OK, it seems the everyone is a movie critic this week. If you ever doubt that most bloggers are geeks at heart, just look at all the Star Wars III coverage in blogs this week. Anyway, not to be outdone, here is my review. I will give a general review up front, with more thoughts that include spoilers in the extended post.
Overall, the movie was visually stunning, with lots of eye candy. The last third of the movie was emotionally engaging, though many of the actors' performances were sub-par. The movie was better than the last two (duh) and tied the story arc together fairly well.
However, my impressions of the movie really differed front to back, so for review purposes I divide the movie into three parts:
- Initial action / rescue sequence C+: The effects are nice, but the mission itself doesn't make a lot of sense, at least from Palpatine's eyes, who clearly must have orchestrated it. Movie-wise, it has two purposes. First, it is supposed to be the last gasp of the Obi-Wan and Anakin ongoing buddy movie, but the dialog for this sucks. They should have hired someone from the Lethal Weapon movies to do this right. Second, and perhaps the most effective part, it really sets up a scene in Return of the Jedi, making more meaningful a contrast between Luke and Anakin. Without this one sub-scene, this section of the movie would have just been an overly long action intro into the movie, kind of like the warm-up band to get everyone excited or the first 5 minutes before the credits in a James Bond movie.
- Dialog / exposition / Anakin turns D: Some people seem to like this section. I found it PAINFUL. The Anakin/Padme romance is never, ever very realistic. I don't know if it is the acting or the script or just lack of spark between the actors, but I thought there was more sexual tension between Luke and his sister, for god sakes, than Anakin and Padme. I will say the fear that drives Anakin to the dark side is a fairly good one. It was set up well in the previous movies. However, the execution sucked. Under the right direction, this could have been really powerful, given the dark irony at the end of the movie of what was really behind this fear. The final conversion seems to happen way too fast - he goes from "wait this is wrong" to "You are my master" in like 30 seconds.
- Destruction of the Jedi / Putting everyone in place for Episode IV B+: There is nothing wrong with Lucas's ability to direct epic action and special effects and to use music and editing to build tension and emotion. I thought it was well done. The final fight scene takes place in amazing environment. They do a good, but not perfect job, of establishing continuity with Episode IV. Once everyone shuts up, the movie gets good. Hayden Christianson really looks the part of dark Jedi at the end
Overall, I will give it a B but non-Star Wars fans would probably grade it lower. My episode ranking now is V - IV - [III or VI] - II - I. I will have to see it again and give it a bit of time to put it ahead or behind VI, but right now I have it ahead because its emotional impact walking out of it the first time was much higher than that of VI.
Here are some more specific thoughts that include spoilers:
- I am sure their are many folks in the geekosphere who will come up with long lists of continuity problems. They brute force solved the C3PO memory problem, and did a decent job backing up that obi-wan line about "if you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine". Luke and Leia ended up where they should be. However, they did not deal with the fact that Obi-Wan does not recognize C3PO or R2D2 in Episode IV. Also, there is no way that Leia should be able to have memories of her mother in Episode VI. Its not a real continuity issue, but given the events of episodes I-III, it seems like a really poor idea to "hide" Luke with Anakin's family with the name Skywalker. This makes a little more sense if Anakin knows Padme had at least one baby, which he seems to know in Episode V but it is unclear if he knows at the end of this episode. Anyway, most of the threads are tied up close enough for most people
- Does it really make sense that Palpatine would orchestrate a kidnapping of himself (for that is clearly what he did) and rescue when the margin for his own escape was so thin? Maybe he had a different plan, but barely surviving a crash landing on the planet seems kind of a thin margin to me. And why did he orchestrate the kidnapping, except maybe to force the Anakin-Dooku confrontation. And why, once kidnapped, did they remain in near orbit to let themselves get pounded?
- The Anakin-Dooku confrontation, in front of Palpatine, where he tells Anakin to kill him and take his place is nicely done, and lends more weight to the later parallel scene where Luke refuses to do what Anakin did.
- I cry at the lost opportunity to do more with the dark irony of Anakin joining the dark side to save Padme, only to find that Padme's death he foresaw was due to his joining the dark side (not to mention his choking her). This is classic fodder for a good tragedy, but I think the direction of it was fumbled.
- Padme's acting was awful. I cringed whenever she spoke. Her best scene was in the end as a corpse. I know that Natalie Portman (and all the other actors here) have done good work elsewhere, so I blame Lucas.
Basball Crank has a more positive review, and more thoughts on continuity.