Thursday, May 19, 2005

REVIEW: Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of The Sith

Minor SPOILERS follow.

How do you do this?

How do you find SOMETHING new to say about "Star Wars" that no other reviewer, especially on the web, has said before? By now, everything... every experience of every type of fan of every age of every concievable style of "entry" to the series has been stated, crystalized, dismantled and analyzed to the point of pure repetition.

Yes, the original SW was the film that changed everything. It created the modern film world we now occupy, it turned scifi/fantasy into THE blockbuster genre, and so on and so forth. Is there anyone left who doesn't already realize this? That isn't already sick of hearing it? The Joseph Campbell connection? The Buddhist influence? Is there really nothing left to say about "Star Wars," the defining film of my entire generation, other than to simply review the "last" installment and then walk away?

I'm afraid so. The fact is, Star Wars: The Phenomenon had already been picked to the bones of all it's deeper meanings, ramifications, etc. long before the mid-1990s rolled around and brought with it the lamentable "Special Editions," in which series creator George Lucas literally hacked the soul out of his creation in what now seems like nothing less than ritual slaughter fortelling the disaster of the Prequels.

And since then, it's all been downhill. The Prequels have been an unmitigated calamity, Lucas threatens to wreck the originals even more in the future, and now even as Episode III finally arrives to give us the first/last word on Vader, the Universe and everything not even the greatest filmmaking effort of all time (which Ep3 most certainly is not) could not change what now seems to have been the unhappy ending we've been on course for since Greedo fired first: What used to be the lynchpin franchise of sf/f filmmaking has toppled from Cinema Olympus and is now limping to an all-to-mortal close. The only thing left to say is goodbye.

So then, we come to Episode III, and it's my sad duty to report to you that while this is indeed far and away the very best of the Prequel Trilogy, that's still not to say that it's "good." All of the things that were "good" in Eps 1 and 2; the effects, the action scenes, the art design, are all still good. All the stuff that was bad; the dialogue, the pacing, the characters, the script, the plot, the continuity, thats all still bad. Ep3 works better than it's predecessors for no better reason than that it contains "more" of the good and "less" of the bad by volume. So, while we still have a pretty sorry excuse for a "Star Wars" movie, we also have a good-enough excuse for a summer action entry. At this point, thats all even the most fervent fans can realistically hope for.

What's most refreshing about Ep3, in comparison to the other prequels, is the enjoyable pace and which it moves: It has a lot of ground to cover, does so with great efficiency, and only gets boring in small spots. In fact, this strength on it's part probably hurts the whole notion of the Prequel Trilogy more than anything: EVERYTHING major plotwise that has occured over the arduous first and second prequels is either re-capped, re-staged or discarded as unimportant here, and essentially the process renders "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of The Clones" as largely pointless in the long run. Anakin Skywalker's "fall" happens here based entirely on events that happen within this one film, with the BAREST mention of anything thats come before. The whole "important" arc of his character happens here, and as a result our prior adventures with him now seem to have just been marking time. Death of his mother in 2? Promise to free all slaves in 1? Nope, here it's a reccuring nightmare about an entirely new tragedy that mainly leads to the Dark Side. Those lingering mysteries about, say, Sifo Dyas? Apparently not worth answering.

What works are the action scenes, the big-scale sequences of laser-rifles and lightsabres. And even these, while impressive, are strictly "pretty good" for the modern action canon: The big scale fantasy battles just can't clear the bar as raised by the now-completed LOTR films, and the saber-duels, while a lot of fun, are starting to look just this side of "so what?" after "Hero" and even some of the more stylish moments of "Kill Bill." Often, Lucas has devoted so much time to the dancing details of his elaborate digital backdrops that the action scenes become confusing jumbles of bouncing pixels. The big final duel between Anakin and Ob-Win, set on a planet of boiling lava, packs the expected visual punch thankfully... so long as niether of them are talking.

The dialogue... oh, the dialogue. If you thought Ep2's romantic dialogue was tin-eared and trite, just get a load of the musings on political theory on display here. Congratulations, "The Interpreter," you no longer sport the dopiest exchanges over action versus diplomacy in any film this year. It's expected that this stuff bogs down the senate scenes, but for it to become the base-argument for the big lava-world sabre fight fans have been so eager to see is a bad decision squared.

But, dammit... it's not all that bad. "Star Wars" is fallen, yes, but that happened waaay back in 1997 with the special editions and it can't be laid entirely on this film. It all ends with a whimper, not a bang, but it's worth seeing overall.. and yes, that last shot is pretty killer.