People may bicker over the perceived issues with Episode I and II, but I think generally, most people agree that Episode III is easily the high point of the prequel trilogy. People are right. Of all the prequels, Revenge of the Sith is the one that feels the most like a Star Wars film and also manages to bridge the gap between the prequels and the original trilogy. I remember walking out of Episode III for the first time and I was desperate to watch Episode IV again. So in that respect, this movie accomplishes what it sets out to do. That’s not to say there aren’t issues with the film. I have a few problems with the way Anakin falls to the Dark Side so quickly. I don’t think the audience sees enough of his transition from legendary Jedi to dark lord of the Sith. It feels like he just flips a switch and he is bad now. Given that the whole trilogy was made so we could see him turn into Darth Vader, I’d have liked that downfall to be a little more fulfilling. It goes back to what I was saying in my review for Attack of the Clones, that I wish they’d just combined I and II into a single movie, so we could have a whole new movie about the fall of Anakin and, more importantly, the rise of Vader.
Revenge of the Sith picks up three years after Attack of the Clones. The Clone War is now in full swing and the galaxy has been torn apart by years of war between the Republic and the Droid army of the trade federation. In a bold move, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), has led a strike into the Republic’s home base of Coruscant and captured Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and now Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) have been dispatched to save Palpatine. After Anakin kills Dooku, Palpatine still refuses to give up his emergency powers to control the senate, making the Jedi wary of his intentions. They intend to use Anakin and his mentor-like relationship with Palpatine to their advantage. Meanwhile, Anakin and his secret wife Padme (Natalie Portman) are awaiting the imminent arrival of their new baby (or babies!!), which is causing Anakin to have nightmares of Padme dying during childbirth. When Palpatine reveals to Anakin that he is a Sith lord and can help Padme avoid the fate he dreams about, Anakin is tempted by the Dark Side and will do anything to save his wife, including turning against his mentor Obi-Wan, the only family he has ever known since he left Tatooine as a child.
This movie is McGregor’s time to shine. He is heartbroken by the fall of his former student and you really feel that emotion coming out of him. Their duel is one of the highlights of not just the prequel trilogy, but the Star Wars series as a whole. It is brutally fast and it is the first time we’ve really got to see two Jedi in their prime throwing down. It is a very dark film, as you can imagine given the subject matter. I also really liked Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine. He seems to be relishing being so evil and manipulative and chews up scenery with glee. He and McGregor are without a doubt the best parts of this film.
There are some negatives here. This film seems to be following the trend of The Phantom Menace and wasting its villain, just as they did with Darth Maul. General Grievous, a four-armed sabre wielding android, looks fearsome, but is beaten quite easily by Obi-Wan. It is a disappointing end to someone that could have been a much cooler villain. Regardless, Grievous was not the point of the film. It was to see Anakin’s fall from grace, so I understand why there wasn’t as much of a focus on him as there probably could have been.
This is the only prequel film that feels like it belongs in the same league as the original trilogy. Outside of wanting to see more of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side and wasting another quality villain, there really isn’t much wrong with this film. Portman still doesn’t really have the type of chemistry you’d expect with Hayden Christensen, but their relationship is not as much of a focus as it was in Episode II so it is forgivable here. The darker tones and great action make this a worthy addition to the Star Wars series.
The most surprising thing about Episode III is that it’s actually a good movie. After two disappointing installments, we finally get something that can hold it’s own against the original trilogy films. I actually enjoy watching Episode III for more than just Ewan McGregor’s beard.
Whether it’s because Lucas’ direction has improved or most of the cast has learned to act around it, the performances in Episode III finally come together into something good. McGregor is the standout. This is the culmination of all of Obi Wan’s failures, and this character naturally is given the most to do. He’s emoting and fighting and delivering one-liners all over the place, and this movie is the better for it. I could watch this Obi Wan all day. Here’s hoping we get a standalone film starring McGregor in the near future.
Ian McDiarmid also shines as Palpatine/The Emperor. He is over the top in some instances, but it totally works here. After slinky around in the background in previous movies, it’s fun to see him go full evil and embody the Emperor of the original trilogy. His transformation is more interesting than Anakin’s, if decidely less nuanced. We may have had to sit through a lot of diplomacy and bad acting to see it, but the payoff is pretty satisfying.
As fun as this installment is, it still suffers from the weak set up in Episodes I and II. There are open threads of story that are underexplored, such as Anakin’s belief that Obi Wan and Padme are conspiring against him. There’s a hint of a love triangle there that should have been better set up to underscore Anakin’s paranoia and volitility. It’s also a shame that Darth Maul was so quickly dispatched in Episode I. Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) never feels as dangerous, and is definitely not as cool.
For all its flaws, I have warm feelings towards Episode III as it links most directly to my beloved Episode IV. I remember getting chills the first time Darth Vader is called to raise by the Emperor, like the strange mechanical Frakenstein’s monster he is. Hearing James Earl Jones’ booming voice, seeing Luke delivered to his family on Tatooine and Leia to her adoptive parents on Alderaan… I was giddy at seeing it all finally come together, and excited to watch the orginals all over again.