Release Date:  May 19, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and some intense images)
Genre:   Sci-Fi/Adventure/Action/Fantasy
Run Time:   140 min.
Director:     George Lucas
Actors:    Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christiansen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels

I remember well the summer of 1983.  I was a leader-in-training at a Christian camp high above Colorado Springs, Colorado, and we had been given an evening out.  We headed straight to the movie theatre, where we discussed what film to see.  By 6 to 1, I was outvoted.  I don’t even remember what film I lobbied for, but I do remember the film we saw – and how glad I was that the wisdom of the crowd had prevailed.  It was “Return of the Jedi,” and for the first time, I finally understood the lure of “Star Wars.”  Eventually, with the invention of the VCR (boy, do I feel old), I would also come to appreciate the other films in the series made by writer/director/creator George Lucas – “Star Wars” and its sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.”

So it was with great dismay that I viewed Lucas’ prequels, “Phantom Menace” and “Revenge of the Clones” in 1999 and 2002.  Frankly, they may be some of the worst films ever made, particularly on this kind of budget.  The good news, however, is that when you’ve made two terrible movies in a row, you can only improve.  And fortunately, that’s just what Lucas has done with his final installment of the “Star Wars” saga.

“Revenge of the Sith” opens with a 20-minute plus sky battle between Jedi knights Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), who are defending the galaxy against enemy Sith invaders.  They must rescue the Republic’s chancellor, Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has been captured by the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Count Grievous, a CGI droid.  Meanwhile, beloved robot R2D2 (Kenny Baker) tries to help, but instead just throws one-liners.

Anakin returns home to Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), whom he has secretly married – a move that could cost him his knighthood.  Padme announces that she is pregnant, which soon prompts nightmares in Anakin that Padme will die in childbirth.  He seeks the advice of the chancellor, who alludes to the dark side of the force, which has the power of life over death.  Meanwhile, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), who heads the Jedi council, has invited Anakin to sit among them, making Anakin the youngest to ever receive that invitation.  They have not, however, made him a Master Jedi Knight, which rankles Anakin.  So, while Anakin agrees to spy on the chancellor for the Jedis, his anger also causes him to agree to do the same for the chancellor, placing himself in a very difficult situation.  Little by little, as Anakin learns about the power he could have – power from the dark side – we see him slowly transformed into the evil character we all love to hate: Darth Vader.

In the strangest of ways, the strength of this film is that we know the ending.  We know what and who Anakin will become.  We know that he will have not one, but two children – twins who are separated at birth, named Leah and Luke.  We also know the rest of the saga, because we’ve seen it unfold, in five separate films.  But that doesn’t stop us from watching, and enjoying, this story.

There is wisdom in this film – only don’t look too closely.  On the one hand, we see the demise of Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi knight who had great potential, had he chosen to use his gifts for good.  Instead, Anakin succumbs to fear, impatience and his own desire for power, which become the source of his mighty downfall, and the rise of his evil persona.  In Anakin, we see how easily we can all be led astray, and just where that path takes us.  This storyline will provide great fodder for discussion about the moral choices we must all make, even in the most desperate of circumstances.

On the other hand, what often passes for wisdom in “Revenge of the Sith” (and it is the same in all of the episodes), is really a reflection of New Age and Buddhist theology.  “I put the Force into the movie to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people,” Lucas said, in an acclaimed interview with journalist Bill Moyers several years ago, “more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system.”  The director, who was reportedly baptized in the Methodist church as an infant, also told Moyers that he believes that “all religions are true.”

Clearly, “Star Wars” reflects synchronism among the faiths.  In “the force,” we see a differentiation, however vague, between good and evil, as well as a strong encouragement to join the forces of good – something that characterizes almost all major religions.  But Christianity distinguishes itself because it offers a precise definition, in the person of Jesus Christ, of just what that good means.  And, without a definition of that oh-so-intangible concept, what is there to prevent any of us from becoming Darth Vaders?  If truth is left up to each individual, we will all eventually find ourselves wallowing in a quagmire of emotion, ambition and pride.  Rather than any form of true faith, therefore, “Star Wars” instead embraces a radical, New Age style individualism – something that cannot help but lead to conflict and disharmony, the very thing it purports to seek.

On a cinematic level, and as it has been in most of his films, Lucas’ dialogue is positively woeful, aka Shakespeare meets television sitcom.  And, yet again, Lucas’ directing has caused perfectly good actors to phone in their performances.  What’s with all the lingering shots of their blank stares?  Christensen is better than he was in “Attack of the Clones,” but that is truly not saying much.  What happened to the boy we met in “My Life As a House”?  Portman and Jackson, who are both excellent thespians, don’t appear to offer any facial expressions at all.  Combined with their forced, clichéd dialogue, they both come across as almost laughable.  McGregor does a decent job, although even he seems to have been dragged off the set of a Shakespearean play, so formal and uppercrust is his English accent.  McDiarmid gives the most credible performance – until he degenerates into the cliché “mwa-ha-ha” evil chancellor toward the end of the film, that is.

In terms of the overall quality of this prequel, these are no trifling matters – especially when you must also overlook problems with cogency, when it comes to plot, and pacing, such as battles (particularly the first one) that last way too long.  Overall, what could have been a brilliant film is thus a mediocre one.  The good news – for Lucas and the box office – is that we’ve suffered through two truly bad “Star Wars” films prior to this, so we’re definitely willing to overlook a lot.  In fact, the best way to watch the series, once it’s boxed up and sold as a collection, will be to ignore those first two and instead watch this film as the opening of the final three.  The original “Star Wars,” by the way, will henceforth be called “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.”

Although it does not live up to the quality of the first three “Star Wars” films, “Revenge of the Sith” is a worthy endeavor that merits viewing.  By overlooking its faults – as well as its more-than-questionable theology – most people will find it to be a fun film.
        
AUDIENCE:  Adults, teens and mature adolescents

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  None.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Light kissing between married couple; discussion of pregnancy.
  • Violence:  Ongoing sci-fi style violence that is inappropriate for younger children, including multiple light saber duals and one in which lightening is used as a weapon.  Various deaths, often violent, result.  In one scene, a character is horribly burned and disfigured in molten lava.