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Brian's Episode III Review

Posted By Joshua on May 7, 2005

Brian from the TFN Staff got a change to see Episode III and sends in this SPOILER-FILLED review. At the end of the article he'll also review the entire saga and tell you where he feels Revenge fits in:

Critiquing anything is a subjective endeavor, dependant on one’s personal experiences. So before I give you my opinion I feel the need to qualify it for you. I saw the first Star Wars when I was three years old. It started a life long passion in film, which lead me to earn a degree in film production and pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Needless to say Star Wars is important to me. However, given my education I now look at the series from both a nostalgic perspective and a critical one. I’ve included mini-reviews of the previous five Star Wars films at the end of the review to illustrate how I think Episode III measures up.

SPOILER FREE ZONE

Let’s not waste time; this is by far the best film of prequel trilogy! I enjoyed only the original Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back more than Revenge of The Sith. The movie is a truly an overwhelming experience packed full of almost every critical moment that fans have been clamoring to see since Darth Vader’s true identity was revealed in Empire. Having said that, Episode III suffers from many of the same problems of the previous films, an over reliance on computer generated effects, a weak romantic plot line, and a few wooden performances. However, none of it overly distracted from my enjoyment of the film. The narrative thrust of the saga is behind this installment, these are events you want to see play out and I challenge any fan of the saga not to get a chill as the story threads come together. Regardless of what you think of this film watching it is a truly sad experience. The decades of anticipation is over, this is it the last Star Wars film.

I recommend re-watching Episodes I and II before going to see this film. Personally, I can’t wait to now re-watch IV, V, and VI with this new context. I can think of scenes in all three films that will now have new meaning. Of course, it’ll also be a bit strange to watch Vader and Obi-Wan fight in a confined hallway as old men and half droids after seeing them leap all over the place in this film.

LET THE SPOILER’S COMMENCE!

BTW, I recommend you don’t read what follows until after you see the film. Form your own judgments and than read what follows to see if you agree with me.

THE GOOD

Where to begin? The opening battle is beyond words! The opening shot, a long tracking shot following Obi-Wan and Anakin’s fighters through a space battle, will take your breath away in its scope and length of time on screen. Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor give magnificent performances in these scenes, really punctuating the bond between these two characters. This is old school Star Wars with great action and fun banter.

What is stunning in this film is the amount of things going on in the story. Lucas has done an excellent job in crafting Anakin’s fall. You really feel the pressures mount on him as he is forced into a position of power and than pulled in multiple directions as those he trusts most pull him apart. It might just be my long connection to the saga, but I found myself cheering for Anakin and hoping that what I knew was going to happen didn’t.

I don’t want to give a negative connotation to the overall story, because I thought it was great, however, the last fifteen minutes or so do feel like Lucas had a check list of required scenes sitting next to his trade mark yellow notepad as he was writing the script, checking off required connecting points one by one, still for the most part it all works.

While not bad enough to be included with the bad, I do think fans will be disappointed with the appearance of the Wookies. We never get a chance to see them really cut loose. Their primary role is to give Yoda a place to go when all hell breaks loose back in the Senate. The same is also true of Obi-Wan’s quest to take down General Grevious. For obvious reasons they can’t be around to advise Anakin as Sidious’ plan come to fruition.

Of course, what you really want to know is how is the final lightsaber fight? I’d say 80% fantastic. The choreography is amazingly fast. What really adds to the scene is the strength of what sets it off; Obi-Wan and Anakin’s ideological conversation before igniting their blades works surprisingly well.

Finally, a thought on the music, the score is largely derivative of the other films, as it needs to be. Over the course of the film the themes of the prequels, like Duel of Fates slowly give way to familiar pieces like Leia’s theme. The music is a necessary link connecting the stories. Those anticipating a fresh batch of bombastic themes will be disappointed. The new music for the film is understandingly somber, underscoring the tragedy which is unfolding.

THE BAD

I bet you’re wonder about the other 20% of the end lightsaber fight. Well this where Lucas’ over reliance on CGI becomes an issue. Cartoony shots of Anakin and Obi-Wan dueling on bits of junk floating in a stream of lava threaten to wreck the tone of the events taking place. This will bother some more than others.

What was truly disappointing is the performance of Natalie Portman. I think she’s a marvelous actor, if you have any doubt see Closer, she’s stealer! However, aside from one good scene in the senate, Lucas gives her little to do in this film but watch events transpire from her apartment. She basically only gets to react to people telling her second hand what is going on in the plot. This weakens a once strong character. The problem culminates with her death. She dies for no reason other than the fact that she can’t emotionally bare Anakin’s betrayal and gives up after birthing Luke and Leia. It struck me as extremely out of character for this former Queen to simply let go and abandon her children to an evil Empire. Obviously, she needed to die for this film to connect with Episode IV and as a writer Lucas seemed unwilling to go for the truly dark choice, which would have seen Anakin actually kill her rather than momentarily strangling her. I place the blame for her performance on how Lucas wrote and directed the character.

