Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why "Revenge of the Sith" is the Worst Star Wars Prequel and Film

The picture that sums up the film.
On the internet, one reads a lot of dumb opinions. Among these are the arguments that "Revenge of the Sith isn't that bad", that "Revenge of the Sith is the best of the Star Wars prequel films" and, above all, that "Revenge of the Sith is better than Return of the Jedi." Good grief. Needless to say, I heartily disagree. In my opinion, not only is Revenge of the Sith the worst Prequel and the worst Star Wars movie overall, it's probably one of the worst films of its type ever made, full of empty, meaningless spectacle and flat, clumsy writing. Maybe it's harsh on George Lucas to say that, but he's rich and important, so he'll live.

Fire turns you into a middle-aged Englishman with bushy eyebrows.
When I was in my mid teens back in 2005 I remember being pretty psyched for Revenge of the Sith, although I believe increasing frustration with the prequels had led to the film not garnering the attention and exposure that the previous ones had. I remember being intrigued by the trailer: we were going to see Palpatine revealed as a user of the Dark Side of the Force, there'd be an awesome battle with Count Dooku and there'd be doom and gloom galore as the world of the Prequels fell apart. Furthermore, I'm fairly sure I guessed the title in advance: it's the logical choice to parallel Return of the Jedi. Imagine my reaction then, when I went to see the film, having at least taken some good away from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and being flabbergasted by how awful Revenge of the Sith was.

Why is Revenge of the Sith so bad?
Got some ham stuck in his teeth.
Most of what I could say to criticise Revenge of the Sith has more or less been expressed before, but it's worth summing up. The most common criticism of the film is the dialogue. None of the characters talk like real people, and their mouths are full of nothing but unsubtle, in-your-face efforts to express simplistic emotions or pointless exposition about war and politics that means little and goes nowhere. Tied to this is the characterisation, with Anakin Skywalker in this film coming across as a naïve idiot who swallows every single obvious lie that Palpatine feeds to him. Nowhere do you see the grim cynicism of Vader emerging; he's simply duped into agreeing with Palpatine's feeble and paper-thin suggestions that the Jedi are trying to take over the Republic and are a force for ill rather than good. You could potentially argue that there is a political subtext here about politicians and how useful gullible conspiracy theorists are to their cause, but it doesn't work in this film because as I've said it reflects none of Vader's cynicism of the Original Trilogy - which is not to say that Vader isn't also at times a rather sinister idealist, but he's a complex character in those films.
"Now if you'll excuse me, to wrap up recording
I have to make a quick collect call to Skywalker Ranch."
A lot has been made of the weakness of Christensen's performance as Anakin here, although that's obviously tied to the clumsy dialogue. Given that Lucas has admitted that dialogue was a weakness of his, I don't understand why he didn't seek collaborators on these films. In any event, the performances aren't memorable from anyone. Ewan McGregor is obviously phoning it in as Obi-Wan, and he could scarcely come across as more uninterested in the motions of CGI action and exposition-laden dialogue that he goes through, although that's completely understandable. Ian McDiarmid completely hams it up as Palpatine, but again a large amount of this is due to the flawed dialogue. Palpatine goes from being a reasonably believable manipulator in the other two Prequels to being someone completely, obviously evil in this who makes no attempt whatsoever to disguise his malevolence from those around him, making his subjugation of Anakin very difficult to believe and dependent on Anakin being a complete moron. What this film needed to do, I would argue, is not make Anakin into such an overtly furious character who is drawn to the Dark Side through what largely amounts to anxiety, but rather to realise him as an embittered, power-hungry cynic who sees service to Palpatine as a vehicle for his own ambition. This only emerges as a single piece of throwaway dialogue in the film when he suggests to Padmé, as he does to Luke, that the Emperor may be overthrown. The transformation is unsatisfying and at no point do we see Anakin metamorphose from a fundamentally good Jedi and friend of Obi-Wan to becoming the character we see in Star Wars of 1977.

