This isn’t the best Star Wars movie ever. However, it comes really, really close.
I was definitely not spoiler free, but I was review free with the exceptions being Kevin Smith’s early viewing review and Rotten Tomato’s percentage rating of 83%. I saw today where Ebert gave it three and a half stars and I think I would agree with that assessment.
I decided early on to go to the midnight showing of the film… just my iPod and me. The crowd was large, but split up into various sections by auditorium — my theater was a well-oiled machine and I was grateful for the crowd control. They let us into the theater at 10:30 and I quickly grabbed my favorite seat and blasted my iPod to block out the chattering throngs of people for the next hour and a half.
The lights went out, the 20th Century Fox fanfare started, and I saw those immortal words, “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” I was instantly transported back to being a nine-year old and seeing those words for the first time in a darkened theater. It’s a bit sad now to know that I most likely will never see those words again on a new Star Wars movie.
The opening space battle is one of the most fantastic movie sequences I’ve ever seen. While Episode IV probably has more heart in it’s star fighter battle, Episode III has comfortable, fun banter between friends and visuals that are simply stunning. After Obi-Wan and Anakin board General Grievous’s ship there is more great action and most of the humorous moments of the entire movie take place here.
The first third of the movie is fast and furious. It is a roller coaster ride and for the first time during a prequel movie I feel that I’m watching an old school Star Wars movie. We get Artoo beating two Destroyer Droids and an all too brief light saber battle between Anakin and Count Dooku. Anakin and Obi-Wan finally come across like best friends and comrades-in-arms. Their exchanges and bantering were fun and upbeat. It doesn’t last. It certainly added weight to Obi-Wan’s line from Ep. IV, “He was the best star pilot in the galaxy and he was a good friend.” From that point on, the film gradually becomes darker and darker, from the lighthearted opening scenes to the final black moments.
Once Dooku was out of the way General Grievous took center stage as the primary baddie. I didn’t get his “coughing” which made him sound like he had a cold or something. Since, I’d seen Cartoon Network’s excellent Clone Wars series I knew who the general was and his use of captured light sabers. I really enjoyed the freedom the CGI animators were given to provide a very identifiable and unique villain. Also, I was very pleased with the manner of his escape — fleeing in an escape pod and launching the empty, remaining ones. He could have been a Bond villain with that kind of departure. Obi-Wan’s light saber duel with Grievous later on was exciting and he scores points on the “Han Solo reckless meter” by jumping into a crowd of droids to begin the fight, subsequent chase and end duel. The witty Bond-like one-liner after the death of Grievous was a welcome change of pace and it put a smile on my lips.
Hayden finally embraced his character, both the lighthearted and heavy darkness, and he shows much greater range than the whiny, pouty Padawan from AOTC. I honestly think that Lucas forced Hayden to bottle up his emotions in Ep. II knowing he would be able to practically chew the green screen scenery in a believable way for ROTS. Unfortunately, Natalie Portman is merely a spectator in this film waiting in her apartment for Anakin and alternating between being all lovey-dovey, overly concerned or broken-hearted. After seeing the movie, I can understand why Portman reportedly wanted out and Lucas briefly courted Kiera Knightley as a potential replacement. By far Natalie’s best scenes in this film, and probably the whole trilogy, were during the birth/death scene. The pain in her eyes, the tears, it’s painful to watch and you genuinely want to do something to help her. It’s not too melodramatic and Ewan acts the heck out of those brief scenes.
McDiarmid as Palpatine was great as expected, but his voice register changes were at times creepy and amusing to the audience. I was not crazy about the spinning move to begin the fight with the Jedi, but most of everything else was well executed. I was happy that Mace did actually beat Palps and without the intervention of Anakin, he might have beaten the Sith right then and there. The movie is all about choices and we witness the downfall of a good man by the consequences of his choices through the manipulation of a skilled liar. It works, mostly.
Ewan has also settled into his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I much enjoyed his performance and his line readings were, for the most part, dead-on. It was very apparent that Ewan made a conscience decision to play Kenobi as cocksure and able. It made the end of the Vader/Kenobi duel that much more satisfying.
Speaking of the final duel, the scene building up to it was absolutely fantastic, Natalie, Hayden and Ewan all did brilliant, and the dialogue in that scene was as good as its been in any of the Star Wars films, in particular, when Anakin and Obi-Wan were circling each other preparing to fight. The duel itself was long and cut with other events, but it was quite tasty and it certainly showed off the expertise and training of both Ewan and Hayden.
ILM really went all out on the CGI. The blending of CGI and live actors is better than Episode II and makes Episode I and the ‘97 re-release of the original trilogy in the theaters look like video games. You have to see it; I don’t think any description I could come up with would give it justice. All the set pieces were done well. One of the highlights for me in TPM was the CGI work of the palace on Naboo. Here, we get a similar feel but in many more places — Kashyyyk, Alderaan, Mustafar all were as much characters in this movie as Tatooine, Hoth or Dagobah in the original trilogy. My favorite set though was the corridor of the Tantive IV just like I remember it from the beginning of Star Wars.
Story wise, I can happily say that this installment is much tighter than TPM and AOTC — less exposition and audience numbing political jabbering about trade embargos and the Galactic Senate. The middle third still slows the movie down considerably until the Mace-Palpatine fight, but it’s all needed set up for the action in the final third. The main complaint I have with the story is that Anakin’s turn seems too quick. He basically goes from being a good-hearted man with conflicting emotions to heartless murderer in a matter of minutes. I know his reasons for turning, which I agree could justify him going to the Sith, but I cannot believe he has been given enough time and motivation to destroy the entire Jedi Order and slaughter younglings in the process. Even when he pledges his allegiance to Palpatine he still seems uncertain, yet in the very next scene he’s marching towards the Temple with fire in his eyes and its down the dark side path we go. I was hoping for more of Anakin’s thoughts on overthrowing Palpatine and I especially liked his line, “my Empire.” Additionally, I felt the quickness of the approval from the senate to become an Empire suffered the same story problem. Although, I admit I liked Padme’s pronouncement of the “thundering applause.”
For the most part, I can’t fault the story too much. It ties everything up nice and neat and sets Episodes 4-6 perfectly. I could nitpick it to death, but I won’t. The final 45 minutes of the film is non-stop carnage with the betrayal of the Jedi, Yoda versus Palpatine and, of course, Obi-Wan versus Anakin/Darth Vader.
Overall, this is by far the most brutal and emotional SW film out there. It’s darker than Empire, but Empire is still the better film. During this film, you’ll laugh, you may cry, you’ll feel sick to your stomach, but you will most definitely want to cue up Episode IV on the DVD player when you get home.