Saturday, May 21, 2005
  Theatrical Review: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Darrell's Review

I guess I went to see Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith with unreasonable expectations. I shouldn’t blame George Lucas for that. In the end, I have nobody to blame but myself for my high hopes… but in my heart, I really blame Peter Jackson.

I admitted in a post at the original build of film geeks that I’ve never been a huge Star Wars fan. Still, it seemed possible to me… even likely… that Episode III would be the one to change that. This was bound to be a compelling story. This was, after all, the story of Anakin Skywalker’s final fall to the dark side. I went into the theater with a number of questions… What could drive a Jedi literally conceived of the Force itself to embrace evil? What could seduce him so completely? What cataclysmic event or forbidden knowledge might he encounter that seals his fate? I left the theater with those questions unanswered. George Lucas didn’t really answer them… instead, he offered me a series of flimsy contrivances that I just couldn’t swallow.

Now, there were impressive and even amazing elements of Episode III, but I can sum all of those elements up with three words: Industrial Light and Magic. Lucas’s special effects company has never done better work than they do here. The space battles look great, the alien terrains are thrilling to behold, and Yoda is now every bit as real a CGI creation as Gollum himself. Technically, Episode III was breathtaking. Where it fell short was in George Lucas’s inability to come across with the ultimate special effect: a compelling story.

The thing is, I know it can be done. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is an example of a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy that gets it right. Each installment of The Lord of the Rings was better than the one before. Each had better special effects, sure… but each also had better acting, better music, better and more engrossing storytelling, and was ultimately more compelling with each passing hour. And don’t tell me that Peter Jackson had an unfair advantage because he was working with superior source material. Source material is everything. If you don’t have good source material, you don’t have a reason to make a movie. Lucas knows he’s not a screenwriter. He should have brought in help. It’s no coincidence, by the way, that Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is everyone’s favorite episode. For that one, Lucas had a different director and help on the screenplay.

If the Lord of the Rings is a trilogy that gets it right, and the first Star Wars trilogy is an example of a trilogy that almost gets it right (yeah, I don’t love the original trilogy, sue me), then I guess the Matrix trilogy is an example of what happens when movie makers are motivated more by the almighty dollar than by a real drive to tell a story. This latest Star Wars trilogy is probably better than the Matrix trilogy, but still, Anakin Skywalker has more in common with the flat, flashy Neo than with the complex, conflicted Frodo. I may as well get this heresy out in the open, too… I’ve never bought Lucas’s insistence that he had all of these movies in mind since before he ever filmed the first one. I just don’t buy it. In my mind, I see the studio execs at Fox counting all the dough they made from the first Star Wars and calling Lucas up to see if he wants to do a sequel… and I imagine Lucas with the exact delivery of John Lovitz’s pathological liar character Tommy Flanagan, saying “Yeah, yeah… in fact, I had a sequel… uh, I mean two sequels in mind all along… it’s a trilogy, it’s an amazing outer space… I mean, it’s the first of two amazing outer space trilogies… yeah, that’s the ticket!”

The biggest disappointment with Episode III was the complete lack of surprises. I know that this is an origins story, so the ending is a foregone outcome, but that doesn’t mean that Lucas couldn’t have surprised us with a couple of shocking revelations that provide insight into what we already know. Anyone who’s read C.S. Lewis’s masterful Chronicles of Narnia knows this. When the books are read in the correct order, the origins story, The Magicians Nephew, is the sixth of the seven books. Nonetheless, Lewis packs this tale of the creation of Narnia so full of surprises and twists and insights into what we already know about familiar places, events, and characters, that it actually gives new and deeper meaning to everything that we’ve read before that sixth book. An origins story can be full of surprises… the best kind of surprises! A good storyteller can pull that off. Lewis is a great story teller. Lucas, I suppose, is just a mediocre one.

Episode III didn’t even live up to the negative hype. The supposedly dark, scary PG-13 elements weren’t really there… it wasn’t any darker or scarier than the previous PG rated Star Wars films, and some of what was intended to seem dark only seemed hokey. The political undercurrents you might have heard about aren’t there either. I’m convinced (and I don't care what anyone else says) that they exist only in the minds of people who saw the movie desperately looking for reasons to use it to justify their hatred of either the President or the nutcase liberal elitists in Hollywood. Even Lucas’s dire claim that this was going to be the ”Titanic of Space Movies” was off base… unless he simply meant that the story couldn’t hold water.

For me, the highlight of our evening at the theater was the preview we saw for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was all downhill from there.

Episode III isn’t the “Titanic of space movies.” It’s the “Pamela Anderson of space movies.” It’s interesting to look at… it’s pretty in a strange way… but, ultimately, it’s synthetic, artificial, and boring. Unless you just love eye candy, it would be a mistake to spend two and a half hours of your life in a room with either of them.

