The final instalment in the prequel trilogy continued where “Attack of the Clones” left off and thankfully was not a backwards step. Unfortunately, this also means that “Revenge of the Sith” also contains similar drawbacks including a heavy reliance on CG and some poor acting. Possibly the most frustrating element of Episode 3 is that the film shows glimpses of potential but ultimately disappoints.
The opening space battle is a perfect example of this as the scale and effects were an effective hook for audiences. It then teased the possibility of an intense character building scene in the confrontation with Count Dooku which fizzled into mediocrity. The duel was over too quickly and Palpatine’s manipulation of Anakin if you could call it that made no attempt at subtlety. All this is then capped off by the clumsy ray shields trap and some poor dialogue. Another example would be the introduction of Darth Plagueis the Wise which gave an opportunity to explore the nature of the force but was left undeveloped.
One of the few strengths of the entire prequel trilogy is the casting of Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan and the character’s development over the three movies. This reaches a climax in “Revenge of the Sith” as Ewan McGregor ‘s version of Obi-Wan needs to transition towards Alec Guinness. It involves gradually distancing the character from the fatherly role he occupies in “Attack of The Clones” and developing the burden of failure that marks the character in “A New Hope”. The costume design team also made this work as they make sure that Ewan McGregor looks more like a younger Alec Guinness then he did in the previous films.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for George Lucas’ script as too many times the actors were forced to try and make simplistic dialogue seem believable. Whether it is Obi-Wan’s disappointment, Padmè’s concern or Palpatine’s manipulation these dramatic moments are often let down by the complete lack of complexity and reliance on clichés like “you were the chosen one”. Another weakness in the script is that Lucas often fails to capitalise on stronger cast members like Natalie Portman since Padmè’s role in the film is extremely limited. It’s easy to pick out the faults in the script but what it does well is create an overall storyline that effectively links the rest of the prequels together with the original trilogy. It is only a shame that the other short comings detract from a storyline that offered such emotional climaxes.
Effects have always been a highlight of the Star Wars franchise and “Revenge of the Sith” is no different from the opening sequence it grabs our attention with the stunning space battle. The introduction of General Grievous gives the filmmakers another opportunity to dazzle audiences but they focus too much on the effects and failed to build any sense of the character. This is perhaps the key difference to the originals in that the effects become the centre of attention rather than a vehicle to transport the audience to the universe of the characters. In addition, the use of CGI rather than practical effects in all the prequel movies meant the films did not feel like Star Wars regardless of how awesome the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan looked onscreen.
I couldn’t talk about the prequel trilogy without discussing Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. It’s a topic that always makes me think about a quote from Clerks 2, “shity acting is ruining saga”, but perhaps this is a bit unfair on Christensen as others need to shoulder some of the blame. Casual observes might ask what was wrong with his performance and I could pick out a plethora of things from different scenes but most importantly is his whole characterisation as it fails to invoke the audiences’ sympathy. Instead of an image of Anakin as a tragic figure Christensen performance comes off as an overconfident teenager who wingers about those around him and is easily manipulated by others willing to play on his desires. This is ultimately problematic since the entire trilogy was built around creating sympathy for Darth Vader ahead of “A New Hope” especially considering at times I find myself satisfied knowing that the character gets what he deserves. Admittedly it was a hard task for Christensen and others let him down as obviously the direction was taking him down the wrong path.
In no stretch of the imagination is “Revenge of the Sith” a terrible movie as it has a solid storyline some excellent special effects and a couple of good performances to carry the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, it lacks the feel and focus on character development that we expect of a Star Wars as the originals were never reliant on the storyline to keep the audience entertained.
A large improvement on Episode 1 the second instalment in the prequel series clearly learnt from its predecessor failures. Despite the progress it is nowhere near the level of the original trilogy still has a few really obvious flaws.
The most noticeable difference between “Attack of the clones” and “The Phantom Menace” is the overall tone. Gone is the simplistic humour and attempt to target a young audience as the film has a more grown-up feel. It shows character development and dispenses with the endless procession of coincidences and stereotypes. A perfect example of this is Count Dooku played by Christopher Lee who in contrast to Darth Maul has some backstory as Yoda’s former padawan. Yet, even despite this progress Dooku lacks the screen presence of Darth Vader and has a limited role in the film.
“Attack of the Clones” makes a clear attempt to model itself on the original trilogy. An opening rush of adrenaline with the pursuit through Coruscant before a period of development and investigation leading to a final climatic battle. In addition, the film follows the format of “The Empire Strikes Back” by developing alternating plots in the love story between Padmé and Anakin while Obi-Wan is busy investigating the cloners on Kamino.