Those are more or less common complaints. I have two others, however. The first of these is the relentlessness of the CGI. Revenge of the Sith is an entirely fake-looking assault on the senses from the opening battle above Coruscant to the final duel on Mustafar. The film is so visually noisy, full of overly crisp-looking computer generated ships, environs, soldiers and creatures that it looks more like a sequence of mid-2000s video game cutscenes strung together than a film, and visually would probably have worked more effectively as pure animation rather than what I believe was an almost entirely green screen based production with almost no sets whatsoever. The action, which primarily involves incoherent laser blasting battles and shots of Jedi bashing away endlessly at each other's lightsabers, is so excessive and fake that it is not remotely exciting or suspenseful; rather it is boring and weightless with no sense of reality. This is particularly bad in this film compared to the other Prequels, where almost every surface and texture in the film is a bright, hyper-realistically crisp computer generated polygon that simply does not look real. As such it's unconvincing and mind-numbing: at no point can I believe, even compared to the other Prequels, that these are things that are meant on some level to be actually happening, and they make the chasm between the Prequels and the Originals even more pronounced. Simply put, almost nothing in the film looks real, and this is a serious problem. Some people have more of a tolerance or less of an eye for CGI, but I can certainly detect it here and it really affects the experience for me.

"Another crappy landing!"
My second complaint is the character of General Grievous. This awful secondary antagonist, who is pulled out of nowhere, obviously exists only to sell action figures as the "cool cyborg with four lightsabers". Not only does Obi-Wan spend ages chasing him on a big lizard that goes "whoop whoop" but there's simply nothing to him as a villain. He's just some guy. As has been stated countless times before, Darth Maul should obviously have been the secondary antagonist for all three films, or failing that Dooku should have fulfilled the role in this one. Instead of the class of Christopher Lee, in this film we get a CGI cyborg who only exists as a crude foreshadowing of Vader with his robotic limbs and raspy cough. Otherwise he serves no purpose beyond getting Obi-Wan away from Anakin for a bit. Furthermore, think about how stupid his role in the opening sequence is. If you consider the situation, with the captured Chancellor on board, you have all three leaders of the Separatist movement in the heart of battle where they're incredibly vulnerable rather than coordinating things behind the lines: you have Grievous, the military leader, Dooku, the political leader, and Sidious, the true leader behind the scenes, all in the one place. If anything goes wrong, the entire plan goes up in smoke immediately. The Separatist Council are just a bunch of businessmen and trade unionists; they can hardly be expected to lead the war if the others are captured or killed.

Is that Tarkin, or Odo from Deep Space Nine?
There are other things as well that are more on the "don't really seem to follow from the Originals" front but are worth dwelling on. For instance, I really don't think Palpatine needed to fight anyone with a lightsaber. Note that in Return of the Jedi he refers to Luke's lightsaber as "your Jedi weapon" as if such things mean little to him. Within the context of the Originals, it's perfectly easy to explain that the reason Vader wields a lightsaber is because he's a former Jedi and not because all Force users, light or dark, wield such weapons. Palpatine also doesn't need to get his face all messed up. Couldn't it have just been explained as old age and the wear and tear of the corruptive Dark Side? As has been said elsewhere, Order 66 makes the Jedi, who previously have been shown in the Prequels as amazingly resilient, look hopelessly incompetent. Beyond the straightforward massacre at the Temple, there's no sense of what Obi-Wan describes in Star Wars as Vader hunting down the Jedi, although I guess you could argue that that happened afterwards.

This is how I felt.
I should also point out that it has the worst opening crawl in the franchise's history, at least as far as the first paragraph is concerned: "War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere." If you can't see the sheer awfulness of the opening exclamation and those two unbelievably juvenile closing sentences then I don't know what to tell you.

