Cal brings the bad Star Wars movies to a close with George Lucas’ final turn behind the megaphone.
Who made it?: George Lucas (Director/Writer), Rick McCallum (Producer), LucasFilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox.
Who’s in it?: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz.
Tagline: “The saga is complete.”
IMDb rating: 7.7/10.
For whatever reason, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was embraced by critics and film-goers alike back in 2005, with some foolishly proclaiming this prequel to be a masterpiece on the same level as the original trilogy. Oh, how reckless such comments now look in 2015. One supposes the warm reception was simply because the world was too eager for another good Star Wars movie after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and it was too hard to come to terms with yet another disappointment.
Ten years on, however, and Revenge of the Sith is every bit as awful as the other entries in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, finding writer/director George Lucas at his most unrestrained and excessive. Here’s the issue: Lucas makes movies for himself, but rather than making something personal and admirably experimental, he just enjoys lathering the screen with as much CGI nonsense as possible. And believe me, it is nonsense, with very little in the way of logic or emotion as the long-suffering actors stand around delivering stilted dialogue in front of blue screens.
With the Clone Wars coming to an end, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) becomes haunted by visions of his now-pregnant wife Padme (Natalie Portman) dying during childbirth. Anakin’s request to join the Jedi Council is rejected, leaving the young Jedi confused about who to trust, ultimately turning to his one true supporter, Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who assures Anakin that he has the capacity to keep Padme alive. The Jedi Council suspects that Palpatine is involved in a power play that may lead to the downfall of the Republic, while Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) grows suspicious of Anakin’s allegiances.
One cannot help but lament the dreadful storytelling of the Star Wars prequels. The main points of The Phantom Menace could have been covered in the brisk opening third of a more skilful film, while the primary story of Revenge of the Sith should have taken two movies to cover. Lucas rushes the important material, and as a consequence, the story doesn’t make the impact that it should. It also doesn’t help that Lucas is a special effects pioneer rather than a storyteller. Anakin’s transition to the Dark Side is outright amateurism; he goes from a whiny young Jedi to a child killer in the space of five-minutes. In Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Obi-Wan explains that Vader was seduced by the Dark Side, implying a dense, tragic tale of Anakin’s descent into darkness. But Revenge of the Sith depicts a rage-filled, angsty Jedi who fears the death of his missus, and who’s tricked by Palpatine. That’s the rich history behind the legendary Darth Vader? At the end of the day, this trilogy wastes too much time on a sappy romance that’s never believable, in the process utterly mismanaging Anakin’s entire arc. With the metamorphosis lacking proper drama and humanity, it’s hard to feel moved by any of the onscreen events. Worse, Vader’s rising should be momentous, but it’s ruined by the infamous “Noooo!” moment that will still make any Star Wars fan cringe.
Revenge of the Sith reinforces the opinion that Lucas is really not cutout to be a writer, as this third prequel is a clusterfuck from a screenplay perspective. Inconsistencies are limitless, especially when it comes to Jedi powers which are only effective when it’s convenient for the plot. For instance, Obi-Wan is able to sense Count Dooku’s presence on a spaceship, but none of the Jedi Knights can sense that they are about to be betrayed? Even though the conspiracy has been years in the making? And, as with the other prequels, Revenge of the Sith creates franchise contradictions as well. For instance, the Death Star is under construction at the end of this movie, but apparently it takes three decades for it to be built, whereas it only takes three years between A New Hope and Return of the Jedi for a new Death Star to take shape in the Original Trilogy. And how can Princess Leia remember her mother if Padme dies at the moment of childbirth? This is a powerfully stupid, unfocused movie, and even though its built on a potentially interesting basis of themes involving power and politics, Lucas cannot quite figure out how to make it all work. Sith was actually the first Star Wars instalment to receive a PG-13 rating, and it is a dark movie, with some violence that may be too intense for the younger kids Lucas had targeted for the past two prequels, which is a bit of an odd conundrum.
Even the structure of the picture is problematic, with the movie cutting to different scenes in the midst of action sequences, which serves to seriously diminish impact and immediacy. In fact, Lucas keeps crossing to scenes which end so quickly without a proper resolution that one must seriously wonder what the point was. This keeps dragging on and on, with choppy editing marring the entire enterprise until it finally ends near the 140-minute mark. Worse, Lucas also goes overboard with fancy scene transitions, leading to some seriously out-of-place moments. Film schools constantly tell students to avoid all transitions beyond straight cuts and dissolves (with the occasional wipe) for good reason: fancy transitions are fucking bizarre and distracting.
