Review: Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith is undeniably the best of the prequels. I wouldn't say I loved it, but it was very good. Mr. Lucas has improved his craft since Episode II, but sadly I don't think this is as good as Episodes IV or V. The thing that Lucas really nailed in Episode III was the emotion. Finally, we have a prequel where we care about the characters and their decisions.
That said, here are some of my critiques:
I'll start with a very personal nitpick. I saw the movie in two different theaters, and both times I got the impression that something was wrong with the sound. Now I am not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination, and I don't know anything about digital sound versus non-digital sound. But on both viewings, some of the trailers sounded like they surrounded me (which I liked), and some sounded very shallow like they were coming only from the screen (which I didn't like). Something weird was obviously going on.
When ROTS started, it unfortunately sounded like it was coming only from the screen - both times. With Star Wars I expect to be blown away by the sound, but instead I felt like I was taking in a movie at the bowling alley. Maybe something was wrong with the sound systems. Maybe something large and waxy was lodged in my ear. Either way, I was disappointed. In fact, I was in such a foul mood after the first viewing that I couldn't really think about whether I actually liked the movie itself for several days.
After I cooled off and saw the movie a second time, something else really got on my nerves: robot sounds. Battle droids, super battle droids, trade federation fighters, and buzz droids all sounded like kiddie robots. These things are supposed to be menacing and make us feel a sense of danger for our heroes. But instead they're used as poorly-placed comic relief. Try to imagine the Death Star battle from A New Hope, with all the TIE fighter pilots in their cockpits talking like Jar Jar.
I envision Ben Burtt coming into work totally drunk on the day he has to record robot sounds. He sits at his sound editing station, with an array of buttons and switches that would make a Death Star gunner envious. He scrolls through his digital library of droid sounds - a library he has amassed in over 25 years of working on Star Wars. He considers the grave situation our heroes find themselves in and tries to think of sounds that complement that mood. Then he sucks on some helium, grabs the mic, and starts recording. Brilliant!
In all fairness to Ben Burtt, I have TREMENDOUS respect for the impact his sound work had on the original trilogy, especially A New Hope. His sounds helped create environments that felt real and organic. I just think he really dropped the ball on this one. The super battle droids were a real disappointment, since they seemed to be very lethal in Episode II, only to show up in Episode III with high-pitched, lispy voices. The regular battle droids didn't even sound the same as they did in past movies. And I thought they were annoying before.
You Don't Know the Power of the Dark Side
What is the power of the Dark Side exactly? Force lightning? Employee discounts at the Sith store? In ROTS, George Lucas had a great opportunity to show us what that power was - the power to cheat death. If he had shown Anakin/Vader actually die from the lava, Sidious could have used the powers he hinted at to bring Vader back to life, as some kind of twisted Sith zombie. So it is Vader's allegiance to the dark side, not his suit, that keeps him alive. That is why Vader must obey his master in Return of the Jedi ("You don't know the power of the Dark Side. I MUST obey"), for if he does not, he dies. It makes Vader's decision to turn on the Emperor in ROTJ all the more poignant, since he would have known that just the decision to save Luke would have killed him. It jives a litlle better with Obi-Wan's statement that Vader betrayed and murdered Luke's father. And it also goes along with George's decision to have Hayden play Anakin's force ghost in the DVD release of ROTJ. In fact, when I originally saw the ROTJ DVD back in September of 2004, that's when I started thinking Anakin would physically die in Episode III.
This brings up an interesting question: If Sidious had used his powers to bring Anakin back to life, why wouldn't Vader try to get Sidious to help him resurrect Padme? To be honest, I don't know. But then again, in the real movie (as opposed to my mental fan edit) Vader doesn't ask Sidious if he can use his powers. I would imagine he'd at least float the question, but he doesn't (or we don't see him if he does).
Anakin's turn to the dark side seemed abrupt and muddled.
Anakin: So Palpatine must stand trial for his crimes, but he can't. Okay, I'll cut off your hand, so that this guy who I know is a Sith Lord can toss you out the window. Whoa, what have I done? Maybe this wasn't a good idea. Aw, what the heck, I pledge myself to you, master. Can I kill all the Jedi now? Yipee! P.S. I love you, Padme.
