Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

  Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
"The Dark Side has dental and 401k?
I'm in!"

© 2005, Lucasfilm/Fox
All Rights Reserved

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Episode II Review
With the Clone Wars drawing to a close, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is haunted by premonitions of the death of his now pregnant wife, Padme (Natalie Portman, seen here in a smaller capacity than expected). After his request to join the Jedi Council is rejected, Anakin looks to the comfort of his only true supporter, the Sith lord Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Obi-Wan Kenobi's (Ewan McGregor, pitch perfect) suspicions of Anakin's wavering loyalty grow stronger by the day, and his fears are realized when Anakin (now known as Darth Vader) and Palpatine quest to rid the galaxy of the Jedi and rule together with their "Galactic Empire."

Here we are at the very end of George Lucas' divisive prequel space opera (or is it just the beginning?), and "Revenge of the Sith" (IMDb listing) is a much different experience than the two previous installments, "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones." As a genuine fan of this lovably loopy space trilogy, I had grown accustomed to Lucas' playful tone, depth of exposition, and finales of hope. "Sith" changes all that. Much like Anakin's turn to the dark side of the Force, "Sith" slowly creeps into a threatening atmosphere, erasing any of the Jar-Jar or pod race hijinks that marked the earlier films. Lucas has come to detail a fall from grace, and it's a doozy of a ride down.

All the ingredients that littered the other prequels return in the new film: the familiar glossy look of the computer-generated world, the incredible number of planets and creatures on display, and the burgeoning tale of love and revenge. In the opening act, where Anakin and Obi-Wan engage in a massive space battle against Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), it looks as though nothing has changed, with the recognizable strains of talky dialog and the liberal bending of known original trilogy staples (So R2-D2 can jump now?). This isn't a negative, mind you, and it immediately reminds the viewer of the high-flying, eye-popping entertainment that Lucas has been providing for the last six years. Do I even need to mention that the film looks amazing? By now it should come as no surprise that Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic effects artists are at the top of their game with the prequels, creating entire environments and adventures out of nothing. "Sith" is their most impressive work to date.

When "Sith" comes back down from space, the story settles in, and those with aversions to the prequel's insistence on constant exposition would be wise to take a bathroom break. While not as complicated as the two previous films, "Sith" is still a mouthful. Lucas not only desires to get all his characters into place, but also to make sure the story threads nicely to "Episode IV: A New Hope" by the end of the film. None of it is ever tedious or unnecessary (unlike the other prequels), but those expecting a huge about-face for Lucas and "Sith" should be warned: there's still quite a lot of story to be covered.

As Anakin falls under Palpatine's spell, and discovers the preventive powers of the dark side, "Sith" plunges into despair. Already shadowy and imposing in cinematography, the PG-13 rating given to "Sith" (a franchise first) is justified. While far from grotesque, this is a slightly more violent adventure. The film's centerpiece is a stunning montage that highlights the mass murder of all the Jedi (yes, even the "younglings"), and climaxes with Anakin's volcanic and limbless destiny into the iconic black suit. I wouldn't advise bringing young children to "Sith."

Mirroring the textures of "The Empire Strikes Back," "Sith" has a sorrowful mood that is hard to become keyed up about. Unlike the other prequels, which loved to give the audience moments of "Star Wars" candied joy, "Sith" is the most mindful of its ominous plot, and the darkness doesn't allow for many moments of fanboy giddiness. Lucas tries to nudge the joy meter by including a brief segment with Chewbacca and his fellow Wookies, the return of the blockade runner starship from "A New Hope," and, well, the whole Darth Vader angle at the very tail of the film (only about 2 minutes of footage). It's all well and good, but when the majority of the picture is watching the heroes get the tar beat out of them (yes, even poor Yoda takes a beating), it creates a much different atmosphere than what has come before. It even ushers in the unthinkable for some: artistic integrity. Lucas never backs down from the bleakness contained in "Sith."

"Sith" may be a downer in plot, but that only inflates its entertainment value. By maintaining the theme of defeat, Lucas has made his most compelling prequel installment to date. "Sith" is incredibly operatic in tone, which inflates the danger, and gives the opportunity for some of the performers to go hog wild with their acting, most notably McDiarmid, who eats the screen as Palpatine, enjoying this rare chance to breathe fire and kick around everyone's favorite green Jedi. Backed by a curiously restrained score from John Williams, "Sith" takes a while to sink in, but once you get used to its rhythm, it provides the most satisfying "Star Wars" adventure of the last 20 years.

It's understood that this will be the last "Star Wars" escapade to grace the sliver screen, and George Lucas has found a new way to make it unforgettable. "Revenge of the Sith" is the best film of the prequels, and an exciting lead in to "A New Hope." It's an extraordinary way to celebrate the "Star Wars" galaxy for the last time.

Filmfodder Grade: A

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