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Greek Tragedy Meets Morality Tale - George Lucas's Masterpiece,
This review is from: Star Wars Episode III : Revenge of the Sith (2 Disc Edition) [DVD]  (DVD)
In my review for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace I wrote how the light and bright Phantom reflected the time in which it was released. 1999 was the dawn of the new Millennium and hope and freshness abounded during what was something of a short golden age for Western Society. If The Phantom Menace was a movie for its time, then 2005's dark and desperate Revenge of the Sith was also a movie of its time and for today. As the world stands on the edge of global despression and we continue with uncertain wars and the face the prospect of ever more sophisticated and outrageous terrorism many of us are feeling a sense of despair - Revenge of the Sith reflects that sense of despair and unease really quite profoundly. This film transends the Star Wars myth and becomes tome for today.
The story of "Revenge" is basically Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side and embracing his destiny - Darth Vader. However, this film actually belongs to The Emperor, aka Darth Sidious, aka Palpatine. Its Ian Mcdiarmids outstanding performance of Palpatine that is the glue that holds the film together. As Paplatines plot finally falls into place and we understand at last just who The Phantom Menace is, Mcdiarmid totally eats up the screen. From the early scenes where Palpatine subtlely sucks the unsuspecting Anakin into his dastardly plot (look out for a particularly stunning scene between Anakin and Palpatine early in the movie, where Palpatine relays the legend of the tragedy of "Darth Plagueis The Wise" to Anakin. This is possibly the best acted scene in ANY of the six movie Saga) through to the hackling, insane and unbelievably evil Emperor literally trashing democracy itself as he battles Yoda in The Senate, this is Mcdiarmids movie and does he rise to the occasion! This is surely the best Star Wars performance since Guiness in Star Wars and Ford in Empire Strikes Back.
However, ALL the acting performances are better in this film. Natalie Portman, Hayden Christenson and Sam Jackson deliver much more solid work than they did in Attack of the Clones. Ewan Mcgregor, if not quite as good as in Clones, is still excellent. The actors clearly relish have more dramatic material to work with, and aside from the occasional poor line here and dodgy acting there, everyones work rises to a better standard in this film.
The film starts with an epic space battle as The Clone Wars reaches its final cresendo. Palpatine has set up his kidnapping and Anakin (now a Jedi Knight) and Obi-Wan Kenobi stage a desperate bid to rescue him from the clutches of Darth Tyrannus (Christopher Lee) and new villain General Grevious. The first twenty minutes is non stop, classic Star Wars action. Look out for the shocking moment when Tyrannus is executed at the hands of Anakin. - This is the first indication of just how dark Revenge of the Sith is.
The film for me really picks up after the opening action when Anakin returns to Coruscant and is reunited with his wife Padme. He finds out he is to be a father and its at this point he begins to have visions of Padmes death - Which takes us back to his mothers death in Attack of the Clones. This sets Anakin on a journey to stop Padme from dying as his mother did. A journey that sees him selling his soul to the devil and desending litterally into hell. For the knowlage to save Padme Anakin must betray his Jedi comrades and become Sith Lord Darth Vader.
The middle of the film, where Anakin makes his choice to turn to the dark side, is where Revenge of the Sith lifts from just being a good Star Wars film to being a great film in its own right. A slient moment of rumination between Anakin and Padme offers one of the most haunting moments in Star Wars history. As Anakin and Padme connect silently across the bustling cityscape on Coruscant, a silent voice wails in pain. The sun sets on the galaxy and on our doomed lovers and Anakin makes his decision.
The rest of the film sees the destruction of the Jedi and Anakins appalling betrayal. A pivitol scene between Anakin, Palpatine (now transformed into the warped Emperor we knew from Return of the Jedi) and Mace Windu is really the key scene to understanding just how deep Anakins betrayal was and that he was given the chance to do the right thing, but made the wrong choice - Leading to the quite shocking death of Mace.
