The rather inexplicable acclaim Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith has been receiving from fans and critics may well be definitive proof that there is such a thing as a Jedi Mind Trick. People seem to be responding to this film not because of any actual cinematic merit, but instead simply because it’s finally arrived in theaters. Since Star Wars mogul George Lucas first announced this second trilogy back in the mid-1990s, fans have been impatiently waiting to see how Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader. Revenge of the Sith at last delivers on the goods. Indeed, the film's final 30 minutes or so – Anakin’s climactic lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi and his subsequent encasement inside that familiar black helmet – are fairly compelling. But it’s compelling not because of anything Lucas has done in this prequel trilogy, full as it is with digital sound and CGI fury signifying nothing. Any emotion one may experience in Revenge of the Sith will likely be the result of deep-seated affinity and connection with the original trilogy (i.e. you care how this one ends only because you already care so much how the next one – 1977’s Star Wars – begins).
The big problem with Revenge of the Sith, as has been stated repeatedly by others, is that Lucas may be an unparalleled visualist and mythmaker, but a director of actors and writer of dialogue he is not. The dialogue and acting in Revenge of the Sith is so wooden and creaky that it’s impossible to muster any involvement in Anakin’s plight. Hayden Christensen may be a decent actor, but here he relies on the same glowering facial expression over and over, delivering his lines in a clench-jawed monotone. He’s such a creepy, humorless guy that it seems unlikely Obi-Wan, Yoda, or the rest of the Jedi Superfriends would ever have trusted him for a moment.
And that leads us to the film’s most egregious sin: failing to sell Anakin and Padme’s romance. Though Chancellor Palpatine (a scenery-chewing Ian McDiarmid) is manipulating Anakin on a number of fronts, it's really Anakin’s love of Padme that sends him to the Dark Side. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in this film - or in 2002’s Attack of the Clones for that matter - that suggests a genuine connection between those two characters. They repeatedly say they love each other, so maybe we’ll just have to take them at their word. One wonders how more interesting the prequel trilogy had been if they’d begun with Hayden in the title role and allowed his fall to span all three films, exploring in detail what would seem to be a complicated process rather than waiting to shoehorn it all into final hour of the third film.
Three more problems with the prequel trilogy in general and Revenge of the Sith in particular are worth mentioning.
1. Lucas’ continued obsession with cramming every frame with as much CGI wizardry as possible. It’s all just visual noise, confusing in its complexity and busyness (the visuals here makes the original three films, which follow the prequels in the Star Wars timeline, seem deserted and empty by comparison).
2. A strange determination to introduce seemingly powerful new villain characters and then kill them off right away. No time is given the audience to get to know these characters. Just as you’re starting to really feel some unease and malevolence, the villain’s gone – pffft. Not only is the exit sudden, it's also rather easy, especially when compared to the resilient Darth Vader of the original trilogy who seemed unstoppable. Here, though, the fearsome bad guys turn out to be about as formidable as paper targets at a rifle range. For evidence, see Phantom Menace (Darth Maul), Attack of the Clones (Jango Fett), and Revenge of the Sith (General Grevious and Count Dooku).
3. The abject lack of humor. The prequel trilogy could have sorely used some Princess Leia-Han Solo sarcasm. Everyone's so grim, everything's so serious. Lighten up!
Yes yes, there are some truly rousing moments in Revenge of the Sith (e.g. Obi-Wan’s finally revealed to be the Jedi bad-ass we all hoped he was, Uncle Owen holds baby Luke in a genuinely poignant moment, and the Jedi are cut down in chillingly orchestrated massacre), but all in all there is a bitter sense here of disappointment and missed opportunities. The original three films deserved far better than the three new films. So did faithful audiences (particularly those 30-somethings who grew up with Star Wars) who have lined Lucas’ pockets with more money than even Han Solo could imagine.