Wednesday, June 08, 2005

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

Twenty-eight years after the release of the original Star Wars film, the six-part modern-day myth comes full circle with the final installment, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. After a couple of ignominious, seemingly irrelevant prequels, Revenge reveals at last the end of the Clone Wars – complete with the decimation of the Jedi Order and the formation of the Galactic Empire – as it leads into the events of that first film that now truly seem to have passed "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

Most importantly, we are witness to the much-anticipated transformation of young Anakin Skywalker, Jedi hero of the noble Republic, into Darth Vader, Sith Lord and agent of the evil Empire. It is here that we see the heart of the narrative, because at its crux the Star Wars saga is an intimate tale of personal, moral choices more than it is a space-opera epic of lightsaber duels and Death Star explosions. It may be the whiz-bang special effects and inimitable visual design that have had the greatest impact upon our pop culture, but the series’ staying power is arguably found in the emotional investments we have made in its many characters throughout their universally-relatable struggles.

The story’s case study, Anakin, is a man blessed with a natural talent in the Force (the élan vital power which flows through all things within the Star Wars universe) who is perceived to be the Chosen One who would restore balance to the Force itself according to ancient prophecy. But he is also a man beset by the archetypal inner conflict between love and duty, power and restraint, good and bad.

We have always known that Anakin eventually turned to the Dark Side, but we have never known exactly why. Revenge uncloaks the mystery by giving a further glimpse into the intrapersonal torture he suffered on account of his gifted mastery of the Force and the associative pressures to fulfill prophetical expectations. To abide by the Light Side would mean discipline by separation from possessions and attachments – to be free of all sentimentality. But, unable to forgive himself (and the ways of the Jedi) for his powerlessness to save his mother from death, Anakin vowed to always protect those he loved first and foremost. In Revenge, he becomes blinded by that passion and seeks ultimate power by any means to achieve that end until – as later chapters have disclosed – he finds himself inextricably trapped by a lifetime’s worth of sin and guilt. He will, in effect, become the very evil he has striven to destroy because he cannot recognize that his individual, well-intentioned choices are leading him down the wrong path. He is seduced by the Dark Side because he so fears to lose that which must be lost anyway. Clearly, Star Wars strikes a chord in the grand tradition of classical tragedy.

But that is not to say that Revenge can be so easily compared to the works of the great Greek dramatists Sophocles, Euripides, or Aeschylus. It is certainly not without its failings, as it retains some of the lesser qualities of its new-trilogy predecessors – namely their sometimes egregiously stilted dialogue. Star Wars creator George Lucas is revered as one of the great visual and conceptual storytellers of our time, but he has never been known as an especially sharp screenwriter. Surely no one expects Mametspeak but it becomes increasingly obvious that Lucas lacks a certain gracefulness and wit in his scripts. This inadequacy is compounded by Lucas’ over-infatuation with CGI which has resulted in nearly all scenes being filmed against green screen. That decision has translated to a perceivable awkwardness in acting performances, even from respected thespians such as Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson. Meanwhile, their CGI counterparts continue to be hampered by that strange vapidity – a veritable lack of essence – that has yet to disprove naysayers of the technology’s supposed ability to replace human actors.

Still, whatever its flaws, Revenge does indeed uphold the legacy it was charged to preserve. For years, fans of the original trilogy had heard whispers about the mythical occurrences of Episodes I-III: in particular, the crippling devastation of the Clone Wars, Emperor Palpatine’s rise to totalitarian power in the Republic Senate, and the horrific duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin. The ramifications were all too evident but the actual events were the stuff of legend. Revenge answers our most pressing questions in full detail, and in turn grants the greatest wishes of Star Wars devotees: We look upon the dark visage of a wizened, yellow-eyed Palpatine as he dons his hood; we behold the misguided acclamation that greets the wartime establishment of the Empire; we watch as Obi-Wan is forced to battle his closest friend in a bitter clash of lightsabers and ideologies; we experience the eerily Frankenstein-like sight of a black-cloaked Vader arising for the first time. The highly charged scenes of this film gratifyingly connect us to the original trilogy in ways that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones could not.

The overwhelming swell of nostalgia that inevitably accompanies Revenge could conceivably sway the staunchest of critics of the prequel trilogy. After all, the most outspoken of these critics are often the most ardent fans of the original trilogy; it should be recognized that Revenge has done a great service – some might say the impossible – in undeniably enhancing the weight and history of those preceding films. To wit, the entire Star Wars saga’s most profound statement may lie in this film’s closing scene, which reminds us that even as the darkest of times approaches there remains always a hope for redemption.

Score: 7.5 / 10


At 6/09/2005 12:41:00 AM, Anonymous Teepanee remarked...

Well-written review. =)

At 6/23/2005 06:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous remarked...

um..... i didn't watch it yet. so a lot of ppl spoiled it.... b/c i asked them. but i agree with tiff... i like your writing.

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