Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith(PG)
This is, of course, the third movie chronologically in the story, but the sixth movie to be made (and so, the sixth one I've seen), though it's actually the first of the Star Wars movies for which I've written a review. I'll have to rewatch all the others sometime (as well as this one), before I write reviews for them. But bear in mind, there are probably things in this review I would have mentioned in reviews of earlier movies, if I wasn't writing this before I write them. Anyway...
Here is something you will hear a lot of about this movie, and about which I entirely agree: It's better than episodes I and II, but not nearly as good as the original trilogy (episodes IV-VI).* People will offer any number of explanations for this, but here's what I think: the first three films were, for George Lucas, labors of love, and he never really expected them (or at least the first one) to be such a huge hit. However, with the three prequels, he was trying not only to complete the saga he started so long ago, finish telling the story; he also was clearly trying to make blockbusters. At that, he certainly succeeded.
* Edit, 2023: I don't remember when I actually wrote this review, but it was a lot of years ago. And at the time, I didn't remember the movie well enough to rate it, so it may have been a few years after I saw it that I wrote the review. Also at the time, I obviously thought it was the best of the prequels, but now, years later, after having re-watched the movie in order to rate it, the rating I've given it is slightly lower than my rating of the first two prequels. And I still feel like I'm being a bit generous to this one. Of course, at the time I re-watched this, it was a few years since I re-watched the prequels and wrote those reviews, so now I can't remember them well enough to be sure I liked them more than this one (because my judgement of how to rate things can shift over time). One thing I do think it's safe to say is that I liked this movie less on re-watch than I did when I first saw it (presumably in 2005). But I still think it's pretty good. It actually took me awhile to get into it this time, but I eventually did.
People will say the prequels are not as cool as the original trilogy, but it's important to remember that the word "cool" is just about the most subjective word in the world. It can mean pretty much anything, and different people can even have polar opposite opinions about what's cool and what sucks. Personally, I would tend to agree that the prequels aren't as cool as the originals... but even one person, such as myself, can use the word in different ways. In some ways, I'd almost say the prequels are cooler... though a kind of cool about which I generally care less than I do about the way in which the originals are cooler (if that makes any sense at all). In any event, I like all three prequels. They're cool in a blockbuster way, not in the way I want Star Wars to be cool...
The originals were a solid story, about a whole group of interesting characters, their relation to one another, their personal growth and development, and their relationship to the events in which they were caught up, the struggle of the Rebellion against the Empire. We all wanted for a long time to see the rest of the story: how the Republic fell, was replaced by the Empire, how Palpatine rose to power, and how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. And the prequels deliver that story... sort of. The first one was about introducing Anakin as an ostensibly loveable, good-hearted little kid, so that our curiosity of how he could go through such a transformation would be even further piqued. The second was to show us the beginnings of his dissatisfaction with his situation (and also to establish an element which would be important later, his love for Padmé). Oh, and of course, the influence Palpatine was coming to have over him. The third was to complete the transformation, but the problem is that at the beginning of the film, he doesn't really seem that much further along the path toward the Dark Side than he did at the end of Episode II. Which means that, in spite of a few key plot developments thrown in, in a rather rushed fashion, when he finally does change, it seems entirely too abrupt and difficult to believe.
The main problem, I think (other than the aforementioned attempt to make blockbusters), was that the whole trilogy was too much about this one character. The other characters were basically there to explain his transformation, but the explanation doesn't feel satisfactory if they're written more as plot devices than as actual characters in their own right. If they'd been more fully realized as individuals, it would have better served the story of Anakin becoming Vader. Ironic, really. The Republic becoming the Empire was also rushed, and a bit confusing in its simplicity. (In a case of "hurry up and wait," it seems odd that all these huge changes should happen so suddenly, and then, apparently, very little changes for the 18 years between episodes III and IV, whether you're talking about the completion of the Death Star, or the Emperor finally dissolving the last vestiges of the Senate; though of course, the one leads inevitably to the other.) ...How so few characters could have seen it coming is quite a mystery- and any mention of these characters' concerns is mostly excised from the film, with a bit left in just to help distance Padmé from Anakin, later on (which ultimately makes the whole war and shift in galactic politics itself just a plot device to explain Anakin's change).
