The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Watching Revenge of the Sith I got the feeling that writer/director/producer George Lucas was a very tired man trying desperately to just get this whole marathon over with. The movie feels like a stitched together collection of obligatory set pieces, each presented in its own neat little wrapper and connected with randomly inserted wipes (the editing process, not a personal hygiene product).

In atypical style for a review, I feel I should start with a brief description of my Star Wars background, Coming in to the sixth movie in a series stretching over nearly thirty years, we each carry a massive personal history and pre-bias before ever starting the film. I was in high school when the first (fourth?) Star Wars movie came out in 1977. I saw it in a first run theater of course (no videotapes, laserdiscs, or DVDs, kiddies!). I enjoyed the spectacle and sense of fun, but honestly, I wasn't that big a fan. I was a "hard science" science fiction fan, raised on Asimov, Heinlein, and Niven. Star Wars may have been set in space, but it hardly gave a passing nod to the "science" part of the genre.

I was in college in Los Angeles when the sequel burst on the scene. I was lucky enough to score passes to an exclusive pre-screening in the fancy theater 20th Century used for such events on their studio lot. I was mostly blown away by the sound editing -- I still remember the shock and awe of the initial pod audibly flying over our heads from the back of the theater to the screen in front. I thought the storytelling was a little richer and more dramatic this time, with grander action sequences. And the big Darth/Luke revelation was so fun coming completely out of the blue. But I still had trouble figuring out why it was such a massive pop culture phenomenon. It wasn't that great a movie!

The third film in the series was the turning point for me. With the introduction of fuzzy little Ewoks, silly one-liners, and cheese pouring out of every line of dialog, I simply stopped caring (great steadycam forest speeder race though!).

I have watched the "prequel trilogy" of the past few years with little enthusiasm or sense of urgency. As they came out on home video, I eventually added them to my viewing list and noted that each release was still seen as a pop culture event even though all aspects of quality cinematic production had been dropped in favor of a single-minded concentration on digital effects work.

Which brings me up to Revenge of the Sith. Here we see Lucas furiously tying up loose ends to bring us up to the starting point of Episode IV, all those years ago. His amazing tin ear for romantic or realistic interpersonal dialog has been well documented, and all I can do is throw up my hands and point at gems such as: "Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo; so long ago when there was nothing but our love." Perhaps... just maybe... a great Shakespearean actor could bring this off, but Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen are so far out of their depth you want to throw them a life preserver.

As a matter of fact, I can't help but feel concern when the best, most expressive acting in the cast is done by a puppet. I'm completely serious when I say that Yoda manages to show the most authentic emotional resonance with his lines. Maybe it's because a puppet and puppeteer aren't bothered by the need to act realistically while standing in front of a green screen, reacting to their imaginary surroundings.

The movie has three distinct phases. The first is simply the standard Lucas space battle sequence featuring spacecraft behaving like WWII fighter planes. Fair enough. It's not any worse than any of the other similar sequences in each of the other films. It's all rather "been there, done that" - but it gets things going with a bang. Of course there is a certain lack of tension when you know that the three primary characters in the action all survive into ripe old age from your knowledge of the existing storyline, so you can't feel much anxiety over their health and well-being.

The second and longest phase of the movie is the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side. Since we have already spent two entire movies exploring his relationship with Padme, his relationship with Obi-Wan, his relationship with the Jedi council, and his relationship with the Chancellor, I got a bit antsy waiting for the inevitable to play out. All the truly terrible script writing and emotionless emotions come during this phase, along with some embarrassing throw-away lines and gags for the bumbling droid warriors, seemingly modeled after the Keystone Kops. I'm not even going to mention the cringe-inducing and out of context Tarzan yell thing. Oh damn... I just did.

Then magically we hit the final thirty minutes of movie time, which is really the only reason Lucas made the film. Suddenly there is a sense of drama and purpose again as we get rapid-fire developments leading us full circle in the story arc and we get the creation of Darth Vader along with the back story making sense of the original introductions of all the main characters we came to know and love in Episode IV. As John Williams' original Darth Vader theme music and the original Star Wars suite sweep over the soundtrack, there is a great sense of warm familiarity and "rightness" about having made the entire journey and come out exactly where we expected to be.

I just looked at the tagline on IMDB. It says "The saga is complete." That pretty much sums it up. Revenge of the Sith is not so much a movie as a required coda to a giant project. I don't suppose the last pointy stone placed on the tip of the Great Pyramid of Cheops was all that much more difficult or technically important than the other stones under it. But that final shove into place and ability to stand back and admire the work as a whole must have been tremendously satisfying. So it is with Revenge of the Sith and the Star Wars legend. Requiem.

Parents: The movie has comic book violence and death. I assume very small children might get overly invested in the characters and distressed when people die. But even with limbs being chopped off right and left (what is this strange fixation for Lucas?) there is no gore, no realism to the events, and people mostly get patched up effortlessly. There is no swearing, sex, nudity, drugs, or anything else to offend (other than a few lines of dialog that might easily be taken as a snide dig at George Bush and the Republican party... But I'll leave that to the political commentators and reviewers to discuss).


At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Redneck626 said...

I'm sorry, but I disagree with your review. I happened to like Revenge of the Sith. You wrote in your review that Revenge of the Sith wasn't required. I believe otherwise. ROTS is the movie in which we learn exactly how Anakin turns into Darth Vader, and how the Emperor comes into power.I'm sorry that you didn't see ROTS as a great movie.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Ken said...

Thanks for the comment, Redneck. I'm glad you enjoyed the film (No sarcasm intended in that statement.. Movie watching is a personal experience and it's always nice when you find one you like).

Just to clarify, I actually said that Revenge IS a required coda to the series. I just thought a lot of the middle portion was time spent on well established plot lines exhaustively set up in the last two films.

But to each his own. One way or another, I appreciate your visit and feedback.


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