I've had almost a week to digest Revenge of the Sith now, and I've refrained from blogging my thoughts simply because I've not been entirely sure what I think of the film. Sure, it's the best prequel by a long shot (which isn't really saying all that much, except in comparison to, say, the last third of Attack of the Clones) and is the darkest of all six Star Wars films. Before I went to Episode 3, I read Philippa Hawker's review in The Age, and after I left the cinema, I found this passage has particular resonance:
It is, essentially, a massive join-the-dots exercise in which director George Lucas returns us, more or less, to the point where it all began in 1977: Darth Vader acquires all-over black protective clothing and helmet, the Republic becomes the Empire and Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia arrive.Thinking about it, the most resonant thing about Star Wars has always been the mythology, the intertwining narratives of ancient ideals, heroic structures and epic battles. The problem I found with Episode 3 was that I already knew almost all of the mythology, the motivations, the inevitable plot, and already had an idealised version of how these details would be revealed in my head. Sure, a great writer can get past the audience already knowing the plot - that is, after all, how the entire tradition of Tragedies (most notably Shakespeare's) operate. Lucas, however, is not the world's greatest writer, nor director. He is one of the most talented people in terms of plotting, narrative and minute details (especially design, and special effects), and due to these strengths, I still think the best Star Wars film is one Lucas didn't direct, namely The Empire Strikes Back. However, in terms of Revenge of the Sith, I felt certain plot points could have been handled better, and I certainly felt the dialogue desperately needed re-writing. Other commentators have argued that a lot of the characterisation is better, and I agree, but that's mainly because the actors now know their characters well enough to act past unimaginative dialogue (as was definitely the case with the original trilogy; it just took longer in the prequels since the cast really didn't know what their scenes looked like until the CGI was added, long after principle shooting wrapped). I will admit the CGI was better handled: every shot looked amazing; the integration of actors and CGI was smoother; and despite two appearances, Jar Jar didn't speak to my great relief!
Writing in the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini argued that the great unsung hero of Episode 3 (no pun intended!) is John Williams and his magnificent scores. I couldn't agree more; in scenes where the dialogue would have otherwise driven me to distraction with its corniness, Williams' wonderfully evocative music provoked emotional cues well embedded in my mind from the original trilogy. Indeed, the 'Duel of the Fates' piece which underwrote the entire prequel trilogy was one of its most outstanding elements. (I'd go so far as to say the alongside Howard Shore's score for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, John Williams' six Star Wars scores are the finest multi-film scores in cinema history, or at least Hollywood cinema history).
Ultimately, though, I have to ask myself, if I was twelve or thirteen years old and I was seeing Revenge of the Sith for the first time, would I love it? I loved Return of the Jedi at that age, and I'm certain a twelve-year-old me would think Revenge of the Sith was fantastic, and I'd already be bugging my parents to get the tie-in cereal for my Star Wars figures or Lightsabre spoons!
PS As the media grapples for anything Star Wars-related, two recently released fan films are getting some of the recognition they so deeply deserve. Firstly, the recently released Revelations, which is set between the prequels and A New Hope, has some great effects, a decent story, runs at around 40 minutes and has been getting rave reviews. And, secondly, the wonderful newly released IMPS - Imperial Military Personnel Stories - The Relentless which has been dubbed "Troops 2", and tells the fantastically funny story of everyday life in the Imperial Forces from the point of ordinary troops from the Imperial Cruiser Relentless. The IMPS website has been going down a bit due to massive bandwidth overload, but you can grab the torrent of IMPS:Chapter I here). The first chapter is about 20 minutes, with more episodes to come. You should definitely check out IMPS, especially if you're of the fannish persuasion ("Who would win in a fight between Imperial Forces and Predators!?!")!
Update (10.45pm, 25 May): I've just read Grant's excellent two-part review of Episode 3, and I suspect I may have missed a few of the nuances of the film. Goes to show, I really shouldn't think I've completely digested a film after seeing it jetlagged. (That sounds remarkably like justification for a second viewing, doesn't it?!)