Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

I wasn’t going to see this film, you understand, and I don’t think I could be blamed for this. After all, if you went to a restaurant twice, and on both times the waiters spat in your face and called your date a working-class whore, it’s unlikely you’d go back for a third meal unless you’re a masochist. Which, I suppose, I am. So, Revenge of the Sith, here I come.

I blame other people. While there were people who were raving about the film, these people were also complete and devoted fans of the previous two festivals of mediocrity so clearly couldn’t be trusted (ever, on any subject). But there were people who loathed The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones but were pronouncing Revenge of the Sith to be ‘quite good’ and ‘not bad’, so my resolve collapsed, I found myself in Weston-Super-Mare with little to do, so today I caught the matinée.

It’s better in the matinée.

Settling down in the near-empty cinema with a surprisingly good cup of tea, I watched, and it was rubbish. Of course it was rubbish; how could it not be? Most of the problems of the previous two films remained; a leaden, embarrassing script, terrible performances, tedious action sequences and a plot that drags and limps along. I admit that the film was better than the last two, but so what? It doesn’t become a good film simply because the two before were worse; we should judge the film on its own merits, and it has very few.

The film opens with Anakin and Obi-Wan on a rescue mission; Chancellor Palpatine has been ‘kidnapped’ by Count Dooku. After fighting their way in through some droids (with inexplicably nerdy voices), there follows a strangely flat and unemotional fight between Dooku and the two Jedi, and Palpatine watches on with the air of someone watching a mildly exciting game of snooker. Anakin wins and kills Dooku at Palpatine’s insistence which lets us know (if we didn’t already) that Palpatine is Bad. After a brief escape attempt, we get to meet the fearsome General Grievous, a wheezy, asthmatic robot who has trouble walking, wears a shawl and whose main ability appears to be fighting briefly and badly before running away.

Probably just needed a glass of water.

The film goes on (and on), and though there are some minor side-plots, such as Yoda visiting a Wookie planet and…well, not doing much when he gets there apart from name-checking Chewbacca for the fans, the bulk of it is taken up by two threads; Obi-Wan on a lone mission to defeat the colicky Grievous, and Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. Of the former, very little can be said; Obi-Wan wins, but so what? It changes nothing. Of the latter, what could have been a stand-out performance, full of interesting moral dilemmas and emotional turmoil is squandered by the wooden Christensen who turns with very little hesitation and before long is off killing small children and giving the camera his best glowering look to let us know how evil he’s become. It’s much the same as all his other looks.

After Anakin’s turned, and is named ‘Darth Vader’ for no apparent reason, the film does pick up a bit. Stormtroopers turn on the Jedi at the behest of Palpatine in a series of mildly tragic scenes until only Yoda and Obi-Wan remain. The film climaxes with Yoda fighting Palpatine who, horribly deformed through use of the Force and quite clearly a fucking nutjob, still manages to convince the Senate to turn the Republic into an Empire. It’s during this scene that one of the few good lines surfaces; Padme stating “So this is how liberty dies; to thunderous applause” (it’s one of many parallels between the film and current events in various ‘democratic’ nations, though the point is belaboured when Palpatine resorts to tearing chunks out of the Senate building itself and using them as missiles against Yoda). Meanwhile, Obi-Wan fights Anakin on the Evil Planet of Lava Doom. We’re treated to some woeful banter between the two Jedis, such as:

OBI-WAN: Palpatine is evil!
ANAKIN: Well, from my point of view, the Jedi are evil!

Yeah, Palpatine gets him to slaughter a room full of children but, dude, that whole ‘evil’ thing, it’s all really just a matter of opinion, isn’t it? Think about it. Obi-Wan responds to this bombastic argument by chopping Anakin’s legs off, and leaving him to slowly burn in lava and bleed to death from his wounds.

Anakin is rescued by Palpatine, and becomes the Vader we all know and love in a scene that actually manages a touch of gravitas, as his famous helmet is clunk-clicked into position. It’s a moment spectacularly ruined when he discovers that his wife is dead at (he is told) his own hands, with a risible, fist-shaking “Nooooo! Curse you God for making me this way!” moment. Closing scenes, ooh, look, the Death Star, the end.

20 years to build a Death Star?

A Star Wars film is a difficult film to to criticise, because, by and large, the fans just don’t want to know. The original trilogy is essentially sacrosanct; people would watch it as children, in the days when overblown summer blockbusters dripping with special effects weren’t so common, and they have fond memories of them that are unshakeable.

What I find bizarre is when I’ll moan about one of the new films, and people will agree with me; they agree that the script is poor and the acting is awful, but it doesn’t matter — I get told that I shouldn’t expect such things from a Star Wars film. Yet the original trilogy of films (that I didn’t watch as a child, incidentally), were never this poor. The scripts and acting may not have been the best, but they didn’t jar so badly.

I just don’t see what other people are seeing. I can’t care about the action sequences when I don’t care about the plot, I can’t care about the plot when I don’t care about the characters and I can’t care about the characters when so little effort has been put into the writing and acting. The entire trilogy has just felt lazy, relying on overblown special effect extravaganzas to draw in the crowds, and I, for one, am glad it’s at an end, and I won’t have to deal with that spitting waiter any more.

By Paul Haine, in