With special effects that rank a 5 on a 5 scale, but a story that barely rates a 1, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith is, at best, a middling experience.






Wendy's Review

Warning! SPOLIERS!

I’m not a huge fan of Star Wars movies. I like The Empire Strikes Back a lot, but other than that I’m just not a big fan. However, I have seen them all on the big screen thanks to the re-release of the original trilogy when I was in high school. Knowing that Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith would probably be my last chance to see a Star Wars movie on the big screen did make me excited. I was also excited that it would be the first and only time that my kids got to see a Star Wars movie in the theater.

I was excited about Revenge of the Sith because I knew that the story of Anakin’s descent to the dark side could be a very interesting and enthralling story if done well. However, I must have had my expectations too high. I was a tad bit disappointment of how it all played out.

First, let me just say that ILM is amazing. The special effects in Episode III were better than they’ve ever been in a Star Wars movie. Everything looked so real. George Lucas was really able to bring his vision to life. However, you can’t have a story that just looks good, and for the most part Episode III just looks good.

I know that the dialogue in Star Wars movies is always really hokey. Does Lucas do this on purpose? Does he just take all of his time and money making the films look good while he spends five minutes while in the bathroom writing the dialogue. The worst of the dialogue in this film is between Anakin and Padme. Based on the dreadful lines that they said to each other, was I really supposed to buy for a minute the fact that they were in love? Was it just the bad dialogue, or is it also that Hans Christian Anderson or whatever his name is, is such a terrible actor that even the best written dialogue would sound awful coming from him?

There was good acting in the film, though. And that was purely because of Ewan McGregor. He did such a good job as a young Alec Guinness. He was so believable. Even his emotion seemed real during his fight with Anakin. I almost cried.

Onto the villains. What a disappointment! General Grievous was so cool, but he was hardly in the film for me to really enjoy all of his powers. He showed off his cool light saber wielding powers, to no sooner be missing half his limbs. The fight between him and Obi Wan just wasn’t long enough. I would have really liked for there to have been more General Grievous. And poor Christopher Lee. He must hate sequels. He always gets killed in the first ten minutes when he does a sequel. He must hate that.

Anakin’s descent to the dark side could have been awesome, but it wasn’t. It just fell flat. I never really got the sense of a gradual shift in alliances. Instead, the idea of him going over to the dark side to save Padme just didn’t seem real. Maybe part of that is because the relationship between Anakin and Padme didn’t feel real. There never seemed to be any emotion between them. It’s hard to believe that Anakin would give up and go to the dark side for Padme. I just don’t buy it. Is that the best reason they could give?

As for the PG-13, it’s really no worse than the other Star Wars films. For me, the scariest scene was Mace Windu’s death. Granted, Anakin’s charred body was pretty gnarly, but I guess having read so much about it before seeing the film made it not so scary for me. To tell the truth, the scariest thing for me was the preview before Revenge of the Sith for War of the Worlds. Now that looks scary!

Overall, Revenge of the Sith just wasn’t as good as I had hoped. Perhaps I just had my expectations too high. I should have known not to expect greatness from a Star Wars movie. It’s hard for me, though, to not go into a film with this much behind it expecting, or at least hoping, for it to be great. People going to see Revenge of the Sith as a form of escapism will be delighted with what they see. I, however, am just too critical, therefore wasn’t as impressed with Revenge of the Sith as the early reviews had led me to hope for.






By the way, our kids were unfazed by the scary elements of Episode III. And it’s safe to say that they enjoyed it a great deal more than we did. After they saw it, they were anxious to see Return of the Jedi, so they could find out what ultimately happens to Anakin in the end. I thought that was a good idea that they see it, since they’d see that Anakin does the right thing in the end. We’d gotten them the original Trilogy DVD set for Christmas, but they’d never expressed any interest in Return of the Jedi until now… so they watched it today, and imagine our horror when we saw how Lucas had modified the ending. It’s not bad enough that he has to throw together a lame prequel trilogy, he even has to tamper with the original trilogy in order to preserve the continuity of his current crap films! I’m not a Star Wars nut, but I guess I am enough of a purist to be offended by this. Remember the end of Return of the Jedi, when the spirits of Obi Wan, Yoda, and Anikin join the celebration of the successful rebels? Well, in the end of that film as it was originally released, Anakin’s spirit was represented by Sebastian Shaw, the actor who played Anakin when he was unmasked in his death throes by Luke. HOWEVER, in the new DVD version of the film, Shaw has been removed digitally and replaced by Justin Timberlake, or whatever the heck the name of this kid is who plays Anakin in the new movies!

