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Revenge of the Sith

Written before watching Return of the Sith:

I was vastly disappointed by The Phantom Menace. Sure, I wasn't expecting Citizen Kane, but at the very least I thought the movie would be fun and exciting (or better yet, sweeping and tragic, like the superb marketing campaign made it out to be). The last thing I expected a Star Wars movie to be was boring. Not to mention insulting in its use of racial stereotypes.

The early word of mouth on Attack of the Clones was that it redeemed Episode I. And indeed it was better. Marginally. To crudely reduce it to numbers, I'd give AOTC a 5 out of 10 vs TPM's 4 out of 10.

But, like the geeky Star Wars fan who was asked in the line to Episode II, "But what if Lucas stuffs up this movie as well? What will you do when Episode III comes out?" "Well, I guess I'll give him another chance..." I'm giving Lucas another chance.

So I'm sitting watching the trailer for ROTS and forcing myself not to get excited. The Star Wars trailers have always looked good after all. The early fannish reviews seem to be positive, but so were the ones for AOTC.

All that said and done, I do expect Episode III to be better than its two immediate predecessors. We know what happens to Anakin so Lucas (almost certainly) can't bolt his stock ending of a big cheesy celebration onto the film. (Notably the only movie that lacked this was Empire, the best of the five.) The movie has a more severe rating which will hopefully translate to less kiddie nonsense. Heck, Tom Stoppard has helped out on the dialogue! And the trailer does look splendid indeed. So I expect it to be better.

How much better though is the question? Will it be Return of the Jedi decent, A New Hope good or The Empire Strikes Back superior?

Written after watching Return of the Sith: (*** SPOILERS ***)

Thank the Lords of Kobol or Time or Sith or whoever: it was decent. Far, far away from great but not shamefully medicore like the first two.

I wasn't encouraged by the first half. The endless battle sequences were spectacular but soulless. The droid asides (not C3PO and R2D2, the other droids, the bad guy droids) were were annoying. The dialogue was mostly obvious and plodding. I had a bad feeling about this movie.

But things took an upturn with the betrayal of the Jedi. From this point on the story developed a growing sense of foreboding and doom, even tragedy - something I had been hoping for for a long, long time, since at least the Phantom Menace marketing campaign.

The final parallel duels had a palpable sense of something personal at stake. More so for Obi Wan/Anakin than for Yoda/Palpatine. The latter, set amidst the vast Senate chamber, was flashier. The former mostly, rightly eschewed complex stunt choreography for passion, the spectacular fiery backdrop reinforcing the intensity of the feeling. Return of the Sith is one of only two Star Wars movies where the climax wasn't defined by a massive battle. (Or the denouement by a cheesy celebration.) Instead the conflict was one-on-one and so actually became more universal: master versus student, friend versus friend, lord against lord, good against evil.

Another twin sequence that worked (with a proviso, see below): the two medical operations at the end.

And another effective bit: a rare, quiet moment of reflection as Anakin and Padme, in separate buildings, look out at the skyline contemplating fate.

And another: the long coda which basically was there to set up Episode IV, but worked to give resonance and scope to this movie. (I also liked how more A New Hope design elements crept in as the movie progressed, it would make the transition smoother if you were to watch the series in episode order.)

So, there were definitely good things in Revenge of the Sith (aside from the expected high quality of the technicals of course).

But there were also the bad:

It takes a certain panache to carry off Lucas's dialogue. Certainly Ian McDiarmid has it in abundance (his is the most memorable performance, I wanted to applaud him after the "The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities many would consider... unnatural" scene!). Ewan McGregor does a good job and he continues his uncanny channeling of Alec Guinness. (There were lines I could have sworn were sent in from beyond the grave.) Everyone else is decent...

Except for Hayden Christensen. If Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven was nondescript then Christensen in Sith was actively bad. (Apparently he's shown his acting chops in other movies, but the two Star Wars ones certainly aren't among them.) He had no presence except that of a whiner, scowled like a schoolboy in lieu of anything resembling intensity, and his line readings were consistently awful.

The most critical moment in the movie, where Anakin finally turns into Vader, doesn't work because Christensen couldn't carry it off. The groundwork was there in the script, in Palpatine's slow seduction leading up to the moment. And I could sense how the scene was supposed to play: how everything was supposed to turn on this moment and how Anakin, having made the dreadful wrong choice, would fall inexorably into the Dark Side so that after this moment he would feel no hesitation in killing even children. I can see the intent. But the execution failed.

Another criticism: While the dialogue wasn't as stinky as the worst examples in Episode II there were more than a few instances when it took something away from a scene. The way the risen Vader asks about Padme for instance undercuts the grandness of his construction. Sure, the moment when Palpatine tells him that he killed his love had to be there, but the stilted dialogue made for an ineffective conclusion to an otherwise good sequence.

And when I think about it, just about all the bits I liked were bits where people weren't talking! The Jedi betrayal sequence, the final duels, the quiet moment of reflection and fear, the coda. Substitute George Lucas's poor dialogue for John Williams's magnificent music and you hook me. (Can you imagine Star Wars without Williams's music? I certainly can't. It's possibly the most critical, certainly most consistently successful, element of the entire series.)

So to sum up: the first half was mediocre, Hayden Christensen was bad, but the operatic intensity of the second half made me leave the cinema on a high.

PS: Jar-Jar didn't speak!!! Huzzahh!!!!

PPS: Anyone else catch the "Javva the Hutt" amidst the mountains of credits?

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 19, 2005 1:43 PM.

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