Star Wars: Episode III
The Saga is Complete
Running Time: 140 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a
Country: United States
While there are plenty of films with a cult following, George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ franchise is probably cinema’s closest equivalent to mainstream religion. When the first film appeared in 1977, brazenly designated Episode IV – A New Hope, a whole generation of (mostly male) kids was swept away by its crowd-pleasing fantasy, its elaborate mythology, its old-fashioned heroics – and of course its collectible merchandise. Lucas next decided to show the dark side of his ideas, letting them mature along with his fanbase, and the result was the doom-laden The Empire Strikes Back (1980), generally regarded as the finest film in the series, and one of the best sequels of all time. The trilogy was brought to a disappointing close by the abysmally second-rate Return of the Jedi (1983) – but then, some fifteen years later, Lucas went back in more ways than one, commencing production on a trilogy of prequels designed to win over a new set of initiates while making his older converts feel young again.
Despite now having far superior special effects at its disposal (and not being afraid to use them), this new trilogy has only rarely managed to recapture the magic of the original, thanks chiefly to Lucas’ continuing inability to write decent dialogue, twinned with his failure this time round to come up with a character to match the appeal of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. For all their talent, the cast assembled here by Lucas (including Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson and even Christopher Lee) struggles to bring any life to a screenplay that is never more than merely functional, so that one cannot help nodding in agreement at Ewan McGregor’s line (as Obi-Wan), early in ‘Revenge of the Sith’, “How did this happen? We’re smarter than this”.
Still, what this new trilogy does have going in its favour is the weight of the future. The Phantom Menace (1999) may have been (go on, admit it) god-awful in its overeagerness to attract a new audience of pre-teens – but at least ‘Star Wars’ devotees could be confident that sometime soon things would have to get a lot less cuddly. Attack of the Clones (2002) might have seemed too black-and-white in its morality, were it not for our awareness that the army of Clones which saves the day is destined to become the Stormtrooper muscle of a wicked Emperor. It does not matter so much that characters like Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) are somewhat dull for who they are, as they are ‘already’ interesting simply for who we know they will become. ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is unusually placed as a trilogy-closer for it must, and does, end on a decidedly sour note, as young Jedi Anakin becomes Darth Vader, the daddy of all baddies, with the only promise of new hope a whole generation away. It is this grim inevitability that gives the film its compelling trajectory towards tragedy.
Lucas crams ‘Revenge of the Sith’ with effects-driven action that is always technically impressive but rarely engaging – even the light sabre duels (and there are more here than in any other film) are strangely dull. He dazzles us with a spectacular array of backdrops, but their lack (for the most part) of proper integration into the plot makes them seem like an arbitrary selection of wallpaper. The drama, as Anakin is torn between his allegiances to Obi-Wan, Palpatine, Padmé (Natalie Portman), the Senate and the Jedi Council, seems pointlessly repetitive (er, we know that he will choose the Sith path in the end). The film is bloated and overlong, and even if Lucas does not sink to the joyless closural excesses of The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King (2003), nonetheless in tying up every possible thread that links ‘Revenge of the Sith’ to the starting point of A New Hope, he refuses to leave anything to the imagination of the viewer and forgets to entertain.
It's Got: Wookies (and Chewbaccas first appearance); Yoda wielding a mean sabre (again) and saying everything back to front (again); the emergence of Darth Vader; and a liberal spin on the War against Terror.
It Needs: Better writing and tighter editing.
Alternatives:Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope; Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back; Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi; Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace; Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Everything that has a beginning has a middle – and while this centerpiece to the 'Star Wars' saga may indeed be middling, it still beats 'Return of the Jedi' anyday.