Thursday, May 19, 2005
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.