Written & Directed by George Lucas
Starring Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson
My Advice: To hell with it.
War! Huh. Good God, y’all. That’s right, it’s war. General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood), a supposedly fiendish badass villain who’s really just a level boss from Doom in need of an inhaler, and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) have kidnapped Senator Palpatine (McDiarmid). Obi-Wan and Anakin (McGregor and Christensen), those whacky fun-loving Jedis, have hauled ass to go and save him. But little do they know that this is all part of Palpatine’s fiendish plot, which is finally going to come to fruition thanks to the stupidity of the Jedis, the selfish brat-nature of Anakin, and his and Padme’s (Portman) desire to play house.
Wow. Wow. This was really, really bad. And let’s leave aside for the moment how this sullies the original trilogy–because it does. Let’s just concentrate on what we have here. Acting-wise, I’ve pretty much decided to give everyone a pass here, because let’s face it: they didn’t know what they were signing onto. They, like all of us, thought the prequel trilogy would rock ass. So I can’t blame anybody in the cast. McGregor’s about the best thing going, despite his brand new accent for the film, because I figure he’s just about given up and decided to roll with it. Portman and Christensen are still terrible, but that’s because they’re younger actors who need direction. See any other movie outside of the franchise with them in it and you’ll see: with a real director at the helm, they can do wonders. But for this, you could have picked two random high school age actors from anywhere in the country and probably would have been better off. Jackson seems kind of bored, but considering how stupid a character he’s given to play, I don’t necessarily blame him. And McDiarmid isn’t bad either, he’s just, again, this side of moustache-twirling. The rest of the bit parts are just that: bit parts.
And here’s the really killer thing: the film doesn’t make sense. Jedi powers, we learn, only work when it’s convenient for the plot to do so. Example: Kenobi is on a spaceship and can sense Dooku’s presence, but not a single Jedi can sense anything about the betrayals that are coming? Even though this conspiracy has been twelve years (three movies) in the making? I’m not surprised: they can’t even use their powers to knock away things like “buzz droids” attacking their fighter ships. Actually a lot of things happen when it’s convenient for the plot: fire ships can sense that the folks piloting Grievous’ ship are good guys now, so everything’s fine.
And to make matters worse, the film is just plain silly. Apart from the Frankenstein-ripoff towards the end and Yoda trying to talk like a badass in his broken syntax (“On we will bring it” or something), there’s goofy chipmunk-sounding droids, Wookies with their Tarzan-ripoff yells, and Lucas‘ utter inability to have anything like tension. For one thing, don’t make a big deal about a character in jeopardy who’s in the episode after this one. It’s not like we don’t already know they’re going to survive. But even when you do manage to get some good blood pumping, it’s deflated. The Wookies’ hauling ass to fight is met with droids chirping “Charge!” A light saber duel among some magma (it’s in the trailer, not a spoiler) is interrupted by a droid flying into frame randomly.
Now let’s talk where this film fits into the series. Because films like this are different in that they stand alone, yes, but they also are a piece of a larger puzzle. The ultimate reasons why the original trilogy happens at all are so ludicrious and pointless that what this film really accomplishes is it gives us insight into these characters that lessens their effectiveness in the later episodes. And the fact that (again, no spoiler here, this is common knowledge), it’s obvious that Anakin is Vader completely negates the coolest cinematic reveal that most of us ever experienced: “I am your father, Luke.” Now, if you watch the series in order, you find that out up front. So your grandkids aren’t going to understand what all the fuss was about. And all of this, all of it, could have been avoided if somebody had just performed some major surgery on Lucas’ work. I’m not talking about Tom Stoppard working dialogue, I mean the thing needed a complete overhaul.
I know the faithful aren’t going to believe this, but I went into this movie expecting the same thing I expect from every movie: that it be good. And it wasn’t. I was as fair as I ever am to films, though that won’t save me from the inevitable hate mail. I actually didn’t give terrible ratings to the first two films, but yet I got lamblasted because I didn’t declare them the second coming. But this isn’t even close. It moves like a tragedy and thanks to John Williams it even sounds like a tragedy, but it’s too lightweight (and its chief character is too much of a whiny bitch) to be taken seriously and give it that tragic heft. This film deserved a better director and writer than Lucas.
If you’re somebody who loved the series and thinks a franchise is best served by its fans by ignoring the bad, then…well, you’ve already seen this and nothing I can say will affect your good time. In fact, I’m glad you had a good time. More power to you. Just please, please, please, don’t fall for the line about this being the end: it’s the 3-D versions, a couple DVD sets, maybe Indy 4 and then Episode VII. My prediction: announcement within five years.