(Note: After struggling through and finally finishing this article, I realized that it's more of a somewhat articulate fanboy rant than a traditional movie review. I apologize for this, but it only seems to happen to me where the Star Wars movies are concerned. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my breathless geekery, I hope it's a fun read.)
I'll admit it: I have no idea how to open this review. Do I recount the numerous ways in which the two previous Star Wars chapters (The Phantom Menace & Attack of the Clones) have been unjustly savaged by fans and critics alike? Do I profess my lifelong love for the entire Star Wars series (yes, the entire series), or would that just make me sound like a fanboy who cannot maintain his objectivity? Do I admit that, yes, Episodes 1 and 2 were indeed laden with flaws that even a 10-year-old would notice? Or do I just review Revenge of the Sith as a stand-alone piece of escapist entertainment? Even as I clack away on this keyboard, I really have no idea which approach to employ.
So I'll just say this: Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith is precisely what this passionate Star Wars geek wanted: a little less of the soapy dialogue, a lot more action, and a stunningly strong infusion of actual drama, emotion, and tragedy. If you hated the other prequels, then you'll like this one a lot more. If you enjoyed TPM and AOTC, you'll have a ball. And if you're the sort who just loves to knock these movies, just close your browser now and go do something else ... because I'm about to lay a whole lot of gooey praise upon George Lucas' sixth and final Star Wars adventure.
Given the worldwide popularity of the original trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi), it doesn't surprise me one whit to see the new-fangled prequels (The Phantom Menace & Attack of the Clones) dissected and devalued so egregiously. But it doesn't seem particularly fair to hold the new movies to such an impossible standard; they're just gee-whiz space adventures, people. Find me another series that's able to maintain this much flash and excitement over the course of six films, and then get back to me.
Lots of people (fans, critics, whatever) seem to walk into the SW prequels with a huge chip on their shoulders, as if George Lucas has personally wronged them in some way. When Return of the Jedi featured a second Death Star (following the one that was destroyed in the original film), there was an outcry of "Ripoff!" and "Retread!" But when The Phantom Menace proved to be almost completely unique in relation to the first trilogy, those same folks threw up their hands and cried "This isn't Star Wars! My childhood has been raped!" -- a statement that will never allow my eyeballs to stop rolling in their sockets. Clearly Mr. Lucas is forever trapped within the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" phenomenon.
Yes, even a big fan of the prequels (like me) can acknowledge that both Episode 1 and Episode 2 feature their fair share of clumsy exposition, occasionally clunky dialogue, and a few acting performances that could accurately be compared to wood. But to me, that's like complaining that a huge and delicious birthday cake should be thrown into the garbage because the icing is a little too sweet. You judge a movie by the sum of its parts, not for the few niggling flaws that are wedged in between the good stuff. And I'll go to my grave contending that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are easily composed of 85% "good stuff." Anyone who wishes to blindly bash on these movies is more than welcome to sit on my couch and watch any of the Star Trek movies that followed Chapter 4. Then get back to me on bad acting performances, pointless dialogue, and endless boredom.
So while I walked into Revenge of the Sith crossing my fingers that Lucas' final entry would be entirely bereft of Hayden Christensen's rather stone-faced sleepwalking and the frequently ham-fisted exposition deliveries, I wasn't all that worried. Even with those flaws, this was a cake I knew I'd love. And I really, truly, honestly did. It's not just the Star Wars geek in me that's saying this. Divorced from my lifelong SW affection, I sincerely believe that Revenge of the Sith is an excellent time at the movies.
But be warned: This is one of those sequels that really does require a working knowledge of the previous entries. But hey, that didn't stop people from adoring Return of the King, so I don't actually consider that much of a criticism. Judged purely on the level of visual spectacle, Revenge of the Sith works fine as a stand-alone piece of entertainment -- but if you want the full-course treat, something that will resonate in your brain for a little while, be sure to give the previous chapters a second visit. And yes, that includes The Phantom Menace.
As Revenge of the Sith opens, our old pals Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are knee-deep in a rescue mission. Seems that Senator Palpatine has been abducted by a sneaky cyborg bastard, and only the members of the audience are already aware that Palpatine's a devious weiner who's not really deserving of such an arduous rescue. After a long and blissfully insane collection of action sequences, Revenge of the Sith settles down for a bit to move the chess pieces around the board: Anakin and Padme, secretly wed at the conclusion of Episode 2, are dealing with all sorts of strife. Oh, plus she's pregnant. (We all know she's carrying twins, even if she doesn't. This is fun!)