In *ahem* reality, however important Anakin is, he's still just one man. With or without him, I believe Palpatine would have created his Empire and restored the long-dormant Sith to power. That is the larger, more significant, more interesting story. And as I said before, it's about the people who are caught up in this larger story, how it affects their lives and how they affect the galactic events around them. It is not (or shouldn't be) about one man and how everything in the galaxy works to affect him. That's just one part of the story, albeit an important one. If it were handled more subtly, more incidentally, it'd be more effective. More believable. And, you know... cooler.
Anyway... the original trilogy was in many ways a smaller, more personal story, or set of intertwined stories of various characters, set against a backdrop of galactic war. Well, not so much a backdrop... Actually, the huge war story and the personal stories were equally important and perfectly entangled with one another. It was all cool, in a truly magical, epic, fantastic way. As well as being a set of cool, if unintentional, blockbusters. In intentionally making blockbusters of the prequels, the magic has been lost. But this isn't just a problem with the movies themselves, it's also a problem with the fans' perception of the movies. Perhaps it's not expecting too much for lightning which has struck three times already to strike three more... but at the same time, it shouldn't be surprising that it didn't happen. Maybe it would've if the story had been fresher in Lucas's mind, if he'd made the prequels 20 years ago. Instead of waiting for technology that would make the movies look, whatever the creator might think, actually less realistic than the originals. (Though that's just my opinion.)
Anyway, as a fan, it bothers me that I have no choice but to do this... but at the same time, I'm grateful that I'm capable of doing it, even if I'd rather not. Because a lot of fans seem either unable or unwilling, and I can't say I blame them... but I do feel sorry for them. And what I'm talking about is this: just force yourself not to look at the prequels the same way you look at the originals. Don't look for magic, don't look for subtle character development. Enjoy the movies for what they are. Blockbusters. Big, cool, exciting, event movies. Yeah, some people might try to look at them as such and still find them wanting (to put it kindly). Personally, I like them. They are amusing, and fun, and exciting, and cool. They do tell a good, if somewhat flawed, story. Not a great story, but a good one. Yeah, I want all Star Wars movies to be great, but we live in an imperfect world, so I take what I can get. Mainly, I'm just happy to have some closure, finally. The saga, for good or for ill, is complete. (Sort of; there'll always be more books, comics, TV series, etc.)
And now, it seems I've been speaking here too much of the prequel trilogy as a whole, rather than about the actual subject of this entry: Episode III. (As I said, I might not do this if I'd already written reviews of episodes I and II.) So here's the deal: Anakin is tired of being the greatest of all Jedi and getting relatively little respect, from his point of view (a viewpoint which is played upon and encouraged, enhanced, by Palpatine). He is tired of having to keep his marriage to Padmé a secret (and I'm kinda with him on that one, though of course Jedi are in a way almost supposed to be more like monks than warriors, and the whole rule against marriage furthers that parallel, though obviously many religions allow marriage, so it's a bit of a flawed analogy). Well, he's tired of lots of things, and Palpatine is doing his best to make him even more fractious and suspicious.
Meanwhile, the Jedi Council are suspicious of Palpatine, as are Padmé and other senators, like Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits). (Upon rewatch, I realized Mon Mothma doesn't even have a speaking role in the movie, which bugs me.) Then of course there's more war stuff going on, most notably the half android/half alien General Grievous (who becomes leader of the Separatists when Count Dooku is taken out of the picture- in, of course, part of Palpatine's efforts to corrupt Anakin). Obi-Wan is sent to track down Grievous (a mission which, of course, Palpatine convinced Anakin he should have been given). Well, lots of things happened, the vast majority of which, as I've said, are seemingly designed purely to drive Anakin closer and closer to becoming Vader, which of course... he finally does, in the end. (Edit 2023: Obi-Wan sees security footage in which Palpatine calls Anakin "Vader", something I hadn't remembered, and I liked, because I've long sort of wondered how he knew about Anakin being Vader in the original movies... and now also in the webseries Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is set between the prequels and the original trilogy.)
