Reviewed by Janine Booth
Tips for enjoying this film:
- Remember it is part of the prequel trilogy, not the original trilogy, and you are less likely to be disappointed.
- Appreciate the excellent acting of Ian McDiarmid, and tolerate Ewan McGregor by remembering that he is not Alec Guinness and never will be.
- Go along with the (thinnish) plot rather than trying to pick holes in it.
- Sit back and enjoy the spectacular action.
The central story is Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. It is done pretty well – gradual, painful, and even though you know the ending, still gripping.
The Clone Wars rage. The Jedi fight for the Republic. It has still not, apparently, crossed their minds to doubt whether this is right. Clouded by the Dark Side, their judgement no doubt is. In fact, the war is doing nobody any good, but is empowering the Sith Lord who is secretly controlling both sides.
Episodes 1 and 2 told us that Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One, who would “bring balance to the Force”. As his journey to the Dark Side unfolds, Yoda comments that “Perhaps misread the prophecy was”. Well indeed. More to the point – stopped for a minute to think about what it meant perhaps you should have done.
And therein lies a big problem – a film that wants to appear philosophical, but substitutes soundbites for insight.
Padme and Anakin married at the end of Attack of the Clones, and now Padme is pregnant. Anakin dreams of her death in childbirth. Despite premonitions, he had been unable to save his mother from death in Episode 2, and is now gripped by fear of a repeat. His panic propels him towards Chancellor Palpatine and the Dark Side.
I don’t like that. It should not be love that leads to the Dark Side. It is some consolation that there are other factors too – ego, thwarted ambition, desperation to end the war, doubts about the Jedi, and successful manipulation by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine.
I also don’t like what has happened to Padme. OK, so she was boring and ridiculously decorated in The Phantom Menace, but by Attack of the Clones she was an independent, active, confident, intelligent, political young woman. Now she is reduced to being Anakin’s wifey. He used to trail after her like a puppy; now she stands around on a Coruscant balcony waiting for him.
Some time in the last two decades, George Lucas lost his ability to write decent dialogue and, more importantly, to create likeable, believable, multi-dimensional characters. Perhaps he thinks that big budgets and fantastic special effects are an adequate substitute.
Luke, Han and Leia bantered, bickered and bonded. Although they lived a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, you could imagine them in your local boozer as well as in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
The characters of Episodes 1, 2 and 3, though, are locked into their roles – Jedi Master, Padawan, Senator – forever playing out their destinies rather than developing personalities or relationships. Obi-Wan says that Anakin is like his brother, but you don’t see it in the vibe between them.
In The Phantom Menace, the Senate had begun to suffocate itself with bureaucracy, allowing Palpatine to move in and speed up its decline – and his control – in Attack of the Clones. In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine kills off the old Republic, most of whose Senators cheer his declaration of Empire.
The climax sees two lightsabre duels on two different planets. Obi-Wan and Anakin exchange spectacular blows and anguish hopping around a lava river on Mustafar. And in an excellent choice of setting, Yoda and Palpatine battle in the empty Senate Chamber, ripping apart the furniture, illustrating the destruction of the Republic’s democracy.
For the long-term Star Wars fan (like me), Episode 3 brings satisfaction – the story is completed, the two halves joined up. In the last fifiteen mintures or so, we get an emotional connection to the original trilogy that has been missing for nearly three whole films. We find out how all the main characters end up where we will find them nearly twenty years later – even the droids depart with Captain Antilles.
And some of those action sequences are fantastic. And Palpatine is a great character. And … Oh sod it, I’m off to watch it again.
Read our review of Episode 2: Attack of the Clones here.
Harrison Ford famously told Lucas, while making the orginal Star Wars, 'You can type this stuff, George, but you can't say it.' So I'm not sure he could ever write dialogue. 'Sith' doesn't have quite the level of excruciating awfulness of 'Clones' ('Good call my young padwan', 'Around the survivors a perimeter create' - though was something to the effect of 'Will not happen if anything to do with it I have').
But the whole thing seemed to be governed by the principle that if you can see a godawful cliche - go for it. (Darth Vader, learning of what's happened to Padme, just has to scream 'Nooooooooooooooooooo!')
For me, the idea that what takes Darth Vader over to the dark side is the best of motives is potentially interesting, if not hugely original. Certainly it's a step up from Clones, which had the chance to make Count Dukku's motives quite complex but opted for banality. But it seemed to me very underpowered and un-thought through.
