After the bitter disappointment of Episode I, The Phantom Menace, and the almost-but-not-quite-there glimpses of hope in Episode II, Attack of the Clones, the third time was finally the charm for Star Wars fans. They finally got the prequel they deserved with Episode III.
Despite the diminished expectations created by the first two prequels, the third installment still had a lot to live up to. This was the episode that would have to deliver all that the fans had been expecting from the sequels, namely the story about how Anakin Skywalker turned to evil and became Darth Vader and of the birth of the twins Luke and Leia who would be the heroes of the second, er, first, I mean, the other Star Wars trilogy.
This installment obviously can’t be as fresh as the first film in 1977 nor does it quite live up to the gold standard of The Empire Strikes Back, but Revenge of the Sith easily leaves the first two prequels in the dust and moves comfortably past Return of the Jedi to become the third best film of the series.
Episode III doesn’t so much as fix the main problems of Episode II, namely the cringe-inducing bad romantic dialogue, as simply move past them. Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman) are a couple now and mostly beyond the need to say mind-numbingly stupid things to each other like a couple of lovesick teenagers in a Hallmark internship. Instead, the film gets down to the business at hand, namely destroying the Jedi and subverting the Republic. You know . . . the good stuff.
If fact, one could consider this as the only essential film of the prequel trilogy. Revenge is the only one you really need to watch to understand the original films. The other two may establish some plot points but they only impact the third film, which can be enjoyed without knowing anything about the first two episodes.
Sith picks up with the Clone Wars in high gear. A droid leader named General Grievous has snatched Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) have been dispatched to rescue him. This leads to the kind of bravura action sequence that Star Wars movies do very well, complete with explosions, banter and lightsabers aplenty.
The rescue is obviously successful (or else this would be a very short movie) and Anakin is rewarded by the Chancellor forcing the Jedi to accept the inexperienced knight as a member of their council. Of course, we already know that the Chancellor is really the Sith Lord orchestrating the whole war for his benefit. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is dispatched to pursue General Grievous, separating him from his vulnerable student just at the time the younger man’s loyalties are being divided.
To complicate matters, Padme is pregnant and Anakin is having visions of the her death in childbirth. The Chancellor insidiously plays on his fears with promises that she can be saved.
Hayden Christensen acquits himself far better here than in Episode II, because he makes a far more convincing tortured soul than romantic lead. Natalie Portman, on the other hand, doesn’t have much to do besides sitting around and worrying about the father of her children. Didn’t George Lucas know that giving Natalie Portman less to do is always a bad idea? Fortunately for her, she gets to do some very heavy emoting late in the picture.
Ewan McGregor really shines, having truly made Obi-Wan his own character. As with Natalie Portman, the end of this movie really lets him pull out the emotional stops. Samuel L. Jackson also gets some meat to chew on here, more than erasing the memory of his performance in Episode I. I don’t know if Lucas intended for Mace Windu to be such a major player in the story, but Jackson makes him seem like the obvious choice.
As the Chancellor/Sith Lord/Emperor, Ian McDiarmid has the widest range to cover here. Going from coolly reptilian when seducing Anakin to the Dark Side to wildly maniacal once he’s no longer hiding his true intentions. Horror movie legend Christopher Lee is only briefly on hand, but his early departure allows us to see the first signs of darkness from Anakin (at least, since he hacked up all those Sand People in Episode II).
If Episode III is not quite perfect, it’s because of three things. One, the scene in which Palpatine declares himself Emperor is so far over the top it’s coming back over the South Pole before we cut away. Two, to the casual observer, it seems as if Anakin switches to the Dark Side in the same manner I switch brands of shaving cream: begrudgingly but without much of a fight. Three, that scene in which Darth Vader is revealed as we know and love him and learns something I can’t mention without spoiling the end of the picture? Well, the less said about that scene the better. Three faults, fortunately, can’t completely sink Revenge of the Sith.
Also on the plus side, Jar Jar Binks doesn’t say a damn thing, not one idiotic word (and there was much rejoicing).