Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge Of The Sith

Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge Of The Sith

****

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

"My powers have doubled since last time we met." - Anakin Skywalker

"Good. Twice the pride, double the fall." - Count Dooku

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Revenge Of The Sith celebrates George Lucas's triumphant ability to tell stories that take one part mythology, psychology and quasi-religious doctrine to two of visual impact. In a spectacular and satisfying conclusion to a rocky trilogy, he forges a surprisingly moving and cleverly plotted fall of an arrogant, but all too human, hero.

Oh, it's dark, but completely and unsubtly compelling.

The Clone Wars are ending, with "heroes on both sides". The Separatists leaders, the mysterious Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and the cyborg leader General Grevious are at a perpetual stalemate with the Republic's seemingly endless clone armies.

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) finds himself groomed for the dark side of the Force, with Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) driving him into becoming his powerful apprentice, transforming him into the vile Darth Vader. This is the driving force of Revenge Of The Sith, with the secondary plots knitting to form a pleasing, but unrelentingly grim patchwork of character and story.

"War!" exclaims the familiar opening scroll, cutting through the storytelling ambiguity of Attack Of The Clones with ease. It dives straight in with an astonishingly vivid space battle, which topples the battle of Endor for its complexity and camera work. The opening sequence dazzles the eye, but also makes the heart swell in awe.

From this early stage, it is clear that Lucas has finally learned, and put to use, the sheer freedom that digital filmmaking can afford him, not just in creating characters, or believable environments, but also in storytelling camera movement. The backgrounds and buildings are visually richer than the uninteresting wide-shot plastic and pixels of Clones, while stealthily forming further visual links that bridge the two trilogies in design.

Again, surprisingly, Revenge Of The Sith sports several very decent performances: Anakin is plagued by dreams of Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) dying. It eats away at him, fuelling the need to embrace the dark side to sustain her. Indeed, Padme exclaims, "Love has blinded you", without realising its truth.

Ewan McGregor finally looks like he's having fun with the character of Obi-Wan, stepping into the hero's role in a mission to capture General Grevious on the sinkhole planet Utapau. And Ian McDiarmid, openly displays his absolute command of the screen as the conniving Palpatine and the cackling, monstrous Emperor. Portman ultimately proves to be the film's largest undoing, with another less-than-impressive performance.

Revenge Of The Sith is a reminder of what made the original trilogy so good; character driven stories, along with a pot-boiling plot keeping things in check. There's a lightness of touch early on, which serves Lucas well. Even if Anakin's final turning seems a little misjudged in tone - much too sudden and unconvincing - there's certainly valid and powerful reasons for his betrayal. There's an emotional grip in Sith that has escaped every Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.

Eventually, the plot requires master and apprentice to face off and so the twisted Vader and Obi-Wan duel with a ferocity we have not seen before from either. The primal nature of the conflict is married well to the primal volcanicity of the planet Mustafar, the heat of battle and Vader's rage. The epic duel that we've waited nearly 30 years for is blended beautifully with Yoda's (voice of Frank Oz) battle in a last gasp effort to destroy the Sith, given operatic vigour by the performances, the editing and John Williams' marvellous score. Rising from the turgid mixture of Clones, the maestro acquits himself by blending motifs from the original trilogy with that of his refined rhythm and use of strings, percussion and brass to accompany the action-laden sequences, while using the London Voices to give a human texture to the climax.

Archetypes are finally given depth, form and feeling in a film drenched in style and truly violent theatrical passion. I expect many to automatically exclaim that because Sith is occasionally gruesome and has some truly painful moments that it's automatically a better film. This is far from true: Revenge Of The Sith works so well because Lucas has finally stopped using filler as substitute for high-concept character drama, which Sith has in spades.

Although far from perfect, there's little denying that Lucas is a masterful storyteller. As in all great tragedies, the characters cannot escape their decline and destinies, but to find oneself willing off the rise of Vader - having loved his superbly villainous characterisation in the original trilogy - because the fall of Anakin is so strongly and bitterly hurtful, is a sickening irony. It is through Lucas' use of supreme dramatic irony, that the fall and machinations that make his weaknesses fold under pressure are wonderfully structured, along with the rest of the screenplay. Much narrative flab has been jettisoned, revealing a terse, tragic plot.

Wooden acting, absolutely abysmal staging of love scenes and an ear for dialogue that occasionally defies belief are expected, present and correct. But, by the time Sith has picked up its momentum - about a third of the way in - we're captured by the story's relentless push. It refuses to show mercy.

Ultimately, Episode III feels genuinely like Star Wars should, in spite of it being so distinct from the other films, in terms of tone and style. From the familiar, uplifting and triumphant blast of the opening theme, the film is tinged with bitterness that this is truly the final time we will visit that galaxy far, far away. Almost all the plot threads are resolved from the prequels - I especially liked the way in which the immaculate conception is subtly alluded - with a couple of well-judged sweet-drops for aficionados of the original saga.

It is as though a fog has lifted. Standing back and seeing Lucas' puzzle complete for the first time is a thrill. The circle is now complete.

Reviewed on: 20 May 2005
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Anakin's personal struggle against the Dark Side becomes more difficult as rebellious robots and an enemy within threaten to topple the Republic.
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