Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III Review

As I was walking out of seeing Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith last night, I only had one thought going through my head. It was Eric Cartman's voice from South Park, saying "Dude...that was fucking weak!"

Understand, of course, that I had exceedingly low expectations for this movie. I mean, really low. Think of the lowest thing there is...bottom of the Pacific Ocean, perhaps? Now go lower. Seriously. That's about what I was expecting. Episode I, The Phantom Menace, was an okay movie, but populated with characters that were more annoying than endearing. Episode II, Attack of the Clones, was even more dissapointing, with stilted dialog and horrid direction by George Lucas that managed to make capable actors such as Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson look stiff and wooden. Attack of the Clones also managed to make what should have been an exciting 45 minute closure to a movie look like a Playstation game, with about the same degree of emotional impact.

So, that brings us to Revenge of the Sith, or ROTS as I'll refer to it from now on. As I said, I had very low expectations going into the movie. In fact, as the 20th Century Fox logo came up, I found myself thinking that there was no where to go but up. I hadn't taken one thing into consideration, however, but I'll get to that later.

The movie opens with a space battle that I can safely say is the largest ever put to film. Anakin and Obi-Wan are on their way to rescue the captured Chancellor Palpatine. The visuals here are tremendous, but everything was very hard to follow. There was so much on the screen, and Anakin and Obi-Wan's fighters were so small, that it was almost too much. Things got better once the two Jedi crash land their ships inside the hanger of the flagship to find the Chancellor. There was a fair amount of humor in this section, but it really worked. I felt that Anakin and Obi-Wan were friends as they raced through the starship killing droids and rescuing the Chancellor. I actually was impressed at this point with Hayden Christensen's performance as Anakin, which I could definitely not say after Clones. Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan was good, but R2-D2 probably had the best role in this scene.

After the rescue, the movie falls into the same trap as the first two prequels: wooden reuinions and expositions completely lacking in emotion...or contractions. Seriously, George...would it kill you for someone to use "can't" instead of "cannot"? Just once? At any rate, the movie limps along here for a while setting up some plot points, but as I said: my expectations were low, so I can forgive it here. The highlight of the movie here is Ian McDiarmid's performance as Chancellor Palpatine. He plays well as the manipulative father figure to Anakin.

Which brings me to the point that really killed the movie for me. I don't think it's any secret that A) Palpatine will soon become the Emperor, B) Anakin will soon become Darth Vader, and C) Palpatine is Darth Sidious, the mysterious Sith lord from the first two movies. Palpatine does a good job of manipulating Anakin into turning to the dark side for reasons that are...well, understandable, from a certain point of view. But when the turn actually happens, it felt to me that one second he was Anakin Skywalker, Jedi, husband, father-to-be, and the next second he was Darth Vader, ultimate bad-ass in the galaxy ready to kill anyone who comes in his way. was that quick.

Anakin's embracing of the dark side develops over the movie...but his switch from good to evil happens in the span of blinking your eye. And that was the dissapointment I had with this movie. I didn't think I had any expectations...but I did. The entire point of the prequel trilogy, what all of us Star Wars geeks have been wondering for almost 30 years, was: "How did Anakin fall? How did he get that suit and become Darth Vader?" And after I saw it, I didn't believe it. I won't go into the whole "Lucas raped my childhood" bullshit, but I will say this: I was almost heartbroken. Not because of Anakin's fall, but because his turn was so quick, so pathetically handled, and so unbelievable, that I felt that the last 6 years of watching these movies, and the last ~30 years of being a fan, was a waste.

I tried to convince myself that I was being too critical, but no scene after that in the movie really had any resonance with me. Certainly there were more and more impressive visuals on the screen, and the long anticipated duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan. I'll only say two things about the duel. First, similar to the opening space battle, it was tough to follow, and I don't think having both combatants using blue lightsabers helped. Second, once the battle is joined, there is no emotional punch, just two guys swinging shiny things at each other. After the duel ends, the final conversation Obi-Wan and Vader have could have been so much more, but because at that point I had already given up on the characters...I just wanted Obi-Wan to kill him and go.

So, will I see it again? Probably. I've been Lucas' bitch for this long, I'm sure I'll see it again. Is it better than Episodes I and II? Visually, yes. Emotionally, it's almost worse...because this movie was the point of the entire prequel trilogy, and it felt bungled. Frankly, the best part of the prequel trilogy wasn't even a movie, but the Clone Wars animated series that was on Cartoon Network.

After Cartman's voice got out of my head, there was only one thing left: thank God that's over with.