Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 18, 2005
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Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen share a moment in their doomed romance, while R2D2 looks on in ĎStar Wars: Episode III.í
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Itís All Gone to Sith

After 28 years, the Star Wars saga comes to a frustrating end (or middle).

By KRISTIAN LIN

Before the film even starts rolling, Star Wars: Episode III ó Revenge of the Sith is at a big disadvantage, and it has nothing do with the fact that George Lucas is the writer and director. With the third of a six-part saga left for last, the plot is effectively boxed in. We know which characters are going to live, and we can guess which ones will die. So Lucas has to generate suspense some other way.
What he ultimately does is try to make the film into a grand romantic tragedy, Titanic in space. The story is about how Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) becomes Darth Vader, as the power-mad Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) makes the Jedi knight into his pawn by preying on his fear that his beloved Padmť (Natalie Portman) will suffer an early death. In trying to save her, Anakin helps turn the galaxy into a dictatorship and drives the Jedi to the brink of extermination, which, of course, only drives Padmť away. This is a pretty good idea in a movie that has quite a few of them; another director could have taken the ideas here and made them sing. Unfortunately, under Lucasí predictably leaden touch, they add up to a film thatís all the more frustrating because it could have been a great capper to the franchise.
All the flaws that have plagued Lucasí filmmaking from the beginning are much in evidence. Surely you wonít be surprised to hear that the best dialogue in the film is when Chewbacca exchanges mournful howls with another Wookie. Nor will it come as a shock that the movie ensnarls itself in the tedious politics of the Star Wars universe, which plays out in statically filmed conversations between stiffly posed actors.
Speaking of actors, Lucas is still flummoxed by those strange beings. My colleagues may indulge in another round of bashing Christensen and Portman (not unwarranted ó entire scenes from Closer and Shattered Glass came flashing back to me as I watched this film, reminding me that these people have done much better acting elsewhere). Iíll just observe that the formidable Samuel L. Jackson, with more dialogue here than in the previous prequels, comes off no better than the leads. The film is supposed to be the most emotional of the entire series, but the only time any real emotion surfaces is during Anakinís climactic showdown with Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), when the Jedi master screams out at his traitorous pupil.
The real letdown here is the action sequences. Consistently the best parts of the last two movies, the combat scenes in Episode III are humdrum stuff. Even the lightsaber duels donít pack a punch anymore. The villainous Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is dispatched quite unceremoniously, and Lucasí habit of cutting away in the middle of action sequences, much like Yodaís fractured syntax, becomes an annoying tic. Obi-Wan takes on a general whose mechanical arms wield four lightsabers like airplane propellers, and thereís even a scene in which R2-D2 has to fight his (its?) way out of trouble. Again, these are good ideas on paper, but they result in flat, uninvolving sequences that you only look forward to because they give you a reprieve from the dialogue.
If you watch the six movies in narrative order (and you know some people will), the story starts out as a mild diversion with The Phantom Menace and builds to a tragic pitch in The Empire Strikes Back before winding to a satisfying close, Ewok dance party notwithstanding. The best you can really say for Revenge of the Sith is that it fills the gap in the bookshelf. Itís a shame it doesnít do more.
Still, disappointment and apathy are easy reactions. If you think George Lucas has besmirched his legacy with the latter three installments, Iíd paraphrase the architect Christopher Wrenís epitaph: If you want to see Lucasí legacy, look around. Heís created an entire world, and Iím not talking about the Star Wars universe. His technological breakthroughs have permanently changed the moviegoing experience, allowing filmmakers to let their imaginations run free and giving rise to superior pieces of entertainment from far corners of the globe: Hong Kong (Kung Fu Hustle), Great Britain (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), New Zealand (the Lord of the Rings films), Russia (the upcoming Nightwatch), and Austin (Sin City). And, yes, Lucasí impact has also paved the way for a lot of CGI-heavy Hollywood junk. But then, uninspired hackwork will always be with us. You take the bad with the good. The important thing is that the Jedi master has spawned pupils who have now surpassed him. Their creativity is The Force that has defeated Lucas. Weíre all better for it. l


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