206 – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Watching the final part of the prequel trilogy gives one a real sense of closure, which is very good indeed, but also a real sense of emptiness, which isn’t so good. I don’t mean just an empty feeling because there are no more Star Wars films on the horizon, I mean empty as in sadly unfulfilling. If Star Wars Episode III were a candy bar, it wouldn’t be Snickers.

Going into the theater, you already have a sense of what’ll be in the movie, because you know how Episode IV (aka Star Wars) began. So you know which characters from Episodes I and II won’t make it to the end of III, you know what’ll happen to the Jedi Council, and you know who turns evil and gets to wear a totally badass helmet.

Sometimes being familiar with characters (perhaps intimately) is a good thing, because it makes it all the easier for one to root for them. On the other hand, knowing what’s going to happen – and how things will end – can also be a debit, because then the viewer has a certain set of expectations that he or she feels should be met, expectations that when not met contribute to feelings of disappointment and disillusionment.

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), pupil to Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is torn between aiding the Jedi Council and Chancellor Palpatine while war rages on against Darth Sidious, Count Dooku, General Grievous, and the rest of the merry men of evil. Meanwhile, his wife Padme (Natalie Portman) can see her husband only in secret, lest knowledge of the union between a Jedi and a senator become known.

Even though there are plenty of explosions, stunts, and general mayhem, the movie is really about the moral failings of man: Should Anakin stay on the true path as the Chosen One, fighting for good along with the other Jedi Knights? Or should he succumb to the Dark Side and help those he loves? Can he be selfish and selfless at the same time? Since he is such a young warrior, it seems, he is easily manipulated, but the catch is that he knows he’s being manipulated by someone. Anakin’s problem is that he doesn’t know who is doing the manipulation, and he suddenly doesn’t know whom to trust. Trust is a central theme to the story: Anakin’s trust of the Council, of Obi-Wan, and of Padme; the Council’s trust of Anakin and Palpatine; Padme’s trust of Anakin. Their relationships offer an interesting juxtaposition with the violence and action surrounding them.

With the first two episodes of the prequels, the viewer really didn’t know what to expect. We knew where Star Wars began, of course, and we knew these three movies would lead us to it, but we didn’t know how. What adventures would happen along the way? But with the third movie, less was left unknown before the movie even began. I knew what was going to happen, so I was counting on George Lucas to perhaps throw me a few curveballs to keep me off balance – and, of course, wow me with his special effects wizardry.

My problem with the third episode was that it was simply there; it’s almost as if it were a bridge to the fourth episode, rather than being a standalone episode itself. I wasn’t really excited by this movie, which is in itself a major disappointment. I wasn’t shocked, amazed, or surprised, and that’s a real shame. True, it’s great to see familiar characters (including one late in the movie who shows up in the next episodes), and it’s fun to see them do battle against their sworn enemies. It’s fascinating to watch Anakin turn from callow youth to diabolic fiend bent on ruling the galaxy. But I knew the end result, and there was nothing compelling about the storyline.

On the plus side, the acting by Christensen and Portman – especially in their shared scenes – has dramatically improved, although there are still moments when Christensen seems like he’s only four lessons into a ten-lesson acting course. McGregor channels the late Alec Guinness; one can easily see how he becomes the old man we see in Episode IV.

Even at nearly two and a half hours, the movie is fairly well paced, without some of the lulls that plagued the first two prequels. And the effects are certainly believable, not to mention those employed to animate Yoda and other nonhuman characters. The hand-to-hand fighting scenes are wonderful to behold, always credible.

But the movie just doesn’t grab you the way it should. It’s the final movie in the series; we won’t see another one. It should grab the viewer by the ears and shake him a bit. Instead, George Lucas’ epic series finally comes to a close not with a bang-pop-zowie of an exploding Death Star but with the slight whimper of a Jedi sliced in two by a light saber.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: **1/2

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