No kidding! Just look:

Here’s a still from the original film, with Sebastian Shaw as Anakin:



And here’s the new DVD version, with blondie as Anakin:



As if I wasn’t already disgusted with Lucas. This takes the cake.

 
Comments:
You two have lost all credibility with me and I'm taking my business elsewhere, like to your rarely posting compettitor whose wife works ina video store. Kidding, of course. :) But I do disagree on some points; not all.

Working backwards, I hated Haydn being in Jedi and can't believe you only discovered that now. That must have been the icing on the cake after being disappointed with Ep III. Still, everything that was good about Jedi was what was good for me in Ep III. Knowing how the Emperor seduced Anakin into killing Dooku made me realize why Vader wouldn't let the same happen to Luke.

ILM impressive and amazing, yes, but what about Ian McDiarmid? Ewan McGregor? These guys SHONE for me. Great to see the villain at his peak and see how he's in control of everything. And McGregor's pain at fighting his student, after what he's done.

There were few surprises I'll agree, too. I had this movie written in my mind as did many people, which may be what worked against it. We didn't know how the original trilogy would end, or how all the characters were related, and the surprise adds to that trilogies longevity. I think that's why we had such expectations for this one. I WAS surprised at Anakin killing the younglings though. If any part of his betrayal was iredeemable it was that, and Obi Wan was as hurt by that as anything.

Question: Have either of you watched the Clone Wars in its entirety? Definitely get more Dooku and Grievous. i too wanted more Grievous; I'm glad he kept getting away though. There was one scary moment on the bridge when I feared he'd be taken out right after Dooku.

I agree about the chemistry between Portman/Christensen. I think on paper the story is a good tragedy. Boy meets girl, boy impregnates girl, boy sees visions of the girl dying, boy seeks to save her desperately but the path he takes leads to him CAUSING the future he saw and leaving him with nothing but his mentor and his new dark powers.

In my book, best of this trilogy and definitely better than Matrix. Best of the six? I plan to watch them all back to back once on DVD and then decide with a fresh memory and an open mind.
 
Maybe I just didn't bother with expectations, but I wasn't really disappointed by Episode III. Disgusted by a few gratuitous scenes, but not disappointed. I'm not going to waste an entire post on my own blog, so here's my issues:

1. I agree about Padme and Anakin. They just don't seem to fit.

2. I agree that Lucas is a crappy storyteller. But when you're used to reading the good stuff, movies (with the extremely surprising exception of LOTR) just don't cut it anyway.

3. The bit where Anakin kills the younglings was not necessary for us to see. Maybe it's my new mommy status, but that scene REALLY bugs me.

4. Watching Anakin burn wasn't all that necessary either. It mostly just made me want to shut the movie off.

Now, here's what I liked:

1. Finally, get the whole story out there!

2. ...

Well, I guess I didn't like it much at all. Oh well.
 
Yeah, having Christensen at the end of Jedi only makes a little sense... he's back in his "pure" state or whatever, but since he found redemption as an old man, and was a murderer as a young man, wouldn't an old Anakin actually be a truer representation for the ghost at the end of Jedi? Seems like Lucas just wanted to show off his special effects again.

Well, I haven't seen Revenge of the Sith yet, and now your reviews are making me wonder if I should wait for DVD....

After waiting 28 years for this epic to finally tie up, I suppose I'll have to see it on the big screen. But with all my expectactions, I can't help but be let down. At least between your reviews and my dislike of Episodes I and II (especially I), my expectations have been lowered a great deal. All the good reviews in the press (and even from some friends) was starting to get me excited again, though, which is probably a bad state to see this movie in. Better to start out expecting the worst and then be pleasantly surprised, I think...

Maybe if I was still a kid I'd get more out of these prequels...
 
Lucas, the prequels seem to go over really well with our kids, so I'm sure you'd enjoy them more if you were a kid, too. Yeah, I think the best idea is to go into this one expecting to be let down... that way, you will be pleasantly surprised if you enjoy it at all. 28 years of legend building is unheard of in today's cinema, and there was just no way that Lucas could have made us all happy, I admit. Still, when what should be the apex falls flat, it is a good indication of Lucas's inability to come up with a good story.
 
I finally watched "Sith Happens" & I have to say I'm still not impressed with Lucas' ability to tell a compelling story.

The special effects were outstanding, but, once again, George gets a C in the dialog department.
 
Do any of you think that any of you could do a better job than Hayden playing Anakin? I don't think so!! He did a wonderful job and his acting abilities are great.I don't see anything wrong with him as a person or as an actor. Why so many haters?I liked all of the star wars movies.Especially the ones with Hayden in them so back off a little .
 
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