Thursday, May 19, 2005

Zaki's Review: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

“I am your father.”

With those four words, coming near the end of the very first Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi Master George Lucas accomplished something extraordinary. He was able to transform his charming little tale of a boy, a girl, and a galaxy, into a generational epic of tragedy, loss, and eventual redemption. It was here that Star Wars ceased to be a harmless curio hearkening back to the latter day-Flash Gordon serials, and truly became a saga.

When Lucas made his much-anticipated return to his “Galaxy Far, Far Away” six years ago with The Phantom Menace, the weight of anticipation stemming from a 16 year wait between entries was simply too much to bear, resulting in a film much-seen but little-loved. The disappointment felt galaxy-wide stemmed from Lucas’ inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to tap into the powerful, mythical well he himself had created, choosing instead to focus on the aw-shucks technical gee-whizzery that had made the original Star Wars (before it was known as A New Hope) such a phenomenon, forgetting that it was the film’s heart that made it resonate.

This feeling was only compounded with the meandering, lackadaisical Attack of the Clones three years later. Had Lucas lost his nerve? Had the audience perhaps built Star Wars up into something its own creator could never hope to match?

The final entry of the prequel trilogy, and the series as a whole, Revenge of the Sith answers both those questions with a resounding no. In what can only be called the greatest comeback story of the year, the Force is indeed back in force. In bringing to the screen the heretofore only hinted-at story of the good Jedi Anakin Skywalker’s metamorphosis into the evil Darth Vader, Lucas has managed to create the Star Wars project fans have been waiting breathlessly for lo these many years.

By painting the Faustian descent of Anakin Skywalker against the backdrop of the total collapse of the Old Republic, and vividly depicting the dissolution of the Jedi Order that has been our primary focus until now, Lucas has crafted an epic tragedy for the ages. Unrelentingly grim at times, with beheadings, deformations, and child-killings aplenty, the best possible compliment I can pay Revenge of the Sith is that there are several moments where you find yourself actually, physically uncomfortable…and not in a “When will this Pod Race end?” kind of way.

Also, for the first time, Lucas ably and assuredly bridges the previous two films with the following three, putting to rest the lingering feeling that this prequel trilogy was oddly disconnected from the original series that spawned it. Perhaps the biggest departure is the writer-director’s laser-like focus on telling the story at hand without the bizarre digressions that marred the previous entries. The painfully unfunny antics of Jar Jar Binks and the wounded-teenager angst of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin are a distant, painful memory.

As we’ve come to expect in these ventures, the special effects are all top-notch, with some surpassing anything we’ve seen before. The action sequence that opens the film is the most non-stop, frenetic dogfight I’ve seen yet attempted in a Star Wars film, and thankfully the pace keeps up. Even the love story between Christensen and Natalie Portman, easily the most laughable element in the previous film, is slightly less so (only slightly, mind you). Make no mistake about it, Lucas’ tin-eared, awkward dialogue is still in full effect, but the entire cast seems more energized with the material for this go-round. Christensen especially is considerably improved since last time, conveying ample emotion through his face and body language that lend credibility to his sudden shift – certainly moreso than the dialogue would seem to allow.

Supporting turns are also solid across the board, with Ian McDiarmid especially savoring his chance to play the sinister Palpatine to the hilt. Samuel Jackson also makes a memorable exit from the series. The only major actor left largely unserviced is Natalie Portman, who is surprisingly absent for much of the film, despite many of the plot’s intricacies revolving around her character Padme.

As it should, Sith builds up to a climactic showdown between the Dark Sided Anakin and his erstwhile mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (the returning Ewan McGregor) and if their battle doesn’t astonish us the way the three-way lightsaber duel in Phantom Menace did, it certainly doesn’t disappoint either. McGregor’s Obi-Wan effectively conveys friendship, love, and sorrow for his ward Anakin, something curiously missing in the previous film’s “Magnificent Bickersons” portrayal of the duo.

The film’s closing act, with the concurrent births of the Darth Vader we all know and love, as well as the twins Luke & Leia, has an operatic inevitability about it that sees elements from the original Star Wars falling into place that, 28 years on, are as familiar to us as our favorite fairy tale, and allow for a seamless transition from new trilogy to old.

