Was it another one of George Lucas' occasional perverse strokes of storytelling-structure genius to make Episodes I & II very lame, thus making our expectations extremely low, so that Revenge of the Sith would seem relatively pretty good? I don't know. Is ROTS actually better than the first three movies because the emotional turns are bigger than in any of the first three? I don't know. Are Red Vines actually tasty, or do I just kinda like them because I ate them in high school? I really don't know about that one. But here's what I liked about Episode III:
....Anakin Skywalker has about twelve more actor beats to play than he had in Episode II, and he is pretty convincing with all of them. In Eps. I & II, his basic beat was, "I want to drive the speeder faster....faster!.,..ooh look, hot chick." This is the same defining non-motivation that Luke managed to get over by the end of A New Hope, and thank god. In ROTS, Anakin has to handle real problems, like What To Do With The Evil Guy When He Is The Only Person Who Is Nice To You, and How To Do The Righteous Jedi Thing When All The Righteous Jedis Act Like Dorks. They feel like real, hard choices, and I was feeling the consequences. As other geeky critics have already noted, friends make the difference. Luke had friends and an excusably touchy-feeling relationship with his sister, Anakin had no homies and the love of Natalie Portman. Which one overcame the temptation of evil? Hmmm....
...Even though they used the phrase about a thousand times in the original trilogy, ROTS was the first Star Wars movie where I really felt "The Power of the Dark Side." OK, I needed the Emperor to explain it literally. I'm dumb. But whereas that Dark Side-Light Side thing used to seem like the distinction between what color sneakers you choose to wear, here it was really articulated as modes of self-interest and selflessness. The Dark Side makes a sympathetic case as a whole philosophy of life which nurtures the psyche and doesn't include the words Greed, Vindictiveness and Sense of Entitlement. Meanwhile the Light Side Jedis are artfully revealed as having all the flaws that the right usually accuses the left of having, e.g., grating superiority complex, lack of humanity, and a tendency to speak in mushmouthed equivocations. Like this blog. This blog wallows in the Bleeding Heart Eastern Mystic Liberal Side of the Force.
...Which brings me to what I learned from the movie that I wasn't expecting to learn (me being one of those know-it-alll righteous liberals). When the hype for the prequels started, I didn't get the big deal about seeing How Anakin Falls. I just wanted to see the good n evil battle play out maybe with some nice C-Wing or J-Wing fighters, and was sorely let down on that point. I didn't care to know how Darth Vader became evil, because in experiencing the original trilogy, I took it for granted that that Evil was just what he was. That was the role he filled. It was nice, sure, that he became Good in the end, but it seemed more a romantic expression of Good's inevitable triumph than a moment of innate redemption.
...In Episodes I & II, my perspective didn't change much, because due to the lazy and frankly annoying characterization of Anakin, I continued to feel, "Yknow, that guy's gonna end up evil, and it's no big tragedy, because something about him is inherently off." I mean, "Wizard!" Whatever.
...In this flick I finally got it. He wasn't always evil. He even tried really really hard not to be evil. And maybe somewhere in the personal histories of the George Bushes and Saddam Husseins and Donald Trumps and Kenneth Lays of the world, the real-life figures who deal out various sufferings upon the innocents from behind layers of inhuman armor, there is some reason why they act this way. And the reason that people try to be good is inextricably tied up in the reason that they end up bastards. That, I felt, was kind of deep.
...Lucas has talked about how he likes movies which are implicit and abstract about their social issues, rather than didactic and polarizing like Farenheit 9/11 or the entire Bush administration. He kinda pulled it off here, much to my surprise. Any movie that has a battle scene with empty seats of democracy being launched as bludgeoning projectiles wins a few symbolic points in my book.
....Sure, there are still a bunch of hammy moments and weak lines that do nothing but break the mood. But unlike the first two prequels, there's actually a mood to break. And there are no J-Wing fighters, yadda yadda. Overall, though, in this film's attempt to explore evil's causation, I felt much more the active mind of George Lucas the human being, a filmmaker leaving his own fingerprints on the film, an artist trying to make something more than a stem cell for videogame spinoffs. And it more or less closed this ridiculous nerdy subplot of my life satisfactorily.
....And finally, on a totally meta-pop culture note, it was nice to see Detective Simone from NYPD Blue finally get a chance to raise a child with his wife, after enduring the injustice of dying young and being reincarnated as an Alderanian Senator a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.