Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge Of The Sith

****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Revenge Of The Sith
"A dark and visceral full stop that bridges the narrative gaps as our chosen one embarks on his primal journey to that side of the force."

Well George, to quote Darth Vader, we meet again and at last the circle is complete. Following the largely disappointing Phantom Menace and slightly-better Attack Of The Clones, George Lucas returns like a marauding X-wing to bring closure to the cinematic saga that he begun way back in 1977... which now seems like a galaxy far, far away.

Pleasingly, he finally delivers a prequel worthy of the Star Wars name. As adult as Phantom was kiddie, Revenge Of The Sith is a dark and visceral full stop that bridges the narrative gaps as our chosen one embarks on his primal journey to that side of the force. With a genuine air of sadness and predestined tragedy, the days of Jar Jar are long gone (indeed, there’s only a fleeting glimpse of the long-eared one) as we see slaughter, decapitations galore and a familiar inhaler-sounding black mask.

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Despite the Clone Wars coming to an end, the Galactic Republic is still facing dark times. Though still under the tutelage of wise Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is secretly married to the pregnant former Queen of Naboo, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) and having terrible nightmares. Meanwhile, Sith Lord Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) remains under the guise of Supreme Chancellor and looks to recruit Anakin as his new apprentice.

So why is this so much better than Episodes I and II? Well, with Lucas admitting he split the story percentage-wise 20-20-60 over the new trilogy, we now get to the bit we’ve been waiting for; Anakin’s turn. Wisely forgoing the Clone Wars (there’s always the extended universe) to concentrate solely on why anyone would turn to the dark side, Lucas skilfully builds towards the inevitable with many nice touches (like echoes of the Sand People while discussing their massacre) and a true sense of forboding.

Would it have been better developed over two movies with the first getting the whiny teen Vader out the way? Probably, but the way it plays out leads to two of the franchise’s best scenes. In one, we get a very simple sequence where our ‘hero’ sits alone contemplating a crucial decision which will change everything. In the other we hear the story of Darth Plagueis as Sidious seduces Anakin to his way of thinking (while watching big purple bubbles).

Providing real weight to this is a standout performance from British thesp McDiarmid who hams it up while chilling us to the bone. Elsewhere, though maligned previously, both Christensen and McGregor have grown into their roles (as well as sporting better hair) as Vader-in-waiting and concerned mentor Obi-Wan respectively. In particular, McGregor’s final words to his fallen brother bring real pathos to an important moment.

Sure it’s stolen from greatness by familiar flaws (clunky dialogue, an over-reliance on technology), but Episode III also contains many of the series’ most memorable moments. There is Palpatine becoming the Emperor we know (“leave us”). There is the hard-hitting Order 66. There is Master Yoda heading into exile. Taking off from the halfway point, Lucas’ (presumably) final effort also sees John Williams giving us another treat with more cues from the originals than before.

The down side? Well, as mentioned there is still an overabundance of CGI as Sith contains more effects shots (roughly 2,200) than both Phantom and Clones. While the digital trickery is undoubtedly impressive (interestingly, Spielberg assisted with the pre-viz) and provides some truly beautiful backdrops, it’s still the small moments – like Bale Organa (an underused Jimmy Smits) walking along the white corridors of A New Hope – that feel truly Star Wars. As for the lightsaber duels, though they are clearly extensively rehearsed, they do lack the raw emotion of Mark Hamill bashing away at David Prowse.

A worthy addition to the Star Wars canon that’s full of so many good moments it almost makes up for the previous disappointment, the force is strong with Revenge Of The Sith. Much like Darth Vader in Return Of the Jedi, George Lucas has taken his last chance at redemption and brought balance to us all.

Reviewed on: 11 May 2009
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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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