With Revenge of the Sith  the circle truly is complete for George Lucas. Though the prequel trilogy got off to a shaky start, he has closed his epic with wit, flair, and style. In so doing, he has ensured the place of the entire Star Wars saga as a classic that will be watched and enjoyed for generations to come.


Omar said...

Nice review. I love your line,
"there are several moments where you find yourself actually, physically uncomfortable…and not in a “When will this Pod Race end?” kind of way." :)
I'm sooo looking forward to my first view, tommorow night.

Parvez said...

I loved your review and shared your sentiments precisely. Like you, I too was weary going into last night's midnight showing. But the film did not dissapoint and the roller coaster ride that begins after the opening fanfare does not relent until the closing credits. Even the arguably slower moments developed key components to the story; in particular the Anakin-Padme and Anakin-Palpatine relationships. Suprisingly what I did find missing (or perhaps I missed it while my jaws were on the floor) was the poor performances on the part of BOTH Christensen and Portman that had rendered Lucas' last offering less than palpatable (okay, downright avoidable). Even the dialogue seemed less clunky and stilted. The CGI was seemless and did not overwhelm me the way it did in both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I think the film's most critical moment was Anakin's full embrace of the darkside. My initial reaction (while viewing the film) was that it was rushed and drastic. But having mulled over it I think it fits well into the overall story arc of the entire saga especially in light of some of the key scenes of Return of the Jedi. I will leave it at that inn case there are some who have not yet seen the film!

Thank you again Zaki for your astute observations and review.

Irfan said...

you nailed it right on the head dude. this last film made up for the last 2 which were not up to the standard star wars "lore". I also feel sad that the whole thing is over now...perhaps Lucas' kid will make the pre-prequel movies or se-sequel movies:)!

Ahmed said...

Nice review Zaki - definitely sparked an interest in me to go see the film!

Anonymous said...

Great review Z.
I loved Sith and feel very similair to you. There were many moments throughout the film where I felt I was watching history (and, in truth, I was)
I'll post my review on myspace later. Again, great review. Look forward to hearing what you think of the rest of this summer's movies.
= P

IvanJames said...

The first three movies still make this current trilogy look like high school plays. Ah the long awaited Revenge of the Sith...where to begin...let's start with my biggest problem...the love scenes.

Everytime a "love" scene comes along the viewer is taken completely out of the movie and forced to look around and ask himself, "am I the only one who wants to laugh at this sappy soap opera writing that first year film students can do better than?" I mean come on George, they're in love...I get it...must you verbally remind me everytime they are together? Where are the character connections that all of us felt during the original trilogy? Where is the Han Solo that everyone loved and wanted to hang out with? Where is the strong feamle character that didn't just sit there and look pretty? And why should I give a damn about Anakin besides the fact that he fathers Luke and Leia, and becomes Darth Vader. He is a weak minded pu**y who doesn't get his way and whines all the time. And the whole wanting power to save his love bit, I just dont buy...They should of just had him been hungry for power for the sake of being hungry for power, not justify it by cheesing it up.

And if this is a time of ultimate war, where are the huge battle sequences that films like Braveheart and the LOTR trilogy execute so well? Where is the tension of war that "this might be the end" feelings should arise? And why was I always looking at my watch to calculate when the Obi Wan vs. Vader battle was going to take place. And when it did come, why was it so decaf?

Well, I think it's because George Lucas has gotten too big for his own good. He has no one to tell him NO. No one ever said to him, "Hey George, some of these scenes like really suck man. Don't you think we could tweak some of this stuff so that we're not telling the audience how to feel all the time....You know, the whole show don't tell principal..."

He has become too consumed with flexing his special effects muscle at the sacrifce of not concentrating on story. We get it man. ILM rocks. But unfortunately your story and characters are weak and unpolished.

But I do have to give the man props for making such a crappy trilogy that has raked in so much cash. And hey they do make excellent trailers for episodes 4, 5, and 6. Revenge of the Sith was indeed better than the first two, and it did fill in all the blanks, but it still ranks a distant second to the original three.

Kash said...


Victoria said...

I think I liked your review better than the movie. ;)

Not that I didn't like the movie, but I didn't leave completely enraptured by it ~ if there hadn't been disaccord with Ep. VI, I'd probably have liked it just a bit better.