George Lucas proves he saved the best for last as lightsaber battles, space dogfights, and even a few successful emotional scenes provide Star Wars fans with the moment they’ve been waiting for: the rise of Darth Vader and the fall of the Jedi.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should preface this by admitting I’m one of the few that has yet to turn against the Star Wars prequels. While I’ll admit Episodes one and two are nowhere near as good as the original trilogy, there’s still something to them that keeps me interested. Even if it’s only a third or half of the movie that’s worth watching, I’m sold enough that I’ve watched the films numerous times, both in theaters and at home. However it’s not just a third or half of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith that keeps me watching - it’s the whole film, starting with the best opening to hit the saga since the original Star Destroyer menacingly soared over the camera awing audiences of the '70s. Right away, Episode III puts the stars back in Star Wars, and keeps the audience going until the inevitable tragic ending.
Revenge of the Sith concludes the story of Anakin Skywalker and his eventual descent to the Dark Side of the Force. Besides being the conclusion of Anakin’s story, the movie also has the demanding task of putting all the pieces in place for the Star Wars films that have been around for over twenty years. With Star Wars fans such a fickle and obsessive lot, I’m not sure I’d ever want to make a movie that had to live up to their continuity expectations. Episode III lives up to the challenge though, and the minor details that form the bridge between this trilogy and the next are absolutely brilliant. It’s as if Lucas himself was the biggest fan of all things Star Wars, and knew exactly what fans were looking for. Achieving that kind of detail oriented perfection with this film makes me wonder though, why couldn’t the first two movies have been just as strong?
While the previous chapters of the Star Wars prequels drew fire for weak stories and dialogue, Lucas finally nails it with Episode III. In fact, there are several dialogue heavy scenes driving the story that are worth more then both of the first two movies’ dialogue combined (and remember - I liked the other two films). Once scene in particular, a conversation at a space-aged “opera” between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and the corruptible Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) stands unrivaled by anything in all six Star Wars movies. It’s a defining moment for both characters and the saga as a whole, and a true transition period for Christensen’s Anakin. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have some cringe-worthy moments, particularly towards the beginning of the movie between Anakin and his love, Padme (Natalie Portman), but even the worst Episode III has to offer is easily on par with the best moments of the other two prequels.
The rule of sequels is that they need to exceed the action of previous films in the series. Again that’s no problem for Revenge of the Sith. The opening sequence, a space battle that moves into a rescue mission on board one of the participating ships, runs almost half an hour long, and I swear it feels like it’s over in a third of the time, even having seen the film a couple of times. The sequence is totally immersive, drawing the audience in and finally giving fans a decent space sequence, although still nothing that rivals the original films. The entire film of course, leads up to the grand poo-bah of all lightsaber fights and the final and total loss of Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi, as his conversion to the dark side is complete. Like the details that bridge the two trilogies, this is a moment fans have been waiting to see for decades. Lucas doesn’t disappoint and pulls out all the stops with one of the fiercest lightsaber battles in Star Wars history.
What really makes the movie work for me, however, is that, while the lightsaber battle is the physical representation of Anakin’s final betrayal (fighting his master and friend), the young jedi’s transition into evil isn’t one huge downward slide. One can’t help but feel sorry as Anakin slowly turns away from the jedi in a very unexpected manner. In the end, Anakin is a sympathetic character who really is trying hard to do the right thing. Unfortunately he’s simply led astray by listening to the wrong people. Given how the previous movies have presented Anakin as a whiny, egotistical brat, this is a huge leap for the character, both in the scripting and presentation of the character. Lucas and Christensen finally make Anakin the hero we all have wanted to see, just in time to become the villain we all knew he'd become.
Episode III really is the best of the prequel films, and frankly is probably just as strong as the original trilogy, although sentiment and nostalgia prevent me from saying that outright. Lucas finally delivers what fans have been waiting for over the course of the three films. Let’s all hope he doesn’t go messing it up as he continues to tinker with his films, creating more “special editions” down the road.
