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TFN's Episode 3 Review

A fictional work by Joshua Griffin
would be dated April 2005

Finally there's a prequel to be proud of. Not that the others have been all that bad - they just haven't been able to cast the same spell over fans that the originals had back in the 70s. We argued that Episode 1 was misunderstood, that Episode 2 was a step in the right direction and prayed for Episode 3 to deliver.

And man does it deliver.

I'm just returning from something Lucasfilm has never done before and quite frankly something I never thought they would do. Although there is still a month before the release of the film worldwide, they showed a select group of people the movie. It wasn't finished, mind you - as always Lucas tinkers until the end. There was one minor scene still incomplete with bluescreen he filmed just the week before our showing. But even in it's nearly finished form you can see the soul of Star Wars in this one.

There are plenty of special effects in this movie - I think at last count they were approaching 2,200. But the driving force of the story captivates like the classics. For the first time we see Anakin's fall from glory to become the evil Darth Vader. You can hardly believe what he'll do even to those he loves after his Dark Side embrace. Any momentum from the prequels and anticipation from the classics lives out on screen here aggressively.

Returning cast for the final theatrical Star Wars movie include Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Natalie Portman (Padme Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Robert Coleman/Frank Oz (Yoda), Jimmy Smits (Bail Organa), and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku). Joining the prequel veterans in the last installment are notables Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), ILM (General Grievous) Wayne Pygram (Tarkin).

The movie starts with a bang - we're in the middle of a giant space battle - the climax of the Clone Wars. When I was a kid I imagined how this would play out, and this exceeds even those expectations. There's the epic capital ship battles moving in side by side like pirate vessels maneuvering for strategic position on each other, while intimate skirmishes that will define the outcome of the war take place nearby. As these huge ships rip apart you see clones being sucked out into space to their doom.

Palpatine is shackled to a solitary chair inside one of these weapons of war, a fully ironic and iconic image since it is he that has orchestrated these very events frozen in the starfield behind him. You can tell from these early moments several key elements are at last coming together. Lucas' Episode I introduction of characters and Episode 2 development of the plot are mere footnotes to the script and acting of this final film. We are on a whole new level of Star Wars here.

I remember the first time I watched Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Episode II. I felt he was a bit stiff and wooden like the others, but after watching Episode III I think I understand it better. He is cocky - full of pride as Yoda predicted - and it would eventually be his downfall. You can see it as he slices through separatist forces or flies his Starfighter and it peaks as he's saving a huge cruiser from destruction over Corusant. Even as they hang on for dear life as the ship careens in circles you can see him slipping deeper and deeper into pure evil.

Portman returns to the film a bit later than expected, and this time also delivers her best performance of the prequels. Yoda is amazing yet again - you'll see him do more than you ever imagined again this time, and Ewan McGregor still shines as the venerable and protective Obi-Wan. There's a new and temporary villain named General Grievous, another disposable bad guy in the prequel tradition of Maul and Dooku. But he's a fantastic character with lots of lightsabers and exciting moments. Another part of his defense is that he is central to the plot of the film - think of him as an early Vader experiment to the deceitful politician Palpatine. Speaking of Ian McDiarmid, his characterization of Chancellor and eventually Emperor Palpatine are chilling. Let's just say that the lines between good and bad aren't ambiguous anymore. Everything is clear in how it will play out. The movie is in a sense predictable - but isn't that the point since we've know for 30 years Anakin would become Vader?

The film flies by - literally - with much of the action taking place on various landing platforms including glimpses of new planets that will no doubt be the subject of more animated films, the TV series next year and best-selling novels. We've always wanted to see Kashyyyk - the long described planet of the Wookiees. Check. The cameo by Han Solo's eventual partner is a necessary plot device - it will change the way we look at the wookiee forever. We've always wondered what a person would look like from Alderaan and begin to feel their pain when the planet is destroyed later. Check. We want to see all out Clone Wars and the fall of the Jedi. Check. And we want to see the most intense lightsaber fight in history. Check.

Ah yes, the duel. I remember it seems like forever ago to January 2004 when some footage leaked out online from the historic battle. We knew we were in for a treat, we all had hopes this would be THE DUEL and THE FILM. Hayden Christensen gave us a glimpse of his saber prowess in Attack of the Clones, but once again this is a Star Wars movie on steroids. The planet Mustafar is breaking apart and brimming with volcanic activity, and Obi-Wan will do anything to stop his former apprentice from a complete embrace of the Dark Side.

You know he will become Darth Vader. I'm not honestly sure that Lucas had the entire sweeping arc of the prequels planned as much as he has thought out these particular scenes. "Finished, it is," Yoda says as we realize the Jedi Knight's fatal destiny. I can't say enough about the last ten minutes of the film - it is enough to quiet the naysayers and please the most fickle of fans.

Is it perfect? No, there's still moments of weak acting and the ever present cheesy dialogue. I think the Naboo costumes, particularly the new Queen, are absolutely terrible. I wish there was more of the dry humor I loved from the originals and still think Jar Jar Binks would have been better sacrificed by Anakin - he is still just a good idea gone all wrong.

But of all of the prequels it is by far the best and to many I dare say to many fans it may even become their very favorite Star Wars film of all.

Enjoy it - savor it, since this is it folks - Star Wars: Episode III opens next month in theaters worldwide.

*****/*****
(5 out of 5 stars)

Joshua Griffin (email now) is the editor of TheForce.Net and a freelance writer living a semi-normal life in the Midwest. The film was digitally projected at Skywalker Ranch and decoded in THX Dolby Digital 6.1 EX. This review was originally written January 23rd, 2004 and is purely hypothetical.

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