|Star Wars - Episode III - Revenge of the Sith|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2005|
I have heard people talk about “Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith” and oftentimes the comment I hear is, “It’s the best of the three new ones.” I tend to agree with this statement, but I’d actually rephrase it as “It’s the least bad of the three new episodes.” I’m going to assume that everyone reading this is familiar with the “Star Wars” saga and not bog the review down with details about the set-up for this episode. Long story short, this is actually the third movie chronologically, the one where we see Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia’s father Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) finally turns into Darth Vader.
When “Episode I” hit theaters back in 1999, fans had mixed emotions. They were stoked at seeing another chapter in this epic space adventure series, but many critics bashed the clunky dialogue (the worst of the four movies that had been released at that point). What really struck a nerve with me is that George Lucas used this film as a showcase for his talented team of artists who could create incredible cityscapes and outer space battle scenes that looked mind-blowing, but then did a sub-par job of telling the story.
I couldn’t put my finger on why I just didn’t like “Episode I” as much as I should have. Was it Jar Jar Binks? Was it endless babbling about some trade federation treaty that was discussed ad nauseum? Was it because it was pretty darn obvious that virtually every single thing in the movie other than the main human actors like Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen was computer-generated imagery?
These were certainly all factors involved in my not really getting on board with the newest “Star Wars” episodes but what really dawned on me while watching this latest installment, “Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” was that we are supposed to be watching something that happened before “Star Wars: A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi.” Somehow we are supposed to believe that there are these worlds out there with the most unbelievable-looking cities and monsters and space ships, but when Darth Vader is created from the almost charred remains of a barely breathing Anakin Skywalker, they would fashion a suit out of leather with a plastic helmet and put a couple of crude red and blue square lights on his chest.
It’s like you are watching a movie about computer geeks where they start in the 1970s with the hottest new Apple 17-inch laptop and then by the time the movie gets to the ‘90s, the world has progressed to some simple Atari video game system with the one button joystick and games that have 16 colors.
What would have made the entire thing work for me would have been if George Lucas would have taken a chance and used many of the same techniques that he used to create the original three movies, such as scale model spaceships, prosthetic makeup and real sets, instead of doing everything in front of a green screen and adding elements later with computers. The human eye is very difficult to deceive and when Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) are fighting on a platform that is surrounded by falling lava on a planet that we know would be way too hot for anyone to actually ever live on, any smart person’s brain automatically tunes out and they might as well be showing the scenes from the documentary where the actors are standing in front of a big green screen, because they have not suspended disbelief in any way.
Sure I was much younger and more naïve when I watched “The Empire Strikes Back,” but when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) crash-landed his X-Wing fighter in the Dagobah system in search of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), I felt that he was really on another planet. Why is this? It’s because they took a big soundstage and filled it with trees, smoke, mud and real water and make it seem like he was really there. There is no substitute for filming something that is actually in front of the actors, so their interaction with their environment can be genuine. For example, Yoda in Episodes One, Two and Three is so obviously a computer-generated replica of the brilliant puppet originally controlled by Oz. Sure, the voice is still the same, but when Yoda walks around the Jedi temple in “Revenge of the Sith,” as well as his appearances in the other prequels, his body and brown robe looks like a cartoon on the screen. I’d have preferred a robotic or hand-controlled puppet that had real fabric clothes and looked like he was really there, not a virtual Yoda sitting on some CGI artist’s hard drive.
What I’m trying to say is that since these movies were supposed to have happened before Episodes IV, V and VI, I think George Lucas would have solidified his place as one of the most legendary and brilliant sci-fi directors of all time with absolute artistic integrity if he said technology be damned and made these movies look as if they were made in the early ‘70s. That way, when we finally come to the pivotal moment when the evil emperor (Ian McDiarmuid) says “Rise” and we see the shining helmet of Darth Vader, it would feel as if this robot man/machine hybrid is something truly amazing. And think about this one. Some of the spaceships that the Empire had in the prequels are the most amazing-looking things I have ever seen, yet their weapon of mass destruction, the Death Star, is a big, round, slow-moving ball that can be blown up by shooting one laser beam into a hole on the outside of it. Why this huge step backward in technology? Perhaps they were outsourcing their research and development team at the end of Episode III.
Maybe George Lucas was trying to appeal to the overly stimulated MTV and videogame generation, but I feel that he lost so many of the people who were genuinely fans of Episodes Four, Five and Six by making movies that were eye candy without any soul.
Now, with my little diatribe about what is wrong with the “Star Wars” prequels over, let’s look at this two-disc release of “Episode III.” It is the best of the prequels and it ties together the loose ends that were hanging out there in the wind after Episodes I and II. They have a lot of ground to cover in 140 minutes and there is a bit of a sense of watching a visual checklist of things have to happen before Darth Vader gets his helmet. Padme (Natalie Portman) has to get knocked up by Anakin. Check. Anakin has to get really mad at the Rebellion and decide to choose to learn the ways of the dark side of The Force. Check. Anakin has to somehow go from being six feet tall to seven feet tall in his new suit without having Gene Simmons-style elevator shoes. Check. Luke and Leia have to be born. Check.
Most of this stuff happens at the end of the film before the final epic but silly fight scene at the lava planet. What was the biggest disappointment for me was that, after so many years of waiting to see Darth Vader again, an incredible villain who scared audiences half to death in 1976, the credits roll just a few short minutes after the transformation has been completed. I didn’t have a sense of closure, rather a sense of wishing that these first three movies would have been done better. At least let Darth Vader have a lightsabre scene in “Episode III.” There was no comic relief in the form of a character like Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. Everything seemed so serious and the British accents were on Warp Factor Three for much of the series. Ultimately, it was a mediocre ending to what could have been six spectacular movies. What we are left with are three classics, one stinker, and two tolerable movies.
The most redeeming factor about “Episode III’s” DVD release is the fact that all complaining about technology aside, this movie and purely digital transfer is nothing short of spectacular. Everything in the movie looks breathtaking and the picture combined with the Dolby Digital mix could sell home theater systems by just playing selected scenes on a loop at the home theater store. If you use this disc as demo material, you are going to blow some minds.
Film geeks who really dig CGI will get their fill of modern moviemaking techniques with the making-of featurettes and director/producer commentary. Listening to the commentary was painful for me, as it is obvious that Lucas’s head is in a totally different place than many “Star Wars” fans wish it was. If he wants to push the envelope technologically, then make the final three episodes post-“Return of the Jedi” and have a valid explanation as to why technology has evolved and why things look so much more futuristic. I know he has said that he does not want to make Episodes VII, VIII and IX, but they would surely be a license to print money, as if Lucas does not already have one of those.
Do you need to buy this DVD? If you have sat through the first five movies, you need to see this one for closure. If you have a badass home theater and want something that can wow your friends and family, you need it. If you have a mediocre theater and casually followed the series and don’t really care about seeing it end, then you might not bother. It’s a great package from a value standpoint, with about six hours of bonus footage, as well as the feature-length movie, so it’s hard to argue that you shouldn’t just pick up a copy for your collection.