The final part of the movie is where all the loose ends are tied up. From Palpatine becoming Emperor of the Galactic Empire through to the end of the Clone Wars, through to the mythic and long awaited lightsaber fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan against the volcanic, hellish backdrop of Mustafar, through to the birth of Padmes children, Luke and Leia and the death/birth of Padme/Anakin/Darth Vader, Revenge of the Sith delivers in spades.
The shocking irony of Anakin himself making his nightmares come true and lashing out at the woman he turned to the dark side to save takes "Revenge" to the level of greek tragedy. Christenson and Portman are stunning in this scene. The way their relationship just disintergrates before our eyes is so well done and seeing Anakins rage and anger is really quite disturbing.
The tragedy continues with Anakins downfall at the hands of his former friend and mentor Obi-Wan. The force with which Ewan Mcgregor delivers his parting words to Anakin are just fantastic and you'll find the immolation of Anakin, even if you know its coming, both shocking and moving. Even though at this point Anakin is throughly evil, you'll still feel, through the music and Mcgregors performance, a great sense of compassion for Anakin plight.
So what about the technical aspects of this film? Firstly Lucas's direction is superb. If he was rusty for Phantom and going somewhat through the motions with Clones, then with Sith he definatly rises to the occasion. This is the film he made the Prequels in order to make. This is the tale he's been waiting 30 years to tell. The how and why Star Wars happened.
Like Lucas and all the actors, John Williams delivers his best Prequel work on this film. Many of his pices of music are by turns operatic and tragic. The music that accompanys Anakin and Padmes silent ruminations, the fall of the Jedi, the disturbing "Godfatheresque" moment of Palpatines triumph as Anakin wipes out the remaining Sepratist leaders and the music that accompanys the battle of Anakin/Obi-Wan and Sidious/Yoda are all notable musical highlights. Listen out at the end of the film and during the credits for pieces of music from "Star Wars" itself - Hinting at the hope to come and taking the movie full circle.
The special effects, sound effects and costumes are outstanding as ever. Its easy to take ILM's fabulous special effects for granted, but the fact is they produce jaw dropping scene after jaw scene. How/why they never won an Oscare for the Prequels is totally beyond me!
The editing from Roger Barton and Ben Burtt is much improved on Burtts solo edit for Attack of the Clones.
Also greatly improved is the digital camera. Where Attack of the Clones had a some how false and shiny look to it, Revenge of the Sith looks much more gritty and realistic. If you didn't know, you would definatly think this movie has been shot using regular "film" cameras, rather than groundbreaking digital cameras.
Revenge of the Sith is a fantastic contrast to The Phantom Menace. If the colour of Phantom is all greens and blues, this film is all blacks and reds. Where Phantom was light, this film is dark. Where Phantom was goofy, this film is mature. There is, very much a sense of despair and desperation about this film and this contrast actually makes The Phantom Menace more interesting, in my opinion. It doesn't negate all the many problems Menace has, but it at least justifys through contrast, the tone that Lucas chose for Epsiode I. Aside from brief chinks of hope with the arrival and splitting up of the twins right at the end of the film, Revenge of the Sith is unremittingly dark. Some scenes, such as the creation of Darth Vader are actually quite disturbing - Hence the 12 certificate.
As far as extras go, Revenge of the Sith is unfortunatly somewhat lacking compared to Menace and Clones. The main documentery "Within A Minute" is very poor compared to Menaces "The Beginning." Aside from that the extras contain the usual film maker commentery, deleated scenes, trailers, web-docs (which are excellent) and music video. But with this DVD its the film that speaks for itself not the extras. So even though the extras are *** affairs, the movie itself is a brilliant *****
Along with The Empire Strikes Back, Revenge of the Sith is my personal favourite Star Wars movie. The visual poetry of the final scenes (first dealing with the mother, then the father, then the daughter and finally the son) is just beautiful. As we arrive at the final scene where baby Luke is delivered by Obi-Wan to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and the twin suns set over Tatooine, we come full circle and you'll have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sheer beauty, opera and poetry of it all.
It may not have been a smooth ride, but this film made the Prequels a worthwhile project.
Thank you George Lucas for the wonderful ride that is the Star Wars Saga.