For some, the Star Wars saga has been going downhill since "Return of the Jedi." With the sixth and final film now on release in Germany, DW-WORLD went to see if "Episode III" can redeem the much-maligned movie series.
Never criticize a man holding a flaming light saber
A long time ago, in a cinema far, far away (which is now a car showroom), a father and his three sons entered the darkness to give the wife and mother a chance to do some uninterrupted shopping.
A number of things happened that day way back in 1977: the first was that the father soon fell asleep; the second was that the two older brothers were mildly entertained for around two hours. The third was that the five year-old's life was changed forever. (That was me, by the way).
"Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" defined a generation's view of how science fiction films should be: full of fantastic worlds, awesome spaceships, loveable heroes and detestable villains.
"Star Wars IV: A New Hope" set the benchmark for science fiction movies in the 1970s
It also broke the mould of how movies were made, with state-of-the-art special effects pretty much made up on the spot specifically to fit the needs of the film. It was the complete experience. It defined the zeitgeist. It blew that five year-old, and many others, away.
Most of them stayed blown away for the best part of their childhoods. In between the exhaustive search to complete the collection of action figures -- another landmark, this time of merchandising, pioneered by George Lucas and Co. -- there were two more films. And, unbelievably, they got better.
The sequel which eclipsed the original
Vader has something to say in "The Empire Strikes Back"
"The Empire Strikes Back," released in 1980, was an altogether darker affair with heavy overtones of betrayal and revenge. Plus it looked very, very cool. It seemed that the team behind Star Wars had nailed it again, creating a second film which bettered the first and which gave a slowly maturing audience a bit more credit.
Three years later and the fans were given what they thought at the time to be the final Star Wars film, "Episode VI: Return if the Jedi." Throughout the two previous films, the back story of the rise of the evil Empire and the shadowy past of Darth Vader had been alluded to but when it came to the killer punch, Lucas failed to deliver. Redemption was the theme but instead of poignancy, "Return of the Jedi" slapped the saccharine celebrations on with a trowel.
While not a terrible film, "Jedi" was by far the weakest of the three. Princess Leia in the gold bikini aside, there was very little for (male) fans to get excited about and the introduction of the Ewok warrior teddy-bears was the first, hefty nail in the Star Wars coffin. Many fans felt more than a little cheated.
Prequels raised expectations to galactic levels
That is why the news that George Lucas was penning the prequels to the original trilogy made such a wave in the mid-90s. The full story would be told. It would be revealed how the peaceful Republic fell, how the Clone Wars were instrumental in creating the Empire and, most importantly, how and why Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.
Jar Jar Binks - the new Ewoks
And herein lay the problems which would dog "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" on its release in 1999. Everyone knew what would ultimately happen and the expectations of how Lucas would get there weighed heavily on the first prequel. Some complained about the sluggish pace, others the less-than-riveting storyline of trade embargos and even more bemoaned the excessive use of over-indulgent computer generated imaging (CGI).
Seemingly impervious to the criticism, Lucas kept his course with the barbs bouncing off him like asteroids off a deflector shield. Staying true to his vision, he then offered the dubiously titled "Episode II: The Attack of the Clones." It was less messy than the previous prequel but still suffered from his trademark cheesy, stilted dialogue and occasionally soulless acting.
But "Clones" was a more exciting film with definite hints at the darkness growing in the formerly cherubic Anakin. The question it raised was: Could Lucas manage to tie up all the loose ends in a finale worthy of the whole saga and save a crumbling legacy?
Sith given task of exacting revenge on critics
You looking at me?
The answers are finally out there. "Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith" is now on general release in Germany, and soon to be at a cinema near you, wherever in the world you may be.
It is hard to imagine when a film has had so much riding on it. Not only is it an expensive production which, like most films with a multi-million dollar budget, bears a lot of commercial pressure, it is the last ever Star Wars movie, the final throw of the dice for a saga that promised so much before wobbling worryingly off course.
So, it is it any good? DW-WORLD saw a preview screening on Wednesday evening and was more than pleasantly surprised.
"Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" does a very good job of charting the spectacular fall from grace of Anakin Skywalker. Such a task to wrap up the prequel series and seemlessly interface it with the original trilogy is no mean one but this film that bridges the two eras is up to that task.
Weaknesses overwhelmed by numerous strengths
Okay, so there is still a fair amount of labored dialogue but with the action and story unfolding at a well paced rate, the odd cheesy line can be forgiven.
The positives certainly outweigh the negatives in "Sith." Hayden Christensen has thankfully ditched the bratty teenager persona and delivers a brooding and tormented portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in freefall. His scenes with the evil Chancellor Palpatine unlock 28 years of Dark Side secrets and help the central storyline develop smoothly.
It seems light years away from the cheese-orama that was "The Phantom Menace." This is an altogether more sinister and emotionally-wrought Star Wars film which is more geared to an adult audience. As the Sith gain control of the Republic, sensibilities are discarded and, for a George Lucas movie at least, many scenes hint at a seething brutality.
Effects once more push the boundaries
It is also a visual feast with well-paced action and breath-taking set pieces. In this writer's opinion, those who will complain at the 2000 or so computer-generated shots should wake up and smell the calendar. It's not 1977 anymore. "A New Hope" made motion picture history with its special effects and "Sith" does it again almost three decades later. There are things happening on screen which will make your eyes bleed while the mind behind them boggles.
Unfortunately, despite the standing ovation the finale received at Wednesday's preview, such is the hype surrounding the legacy of Star Wars and the incredible expectations surrounding each release, "Sith" will no doubt be hunted down and shot like a stray dog in a hungry town by many critics.
But for this former five year-old at least, revenge is sweet. Star Wars has been saved in style.