Star Wars Film Festival: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

In preparation for the release of The Rise of Skywalker, I am rewatching all of the previous Star Wars films in episode order.

Title: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Release Date: May 19, 2005
Director: George Lucas
Production Company: Lucasfilm Ltd.

As the prequel trilogy movies were being made, I imagined a perfect ending to Episode 3. Annakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is placed into his famous Darth Vader outfit, the helmet is lowered on his head, and he makes that mechanical wheeze for the first time.  And then, credits.  A scene like this actually does occur in the film but alas, it is not the final, dramatic moment.

Revenge of the Sith starts well and the first hour or so is perhaps the most entertaining and consistent filmmaking of the entire prequel trilogy.  Yeah, there are some bad moments, such as Annakin and Padme (Natalie Portman) exchanging awkward romantic dialogue, and General Grievous (Matthew Wood) is too ridiculous to be a compelling villain.  But that opening sequence where Annakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor) rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and crash land the ship is top notch.  Christensen and MacGregor have such good chemistry that I wish there was just a movie of the two of them having adventures together (yes, I know the animated Clone Wars exists).

The latter half of the movie fails to live up to its potential, because Lucas’ emphasis seems to focus on filling in a check list of things that we know are going to happen from the original trilogy. There are some good moments. I think the sequence of clone troopers turning on the Jedi is beautifully and tragically done. And I like how Bail Organa swoops in to rescue the surviving Jedi.  But the Palpatine/Annakin relationship and Annakin’s turn to the dark side feels rushed.  We’re told they have a close relationship, but have never seen it before this movie.

The worst part of this movie is the reduced role for Padme.  She’s treated merely as a prop to motivate Annakin. And then she dies in childbirth for no apparent reason.  Her line about the death of the Republic “with thunderous applause” should’ve have been part of her story of breaking with Annakin and helping to start the Rebellion.  It’s especially egregious since in Return of the Jedi, Leia says she can remember her mother.

In retrospect, the prequel trilogy could’ve been improved by discarding The Phantom Menace and splitting the same general storyline of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith into three movies. Developing Annakin’s relationships with Padme, Obi-Wan, and Palpatine could’ve been spread over all of the films.  And yet each individual film could’ve been shorter than the bloated, nearly 7 hour run time we got.

Revenge of the Sith may be the best of the prequel movies, and it was the only one I saw multiple times in the movie theater.  But the entire prequel trilogy seems to a galaxy away from the imagination, humor, drama, and thoughtfulness of the movies that preceded and followed.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: Rashomon (1950)

Title: Rashomon
Release Date: August 25, 1950
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Production Company:

Set in medieval Japan at the Rajōmon gate entering Kyoto, this is a thoroughly modern and groundbreaking film.  It’s also one of the first Japanese movies to receive worldwide attention. Japanese critics at the time considered the film to be overly “Western” in style, but I think it’s safe to say that Rashomon was unlike any film – Western or Japanese – previously made.

A woodcutter ( Takashi Shimura) and a priest (Minoru Chiaki) take shelter in the ruins of the gate from a torrential downpour. I don’t now how to describe it, but they’re something fantastic about the way the rain is filmed and the atmosphere it evokes. When a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda) joins them at the gate, the woodcutter and priest relate the disturbing story of a samurai (Masayuki Mori) murdered by the bandit, Tajōmaru (Toshiro Mifune), who also raped his wife (Machiko Kyō) in nearby woods.

In flashbacks, the bandit, the wife, the samurai (who’s story is told through a medium), and the woodcutter each tell the story from their own perspective.  Each story also contains attempts at self-aggrandizement and outright lies.  Thus the factual truth of what actually happened is impossible to determine.

A large portion of this film takes place in a forest. I’ve never been to Japan, but in pictures and films, I find that Japanese forests resemble New England forests.  Hollywood films typical film in California forests which look very different from New England, so Rashomon oddly feels like “home” to me. More importantly, the forest – much like the rain at the gate – contributes to the atmosphere of the film, particularly the effect of dabbled sunlight .  Cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa is pretty much the innovator of pointing the camera up toward the sun in the sky through the tree branches.

This is a spectacular film and should definitely be on any film buffs list.

Rating: ****1/2