Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith – Film Review

I think it’s safe to say that “Revenge of the Sith” is my favorite Star Wars film. There’s just something about the emotional journey of the film that I find particularly compelling. That, and the lightsaber duels. But the truth of the matters is that, while Revenge of the Sith is easily the best movie of the prequels, it is still a rather flawed film. And, in fact, those flaws are capable of taking the audience completely out of the emotional pull of the story. It’s unfortunate because, in many ways, Revenge of the Sith is both the most personal and most epic film of the saga. And with a little extra care – and perhaps a more objectively critical second opinion during the whole process – the result could have been a nearly perfect film. As it is, Revenge of the Sith is an impressive experience. One that I thoroughly enjoy. But I will always wonder about “what might have been.”

Critical to the film’s success is the journey of Anakin Skywalker as he descends from hero to villain, from savior to agent of evil. And the while the whole thing hinges on the plausibility of Anakin’s turn toward the Dark Side, just as important is how well the film establishes both his hero and his villain personas. And in these two instances, the film succeeds admirably.

Starting with the daring rescue of Chancellor Palpatine, the film effortlessly establishes a very natural, and plausible, bond between Anakin and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Their banter, their cooperation, their daring, and their success all clearly establish the fact that Anakin Skywalker, in spite of his teenage petulance in Attack of the Clones, is a good guy. And likable, too. Not only is he brave, daring and powerful. But the guy has a sense of humor that is genuinely endearing. The success in establishing “Anakin the Hero” means that the eventual fall will be all the more tragic – especially when we see Anakin as Darth Vader.

But Anakin’s fall into darkness, though sufficiently foreshadowed in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, is a contrivance that stretches the limits of plausibility. And whether or not the film works for viewers will depend greatly on whether or not this rational stays within those limits – or breaks them entirely. That Anakin would sacrifice everything for a paranoid delusion seems almost ludicrous for a man who would go on to become one of the most memorable villains in movie history. Perhaps the greatest flaw to the notion that Anakin would sell his soul is the lack of urgency to it all. Again, there is enough there for the eventual turn to work. But it rests on very shaky ground. And those who are critical of the setup can certainly present valid criticisms.

Perhaps the most compelling element of Revenge of the Sith is the level of performances the film receives from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christiansen and Ian McDiarmid. All three do a fantastic job within their roles – especially McGregor and McDiarmid. But even here we see signs of the film being both brilliant and flawed. Palpatine’s performance is (almost) a tour de force. The character is brilliantly portrayed – except for the ludicrous facial expressions during the duel with Mace Windu, or the delivery of lines during the confrontation when Anakin arrives after the duel. The moments can be overlooked – but they can also evoke derisive laughter.

The same could be said for any number of moments from Padme dying because she “lost the will to live” to Darth Vader’s “Nooooooooooooo!” These moments are wrenchingly cringeworthy to the point where they delegitimize the number of truly exceptional scenes such as the Opera scene between Palpatine and Anakin, Obi-Wan’s “I’m so sorry,” and the hauntingly moving Order 66 sequence. You can look past the flaws – but the flaws represent carelessness and should never have been there in the first place.

Fortunately for Revenge of the Sith, John Williams’ work is once again allowed to shine – though, perhaps, not quite as brightly as it did in The Phantom Menace. Revenge of the Sith once again makes use of recycled music, but it’s not nearly to the same extent as Attack of the Clones. And, for the most part, the recycled music fits thematically – unlike Attack of the Clones. Also, there’s some incredible work here. Battle of the Heroes is a more personal kind of theme in the same mold as Duel of the Fates (though I prefer Duel of the Fates). There’s extensive use of the Force Theme, in a wide variety of variations. The Opera scene and Padme’s Ruminations are wonderful departures for Star Wars. And the musical accompaniment to Order 66 is simply incredible. All-in-all, the music is worthy of the Star Wars brand. It ties together the prequel and original trilogies, and brings the prequel trilogy to a triumphant (musically speaking) conclusion.

And with the end of the prequels, we can take a look at their place within the franchises of the past decade or so. It seems clear that, unlike the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy is not in a class by itself. Some franchises, like The Lord of the Rings, are judged to be superior. Others, like The Matrix, are judged to be inferior. But one thing is certain: Star Wars is still the standard on which everything else is based. And its influence is still being felt today.

Overall Grade: A-

In spite of its flaws, Revenge of the Sith is a tremendous film – well, worth watching. Whether or not it has its intended impact will depend, greatly, on whether or not the flaws are enough to pull viewers out of the story. But either way, its place in film history is assured – not only because of where it fits into the Star Wars saga, but also how it fits into the Golden Age of adventure films.

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