Beyond the format the film also makes an effort to engage long term fans by making references to the originals. The most obvious of which is the introduction of Jango Fett as the template for the clone armour. However, as a dedicated fan I prefer the subtler homages like Obi-Wan’s use of an asteroid or his confrontation with the assassin in a bar. These are the types of things that make diehards feel satisfied when a new film is added to a pre-existing franchise.
The major weakness of “Attack of the Clones” is the development of the love story. This side of the plot is noticeably more superficial than Obi-Wan’s investigation of the assassination attempt. In part this is due to Hayden Christensen and his petulant teenager approach to the role which detracts from his ability to command our attention like Ewan McGregor. This is not assisted by the reliance on clichéd scenes that just don’t fit in a Star Wars movie. While feeling out of place these scenes also impact pacing as the film does drag a little at times, something that was never a problem with the original trilogy.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the film is the protracted final battle and the beginning of the clone wars. At first this sees Obi – Wan, Anakin and Padmé fighting for survival against a collection of exotic predators before the arrival of the Jedi offers a false sense of hope before they are overwhelmed by the droid armies. The arrival of the clones is not unexpected and saves the remaining Jedi but as Yoda points out has played into the hands of the Sith. The real surprise comes in the form of the more personal battle between Yoda and Dooku as it challenges our preconceptions and limitations of the character much like he did in his first encounter with Luke on Dagobah in “Empire Strikes Back.”
Overall “Attack of the Clones” was definitely a move in the right direction after the disappointment of Episode 1 and did definitely increase our expectation for the final instalment.
The first of the prequels and the start of our flashback, “The Phantom Menace” is personally not a required watch when going through the saga. That Episode 1 was a colossal disappointment would be an understatement and as such I’m not going to take the time to review it in depth so this is going to be a quick fire set of impressions.
Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor: The two main characters were ultimately well cast as Liam Neeson has a well-established track record in mentor rules bringing the necessary gravitas and intensity. While McGregor is an excellent character although he doesn’t really come into his own until Episode 2 where Obi Wan’s character is more prominent but it’s a starting point.
Double sided lightsabres: A minor inclusion in the film there is a reason why they make an appearance in nearly every Star Wars game since. Simple fact two blades look better than one.
Pod Race scene: The highpoint of special effects in the film and surprisingly well scripted with clear ebbs and flows to build tension. Film editing is also important here as the cuts between different pilots, the track and the crowed give it that sense of excitement.
Final duel: Undoubtedly the only part of the climax that works as it says away from any attempt at humour. The three-way battle is possibly the best technical lightsabre duel on film as the combats exchange blows as the move amongst the different levels of the palace before the drama of the force fields makes the necessary change needed to lead to a result.
Target audience: The largest misstep in the production of the film is trying to capture a young audience. Ultimately this attempt motivated the introduction of simplistic comic relief and a lack of depth. Perhaps the most disappointing element is that this was totally unnecessary as the original trilogy has always proven to engage young people, I’m living proof.
Young Anakin: This isn’t really Jake Lloyds fault as the dialogue didn’t really do him any favours and his character was often positioned to deliver a contrived source humour. He does succeed in creating a sense of sympathy but this could easily have been enhanced by taking the slavery angle more seriously and developing some emotional baggage.
The storyline: Even after the completion of the prequel trilogy “The Phantom Menace” stands aloof from the rest of the saga. Since the storyline doesn’t develop in either of the next movies and they are necessarily separated by several years. In addition, too much of the events in episode 1 are the result of coincidence as the band have to make an emergency landing on Tatooine, where the happen to meet Anakin at Watto’s shop who just happens to have the rare parts they need. Star Wars have a get out clause in this situation as characters are guided by the Force however the original trilogy does not rely on this to cover bad script writing.
Darth Maul: In many ways the most visible villain of the film is a great example of what’s wrong with Episode 1, absolutely no development. Nearly no lines and only a handful of scenes there is no real hint at backstory, motivation or much agency. If it wasn’t for the double bladed lightsabre he would be completely forgettable.
Jar Jar Binks: do I need to say any more? The horror, the horror!!
Overall if it wasn’t a Star Wars movie perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh but it had a lot to live up to and failed completely. Hopefully it has been a lesson to J.J Adrams and Disney ahead of “The Force Awakens” so that history doesn’t repeat itself.