Stars: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee
This is the third entry in my Star Wars I-VII Runthrough, which aims to look at the entire series of feature films with three things in mind: quality, progression and the fan theory of Jar Jar Binks as ultimate villain. Hello, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith!
Three years after Attack of the Clones, the Galactic Republic is in turmoil. The Separatists are winning the Clone Wars and the Jedi are spread thin across the galaxy. However, even after major breakthroughs, they become concerned that the Supreme Chancellor is unwilling to rescind the emergency powers previously granted to him by the Galactic Senate to fight this threat to the Republic.
The primary players are Palpatine, Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Senate, who is finally confirmed as Darth Sidious; Anakin Skywalker, who is spun well enough to become his Sith apprentice, Darth Vader; Obi-Wan Kenobi, his former master in the Jedi order; Amidala, Anakin's secret wife who is pregnant; Count Dooku, the leader of the Separatist movement; General Grievous, the droid who takes over after his death; and Yoda and Mace Windu, two prominent masters on the Jedi council. Characters from the previous two films reappear, especially C-3PO and R2-D2, but also many others who often appear only in cameos that are easily missed. Chewbacca is introduced for the first time.
As with the previous two entries in the prequel trilogy, my memory proved faulty when it came to this transition film. On the one time I saw this, soon after release, I was highly disappointed with it, finding little of substance but what felt like a last minute attempt to segue into Episode IV and the original trilogy. I found very little of that on a fresh viewing.
This is certainly a flawed picture, but not for the reasons I remembered. Mostly, it's because this is really three films in one and they don't entirely play well with each other.
The first half hour is the next episode in the saga we've been following within the prequel trilogy, with General Grievous succeeding Count Dooku as the villain du jour. It's a fast and action-packed ride from the very outset, beginning with a wild chase within a stunning space battle. This is eye candy better than anything the second movie ever served up and it doesn't detract or distract from anything. It feels like George Lucas ratcheted everything up at least another few notches and it feels good.
Of course, with a focus on character over the minutiae of plot, the actors ought to be able to shine.
Ewan McGregor improves yet again, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi with the quality of Episode II but with more confidence and a little more Alec Guinness again. He makes a few scenes reminiscent of the old master with clever intonation and mannerisms. However, he's overshadowed completely, because he gets less of the solo adventures of the previous film.
Hayden Christensen is much more controlled, broody rather than pissy. There are points where the pissiness comes out, such as when Mace Windu accepts him onto the Jedi council without granting him the rank of master, but mostly he’s broody and, eventually, believably powerful. It may not be the performance that it needed to be but it’s far better than it ever promised to be on the basis of the previous film.
Both Samuel L Jackson and the voice of Frank Oz get more and better material here than previously, but everything comes back to Ian McDiarmid. He grows Palpatine steadily throughout the prequel trilogy to dominate here in a real peach of a role, manipulating Anakin with panache. The thunderous 'I am the Senate!' may be his best delivered line but there are plenty to choose from before he goes overboard towards the end.
The script for Episode II took care of many of the transition elements needed for the prequel trilogy and Episode III does little more. Some subplots or details are ignored completely, to focus almost entirely on the transition of Anakin Skywalker, Jedi padawan, to Darth Vader, Sith lord. That's handled well indeed and far better than I remembered.
Count Dooku sows early seeds and his final moments are a major step for Anakin. Chancellor Palpatine's push for him to be his personal representative on the Jedi council sticks him into a middle ground between sides, where he's inevitably focused on which to choose. The story about Darth Tragus is well told, as it contains hints of truth rather than facts. Anakin turns much earlier than I remembered and the famous scene with the Jedi younglings makes a lot more sense. It serves well to cement the transition, especially when played with reluctance that turns into acceptance.
The final scenes are all progression and focus on beginnings, even during the end of a trilogy. They start with the birth of Amidala's twins. I have no idea why both were named on screen, because that spoils a plot twist I know is coming, having seen the original trilogy first. It's good to see the nascent Death Star hanging in the sky. And, of course, there's the birth of Darth Vader in a ominous scene very reminiscent of Frankenstein.
Jar Jar Binks
After prominent shenanigans in the first film and more focused and massively important scenes in the second, Jar Jar is kept very distant in this third one.
Unless I blinked and missed something, I caught him twice in scenes where he appears only as part of a crowd. One is early on, when Obi-Wan and Anakin arrive back at the Senate with the rescued Chancellor. Unlike earlier movies, where he would have leapt up to welcome Anny, he simply remains in the background, though he tellingly walks into the Senate right behind the Chancellor. The other is towards the end, when he attends the funeral of Amidala, presumably back on Naboo, and follows her casket in procession.
So, after three films, I have to say that I can't find fault in this theory. It stands up to concentrated analysis and only the sequel trilogy will tell us whether it's true or not. I'll find out if he shows back up in Episode VII on Saturday. Of course, even if he doesn't, it's still possible that he was intended to follow this path but Lucas backtracked after the near-universal criticism of any viewer of The Phantom Menace over the age of five.
At the very least, this theory has made me reevaluate a hated character and see him in a completely new light. I know which side I'll be on now when it comes to geek debate. Time to set up a convention panel, methinks!