Sunday, April 4, 2010

Star Wars marathon: Episode III

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005, George Lucas)

Just as Attack of the Clones revealed the origins of the infamous Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith tells the story of the Old Republic’s ungraceful destruction. What we saw in Episode I as the last glory days of the Republic and the golden years of the Jedi is all turned to dust by the conclusion of Episode III. Heroes, friends, lovers and even democracy itself meet an untimely demise in George Lucas’ final Star Wars film. A bit like with the start of the pervious chapter, Revenge of the Sith skips ahead a good few years in the saga’s timeline, opting to show the viewer the tale end of the Clone War. Obi-Wan Kenobi, still played by Ewan McGregor, and his partner Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are sent into a vicious space battle above the city planet of Coruscant in a dangerous rescue mission. A droid army general named Grievous and familiar foe Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) have kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and hold the latter captive in one of their space submarines. Rescuing the Chancellor will prove to be the single worst successful mission for our two heroes, as Palpatine shall slowly reveal his true nature to young Skywalker. The brash and now very powerful jedi cannot think of a more important duty than that of protecting his secret wife and pregnant wife Padmé (Nathalie Portman), about whom he has nightmares in which she dies in childbirth. With his emotions still getting the better of him (as was often the case in Episode II) and with knowledge that his strength with the Force has grown considerably, Anakin soon becomes the perfect pawn for Palpatine’s horrific machinations.

As far as space operas go, Revenge of the Sith is plenty fun. At the outset of this more recent prequel trilogy, questions were raised about whether or not writer director George Lucas had it in him to give audiences a dark enough tale about the fall of the jedi that would satisfy movie goers and long time fans of the franchise. If Episode I had me worried in that regard, and Episode II reassured me, then Episode III screams the true answer at the top of its lungs: Oh abso-freaking-lutely! Episode III is unique in the sense that we rarely get to see adventure stories made for masses in which the villains win. The typical fashion in which movies like the Star Wars films conclude is with the protagonists pulling out daring and exciting victories, thus restoring peace and security to their communities, their countries or the world. Not so with this movie. Palpatine and his newly created menace, Darth Vader, get the better of those characters who fight for the side we consider good. It might be stating the obvious in saying that prior to this film’s release, The Empire Strikes Back was considered the ‘darkest’ Star Wars film, thematically and in its storytelling. We’ll get to that film in due time throughout this marathon, but at least for now, I’m calling Revenge of the Sith the best Star Wars film. Even 5 years ago upon its theatrical release I was no longer the Star Wars fans I had been in my youth, but Revenge of the Sith still carried a weight of importance in that it had to fulfill a wish I had for the longest time: I always wanted to see the Star Wars in which the good guys get their asses kicked. The villains in the original films were always among my favourite characters. I loved Darth Vader, I thought the Stormtroopers were pretty cool, I loved the weaponry and artillery the soldiers of the evil Empire employed (such as those mammoth-like walkers on the ice planet), Boba Fett, etc. Yeah, yeah, good must prevail over evil, but once, just once, I’d like to see the Dark Side give the Light Side a good run for its money.

In that regard, Episode III succeeds very well. Much like how Lucas brought an interesting mood and tone to Episode II, he definitely packs a heavy punch in this film. Granted, the first 30 to 40 minutes have more of a good old fashioned swashbuckling feel to them (in essence, Obi_Wan and Anakin’s rescue of Palpatine). There’s nothing wrong with that however. I happen to find the opening sequence, which includes a space battle, lightsaber fights against, droids, a lightsaber fight aganst Count Dooku, a lightsaber fight against General Grevious, a drop down an elevator shaft, and the crash landing of a flaming space cruiser, very entertaining. They remind us how well Obi-Wan and Anakin can work together even though they don’t always approach things in the same way. There is a respect and a friendship that exists, strained as it may be at times given how different the two men are emotionally and psychologically. But once the action moves to Coruscant’s surface, the plot and drama thickens considerably. Anakin’s difficulties in following and trusting the Jedi code resurface, and these hardships are only doubled by his fear of losing Padme. His long standing bond with Palpatine, which is being frowned on by the rest of the Jedi, is put to the test as the Council orders him to function somewhat as a spy against the Chancellor. Trust everywhere is substitute with mistrust, fear and frustration as the Jedi try to discover Palpatine’s real intentions, the politicians, Padme among them, witness diplomacy take a back seat for military action in the Clone War, and the Chancellor puts the final pieces of his plot into motion. Many of the smaller character moments prove to be interesting, such as the conversation between Palpatine and Anakin at the theatre where the former shares some disturbing tales and thoughts on both sides of the Force. It’s a surprisingly creepy scene.

The pacing from that point on is furious, but never too fast. Once the Dark Side of the Force, propelled by Palpatine himself and by the exploitation of the Jedi’s weaknesses, begins to take over things get even more exciting, culminating in two appropriately over the top battles. One pits Yoda against Darth Sidious/Palpatine (now resembling the disfigured monster we remember from the original trilogy) and the other being the dramatic contest between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. While the Episode II Yoda lightsaber scene left to be desired, this one makes perfect use of the little schmuck’s abilities. It doesn’t last particularly long, but it is one heck of a fight. The Obi-Wan/Anakln duel is, however, much longer but also one heck of a fight.

