As with any damaged relationship, we approach the final Star Wars prequel hoping things will be better, but prepared to be disappointed yet again. Uh-oh, here comes that dialogue, so solemn it’s camp. There are the poor actors, directed like five year-olds in a Nativity play. "Revenge of the Sith" is one of the prequels, all right, and it fails at about half of what it tries to do. But this part of the story is so meaty, even George Lucas couldn’t completely screw it up.
28 years ago, the genius of "Star Wars" was that Lucas made a myth out of recycled American pop culture at the split second that special effects technology was undergoing a breakthrough. The eventual trilogy transformed the global film industry from the personal, director-driven films of the ’70s into its current era of effects-driven blockbusters.
Lucas was set for life. But instead of making more movies, he bought land in Northern California, built a compound where he lives and works, and established it as the world’s premiere visual effects company. Since then Hollywood has come to Lucas, and he’s been surrounded by machines, making illusions for hire.
"Revenge of the Sith" is the work of a different man than made the original movies – a contemplative who sees good and evil as a cyclic interplay of balanced forces. Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christensen, has Macbeth’s problem: he is so determined to prevent a premonition, he becomes paranoid. Yoda tells him, "Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose."
Instead, Anakin becomes the apprentice of Ian McDiarmid’s Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who is secretly the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Misled by Sidious, Anakin’s fear of loss and hunger for power consume his soul, and he turns on those he loves. Likewise, fear transforms the democratic Republic into the despotic Empire. That’s a great story. It just needed a skilled writer and director. Lucas had collaborators on the first films, but nobody has the power to tell Lucas his limits.
I’ve reached my saturation point with computer graphics: CG ennui. My generation still thinks of photography as a kind of truth. But this movie didn’t happen in front of a lens. The actors are inserted into a completely animated world. Animation can also reveal truth. But "Revenge of the Sith" is animated without observation — fluidly, with cutting-edge computer graphics, but without the telling detail.
Lucas says, now that Star Wars is over, he wants to make art films. If he’d done that first, he would have had the opportunity to fail quietly, and learn. In the end, "Revenge of the Sith" comes across – barely. Imagine what it could have been if it had been made by a developed artist, instead of a man with countless artists on the payroll.
"Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" is playing to the exclusion of all else at Showplace West. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.