I remember being in 5th grade, back in the late 70's, and getting a book order form from my teacher. Glossy paper, blue and white, but on the front cover was a picture of a strangely armored figure standing next to what looked like a riding dinosaur. I was immediately intrigued... was that a laser gun he held? Did he actually ride that big lizard? How could he see out of that helmet, since there were no openings in it?
That image, of a stormtrooper standing in front of a giant dewback, has remained in my mind's eye ever since. Through Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones, that is my first memory. But not my most vivid. The most vivid memory I have is seeing a massive black figure, armored and helmeted, starkly contrast against stormtrooper armor, wading through the smoking hole that had been blown into Leia Organa's ship at the beginning of Star Wars: Darth Vader. From that day in 1977, Vader has been a symbol of power, of menace, of fear. He invaded my consciousness that day like he invaded the collective consciousness of society in the days and years following, and he has been in both places ever since.
This is his story.
The film opens on action, and with few exceptions, on action it remains. This is the tale of the fall of the Republic, and the rise of the Empire, the end of the era of Jedi, and the rise of the Sith. I'll say no more, let's get to it.
ACTING! This film has some! This is different from the first two of the prequels, of course, so a vast improvement. Is it all good acting? No, but even at its worst, it's still the best we've seen from the prequel trilogy. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman reprise their roles as Anakin and Padmé Skywalker. Their portrayals are still somewhat stilted and sophomoric, but they do an admirable job with the dialogue they are given, which seems at times more suited for a Saturday morning cartoon than a feature film. Still, it's better than Attack of the Clones. And Christensen improves greatly in the second half of the film, when his brooding is allowed to fully air and becomes quite appropriate. I'll say no more.
But from there, the acting only improves. Jimmy Smits as Senator Organa, and Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi Master Mace Windu, both do well with what they have. It's clear that more seasoned actors can more easily milk the otherwise listless dialogue for some sort of emotional impact. Ewan McGregor seems at times to be channeling Alec Guiness, so affecting is his performance in several scenes. He is visually so striking that you can picture the older Obi-Wan's face growing out of his several times.
This is also the crowning of the CGI characters. Yoda and R2-D2 are both quite entertaining and engaging in their performances, and seem to seamlessly flow with the rest of the action and dialogue that goes on in their scenes. And both are involved in combat, surprisingly enough, and both do quite well, in competence and in believability.
But the award for best performance in this film has to go to Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine. His transformation throughout the film, his seduction of Anakin, and his proficiency with the multiple layers of deception woven through his part of the story are truly wonderful. He is the real villain of the Star Wars saga, not Vader, and this is the film in which you find that out.
Visually this movie is stunning. The opening salvo into the battle scenes are first-person camera angles that carry the movie-goer along with two fighters as they roll around a massive command vessel, then dive into a firefight the likes of which I've never seen on screen before. Also, when you see the film, in the slower scenes, take the time to look back, beyond the primary shots, and appreciate the artistry involved in creating the various settings. Some of the "exterior" shots are breathtakingly beautiful.
This is also the most seamless blending of CGI and live action I've been witness to. Not to say that it's perfect, it still isn't. One scene finds Obi-Wan riding a large lizard of some kind, and the lizard is too clearly animated to allow even willing suspension of disbelief to mask. But mostly the effects are top-notch, and truly catapult this film into something everyone, even this acting-starved fan, can enjoy.
I will admit, I've been listening to the soundtrack for the film for a couple weeks, so I've had time to become intimately acquainted with the score, and it is up to John William's usual high standard. It was very enjoyable to hear what wasn't on the soundtrack in the film, as well as finding out what segments of music matched up to what scene. Some of the tracks will, no doubt, bring shivers now as the mind's eye conjures memories of what was seen and felt during their playing.
Oh, and fans will be happy to know that the dreaded Jar-Jar appears but twice, for a total of about 3 seconds, and says not a word.
The film is strangely affecting. During the climactic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin, my throat tightened, and I was overcome with this sense of watching epic history in the making. And one scene at the very end caused a surprising tear to spring to my eye, surprising due to it not being a "sad" scene, it was overwhelming nostalgia that brought it to the fore, and that tells me that I connected with this film on an emotional level like I did when I was very young, and watching that dark shape walk through the smoke for the first time.
I give Revenge of the Sith a grade of B+. Other critics have said it, and I will chime in as well: This is the best of the films Lucas has directed. My own personal list would have it third overall, after Empire and Star Wars, but I do not hesitate to recommend seeing it. Go in knowing that the acting is still wooden, and the dialogue is still cheesy, but as a whole, it is worth your time, your faith, your energy, and your emotion.
Hey, it's better than Attack of the Clones, so all's well with the universe, right?