EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
This one I was waiting eagerly for. Watched the trailers on YouTube. Talked about its potential with friends. Bought tickets ahead of time for opening night for me and my date (yes, date).
I honestly figured that, with as many separate plot lines and situations that Lucas HAD to resolve, I'd be happy with "good enough". The trailers I saw looked good - not a lot of info, but enough to whet the appetite, and I was honestly looking forward to it.
Things I liked:
1) Space battle opener. This was a feast for the eyes, and a true testament to space opera everywhere. Just imagine what someone could do with the Lensman series!
2) The bubble-opera scene. Maybe George had a weird day. Maybe Hayden and Ian took their "work past the director" pills that morning. Whatever happened, this scene, where Palpatine subtly begins to reel Anakin in, is very well done, in my opinion.
3) The effects. Yes, I know that calling out the FX in a Star Wars movie seems silly, but really, I'm not kidding. There are things going on that are simply amazing, and 90% of them aren't really there (at least in scale - there was a lot more model work in the prequels than is commonly understood).
4) The finish line. He did it. He managed to wrap up all of the main, and most of the secondary, plot lines he had created heretofore, in a relatively coherent and entertaining package. That couldn't have been easy.
5) Rebel Blockade Runner in the house! Woo hoo! One of the best-loved, most-desired, and least-served spaceship designs in all of the Star Wars modeling community, and there it is up on the big screen again in all its 11-engined glory.
Things I liked less:
1) Part of the opening crawl:
"War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere."
"There are heroes on both sides." Really? Well, maybe, except that the Republic's heroes have names like "Skywalker" and "Ki-adi Mundi" and "Commander Cody", and the guys flying the separatists' banners all have speeder licenses issued to "Darth Tyrannous", "General Grievous", and "Major BabyCrusher". No doubt there was a Corporal "Atilla von Cribdeath" waiting for his turn at the Separatist hero machine. (Thanks to the late author Brain Daley for that last name.)
"Heroes on both sides" reeks of moral relativism. Moral relativism perturbs me.
2) Ensmallening of the Star Wars universe. It's not bad enough that Darth Vader built C-3PO? Now Yoda has to be best buddies with Chewbacca? Yuck. Next you'll tell me that the Emperor's face wasn't ruined slowly by years of messing with Black Magic, i.e. the Dark Side of the Force, which would be consistent with the morals of all those classic fairy tales that George Lucas professes to want to emulate; but instead that it was melted by 20 seconds of force lightning as part of one fight. But he would never do that.
3) Palpatine's lightsaber. Phantom Menace's Darth Maul showed us the double saber-staff, Attack of the Clones' Count Dooku wielded a one-handed "fencer saber" - so clearly one of the differences between the Sith and the Jedi (blue or green single-blades, anyone? Everyone?) is that the Sith are much less conservative as regards their weapons and fighting styles. Giving in more to their passions, their individuality comes through in their weapons. Intentional or not, I like it. It fits.
The Palpatine/Sidious character was built up as clearly more of a thinker than a fighter, a talker and a persuader and a liar rather than an ass-beater. Palpatine is overall a wielder of raw dark side power, not physical tools. This power seemed to mainly manifest as an overall cloud of foreboding and confusion pervading all of the Jedi (all across the galaxy!), and in that context, the complete eschewing of traditional fighting styles and weapons would have been perfectly in character.
When confronting first Mace Windu and then Yoda, it would have been far more interesting and proper, I think, to have the Emperor's sole weapon be his force lightning - for close-in work show him focusing it into an energy blade of sorts and let him duel with saber-wielders, even. It would help avoid the repetitiveness of the lightsaber fights in the 3rd act of the movie, would have looked better (sorry Ian and Sam Jackson - you're just not the kind of movie swordsmen that MacGregor and Christensen are), and would have been more appropriate, I think. Plus, I could believe him force-blasting 3 bad-ass Jedi swordsmen in 5 seconds as opposed to cutting them down with a blade like they'd never even seen a saber before.
4) Space and time. This deserves a longer post - I think I'll break it out into its own in a bit, but suffice it to say that, for heroic drama to work, there needs to be tension - a chance for failure of a choice. For that possibility of failure to be made real, there has to be a challenge of some sort - usually overwhelming odds or a ticking clock, and sometimes both. Another way to achieve or increase tension is inflicting sense of isolation on the character, in time or in space or in both. In the prequels especially, there is no such isolation - you want to go from the heart of the galactic capitol to the edges of civilization, you can be there before the next commercial. Yawn. And a bit jarring for space opera.
Warning: EXTREME NICHE GEEKERY AHEAD.
5) Rebel Blockade Runner in the house, but they based the CG model on the stupid and inaccurate West End Games line drawings instead of the original studio model. Which us geeks have been drooling over since the summer of 1977. Dickmove, George. But a special "geek you" to the CGI artists/modelers who made sure they included a couple Panther tank rear decks in around the docking bay. Nice touch, there.
EXTREME NICHE GEEKERY OVER.
6) To steal a line from the Rifftrax, "What? From Jedi Knight to child murderer without even a stop at kiting checks?" Let's face it - moving the story along at the speed of a charging rhino means we're going to be feeling a little rushed, but really.
Once again I am hard-pressed to claim to spot anything that is different in the BluRay version. It's pretty and it sounds great, and the special features are nice. After 3 prequels, it's still hard to believe they never had to make a suit of Clone Trooper armor - they were, each and every pixel-jack of them, CGI creations.
I like it. Sure, I have criticisms and sure I think it could've been better/different/more like what I wanted, but really, there's 3 more movies of material in there at minimum to do it "right". Heck, the Clone Wars series (which is totally awesome, by the way and should be seen if you haven't yet) showed that you could do 6 seasons of stories and still not be technically done.
When you're done with The Clone Wars you can totally buy the fact that Anakin Skywalker could flip burgers for the Dark Side. No problem. And you'll care. After an hour of this movie? Mmmmm, not so much, in my opinion. And since it's the whole point of the storyline, it's a big problem. It's not enough to kill the whole movie for me - the Ben/Anakin duel, the other things I mentioned in the list of likes above, and the fact that Lucas managed to tie it up at all carry a a lot of weight with me - but I understand that it does ruin the movie for a lot of people.
Placement in my list? Solid 3rd. Better than Attack of the Clones but not my Top Two, neither of which will surprise anyone, I'm sure.
My rating of its place in the pack, best-to-worst:
1 - XXXX
2 - XXXX
3 - Revenge of the Sith
4 - Attack of the Clones
5 - The Phantom Menace
6 - XXXX
Next up, for the non-geeks: A New Hope (i.e. Ep IV i.e. Star Wars.)