Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith

Movie Information

Genre: Sci-Fi Saga
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: PG-13

Fans — especially the more hardcore variety — should just add one-and-a-half stars to my rating of this supposedly final installment in the Star Wars saga and move on.

I’m not a card-carrying Star Warvian (or whatever the Star Wars equivalent to a Trekkie is), but I did like a good many things about the previous entry, Attack of the Clones. That movie boasted a strong opening and an even stronger final 45 or so minutes of spectacular sci-fi action, and had the advantage of being a little freer in its story than the new entry.

Revenge of the Sith is so boxed in by having to tie everything into a neat parcel (in order to get us to the 28-year-old Star Wars) that it feels constrained and is woefully lacking in surprises and dramatic tension.

It undoubtedly helps if you buy into the whole Star Wars mythos, but if you don’t find the overall saga compelling or come equipped with a vested interest in the characters, I’m hard pressed to imagine you’ll work up more than a casual interest in how the story gets from point C to point D. The fact that you already know how it gets from D to F makes it more an exercise in watching Lucas connect the dots than anything else.

Worse, you go into the movie with the full knowledge that bed-wetting brat Anakin (the constantly inept Hayden Christensen) has to become Darth Vader by the end of the movie. As a result, all the efforts to keep him from turning to the “dark side” are just so much marking time. To compound this problem, you probably already know — the publicists have been hard at work — that the movie’s big moment is a fight to the “finish” between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) over a pit of flowing lava (kind of like Mount Doom with occasional droid action). Again, you come to this in full knowledge of the fact that Obi-Wan has to live so that he can age into Alec Guinness by the next chapter, while Anakin has to wind up in his gleaming black armor, breathing like a pervert crank caller and speaking with James Earl Jones’ voice.

There’s just not a lot of drama to mine out of any of this, so what are we left with? Well, Sith is big and loud (the movie comes with instructions from Lucas to crank up the volume), and it’s pretty nice-looking.

It’s also chock-full of more of that dialogue for which Lucas is so rightly famous — the kind that’s awkward, stilted and unlike anything uttered by any real person in any galaxy, no matter how far, far away. It (barely) gets by when McGregor delivers it, and when Ian McDiarmid’s arch villain chews the scenery with transparent villainy. When Christensen is forced to say this stuff, however, he proves himself the Zeppo Marx of drama, emphasizing all the wrong words and making it sound even worse. Natalie Portman — no mean actress, as she’s proved in film’s like Garden State and Closer — doesn’t fare that much better; neither, for that matter, does the usually reliable Samuel L. Jackson.

(That said, the fact that they’re able to say names like “Count Dooku,” “General Grievous,” and “Darth Sidious” with a straight face is an acting feat of some note.)

A certain degree of fuss has been made over Lucas inserting political criticism into the fabric of his movie. It’s there, all right: There are at least two — possibly three — instances of it, most notably when Anakin/Vader says, “Those who are not with me are my enemies,” which is a little too close to recent statements by a certain American leader for it to be a coincidence. More resonant, however, is Padme’s remark after listening to the senate’s enraptured response to Darth Sidious’ villainous scheme: “So this is how liberty dies — to thunderous applause.”

It’s unusual to find Lucas making a political statement, but I doubt it will mean all that much to most viewers — a good many of whom probably think Darth Vader is really cool anyway. This, after all, is the kind of fiction that thrives on the bad guys — no one ever went to a Dracula or Fu Manchu movie to see the heroes.

Beyond and separate from that consideration, there’s the hanging question of just what is this civilization that the good guys are determined to save? As with nearly every sci-fi film, the vision of society offered here is rather bleak and antiseptic. Depicting the future stumped Fritz Lang with Metropolis and H.G. Wells with Things to Come. It stumps Lucas here — and indeed in the whole saga. People live in nicely appointed but completely impersonal surroundings. There are some scattered objects d’art, but no one has any books, paintings are scarce to nonexistent, and there’s no individuality in evidence.

By way of culture, we’re treated to a throng of people in a theater gazing in wonder at what looks like a giant soap bubble with pink ribbons swirling in and out of it. It makes one wonder whether the Siths aren’t so much evil as just bored beyond human endurance.

Of course, there are the effects — and, yes, they’re state of the CGI art. But really, with that much money and technology at Lucas’ disposal, it would only be remarkable if they weren’t. So, finally, what have you got? A big, glossy movie that connects the series from A to F and will undoubtedly delight the faithful, which means that it basically serves its purpose. If you’re a fan, by all means see it. If you’re not, well, you might find yourself reduced to Yoda-speak, as I did: “Impressed I was not.” Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense imagery.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith

  1. ohforshame

    I don’t know if it’s been brought to Hanke’s attention, but I’ve always wanted to address a glaring error in this review. Namely, that Star Wars took place “a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” Those mythic opening lines of the movies are known to just about everyone- rabid fan or not (and I am not one.) It’s also always been one of the more interesting things about the series for me, the concept that they depict a past more advanced in many ways than the present. So yeah, just pointing out that the review criticizes Lucas for not having a vision of the future when, of course, it was supposed to have taken place in the past.

  2. Ken Hanke

    In all honesty, no, no one’s pointed that out before, and I suspect it’s because narration aside — which I am aware of, though I don’t think about it too often — Lucas has still created a comparatively futuristic society that comes across as Sci-Fi Futuristic 101. I’m not criticizing Lucas for not having a vision of the future, but for having a vision that’s unpersuasive in its appeal and worth. Even were I to rewrite the review and make it “a vision of a futuristic past,” I’d have the same problem with it.

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