- The visuals were impressive.
Mordor, erm, the volcanic planet's lava effects were particularly good. Complete suspension of disbelief on Yoda. Loved Obi-Wan's vault out of his ship into fighting on the landing deck.
- The homages to other moments in other portions of the saga were nice without being too over-the-top in most instances. I particularly enjoyed catching the Millenium Falcon on Coruscant, the paralleling of the master-apprentice mission in Ep I to the master-apprentice mission in Ep III, the little R2-D2 periscope reference, the corridor in Bail Organa's ship looking like the one where we first see Darth Vader (presumably it's the same ship, or same ship model, anyway), etc.
- I appreciated the closing of certain circles: Threepio's mind wipe as an explanation of why he didn't recognize R2-D2, Obi-Wan picking up Anakin's lightsaber for later to give to Luke, etc.
- I thought Hayden Christensen did a decent job, particularly at the beginning of the movie, and Ewan MacGregor was as solid and consistent as he's been as Obi-Wan throughout the first three. And, Frank Oz, what would we do without you?
- I loved Yoda's "Bitch, please," moment as he knocks the Imperial Guard down without batting an eyelash.
- Jar-Jar almost entirely absent. No wonder the movie was better.
- Never underestimate the power of a John Williams soundtrack.
Ambivalent Points and Unanswered Questions
- For those who are saying there are too many lightsaber battles, hello? It's Star Wars! Furthermore, this is the movie where weesa at war, okie-day? Besides, the sheer barely-stifled (sometimes unstifled) glee on Ewan MacGregor's face during his lightsaber scenes is just plain fun.
- I've seen it twice now, and the one point where I get a little misty is when Yoda climbs on Chewie's shoulder as they retreat. It's just so sweet, two friends helping one another escape the storm, comrades in arms . . . I just get a lump in my throat. "Good relationships with the Wookiees I have!" Yoda exclaims, and we're just so glad - happy to actually see that connection.
This sense of joy over such a tiny bit of screen time is indicative, unfortunately, of a key weakness in Eps I-III: there's too little friendship too late. We just don't care about these characters very much, perhaps because they don't seem to care very much about one another. This is a sharp contrast to the warmth of the relationships shown in Ep IV, V, and VI.
I'd like to give Lucas the benefit of the doubt. I'd like to pretend this was deliberate: that we're meant to feel Anakin's sense of isolation. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up under analysis: if Padme is meant to be his love and his anchor, a relationship he cares about and, from that, a relationship the audience should care about, then why don't we give a flip? The answer, of course, is the dreadful writing of the romantic plot and dialogue.
- In the What Are They Getting At? category, the paralleling of Emperor Palpatine's dialogue with Mace Windu's dialogue. I'm talking about where Palpatine tells Anakin that Dooku was too dangerous to live as a rationalization for slaying him. Mace Windu uses almost the exact same line when he tries to kill Palpatine. That seems very deliberate scripting, but to what end? The only thing I can think is that before Anakin arrived, Windu seemed to have no intent to kill Palpatine, only to arrest him. In fact, he says "You're under arrest!" while holding him at the point of his lightsaber. It's after Palpatine starts his little "don't kill me" spiel that Mace Windu says this, and I have to wonder if Palpatine is using a Dark Side technique similar to the Jedi suggestion power. Essentially, where his whole "don't kill me" speech is a means of manipulating Windu to try to go down exactly that road.
This would also partially confirm/explain why Palpatine is so successful as a persuader, both in politics and with Anakin. As long as he isn't in completely unfertile soil, he can grow poisonous seeds with ease.
- mumpish raised a truly fascinating theory. I have no reason to think it's true, but I do think it's intriguing. Essentially, he suggested that the Sith lord mentioned in the legend told by Palpatine conducted an experiment on creating life . . . and Shmi Skywalker was the test subject. Would explain the virgin birth nicely.
Again, I can't give Lucas quite that much credit, I think he just didn't want to deal with all the begats (X begat Anakin, Anakin begat Luke and Leia, etc. - there has to be an end to it), but it's an interesting thing to toy with. I also think it's quite possible that Palpatine made up the whole story to manipulate Anakin further.
- Does Anakin ever realize that he's been totally and completely manipulated by Palpatine? If so, I don't think we ever see that moment. I think his redemption in Jedi comes from love for his son, and desire to preserve a little bit of Padme through him. (Also, perhaps, that his son could walk the path that he never could.)
- Who is Grievous? It's a bad idea to introduce a completely new and unfamiliar villain to the audience in the last movie (of I, II, and III). What's even worse about General Grievous is that we never find out what his story is: he's clearly partially organic, but how? What's his background and motivation for this scene, as the saying goes? Without that, he seems to exist soley as a special effect for Obi-Wan to fight. Now, granted, it's an extra-cool special effect, but it would've been better to have a little more depth for the otherwise-disposable droid.
- Speaking of effects, one of the few that really didn't work for me was the lizard Obi-Wan was riding. Skeleton just didn't move plausibly.
- In Hollywood, there are people whose sole job it is to maintain consistency of appearance for sets and costuming. Apparently, Lucas couldn't get any of them for Episode III, or at least not on the days that Natalie Portman was filming. I refer here to the incredible Expando/Shrinko pregnancy, where she actually appears larger earlier in the film than later.
- Back when I used to act, a key piece of advice from my coach was not to be so cerebral. She meant that it was all well and good for me to be in-character, but it didn't do the audience any good if they couldn't see it.
I was reminded of this during the Mace Windu/Emperor Palpatine/Anakin Skywalker scene where Anakin is all of a sudden "Meesa Dark Side now, Okie-day?" I just believe that the script failed a little here: for such an exceedingly huge and important moment, where Anakin actually says yes, he consents, that there should've been more of a visible and verbal progression, more of a struggle, more emotion, something. It was far too quick, especially in light of the poise and confidence we see in Anakin at the beginning of the film. We see the character more grounded by his marriage with Padme, more sure of himself and less impetuous. We see that he has Obi-Wan's respect and friendship. All of this buildup just sort of seems to go poof. Yes, yes, there's that sequence with him in tears in the Jedi temple, and later after slaying Gunray & co., but at the actual moment, the very point of concession, it's kind of "Huh?"
As a side note, we had a wonderful time with mumpish and T. on Saturday, where we discussed this at length.
- Another scene that felt rushed: Darth Vader, complete. That whole sequence where he learns that Padme is dead deserved more time -- more time for the anger, the grief, and the realization that he is completely and utterly lost.
- Speaking of rushed, ambush or no, it felt like the Jedi went down way too darned fast, especially that old Jedi Master.
In the end, I think what pains me, as well as many other Star Wars fans, is that we see the potential, but not the realization of that potential. We see the sketch of what could have been. Lucas has some wonderful concepts, but in crucial areas, his execution leaves something to be desired. That's why I made my smarmy remark earlier about being grateful for Peter Jackson: his execution is so good that in certain areas (Boromir), I think he actually improves the material he's given. (We won't talk about Philippa and Faramir, right now.)
I still think Empire Strikes Back is the best of the six, but I'd put this one ahead of Return of the Jedi. It's certainly better than Ep I or Ep II.
Ultimately, I liked it, but I didn't love it. It wasn't the best it could've been. Like many, I just wish Star Wars had lived up to its potential.