The culmination of decades of work for writer-director George Lucas, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith completes the epic space-opera sextet which burst onto our screens in 1977, and brings the tragic story of Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker and his transformation into the iconic villain Darth Vader to a close.
The film opens with a battle in the upper atmosphere of the planet Coruscant that sees juggernaut spaceships pitted against tiny fighters, in a deliberate and contrived echo of the opening scene of the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Jedi knights Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) weave their ships through a barrage of explosions and enemy fire, intent on rescuing Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the political leader of the galactic Republic from the clutches of General Greivous, the wheezing robot leader of the separatist rebels who are threatening to tear the Republic apart.
This spectacular but curiously emotionless beginning sets the action-driven pace of the following 140 minutes of the film, which abandons the laborious political intrigue established in Episodes I and II in favour of almost constant combat between an array of characters and alien races.
The streamlined plot takes in the doomed romance between ambitious Anakin and his wife, Senator Padme Amildala (a bored-looking Natalie Portman), Palpatine’s betrayal of the Republic, and the long-anticipated but unconvincing moment when Anakin swears allegiance to the dark side of the Force.
While Lucas delights in visual spectacle throughout Revenge of the Sith, overall the film lacks any real dramatic tension or sense of menace, even in the fight scenes, which should have us on the edge of our seats. Partially this is caused by the fact that we already know the outcome: we know how history is shaped out by the events which are fated to unfold in this film, and so the film lacks suspense. Equally critical however is the fact that it’s hard to muster any concern over CGI animations, no matter how seamlessly they are blended with the real actors appearing beside them on-screen.
The resulting film is strangely passionless, a situation not helped by the lack of chemistry between romantic leads Christensen and Portman. The script’s painfully clumsy dialogue, which manifests in cliched and emotive outbursts from all the important characters, further exacerbates the film’s numerous flaws.
What does work is the film’s pace, and the way in which Lucas for the most part adroitly introduces characters, and foreshadows events that are already legendary among legions of Star Wars fans (although the clumsy introduction of Chewbacca the Wookie is jarring to say the least).
Lucas’ storytelling skills are at their best during the film’s climax, when he adroitly intercuts from the inevitable showdown between Obi-Wan and the newly named Darth Vader on the volcanic planet Mustafar, and Jedi master Yoda’s desperate attempts to defeat the evil Palpatine back on Coruscant. That we already know the outcome of these battles is, in these sequences at least, of no concern. The film’s final scenes, including the first appearance of the armour-clad Darth Vader and the birth of Padme’s twins Luke and Leia, are more forced, but are sure to satisfy the franchise’s many fans.
While suffering many of the same flaws that dogged the previous two instalments of the series, (including at least one major plot hole you could steer a Death Star through: if Anakin is so desperate to save Padme’s life that he turns to the dark side, why is he so happy to leave her side to do his master’s bidding, instead of obsessively focussing on finding the cure he has been offered by Palpatine?) Revenge of the Sith occasionally comes close to recapturing the grandeur and sense of wonder which made the original Star Wars trilogy so memorable. It is a fitting albeit overdue end to a saga that has entertained so many, for so long.