It might be time to briefly discuss Anakin’s fall from Jedi grace (even though he was never very graceful) into the shadows of the Dark Side. I think that its overall arc works very well. He was the first Jedi to wilfully go against the Jedi ways. I think I briefly touched on this in one of my previous reviews, but as impressive as the Jedi are when jumping around and Force pushing objects around like pillows, they are a bunch of hacks when it comes to life and love. Sorry if you disagree readers, but Jedi are stupid and they are jerks. They have utterly failed to comprehend what it means to love and respect one another. What is the purpose of living if one cannot love and be attached to people? That’s completely ridiculous. The existence of Anakin is fascinating in that sense because he specifically goes against the grain and the Jedi have no way of turning that ship around. They simply don’t have the tools or knowledge to do so. They’ve been teaching the same gibberish for centuries and when someone comes along with a considerable amount of potential and strength but without the discipline (although I really believe ‘stubbornness’ is the proper term) to follow the rigid and emotional vapid Jedi Code, bad stuff is bound to happen. That doesn’t make Palpatine the good guy obviously. He is the worse than the Jedi in the sense that, while he encourages Anakin to tap into his emotions, he does so for all the wrong reasons. In many ways, the Sith and the Jedi are just as bad and as good as one another. The prophecy was to restore balance to the Force, but because neither the Jedi nor the Sith possess any balance in their manipulations of the Force, everybody screwed up.

Regarding Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader within this film more specifically, I’d say it’s handled reasonably well. It’s a Star Wars film, I’m looking for Shakespear, but there should be some sort of emotional resonance, which I’m happy to report there is. I enjoyed the notion of Anakin knowing that turning against the Jedi could very well be in the worst interest of his friends and allies, but he just can’t help it. He was fooled once by his nightmares, but he refuses to be fooled again. The problem is, but taking a course that he hopes will save Padme, he is in fact playing the role of a fool. It does indeed turn out to be the worst decision in terms of the fates of his allies, but also for the very person he was trying to save. If I may moan just for a moment, it would be about the actual scene in which Anakin becomes Palpatine’s apprentice. It’s a bit...quick. I would have liked Anakin to struggle for a few more scenes with the decision he has just made. As it stands, I have to admit that his travelling from one spectrum of the Force to the other seems a bit like turning a light switch on and off. Nonetheless, it makes for a great scene on the lava planet of Mustafar (which is a great name for a planet), in which Anakin attempts to talk Padme into ruling the galaxy together. It sounds so cheesy, but it works in a pulpy sort of way. Maybe I’m just very forgiving when it comes to reviewing movies, but I loved the dialogue heavy moments just before Anakin and Obi-Wan engage in a lightsaber battle to end all lightsaber battles.

A bit of credit should go to Lucas’ directing. I admire how, in an age of fast cuts and frantic cinematography, this director still chooses to rest the camera on faces, places and creatures. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, a cut is not made. Lucas is often disregarded for his directing abilities, but I would argue that his scene setups and editing techniques are actually quite good and a breath of ‘old school’ fresh air in the sea of this generation’s action films. The viewer can easily admire the intricately constructed galaxy Lucas and his team of designers have moulded together.

And so we are already halfway through this Star Wars marathon. Things started off slowly but we’ve witness a dramatic improvement in the quality of the movies in recent weeks, not to mention a turn to a darker, more unjust society in the universe of the movies. With the Republic and Jedi now dead, what new hope can the galaxy place its bet on?

P.S. The movie earns some style points for featuring a character's hands been severed off, a beheading, a lightsaber thrown into someone's chest and the burning of a live human body. None of these are things I would wish upon anyone in real life, but it was certainly something to see them in a Star Wars film.

Done Here? Now see what Bill thinks of the Dark Side over at Bill's Movie Emporium.


Anonymous said...

Love your review Edgar, absolutely love it. I actually can't wait to write my rebuttal this time simply because of how vehemently I agree with you in certain areas. (Don't worry about the need for a debate between us, I have no doubt that our next installment in the marathon will spark a lot of debate.)

edgarchaput said...

Those are kind words. I think that may be the first time someone has ever 'vehemently' agreed with me.

I have some vague ideas about your thoughts on Episode IV, and I anticipate a clash of lightsabers in the near future.

Adam L. Garcia said...

I 100% agree with this (and Bill's) reviews. I'm really happy to see I'm not alone in my love for this film.

edgarchaput said...

Welcome to the club Loserface. You won't be a lose here.

Anonymous said...

I disagree about his transformation to the dark side. I actually think it's one of the things the film does the best as it feels like a gradual change. It's not like he goes from goodguy to badguy in a moment, it's a gradual shift and a human and understandable one, even if it is totally misguided.

Otherwise, great review.

I know you probably didn't want to spoil it, but neither you nor Bill talked about the fantastic ending that makes you want to pop episode 4 right in. Or maybe that's just me.