Since I am fortunate enough to live in Los Angeles I had hoped to see Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith at the historic Chinese theatre. Sadly, this was not to be, as the powers that be chose not to open the film there for whatever reason, disappointing the legions who lined up there hoping to convince them to change their minds. Instead I purchased advanced tickets to see this gem on opening day at the world-famous Cinerama Dome with its 83 foot wide curved screen. It was disappointing to note that not all of the performances were sold out on opening day, but I blame that more on the choice to open the film on so many screens across the area rather than the choice of people to come see the movie in Hollywood, particularly on a weekday afternoon when traffic is a consideration.
The ushers did their best, but there were several Darth Idiots to contend with who insisted on playing with their new light sabers ($16.95 with batteries included in the lobby), disrupting the trailers that were shown before the movie began. Happily, I think they understood that they probably faced the wrath of many of us who wanted to be able to focus on the screen without distraction and refrained from using their toys once the opening credits were complete.
With prequels and serials you know where the story left off and where it is going, so I am not going to tell you a lot and particularly intend to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say that storywise, this is the best of the first three episodes, as Director/Writer George Lucas weaves a tale worthy of his talents with sufficients twists and turns to keep the audience on the edge of their seats in the brief lulls between the wonderful action sequences.
And it is action that Lucas does best, perhaps better than anyone else. The battle sequences are magnificent, whether they involve ship against ship or warrior against warrior. It is when battles change from weapons to words that Lucas loses his way. If only his strength of story and character arc were present in his ability with dialogue as well.
The Republic, still led by Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is still at war and the Jedi Knights are leading the Republic’s clone forces in battles throughout the galaxy in an attempt to defeat the separatists who are being led by General Grevious, who has just kidnapped Palpatine himself. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are dispatched to rescue the chancellor before Grevious can spirit him away.
As a director of actors, Lucas manages to evoke performances of varying degree from them. McDiarmid is ordinary in a role that could have been much more. Ewan McGregor is brilliant as the younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is portrayed in Episodes IV through VI by Sir Alec Guiness. His passion and zeal as a Jedi Knight dedicated to preserving the freedom and liberty of the Republic are evident throughout everything he says and does, and he lets it all hang out in his final confrontation with Anakin. Natalie Portman’s performance as Padme Amidala may be physically restrained by the fact that her character is pregnant with the twin children of Anakin, but that doesn’t keep her from delivering just the right emotional note, time and time again.
However it is Hayden Christensen who truly shines through as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, who is passing through that transformation from good to evil, and for what he would argue is the purest of reasons: true love. While I doubt the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will view his performance as worthy of a nomination at award time, so far in 2005 it is one of the finest performances I have seen. The love that drives him to the dark side of the force isn’t just written on his face, it is a part of every fiber of his being. He manages to display all of his emotions, often without a single word being required to let us know what he is feeling. This is a rising actor who is truly at the top of his game in this movie.
Again, not to say that Episode III is perfect, it isn’t. There is a battle scene where three Jedi are killed much too easily and the only reason that this could have happened is that Mr. Lucas needed to speed the scene up for expediency’s sake. I may be harping on the horrid dialogue, but there are moments when it is truly wooden. However, Episode III is leaps and bounds better than Episodes I and II and left me wishing that somehow, someway Episodes VII through IX would someday be made. There are some who believe it will happen. George Lucas is a multi-billionaire and he is the kind of straightforward person who says what he means and means what he says. He says it won’t happen.
Sadly, I believe him.