A few things seemed sort of independent of the Anakin/Vader storyline, though these things were not dwelt long upon. Yoda went to Kashyyyk to help the Wookiees out, though not enough time was spent there, in my opinion (but at least, after he returned to Coruscant, he had an epic battle with Sidious). The Wookiees, though- including Chewbacca- were just one of various bits of fan service (no, not that kind) that were thrown in throughout the movie. There were also a few attempts to tie up some of the apparent continuity errors between the original trilogy and the prequels, and while I appreciated that... I also think other such discrepancies were simply ignored. Umm... anyway, there were some interesting bits. The battles are all cool. Anakin realizing Palpatine is Darth Sidious, and in spite of his distrust of the Council, informing Mace Windu of this... very cool. The Clone Army turning on the Jedi... cool, if way too rushed and predictable (how in hell did the Jedi not see that coming, once they learned that Palpatine was controlling both sides of the war?) Palpatine... in spite of serving as another of many (though chief among them) plot devices to explain Anakin's change, was nevertheless the most fully realized and interesting character in the movie (including Anakin). And whether or not you cared for any of the reasoning behind Anakin's inner change, the cause of his outer change (the long awaited battle between him and Obi-Wan on the fire planet Mustafar) was probably as cool (and faithful) as anything I could've hoped for. The remaining Jedi going into hiding at the end, Padmé's children being given (Leia) to Senator Organa and his wife and (Luke) to Owen and Beru (cue Episode IV music & teary eyes) and... These things are cool. (I also liked seeing Owen stand out on the sands of Tatooine in the sunset just like Luke did in Episode IV, that was a nice touch.) Oh, and there were a few lines in the movie that I thought were pretty cool, which is a great relief after watching the, um, disappointingly written scenes between Anakin and Padmé. (While Anakin is never as cool as he should be, Padmé is at least capable of being cool and interesting and intelligent and witty when she's not around her true love, though there's still not remotely enough of this.) One of my favorite lines in the movie comes from Padmé, actually, but not when she's with Anakin.
Well, I hope I haven't provided too many spoilers here. There's a warning at the top of the page, of course. So that's about all I can think to say. Some cool action, some humor, but mostly it's about overdone FX and too much exposition of future events.... But still basically a pretty enjoyable movie. Lucas may not work hard enough to portray characters other than Anakin (and Palpatine) as important individuals in their own right, but that doesn't mean you have to make the same mistake. Don't make it all about the saga as a whole, particularly the original trilogy. Think of it first and foremost as a blockbuster, and maybe you'll be able to enjoy it. If it helps at all to complete the saga, consider that an inadequate bonus- but a bonus nevertheless.
Edit 2023: Well, this certainly isn't the review I would have written upon my re-watch, if I were starting from scratch, but I'm mostly happy with it. I said a lot of things in the past that I wouldn't have thought to say, this time. And I left out lots of things I would have said if I were writing a review for the first time, now. Like, man, most of the scenes were incredibly brief, with quick cuts between them. But while I've made a few edits in yellow, I can't think of much more to add. (Surely I would have if I were writing the review while actually watching the movie, but my memory of details doesn't last long, and I'm editing this review the day after watching it.) I will say I always thought it was kind of odd that Palpatine started a whole war just to turn the Republic into the Empire, but this time I felt like that actually made more sense to me, on a number of levels, than I did before. And I guess I don't know what else to say. The movie has lots of flaws, but also lots of good points, even if I still see it as mainly an exercise in setting the stage for Episode IV. And of course, countless memes, quotes, and other pop culture references to this movie which I've seen over the years make more sense now that I've refreshed my memory of it, while also being things I was waiting for while re-watching the movie. So that was... something.