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May 22, 2005
Movie Review: Revenge Of The Sith (Spoilers!)

After spending the day cleaning out the office and the garage -- and really not finishing either after several hours, which should tell you all you need to know about the scale of the job -- I went out with my son and daughter-in-law to see Star Wars, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. The First Mate begged off, since she felt tired out from the day and also since she's successfully avoided experiencing any of the six Star Wars movies up to now, and didn't want to lose her perfect record.


Plenty of bloggers have already commented on this film, and I've read their reviews, which helped in keeping my expectations in check going in. Because of that, and the fact that the last two movies had so many problems, I wound up pleasantly surprised by RotS. The movie starts at a fast pace, with the Clone Wars winding down and General Grievous on the run, with Chancellor Palpatine as a hostage. Obi-Wan and Anakin rescue Palpatine, which of course sets off a whole series of events, all of them bad. Anakin kills a "disarmed" Dooku, an unfortunate choice of words given Dooku's state when Anakin beheads him. It's not the last time the dialogue gives unintended laughs, either.

The next hour of the film focuses on exposition, traditionally the weak point of George Lucas' epic, and this episode is no exception.

The Jedis still operate in the dark as to Palpatine's secret identity as Darth Sidious, Dooku's master. This is a central weakness to the entire prequel trilogy; supposedly masters of the universe, these knights have no inkling of evil either from Palpatine or from Anakin, nor do they sense Anakin's paternity of Padme's pregnancy. One wonders exactly what the Jedi actually can sense with their powers, and it begs the question as to how they've ever been able to beat any Sith in their entire history.

At any rate, they have no clue, and in fact make the mistake of allowing Anakin to get too close to Palpatine. They then undercut him when his alliance with the Chancellor threatens them, and yet afterwards have the nerve to ask him to become their spy on Palpatine and his actions. All this proves is that the Jedi have to be the world's worst practitioners of psychology and politics even as they try to use both. Small wonder that Anakin dumps the Jedi; the Council has become so inept it's a wonder that he doesn't leave them strictly out of exasperation with their incompetence.

Meanwhile, Anakin starts to dream that Padme won't survive childbirth, and decides that this is a prophetic vision of the future. The entire Jedi council can't figure out that Anakin has any relationship with Padme, but Palpatine/Sidious has it all figured out. He reveals himself as the Sith Lord to Anakin and promises him that between the two of them, they can discover the secret to defeating death, which would allow Anakin to save Padme. Anakin betrays Sidious to Mace Windu, who immediately gathers a handful of Jedi to arrest him.

This is the crucial point of the first trilogy, and Lucas boots it. Windu declares Sidious under arrest, at which point Sidious busts a couple of moves and kills the other Jedi with Windu, who fights Sidious eventually to his advantage. Anakin shows up just as Windu has Sidious under the light-sabre, having weathered his Dark Side attack and reflected it back on Sidious, leaving him scarred and vulnerable. Instead of arresting Sidious, however, Windu wants him dead -- which is the same basic thing that Anakin did to Dooku that we're supposed to make us think that he's slipping closer to the Dark Side. Anakin betrays Windu and allows Sidious to kill him, at which point Anakin swears allegiance to Sidious and becomes Darth Vader, his Sith apprentice.

Fortunately, this is where the movie improves tremendously.

For the first time in Lucas' new set of films, we get truly heartbreaking emotion as Anakin flings himself into the Dark Side and the Clone Army betrays the Jedi, killing all but Yoda and Obi-Wan. The new battle scenes pick up the pace, and Natalie Portman embodies the disbelief that we can't really feel about Anakin's betrayal, thanks to Hayden Christensen's non-stop bad-boy attitude through two films now. However, with the secret out, Christensen becomes both haunted and vengeful, transforming into a killing machine as he wipes out the last of Sidious' rather clueless partners in his grasp for power. Yoda and Obi-Wan set out to destroy the two Sith lords, and Yoda can only manage a draw and a retreat, while Obi-Wan leaves Anakin for dead in a gruesome state ... but fails to finish him off.

And Padme? Anakin mistakes her arrival with Obi-Wan as a stowaway as a further betrayal and attacks her, causing her to lose any desire to live. She survives to give birth to Luke and Leia and dies of a broken heart. Padme dies in the end by Anakin's betrayal of the Jedi, not from childbirth itself, and while the Emperor lies to Anakin when he regains consciousness, it's close enough to the truth so that Anakin senses his culpability nonetheless. His entire betrayal of the Jedi was for nothing, and anything left of Anakin gets swallowed up by Darth Vader in that realization.

That makes the entire movie worth it, in my opinion. It has real emotion, real conflict, and real depth for the first time since The Empire Strikes Back. The acting and the dialogue has improved, although the latter only had one direction to go. Speaking of direction, that improved with this episode as well, especially in the pacing. The special effects don't overpower the movie as they seemed to do with Episodes 1 and 2. The last hour flew by and kept a grip on my attention.

If you want to view the movies in the new order, you're going to notice some problems. First, the inclusion of Obi-Wan at the childbirth makes a key sequence of ESB strange. Obi-Wan says to Yoda, "That boy is our last hope," and Yoda says, "No -- there is another." Wouldn't Obi-Wan already know that, seeing as how he watched Padme give birth to twins? In RotJ, Luke asks Leia if she remembers their mother, and Leia says all that she can remember was that she always seemed sad. Leia would have to have had one hell of a memory for that, as Padme dies about two minutes after Leia's born. More will probably occur to me when I go back and see the old trilogy again.

Don't worry about that too much. If you saw the first two installments of this trilogy, you'll love this episode. It's almost worth going back and seeing 1 and 2 again.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 22, 2005 10:49 PM

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I haven't seen Revenge of the Sith yet, and I don't really plan to until it comes out on DVD...  mainly because I couldn't agree more with Neil Boortz's assessment of why movie theater attendance is down: “Do you want... [Read More]

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