There are also a couple of overall plot issues raised that aren’t fleshed out enough. Like why hide Luke with his family on Tatooine with the name Skywalker? I mean I’ve heard of hide in plain sight but come on!

Those wanting to know why Leia remembers her mother in Return of The Jedi while Luke doesn’t will still be wondering. It seems clear that the memory she is referring to is actually of Bail Organa’s wife not Padme, which I think will confuse general audience members.

Lucas has long hinted that there is more to the fact that Obi-Wan and Yoda’s bodies disappear after they die and that they are able to communicate through the force after their death. Well, Yoda begins to have this conversation with Obi-Wan, saying that he has been in communication with Qui-Gon, however, there is no elaboration on the topic. Unfortunately, this leaves us with only half an answer to the issue. I hope they expand this scene in the novelization, I’m going to start it shortly.

THE UGLY

There is really isn’t a lot of ugly. Again my problems rest with the computer effects. What particularly comes to mind are the unmasked Clone Troopers, their bodies are CG with actor Terimo Morison imposed on top. 90% of the time it looks awful and I really found it distracting.

Also, bad is CGI baby Luke and Leia and Vader screaming, “No!”

END SPOILERS




SAGA IN REVIEW


As I said at the start, critiquing anything is subjective, to help you personally gauge if my opinions about Episode III are relevant to you, here’s how I rank the other films. You never know, you may want to disregard my Episode III review if you disagree with how I view the other films. As critical as I’m about to get, remember I am a fan. I enjoy these film immensely, flaws and all.

From strongest to weakest…

“Episode 4: A New Hope” This film and “Empire” are my favorites, I can never pick one. While the dialog can be cheesy, the actors deliver it just right. The characters are engaging. The pace of the film is perfect; a touch slow by today’s standards, but that gives it the feel of an epic in the vein of a David Lean or Akira Kurowswa film. The tone of the movie, at least the pre-special edition cut, is great. While we are in a fictional universe the characters, their problems, and their emotions feel real and relevant. Lucas’ experience as a documentary filmmaker helps enormously; it’s often as if these events are playing out for real and a documentary crew just happened to capture them. Never more beautifully illustrated than in the end space battle.

“Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back” Darker than its predecessor, “Empire” moves at a faster pace and the characters all resonate with greater depth. Lawrence Ksadan’s screenplay and Irvin Kershner’s direction are flawless. What stands out about the film is it hints at the larger Star Wars universe without giving away many of the details. Yoda is truly a magical creation. Luke’s first confrontation with Vader is better than anyone could have hoped for after watching the first film. The scope of the ice battle and the asteroid sequence is still breath taking and the Han and Leia romance is handled beautifully.

“Episode 3: Revenge of The Sith” See the above review

“Episode 2: Attack of The Clones” A flawed film to be sure but what works, works well. Obi-Wan’s storyline and confrontation with Jango Fett, the battle sequence and the end are highlights of the whole saga. Alas, the love story between Anakin and Padme is written and directed so poorly it’s embarrassing. I’m not a Lucas basher. I’m a great admirer of his work on Star Wars, American Graffiti and THX-1138 but he just missed the mark with this plot thread; otherwise, I think this film is fantastic.

“Episode 6: Return of The Jedi” I almost placed this ahead of “Clones” purely based on the nostalgic factor but honestly this is a weak film and it gets weaker every time I watch it. Director Richard Marquand was in way over his head. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have some stand out moments; the Sarlac battle, the end space battle, and Luke’s confrontation with Vader are all terrific. However, the fact that it takes 20 minutes for a real person to appear on screen is a strange choice for the last film in the series. Also, the narrative degenerates too often into long exposition scenes like the Dagobah sequence or Luke and Leia in the Ewok village. Kasdan’s dialog and the overall charm of characters go along way in rescuing the film from being a disaster. Also, while the space battle is cool, the concept of a second Death Star is too repetitive to be interesting. I do feel that seeing Revenge of The Sith will strength this film. Still, its unfortunate the series had to end this way.

“Episode I: The Phantom Menace” Similarly, its unfortunate the series had to start this way. Like all the films, what works, works! The lightsaber fight at the end especially! I’ve also always liked the goodbye scene between Anakin and his mom. However, the flaws far outweigh the strengths. The film has a strange cartoonish vibe not present in the rest of the series. There are obvious missed opportunities to develop Anakin’s connection to the force during the podrace and the end space battle. Also, valuable time is wasted setting up plot threads like midi-clorians and the prophecy of the chosen one. While they are interesting elements, the fact they are never referred to in Episodes IV-VI, make them seem highly irrelevant. For me these missteps have always far overshadowed minor problems like Jar Jar Binks.






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