Doubted by many, yet more powerful than them all. Filled with anger and regret. Eventually turning to the dark side.
Such terms not only describe Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, but also the film itself.
The short version is that Episode III is the best of the Star Wars films. It is at least on par with The Empire Strikes Back and possibly overtakes it.
The problem with Sith is despite being a great movie, it is so close to the cusp of being an excellent movie that it almost feels as though the film is holding back. The acting is much better than the previous two prequels, and Ian McDiarmid and Ewan MacGregor give excellent performances. McDiarmid’s Palpatine is a crafty schemer who seduces Anakin into the Dark Side of the Force by playing on his deepest insecurities and fears. He plays Satan to Christensen’s Faust with exactly the right mixture of cleverness and evil.
This movie hinges on Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen)’s Faustian descent into evil. Had that not worked, the movie would have collapsed on itself. Thankfully, Anakin’s transition to Darth Vader works — mostly. Once Anakin falls to the Dark Side, the film truly gets something that both Menace and Clones lacked — emotional punch. Anakin’s fall into darkness is emotionally draining, and the effects of his actions are what make this film transcend just being technically marvelous into something much more potent.
The love scenes were stilted and awkward, but not as horrendously bad as they were in Episode II. Natalie Portman’s performance is much improved from the first two films (having an on-set dialogue and acting coach was a very wise move), and she manages to give a performance that helps the material rather than making it seem flat. There are still some emotional moments that misfire, but this is the first of the prequels that actually had an emotional core to the story that worked.
There are moments that could have been done better to take the film from good to great, and if there is a flaw in Episode III it’s that the film could have reached that higher level with a little more work on dialog. Had Padmé and Anakin’s romance been just a little more believable, the emotional core of the story would have been that much more powerful. Had there been more character development in I and II it would have also helped this film build on a more solid core.
Star Wars has always been visually arresting, and Episode III is no exception — but whereas the technological glitter outperformed the story in I and II, Episode III is about more than epic space battles. It’s a Faustian story about a man whose desire to protect what he loved overwhelmed his inner morality. Star Wars is not high art — but then again, Chaucer, Mallory, and Conan Doyle were considered pop fluff in their day as well. At the end of the day, Episode III is a compelling story, and George Lucas the storyteller has returned from the Dark Side of CGI and product tie-ins to tell the kind of story his fans have been waiting over a quarter-century to see, ever since the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the silver screen for the first time.