Ladies and gentlemen…welcome to the obligatory Star Wars column.

After weeks of constant fanboy jabbering, I’d think it somewhat insulting if I didn’t offer my own personal take on Episode III, for all to dissect with appropriate frenzy. To make things a bit more interesting, the first half of the column was written before seeing the movie, and describes my extensive preparation for the midnight showing, the Star Wars calisthenics if you will. The remainder covers the immediate response after seeing it, along with a few observations about the whole saga coming to an end. There are a few minor spoilers sprinkled in the actual review, so be wary if you haven’t partaken quite yet.

Let’s get it goin’…

Before Sith-

Man, I need to stop checking Rotten Tomatoes every two hours…

For those that haven’t run across it, Rotten Tomatoes is a really cool site that compiles dozens of movie reviews from multiple sources, and averages them together to create a general “freshness” rating. Anything over sixty percent is considered fresh, and quite obviously, the higher the number the better, and I’m happy to report that Sith has been smashing the admittedly mediocre levels of its predecessors. What is most notable though, is the intensity of said smashage, appearing to once again relegate the words “Star Wars” and “critical success” into the same sentence.

With the opening days away, the word excited ain’t cutting it, because if the critics are actually feelin’ it, there’s no telling what my reaction is gonna be. But the tickets are bought, calendar is clear, and I am fully expecting to mutate back into a 10-year-old version of myself when the opening crawl hits. One that suspects, based on the trailer I’ve seen over and again, that Anakin and Obi-Wan are gonna duel, on a lake of liquid fire, but is actively rejecting the notion, because really… that’s just wrong, isn’t it? Those dudes can’t fight, I don’t care what all these fake previews are saying.

Ignoring that, I’ve been stretching the brain into a more Star Wars ready form by watching Episodes I & II, along with those brilliant little Clone Wars shorts. Have to admit that Phantom Menace becomes progressively worse, the more I look at it, though I still believe it’s slightly better than people give it credit for, hardly the cinematic abomination everyone claims. It’s not Collateral Damage, or Van Helsing bad, but it ain’t very good. Most of the two hours is spent waiting patiently for the final duel, and between the podrace that never ends, Binks, and an almost offensive lack of dramatic tension, Episode I is a decidedly formulaic opening chapter. There are a few sparks of life sprinkled throughout, but the rest of the movie is so intent on overpowering you with its sheer blandness, they’re easy to miss.

Clones, even with its faults, at least feels somewhat important in its narrative, but then, the prospect of war is always a decent attention getter. Where Clones really overcomes its first half pacing problems is in the split narrative, where one seemingly random event is influencing another galaxies away. Appearances would suggest that the maneuvering of Palpatine and Dooku are actually most important, but we know better, that Anakin taking his first big step toward the Dark Side is the main concern. This is the only way these movies properly work, with every scene almost competing with the others for relevance, before everything crashes together. Despite some of the questionable dialogue, Attack of the Clones is a significant improvement over Menace, and hopefully Sith will shoot the mark even further. Suppose it has to though, because time is kinda up.

This is the arc everyone has been wanting to see, the transformation from whiny slave boy to know-it-all teenager to galactic despot, with enough soul to make us wish it didn’t have to happen, when we know damn well it does. It’s also going to irreversibly alter the focus of the entire story, which is a very strange prospect by itself. Only one more day until seeing how everything turns out, and the fates were kind enough to give me a new Star Wars on a New Comic Day, so that should be pretty cool. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to check the movie’s freshness rating again, think it was in the mid 80s last I looked…

After Sith-

Okay, well my most immediate response to the movie is actually the title of this article, but perhaps even more emphatic than it appears above. Maybe like in all caps, with another exclamation point there at the end. Regardless, please register me for the fanboy chorus loosing their mind over this very exceptional piece of work from Mr. Lucas. And don’t get it twisted… Revenge of the Sith is an exceptional movie, a Star Wars prequel that is finally as good as it should be.

I left the theater at nearly three in the morning very proud of George, which is quite silly, because the dude hardly needs my endorsement, but in two and a half hours, he brought it all home with style, flash, and noticeable intelligence. The emotional crux of the whole thing is well delivered and enormously relatable, giving the story the tragic slant required to garner both hate and pity for young Skywalker. Everybody knows what it is to feel fear that someone they love will die, and when the best Master Yoda can offer is a thinly veiled “get over it,” it’s no wonder Palpatine is able to turn Anakin so easily. For all his obvious faults, the Sith Lord seemed to generally care about Anakin’s concerns, even with his ulterior motive showing.

Gotta give Hayden Christensen a large bulk of the credit, because not only is he fighting a temptation from the Dark Side, but in a couple scenes, he’s also fighting Lucas’ penchant for flat dialogue, which people like to forget, reared its ugly head even during the original trilogy. Oh, things are much better here, but seeing as Hayden is the obvious focus, he gets the good, the bad, and the okay. But displaying the obvious chops he has in other roles, he manages to sell it, pushing the material to the limit, which everyone seems to be accomplishing this time around. McGregor and McDiarmid are both comfortable in their roles, and the ILM team has Yoda emoting better than some of his flesh and blood co-stars.

What firmly distances and distinguishes Sith is its visual and emotional intensity. From start to finish, there are shots and sequences that’ll burn themselves into even the most casual Star Wars fan. The initial space assault gets everything going, hitting us with the strongest opening of all six films, and man, it’s hard not to like what happens next. There are so many things going on, the lightsaber battles, all of them with a slightly different tone, whether it’s power (Windu/Sidious), speed (Anakin/Obi-Wan), or skill (Yoda/Sidious), the subtle manipulations of Anakin, and of course, the inevitable turn that follows. Being told of the systematic eradication of the Jedi is one thing, but to watch it go down is something else entirely, and surprisingly, Lucas goes for it, stretching out his new PG-13 rating to great effect.

Too much goodness to pick out a favorite bit, but naturally, I lean toward the Anakin/Obi-Wan clash. I loved that the more immersed Anakin became in the Dark Side, the more his thoughts stopped making sense, with talk of ruling the galaxy replacing his original goal of keeping his wife alive. I loved that Obi-Wan, even though he was outmatched to a certain degree, wasn’t afraid to throw down with his former student. Loved the speed of it, blue light ripping across the screen almost too fast for us to keep up with, across a volcanic backdrop. And that climax, with the two staring each other down, hate pouring off Anakin, with a shocked Obi-Wan only able to mutter an apologetic, “I have failed you, Anakin…I have failed you.” This scene more than anything bridged this trilogy with the original, and you really do believe these were two actual friends that ended up terrible enemies.

Seen it twice already, with another couple viewings very likely, and I’d have to say that as a total package, the movie was an incredible success. There are pieces that feel a bit sloppy or awkward, but the emotional hook and the images are so overpowering in their potency, that it quickly rights itself with three huge steps forward, whenever it takes one back. Gotta dig in the crates for this one, but Episode III is without question… that New Hotness.

And for anyone interested, that “freshness” rating is resting comfortably around 83%, so apparently, I’m not alone in thinking so…

Quick Notes-

Sorry about the lateness, had some family issues to sort out, but as of the next installment, posting June 6th, we’ll be going weekly again. With my first graphic novel (Fantastic Four Tales – see Amazon ad in the sidebar!) hitting the shelves next Wednesday/Thursday, think it’ll be interesting to do a few columns of running commentary about the individual issues, covering things that got edited out during the drafting process, tough scenes, and other interesting bits. Watch for that, and please feel free to give the trade a purchase next week. Promise it’ll be eight bucks well spent.

Take care, and I’ll be back soon. Thanks.