Meanwhile the Jedi Council are trying to thwart the efforts of the nefarious Count Dooku and his new sidekick, the creepy robot known as General Grievous. Our principal characters, as usual, get split up and sent on separate missions: Obi-Wan to planet Utapau to deal with Grievous, Jedi Master Yoda to the Wookiee planet of Kashyykk, and Anakin ... well, Anakin spends much of his time on Coruscant, where he dreams of Padme's death, gets casually rebuffed by the Jedi Masters he so admires, and eventually falls under the influence of the clearly dangerous Senator Palpatine.
And if you're even remotely familiar with the Star Wars backstory, you know where this relationship is headed. Indeed, the scenes between Skywalker and Palpatine are some of the best moments in the entire trilogy. Lucas (along with uncredited screenwriter Tom Stoppard) is well aware that Anakin's conversion from good to evil is the absolute heart of the story, and the numerous conversations between the devious Senator and the petulant young Jedi are deliciously droll and absolutely captivating. That we, the audience members, start to see the logic behind Palpatine's snaking speeches is a testament to Lucas' skills as a storyteller: For the past five movies we've all been wholly convinced that the Jedi Way is the only way; it takes perhaps three brilliant moments between Anakin and Palpatine before we completely and totally "buy" the young man's conversion from Jedi to Sith. And once the final nail is struck into the coffin of Anakin's soul, the faithful fans will undoubtedly feel a sense of profound tragedy and sadness. We know Anakin is destined to become Darth Vader, yet Revenge of the Sith still has us whining "Oh, no!" as the drama unfolds.
This is what makes Revenge of the Sith such a delicious treat: We already know the ending; we know who lives and who dies; we know basically everything before the movie even begins. But watching it finally unfold ... well, wow, is all I can say. You want action? This movie's got it in spades. You want one last visit with your beloved Star Wars friends and enemies? Here it is. You want a tragic yet supremely satisfying conclusion to a story 28 years in the making? It's all here and more. No, it's not near flawless; yes, it's got more of the cornball romance dialogue and obtusely delivered moments of exposition. (Lucas has always been a filmmaker who likes to show AND tell when just the showing would be enough.) But, warts and all, Revenge of the Sith is pure Star Wars through and through. The third and final chapter even manages to make its previous entries more enjoyable, because without all that "senate stuff" from Episodes 1 & 2, very little of what transpires in Sith's second act would make a lick of sense.
To me, Star Wars is like the Philadelphia Phillies: even when they don't field the best team under the sun, I still feel a sense of love and loyalty that helps me to forgive the rough spots. That doesn't mean I won't criticize the Phils when they play a bad game or look particularly foolish -- but the love will always be there. And I sincerely love the Star Wars movies: the wonderful 1977 flick that started it all, the masterfully crafted 1980 sequel that gave us all such a thrill, the 1983 finale that had me cheering from the aisles, and, yes, the pair of prequels that temporarily whisked me back to a childhood full of action figures, trading cards, and long, lovely nights at the multiplexes.
Revenge of the Sith is not only better than its two predecessors; it's easily one of the best flicks in the whole damn series. Only time will tell if Lucas' prequel trilogy will grow more admired with age, but speaking only as one longtime Star Wars fanatic, I think they're very worthy additions to the mythology -- and to Mr. Lucas I offer a hearty dose of thanks. For the jawas and the TIE fighters; for Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi; for the action, the escapes, the creatures, and the landscapes. Your six-movie series may indeed have its fair share of speed-bumps, gaffes, and glitches, but I've had such a good time on these interstellar space trips - to bitch about the few rough spots would be a stunning display of ingratitude.
And while I do acknowledge and respect the opinions of those who detest the Prequel Trilogy, I simply do not agree with their complaints. Revenge of the Sith is a brilliantly good time, and I had an absolute ball on this one last visit to "a galaxy far, far away."
All of my theatrical reviews are reprinted from my own wonderful movie site eFilmCritic.com / Hollywood Bitchslap. Stop by for a visit some time.