Ready for a big surprise? You won’t find one with the DVD release. The disc, from artwork to menu formats, is almost identical to the DVD releases for the first two chapters, only with Episode III images. I have no real complaint about that though, since I’ve been happy with just about every Star Wars release to date.
One of my biggest complaints of previous releases though, and one that extends to this release, is George Lucas. Lucas continues to provide commentary for his movies and appear in documentaries, however the man just can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm in his voice about his projects. Listening to him drone on over the course of the commentary track was literally enough to put me to sleep. Fortunately his voice is interrupted from time to time with comments from other people behind the film, but Lucas’s lack of excitement remains one of my strongest complaints about this, and every other Star Wars DVDs.
Fortunately for everyone it is not Lucas, but producer Rick McCallum who narrates the documentary that serves as the centerpiece of the second disc’s bonus materials. The documentary, titled “Within A Minute”, investigates how much time, effort, and manpower goes into producing one segment of Episode III, in this case a forty-second segment of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s lightsaber battle on Mustafar. As with the previous episodes, the documentary is incredibly well produced, although I don’t think the content is as interesting as Episode I’s documentary. Instead “Within A Minute” feels like a way to thank all the people who worked so hard making Episode III a success by putting their names out there. After three films, culminating in some of the best material in Star Wars history, I can’t fault Lucasfilm for wanting to pay some respects to the people who made all of it possible.
As with the previous Episodes, there are several deleted scenes. The difference between everyone else’s deleted scenes and the one found on the Star Wars discs continues to be quality: the Star Wars scenes are fully produced, with music and special effects in place. This is especially a big deal when one considers how much of the movies are filmed on green screens. By providing fully produced scenes, fans get an honest look at how these scenes would have worked. Unfortunately what isn’t provided is any sort of context of where the scenes would have been. Sure, a couple of them are obvious since they are cut directly out of existing material, but several scenes presenting a cut story thread of Padme and other senators starting the rebellion don't really have an obvious place they would fit. The scenes are introduced by George Lucas (who remains devoid of excitement) and Rick McCallum (who looks mysteriously like Jabba the Hutt lounging on his couch) who explain the purpose of the scenes and why they were cut. Extremely disappointing is a thirty second clip of Yoda beginning his exile to Dagobah, over which McCallum seems genuinely distraught about losing. Lucas on the other hand appears callous about the short sequence, and his rationale seems extremely week for cutting it. Since that specific sequence felt like it was missing to me when I first watched the movie, I’m unhappy to hear it was created but cut for no good reason.
The remainder of the disc is made up of promotional materials: music videos, internet featurettes, commercials, trailers, pictures, etc. While I love seeing this material I have to admit my interest in it is waning. I’ve found from the first two episodes, that while the trailers and commercials were exciting when they first came out, offering a peek into a movie we were all anxiously awaiting, now that I can watch the movie I have less interest in sitting back and watching the commercials. Still, some of the trailers are put together with great artistry, and the music videos for John Williams’s score offer a great opportunity to kick back and enjoy the music, so while they may not be something I’ll watch frequently, I’ll never complain that material like this is included.
I should mention I have received several complaints from DVD fans, announcing issues they’ve been having playing the DVD on older players and X-Boxes. The latter is particularly ironic since there is an X-Box demo included on the second disc, so you’d think the DVD would play fine there. Still, I personally have not had any issues watching the DVD on several different players, ranging from a five year old DVD player, to a newer one, to my laptops (both Mac and PC). Be aware though: there may be a bit rate problem that will cause the disc to appear choppy on your player, although I personally haven’t seen it.
The DVD release for Revenge of the Sith is everything I expected based on previous Star Wars DVDs. Bonus materials aside though, this is an absolute must own disc just because the movie is so great and an absolutely gorgeous DVD transfer. Sci-fi movies just don’t get much better then this, and the only movies I’ve seen that look and sound this vibrant are the other Star Wars films. Don’t wait for Christmas, don’t wait for that Birthday “just around the corner”, run out and pick up this DVD right away and relive the final Star Wars chapter again and again and again.