West is easily my favorite Star Wars film; I can tell ya that much.
Well, guys. Those were my thoughts on Star Wars and now I feel just about done. Unless I review Clone Wars. Yeah, I’ll probably review Clone Wars.