How is it Not Better than Return of the Jedi?
By piloting Anakin's ship, is R2-D2
somewhat complicit in his crimes?
I shouldn't have to even dignify this with a response because of what an utterly absurd proposition it is to argue that Revenge is better than Return. By any standard, Return of the Jedi is a better film. The acting is better. See the confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor on the second Death Star for an example of character drama done reasonably well, by Hollywood sci fi action standards. The action is better: the lightsaber duel and the Battle of Endor are both composed in a way that is coherent, rather than just a nonsensical mess. Return of the Jedi also succeeds by actually having a plot, which Revenge of the Sith doesn't, even if it's derivative of Star Wars (1977). In Revenge of the Sith a bunch of shit just happens in order to get the pieces in place for the Original Trilogy. Return of the Jedi ends on a meaningful note with the image of Anakin's redemption, unlike the utterly meaningless shot of the unambitious Uncle Owen posing like Luke at the end of Revenge of the Sith, even though Owen is completely unimportant - it could have at least been Obi-Wan. The effects are also better. Observe the creature feature of Jabba's palace for enjoyable, practical effects, compared to the mind-rotting CGI of Revenge at every turn, especially Obi-Wan's lizard thing and the inhabitants of that planet. A shortcoming of both films is that many characters have nothing to do, like Leia and Han in Return and Padmé and arguably Obi-Wan in Revenge (these characters no longer develop in any significant way except for Obi-Wan realising, in the context of the Prequels, what an abysmal failure he's been as Anakin's master) but I can't mark Return of the Jedi down for any greater reason than I would mark down Revenge. Return of the Jedi is also criticised for the use of the Ewoks, and while the Ewoks are overused and implausible, at least the sequences involving them utilise actors in locations doing real stunts, not just CGI nonsense like the battle on Kashyyyk with a token effort to have Peter Mayhew in the background as Chewie. In any event, I would argue that Return of the Jedi is a stratospherically better film than Revenge of the Sith, and I would struggle to understand the mind that could position Revenge of the Sith's categorical awfulness over the many good qualities of Return.

"Strong relations with the Wookiees have I.
...but not that strong."
How is it Worse than the other Prequels?
Firstly, the obsessive use of CGI is a big one, but I've hammered that home more than enough. I think in some respects the acting and writing gets worse in this one, largely because of McDiarmid hamming it up and McGregor phoning it in in Revenge to a greater extent compared to the others. Revenge of the Sith also has the worst secondary antagonist of all three, as General Grievous is a stupid character with neither the presence and mystique of Darth Maul or the Christopher Lee-derived class of Count Dooku. I would argue that the action in this one is more incoherent and unbelievable. Furthermore, the score for Revenge does not include a single memorable new track that I can recall. The Phantom Menace at least had Duel of the Fates and Attack of the Clones had Across the Stars. While Jar Jar is annoying in The Phantom Menace he never really bothered me that much, and I find that his qualities are drastically outweighed by the utterly leaden dialogue and delivery of much of Revenge, especially in the case of Anakin. Padmé has less to do, pregnant or not, and even R2-D2 and C-3PO deliver less in this one, especially due to R2's investiture with even more absurd gadgets that never appeared in the Original Trilogy. All in all, though, it comes back to that "assault on the senses" factor. To a greater extent than the other two, Revenge of the Sith is a hollow, empty piece of bombast with no drama or interest. It's crap, and I want to propose its rightful place as the utter nadir of the Star Wars film franchise. Even while I'm a bit iffy about The Force Awakens in some respects, it's a far better film than this, and as a deeply flawed film which lacks a lot of the charm of the Originals, that's saying something.

"Strike me down, and you will become more
powerful than I can possibly imagine...?"
So there you have it: Revenge of the Sith sucks balls, and it's the worst Star Wars film. Everything about it is bad; I can't really think of anything from it that I like except maybe that it's cool to see Vader and hear James Earl Jones again, even if the dialogue he has to deliver is eye-rollingly inept. Oh, and Grievous' droid bodyguards are kind of memorable. Other than that, I would argue that this is one of those "so bad it's bad" films with virtually zero serious redeeming qualities, and even by the abysmal standards of what passed for "good" sci fi action cinema in the 2000s this is a miserable experience. More like Revenge of the Shit, amirite?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.