And all right, Ewwwan will never be Alec Guinness. And how. But the prequels I think have highlighted how marvellous the main cast of the original movies was. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were fabulous, charismatic screen presences with a real spark between them. Never mind Ewan McGregor (whose success is an absolute mystery to me): Hayden Christensen and Natalie Poirtman just aren't comparable.
But yeah, Ian McDiarmid rocked, and acted them all off the screen.
A minor quibble I suppose, but I think it's fear that leads to the Dark Side for Anakin, not love. Or at least, thats what both Yoda and Palpatine play on. I think it's also quite a good idea to remember that in this film, and in fact in all three of the prequels, there isn't quite as clear a Jedi/Sith - right/wrong distinction going on. When I say that I mean right as in correct, not as in morally good. The three prequels effectively tell a story of the Jedi being by turns ignorant, arrogant, and even quite naive. To me, their slightly ludicrous requirement on Anakin that he not fear to lose Padme is largely in keeping with the way they are characterised throughout the trilogy. They're the good guys, but ultimately they mess things up good and proper. I think thats intentional from Lucas, not another of the plentiful examples of crappy dialogue.
And I thought Ewan MacGregor was quite good... and I also thought Mc Diarmid was a shameless scenery-chewing ham (I mean, come on! In the Empire founding scene he was seconds away from improvising: "And they called me mad..."). But thats just my opinion.
Interesting point about the Jedi being really annoying. Not sure it is fear rather than love, except in the sense that the Sith seem to be incapable of not articulating their aims during fights with Jedi ("Give in to your hate, Luke, come over to the dark side...!" Like, won't it work better if you keep fucking quiet about it?). It seems to me that the underlying idea is surely that Anakin turns bad because he loves Padme so much.
True that there are blurrier distinctions in this one. But I found that pretty annoying, too. "Only on the dark side are there absolutes," Obi Wan tells Anakin (or someone), as if the whole thing since 1976 hasn't been about absolutes...
I am - no was - a fan but even I just sat open-mouthed at the profligate senseless idiocy of it all.
When one considers that the efforts of hundreds - if not thousands - of intelligent, creative people and hundreds of millions of dollars have been expended over 30 years to create something so finally lacking in merit or meaning.
If it has any deeper significance at all it can only be the corrupting effect of boundless wealth and uncritical adulation on creativity.
While never a radical film-maker - THX1138 always struck me as a shallow rip-off of loony sub-Nietzschean right-winger Ayn Rand's novel Anthem - Lucas was at least in his earlier years capable of flashes of intelligence - not least in his realisation that other directors could make a better job of his films than he could.
By Phantom Menace all of this had evaporated and all we have left is a pitiful figure who could not even coax a good performance out of Ewan MacGregor or Liam Neeson.
Did nobody in the whole vast organisation required to bring the prequels to fruition ever question the witless dialogue, the insane casting, the ridiculous names - obviously not as like any other Chief Executive only sycophants and flunkies were ever allowed into his presence.
Clones only represented an illusory improvement in its removal of the hideous child star and the unspeakable Jar-Jar (perhaps Lucas did listen to his market researchers).
Sith is however beyond words - to forever have to accept that within the armour of Darth Vader is nothing more than a petulant teenager - and that Luke and Leia are the offspring of two planks of wood....
No - I can't carry on - it just brings it all back.
amazing film ever we were told by 3 plump boys dressed in black clutching bits of star wars merchandise and several pieces of expensive cinema merchandise(like plastic hot dogs)-the 30 teenage boys dressed in black in the "combat Zone" next door couldn't pull themselves away from blowing the heads off "gooks" in a quasi vietnam on their computers but one lifted his head long enough to say "best episode ever" a la comic book seller in Simpsons.
It WAS amazing from the swoosh of the star trek circa 1968 doors,to the schoolboy playing posh biggles character(Ewan McGregor) to the reject puppets from the "Another Brick in the Wall" video to the second rate derivative star wars circa 1976 dambuster aerials to the animation stolen from the fifty year old Jason and the Argonauts skeleton warriors this was doo-doo.
My 6 year old son was saying it was boring after 20 mins and I tried to tell him it had cost millions and millions but to no avail I had to admit it was crap.
Like the first teenage wank relived over and over again it is something I suppose compulsive to the wanker but to others who did not share that moment -embarrassing(unless as every public schoolboy knows it's an officially sanctioned activity by the prefects and teachers)
I enjoyed the first Star Wars for the same reasons as Janine did but I'd had a real wank before it(some years before -not in the foyer!) -so enjoy it if you must Star Wars wankers(and that includes the biggest fan of them all that tried to make it real-Ronnie Raygun!(you know that money could be used for something good but hey that's radical man....