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Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 May 2005
Remember all the anticipation that greeted “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace”? The feeling most “Star Wars” fans were hoping to have at the time (a few, bless their hearts, loved “Phantom” unreservedly either for its virtues or, Mt. Everest-style, because it was there) is finally engendered with “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” which succeeds at tying most of the “Star Wars” mythology together in a manner that is both resonant and kick-ass. Writer/director/producer George Lucas has succeeded in creating something that genuinely feels epic, as opposed to just expensive and popular.

In case you have somehow missed the “Star Wars” saga so far – in which case, you may want to brush up on the last three decades of Western culture, because otherwise it’s been pretty hard to avoid – “Revenge” fills in the events that set the stage for 1977’s “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (that’s the one commonly called plain old “Star Wars” or “the first one” by most folks), 1980’s “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” and especially “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.” We know that Anakin Skywalker, who we’ve seen grow from a cute little boy (Jake Lloyd) in “Phantom Menace” to a well-intentioned and fervent but also deeply troubled young man (Hayden Christensen in “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” and the new film), will become the formidably evil Darth Vader, but not before fathering the first trilogy’s heroes Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill in Episodes IV-VI) and Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fisher in IV-VI). We also know that the Galactic Senate will be disbanded in favor of a fascist Empire, headed by Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who is secretly a Dark Lord of the Sith, and that wise and noble Jedi knights will largely be exterminated.

“Revenge” begins with a mind-blowing, enveloping 23-minute action sequence – it certainly lives up to the “Wars” portion of the series title – as Anakin and his Jedi mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) first engage in space combat with droid warriors and their ships in the skies above an embattled planet, then board a giant spacecraft for lightsaber confrontations. The scope of the images, with different activity going on virtually everywhere in the widescreen frames at many points, the variety and detail of the numerous alien and mechanical creatures found at every turn and the literally spectacular look of even shots where characters are engaged in momentary contemplation is a cause for astonishment and awe. Even viewers who have begun to take special effects for granted will be impressed by how thoroughly imagined these worlds are and how extraordinarily beautiful and powerful they are in appearance and vitality.

In the digital version seen at the press screening (which reportedly is several minutes longer than the film version, though details are not available to this reviewer – if anyone wants to compare the prints, feel free to write in and confirm or refute), the sound is appropriately massive, so much so that discrete effects are not always evident, though during a battle in a field of flowing lava, we can pick out particular falls of rock and eruptions behind us. The effects are certainly realistic – when a smaller ship hits the spacegoing equivalent of an aircraft carrier, the resultant clashing sounds are wholly convincing. Sonically, there was one rather odd moment, which may have been the result of conditions within the press screening theatre with that particular print rather than something that is present on all editions of “Revenge” – in a dialogue sequence, when Palpatine is talking, he’s relatively soft on-camera and then suddenly louder when he moves out of frame to our right. The reason to mention this is because, if deliberate, it’s an interesting moment, indicating with volume that Palpatine’s power actually increases when he’s out of sight (which is definitely true within the storyline). John Williams’ score is so much a part of these films that it feels as organically a part of the proceedings as the sound effects. In this instance, the music seems especially well-modulated, following the emotions of scenes rather than telling us what we’re supposed to be experiencing (as was the case in a number of sequences in previous installments).

One other note about the sound: anybody attending the movie in the first week of release (and maybe a lot longer) should be prepared for a lot of volume coming from the audience – if the viewers at a press screening is frequently drowning the effects and score in cheering character appearances, dialogue and cool incidents, it’s a safe bet paying ticket holders will volubly display their appreciation for what’s onscreen.

The acting, as always, is a mixed bag. The biggest and best star turn is delivered byYoda, still voiced by Frank Oz, a two-foot-tall Jedi to be reckoned with – he’s so dimensional that trying to remember even for an instant that he’s computer-generated just produces cognitive dissonance. He’s a cranky old hero, he means business and that’s that. Among the human actors, it’s wonderful to see McDiarmid, who’s been doing fine work as Palpatine since “Jedi,” take center stage as the supremely manipulative, soft-spoken chancellor, wrecking lives and worlds right and left as he silkily persuades most in earshot that it’s all for the greater good. He’s a villain worthy of Shakespeare (or of real-life politics). McGregor still exudes palpable delight at playing the paradoxically prim and swashbuckling Kenobi. Christiansen is decent in putting across Anakin’s conflict, though one suspects there’s more that might have been done. Natalie Portman as his true love Padme unfortunately lacks conviction in many of her scenes, but the sweep of the movie is such that this is a minor flaw rather than a major problem. Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker are back as those indispensable “Star Wars” stalwarts C-3PO and R2-D2, and sharp-eyed fans may note Jeremy Bulloch, the actor in the Boba Fett costume in “Empire” and “Jedi,” as a space pilot (not hidden behind a mask) in one sequence.

“Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” has the truly satisfying feel of clicking the right missing piece of a puzzle into place and provides the sheer rush of thrilling, slam-bang science fiction fantasy that puts thunderous technical skill in the service of a really well-structured narrative. It’s been worth the wait.

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