Sith is the first, and to date only, live-action Star Wars film to involve absolutely no location shooting. Save for a brief Tatooine moment that was actually filmed during the production of Attack of the Clones, the movie was shot within the confines of soundstages, with minimalist sets and blue screens galore. Virtually everything is digital now, to the extent that it often looks like a Pixar movie. On top of CGI Wookies and CGI clonetroopers, R2-D2 is entirely digital at times, and the little droid even fights! (Don’t even get me started on how thoroughly stupid the battle droids are, with Lucas playing them for laughs and slapstick comedy – they’re fucking useless.) Hell, Lucas famously wanted an additional shot during the Anakin/Obi-Wan lightsabre duel but the actors weren’t available for reshoots, so an entirely digital shot was created. The Wookie planet of Kashyyyk looks like a PS3 game environment, while the space battles resemble computer game cutscenes. Action set-pieces look like cartoons, packing very little in the way of tension. Obi-Wan even rides a digital lizard for a little while, but its weightlessness and speed renders it utterly fake.
It might be an unpopular opinion, but Sith is also the ugliest chapter in the PT. For all its flaws, The Phantom Menace was shot on 35mm film stock and did carry a certain amount of practical effects, but Sith is all about digital, digital, digital. Nothing looks tangible or real, with the excessive gloss and incredibly busy shots (which are often too frenetically-edited) only serving to take us out of the film. As a result, it’s impossible to get fully invested in the drama. The climactic Anakin/Obi-Wan duel should be an intense, dramatic, heart-wrenching moment, but it has to happen on a volcano planet, moving between bridges and rocks, with lava rain, collapsing structures and hovering platforms. It leans so heavily on the CGI spectacle and is so far removed from tangibility that the drama makes precisely zero impact. It’s just ugly, rampant excess. Put simply, nothing here even comes close to the exciting Death Star assault in A New Hope, or the enthralling lightsabre duel at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.
It almost goes without saying, but awful dialogue runs rampant throughout Sith, proving yet again that Lucas should never be allowed to write a screenplay. Large chunks of the movie are dedicated to static shots of people talking whilst sitting or walking very slowly. And with none of the characters ever delivering memorable or witty dialogue, it’s a chore to watch. Let’s just remember that Lucas himself admits he’s the king of wooden dialogue, and Harrison Ford famously told the filmmaker, “George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!” Acting is uniformly awful across the board, with Christensen’s performance on track with a sub-par school play, while Lucas manages to coax yet another performance out of Samuel L. Jackson that’s boring and passionless. McGregor is a blank slate, while Portman is a cardboard cutout. The only actor capable of making the script palatable is Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, arguably the best villain of the prequel trilogy, but he’s bumped off in the first ten-minutes. Another tremendous missed opportunity is newcomer General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood). Grievous should be a badass, lightsabre-wielding bounty hunter who kills the majority of the Jedi, but instead he’s dismissed before the halfway mark, and the Jedi Knights die cheap deaths at the hands of the clonetroopers. And it’s every bit as stupid as it sounds.
What’s depressing about Revenge of the Sith, and the Prequel Trilogy in general, is that Vader’s entrance in A New Hope now loses a certain degree of effectiveness, with the woeful portrayal of Anakin in the prequels making Vader look less badass. What’s more, watching the series in chronological order is a foolish idea, because it ruins the impact of the climactic “I am your father” reveal at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. This twist was a huge deal back in 1980, but nobody will understand what the fuss was all about anymore. At the end of the day, there are enjoyable parts of Revenge of the Sith, most notably when Yoda (Frank Oz) cuts loose and fights, but for the most part, it’s a muddled mess in need of a complete overhaul. And I was left breathing a sigh of relief as the end credits began to roll, signifying the end of a trilogy that fell criminally short of all that it could – and should – have been.
Well, isn’t this hard. Hmm, the concluding coda is alright. I guess.
- Originally, a young Han Solo was going to make an appearance in the film, living among the Wookies on Kashyyyk.
- The subtitle Revenge of the Sith is a play on the working subtitle for Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), “Revenge of the Jedi.” For Episode VI, that title was abandoned because George Lucas determined that revenge was not a suitable attitude for a Jedi. Since this film, however, is about the triumph of the Sith, “revenge” is entirely appropriate.
In the opening sequence when the second Separatist ship is destroyed, a piece of debris flies into the Clone Star destroyer that shot it. That piece of debris is a Kitchen Sink. It was put in there by ILM as a joke from someone saying, “We’re throwing everything in the sequence but the kitchen sink.”
The final film to be distributed by 20th Century Fox, which permanently holds the rights to the original Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) and hands over rights to the prequel trilogy and the final two installments of the original trilogy to Walt Disney Studios after May 2020, due to the Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of LucasFilm in 2012.