Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Posted by August 14, 2015

"Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" is the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, and that's before we reach the ultimate duel between two who consider each other to be brothers. This is a magnificent piece of sci-opera entertainment in the mold of the best installments in the "Star Wars" saga, recapturing the joy that an older set of movies instilled in the audience that grew to love it and melding that with the sense of mythology from its immediate predecessors before diverging from both sensations for something altogether more resonant. This is sometimes heavy stuff, with darkness no longer merely seeping in at the frayed edges (as was the case with 2002's "Attack of the Clones") but gathering strength (This is the first film in the franchise to receive a PG-13 rating, and it's no wonder why).

Opening with a dizzying flight through warring battle cruisers and piloted fighters, the film finds Jedi knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in the midst of a rescue mission. Their quarry is Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has been captured by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). The fight is a short one when Palpatine, who of course is a Sith lord named Darth Sidious, convinces Anakin to exact revenge upon Dooku for cutting off his arm in the previous film's climax. Palpatine has a curious control over young Skywalker, exacerbated by a lack of confidence in the latter by the Jedi Council (who refuse to award him the rank of master).

Obi-Wan, meanwhile, is sent to deal with General Grievous (voice of sound editor Matthew Wood), a robot with a smoker's cough and human heart fused with its metallic ribs. This droid is the real deal--menacing with a touch of absurdity in its crouching movements and slithery cadence beneath the tinny, mechanical voice. It also knows the ways of the Force, and a trick up its sleeve is quite literal here: four lightsabers, which it wields in its four arms. The resulting fight is thrilling, especially as Grievous can contort its metal skeleton into that of a spider and scuttle quickly away (Also a fun addition to the sequence is a giant lizard-like creature on which Obi-Wan rides to chase Grievous).

Anakin is reunited with Padme (Natalie Portman), whom he married in secret in the final scene of the previous film. She's pregnant here (It is amusing to see Portman's womb shift girth randomly throughout), and Anakin wants to keep it from Obi-Wan, as marriage and fatherhood are disqualifying states in which to be for a Jedi. Anakin is also troubled by visions of Padme's death in childbirth, and as his own mother died soon after he saw visions of it happening, Anakin is determined not to let these come true. Then the reveal happens: Palpatine, who has appointed Anakin as spy within the Jedi Council (who have, in return, recruited him to spy on the Chancellor), knows the ways of the Dark Side of the Force and, more intriguingly, how to delay death.

Palpatine is the key to making Anakin's shift to the Dark Side work like gangbusters, and the foremost reason for that is McDiarmid's performance, which plays the note of unnerving calm to such a degree that, for long stretches in the first act, this is a delightful Senator and nothing more. The third act presents Anakin the hero with a choice so jarring that it works because there seem to be deeper movements at work here. A scene simultaneously difficult to watch in its bluntness and moving in its tragic momentum finds all the Jedi across the galaxy being wiped out in montage, while Anakin travels to the Jedi Temple for some particularly nasty business and then to the lava-driven Mustafar system, where separatist leaders are in hiding.

The aforementioned duel that ensues between two old friends is both thrilling and devastating as characters' places within this story are solidified and match up perfectly to what would continue with 1977's "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope." Writer/director George Lucas' prequel trilogy started with a bit of a whimper with 1999's "A Phantom Menace," a film practically defined by its climax, but "Attack of the Clones" improved upon that shakiness by offering up an enjoyable Saturday-morning serial. Now, here is "Revenge of the Sith," a film that catapults straight into the top tier of the series. What a film this is, marrying sheer imagination and tragic pathos with sincerity and thrills to spare.

Film Information

Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader), Natalie Portman (Padme Amidala), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Silas Carson (Nute Gunray/Ki-Adi Mundi), Temeura Morrison (The Clone Troopers), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca).

Featuring the voice of James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), Frank Oz (Yoda), and Matthew Wood (General Grievous).

Directed and written by George Lucas.

Rated PG-13 (sci-fi violence, intense images).

140 minutes.

Released on May 19, 2005.