In light of the fact that—especially when it comes to Star Wars—opinions truly are like assholes, I’ll keep this relatively brief, but since my filmgoing has been shamefully infrequent so far this year, I thought I’d be remiss not to weigh in on what certainly must be, for better or worse, the cinematic event of the year.
My experiences with Star Wars have been, I’m sure, unremarkably similar to those of most Westerners in my age group. Snow days transformed the neighborhood into Hoth, my friends and I arguing over who got to be Han Solo; the icing on my seventh birthday cake was fashioned after the Return of the Jedi logotype; and the Millennium Falcon—complete with secret compartment for hiding action figures from storm troopers—was the pride and joy of my toy collection. The original Star Wars trilogy so impactfully ignited the imagination of my generation that no other films even came close.
Episodes I and II lacked that impact, at least for a generation so enamored of Episodes IV, V, and VI. Whether it was the fact that we were different people occupying a different time and place, or that these new films really were the dehumanized, technology-driven machinations of George Lucas’s own Darth Vader allegory (“He’s more machine than man now…”), the magic simply wasn’t there, even at a midnight screening on opening day.
Episode III was therefore to be the prequel trilogy’s (some would say the entire saga’s) final hope for redemption. And while its quality is miles beyond that of its two predecessors, and it comes closest to that old-time Star Wars religion, it still falls short of its mark.
Lucas’s usual suspects—however improved-upon—are to blame, most notably a spate of maddeningly wooden performances from a cast whose collective talent is well-established. More fundamentally troubling, though, is the structure of the story itself, which often feels like a self-conscious patch job between Episodes II and IV, putting the narrative on a scavenger hunt with a checklist of loose ends. Luke and Leia? Check. Jedi wiped out? Check. Palpatine’s rapid, grotesque aging? Check. Accordingly, the film’s timekeeping is murky, making it very unclear exactly how much time has passed between the beginning and the end. Anakin Skywalker’s transformation from Jedi Knight to Sith Lord, for example, seems to happen with remarkable speed, punctuating his apparent naïveté; and retiring the character with conclusive indignity. Also, the democratic republic’s conversion to a galactic empire appears to have taken, like, a day.
For all its shortcomings, I actually enjoyed the movie. The dreadful Hayden Christensen finally surrenders Anakin to James Earl Jones, the tragedy of which is stingingly evoked with some knockout performances from Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor. The overall production quality was (of course) astonishing, and both its heart and its chronology were closing in on what I loved about the original trilogy, even if it did ultimately fail to get there.
Does it redeem Episodes I and II? No. Does it even justify their existence or its own existence? Not really. I’m still of the opinion that the Star Wars universe would have been better off left alone. However, charged as Revenge of the Sith is with the daunting task of bridging the new school clunk and the old school charm, it succeeds respectably. And I think that’s the best we could have asked for.