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"The circle is now complete." "You shouldn't have come back, old man." In June 1977, when my friend John took me to a preview of the original Star Wars, I was 22 years old. Now six Star Wars movies later, I am over 50. To say that the World has changed in that time and me with it, is an understatement. I don't think that we can view the second Star Wars trilogy (I, II, III) through the same wide eyes with which we saw the first three films (IV, V, VI). The stunning impact of the first scene of Star Wars when the Star Destroyer comes into view and just keeps on going and going, can never be repeated. We are too jaded now about special effects. But have we lost the ability to be thrilled by a movie the way we were back in 1977? I don't think so. New films still thrill me and The Matrix is an example of a SciFi film that really stunned me and the rest of the audience. But the lesson is that there has to be a compelling story and characters as well as special effects. And George Lucas, even though he has a compelling story and characters, was constrained, very constrained, in making Revenge of the Sith by the requirements of completing the circle and making sure that all the plot lines meet and get tied off. But Revenge of the Sith is good and it does go a long way toward repairing the damage done by the first film in the sequence, The Phantom Menace. I think that the new trilogy would be viewed less harshly if all three films were as good as Revenge of the Sith. But none of the films in the new trilogy, including the new one, is as good as any of the original three.
The Phantom Menace could have been a good film but it crashed under the weight of the disastrous creation of Jar Jar and the choice of a child actor to play young Anakin who couldn't act. In fact, the DVD version of The Phantom Menace is quite watchable with the aid of the fast forward button. Try it! The rest of the movie with Ewan McGregor as the young Obi Wan Kenobi and Liam Neeson as his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, investigating the return of the Sith and confronting Darth Maul is great. The second film, Attack of the Clones, with no young Anakin and with Jar Jar relegated to a minor role, was much better and featured the amazing digital Yoda. His lightsaber fight with Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) was amazing to see. But the negative feelings toward Jar Jar are so strong to this day that to some extent the second and third installments of the trilogy are rated on how brief Jar Jar's screen time is. For the record, in Revenge of the Sith, we see Jar Jar briefly but he has no lines.
Despite having all this baggage, George Lucas has made a good effort in closing out the first trilogy. The Revenge of the Sith is still a bit stilted and has some structural problems. Dialog isn't Lucas' strength and he should get some help. He had Lawrence Kasdan's help on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill, and Silverado) has a good ear for dialog and it helped Episodes V and VI. And the story of Revenge of the Sith, as I mentioned is weighed down with tying up all the loose ends left by the five previous movies. But Revenge of the Sith is saved by Yoda, R2D2, Mace Windu and Obi Wan Kenobi. Yoda has blossomed since he went CGI in Attack of the Clones and he provides the most thrilling scenes in The Revenge of the Sith. And this CGI character, still voiced by Frank Oz, emotes better than most of the real actors. Samuel L. Jackson rocks as Jedi Master, Mace Windu. He and Yoda helped pick up Attack of the Clones and here Jackson shows you what a real Jedi is like! Ewan McGregor continues his amazing job of channeling Alec Guinness as Obi Wan. He seems to be able to play any role and may be the best actor of his generation. And R2D2 should get an award for great acting in all six movies! Like Yoda, he can show a lot more emotion with his range of sounds than most of the real actors. In Revenge of the Sith, he gets to fight too.
I always thought the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) was a little bit over the top in Return of the Jedi and he certainly lets it all hang out here. He completes the transformation from Chancellor Palpatine to Sith Lord and, in the process, from two-dimensional character to one dimensional. His evilness is so crass and ugly that it's hard to believe that Anakin (Hayden Christensen) falls for it, but he must and so becomes Darth Vader. Christenson is good but he and Padme (Natalie Portman) are saddled with a lot of soppy relationship scenes, which while better than in Attack of the Clones, are still a bit stilted. Unlike the last film, where Portman got to kick some ass, in Revenge of the Sith, she plays a worried pregnant wife which isn't quite so interesting. She can't understand Anakin's motivation for turning to the dark side. I had a bit of trouble with that too. It could all have been different if he had just gone to a therapist. Instead, he is brainwashed by the scary Lord Sidious with disastrous results for the Galaxy.
This is all mixed into a plot that is purposefully based on the present state of US and World politics. Darth Vader says to Obi Wan, "You are with me or my enemy" paraphrasing one of W's more unfortunate quotes. And Padme says, "This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause." The implied parallels between the Republic in Star Wars becoming a brutal dictatorship with the Republican President and Congress in the US are not accidental. Luckily, we haven't gone quite that far yet in America, although I have no trouble believing that Dick Cheney is a Sith Lord. A couple of things were very similar to the Republican World. In the new Republic, Padme is expected to give up being a Senator when she gets pregnant, and the level of health care seems to be very poor. She apparently never got an ultrasound done since no one knows that she is carrying twins (except the whole audience).
The one big new character is Lord Grievous who leads the droid army. He is another completely CGI character that should have been left on the computer. He's supposed to be scary but he's just dorky. We finally find out why Jimmy Smits was standing around in Attack of the Clones. He is a Senator and becomes Leia's foster father. George Lucas has a cameo but apparently he's wearing a helmet and I didn't see him. Look out for Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as the Queen of Naboo. And in case you are wondering, Peter Cushing, who played Governor Tarkin in the original Star Wars, died in 1994. He has been digitally inserted into Revenge of the Sith for continuity. Cushing's longtime horror movie counterpart, Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) is now one of the leading box office actors of all time. After making low-grossing horror movies for 50 years, this will be his 5th film in a row that will gross over $300 million in the US. He was in Attack of the Clones and all three Lord of the Rings films as Saruman.
You gotta go see Revenge of the Sith so it doesn't matter what I say. But, there is a lot that is good about it. One thing I liked was that we see a more lighthearted Obi Wan and Anakin at the beginning of the film which is a relief from their usual polite relationship. The state of special effects is now such that Lucas can stage the climactic fight between Obi Wan and Darth Vader on a planet covered in lava and you don't notice or care that it is completely CGI. It is so seamless. Revenge of the Sith looks great on the big screen. In the end, the many potential continuity problems are mostly left as loose ends. Only one character's memory is erased. The only thing that really bothers me is how they were able to hide Luke and Leia from Darth Vader all those years when they were hidden in plain sight. Maybe the dark side clouded his vision too.