Anakin should have walked right in, cut off Mace's hand, and pledged himself to Sidious. No talking about standing trial. No doubts. It's not like he didn't have all that time to sit alone in the Jedi Council and think about things.
Jumping, Jumping, Jumping (and Flipping)
You know, I loved the Clone Wars cartoons. The writers seemed to know what Star Wars is all about, and they ran with it. The only thing that was a little weird was all the superhuman acrobatics that the Jedi could suddenly perform. Mace jumps hundreds of feet at a time, Obi-Wan jumps to the top of a huge tower, and Shaak Ti jumps out of a Coruscant window onto a bridge below - over and over. At times it was like watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But hey, it was a cartoon, so I was able to forgive a few stylistic differences.
I have a mental image of George Lucas watching the Clone Wars cartoons and thinking, "Hey, all this jumping looks really cool. We need more of that in Episode III." I don't know if that's what happened, but ROTS is filled with what I consider to be a ridiculous amount of jumping and flipping. I understand that Jedi (and Sith) can use the Force to enhance their natural movements, but things were just way over the top. For example, Dooku jumps over the rail and does a flip right before he fights Anakin and Obi Wan. Man, was that painful. If Dooku had walked down the steps slowly and made some threatening small talk, it would have built the tension. But the flipping effect took me right out of the movie, and my brain screamed "CG!" Had it served a purpose, I might be able to live with it, but it was just gratuitous eye candy. I guess I'm supposed to think, "Wow, that dude sure can flip. He must be a very powerful Sith."
Some other ridiculous examples:
- Sidious jumping and flipping like a frog while fighting Mace
- Obi-Wan flipping while fighting Anakin
- R2 jumping out of Anakin's starfighter - twice! (More on R2 in a sec)
I know we've seen Jedi doing these things in past movies (Obi-Wan jumping up during the Maul duel in Episode I), but it was just way too much in ROTS. I guess the more powerful you are in the Force (e.g., Yoda and Sidious), the more you can flip like a frog on speed.
R2-D2: Super Droid
R2 is apparently made of the hardest, sturdiest space metal you can find. In the opening sequence of the movie, he falls who knows how far and smashes into a huge pile of junk in the docking bay. Then, a few minutes later, he rolls into a wall at about 30 MPH, and is then kicked over by a super battle droid. All of this without a single dent. COME ON! In the HD version of Episode IV, I expect the Jawas will use a catapult to fling R2 into their sandcrawler.
I'm Glad That Lava Droid Wasn't Toydarian
On Mustafar near the lava waterfall, Obi-Wan jumps on top of some sort of hovering platform, while Anakin jumps onto a hovering lava droid. Inexplicably, the droid brings Anakin right over to where Obi-Wan is, so that they can have a nice little lightsaber duel. Now, I can see how Obi-Wan could steer his platform, since it had controls, but the droid part makes no sense. And don't tell me it's the Force. Oh, the Force let me steer this droid I'm standing on. The Force helped me blow up the Droid Control Ship. The Force just saved me a bunch of money on my car insurance.
Well that's it for my critique of Episode III. But is that it for Star Wars? George Lucas said at Celebration III, "This is my last Star Wars movie." So George won't be doing any more, but will someone else? I have to think that, because of market forces, new Star Wars movies will be back on the big screen at some point in the future. But it could take 10 to 15 years. I have a small amount of hope that the Star Wars TV show will be good, but I suspect it will end up being boring and causing continuity issues.
I think we can bet on there being many re-releases of these movies. We'll get the box-set of all six. Then we'll get the 3-D versions in the theaters. Then we'll get the HD versions on HD-DVD. Along the way, we'll get new changes and tweaks to the movies, and we probably won't ever get the original trilogy (episodes IV-VI) in their original form on DVD. My, what a positive attitude I have!
But I think this is an exciting time for Star Wars fans. Some fans will lose their interest and move on to other things, leaving only the most dedicated fans behind. We will have years to think about the prequels and let history - not box office results - judge their merits.
See you around.