Now this is more like it…
After two relatively hit and miss affairs in a galaxy far, far away, Lucas and co. finally doubles down and gets to the meat of a subject matter we’ve all been dying to get to. The miseducation of Anakin Skywalker.
To be fair, it’s still somewhat of an uneven ride but thankfully the movie gets most the important stuff right while not feeling like a box ticking exercise and scores the most memorable moments of the prequel trilogy by far.
The Clone War is finally winding down and after a daring rescue attempt succeeds in liberating a captive Chancellor Palpatine, it seems the Separatists and their massive droid army is on the run. Obi Wan is given the task to hunt down and finish asthma suffering, cyborg, no-goodnick General Grevious while Anakin fumes at being denied the rank of Jedi Master by an increasingly suspicious counsel. They have a point, however as Anakin’s friendship with Palpatine has deepened and has secretly married Senator Amidala who is pregnant with his children. So the stage is set for tragic falls, malevolent rises and betrayal all over the place as the events that set the Star Wars universe are finally set in motion.
It seems that George Lucas was waiting for this installment as much as we were; now able to pay off plot points and teases that were laid up to 6 years ago he rips into the franchise he birthed with enthusiastic glee, wiping out characters left, right and centre. The sluggishness of Phantom Menace or the uncertainty of Attack Of The Clones are distant memories as he weaves one devastating sequence after the next. A huge space battle immediately after the opening crawl leads into an audacious rescue, Kenobi facing down Grevious in a frantic race while riding a large, clucking lizard, Yoda bitch slapping treacherous Clone Troopers, a war on the Wookie homeworld; the movie keeps the hits on coming until we reach the infamous Order 66, a tragic tableaux that recalls the symphony of murders that play over the christening in Godfather II.
Lucas doesn’t hold back either, embracing the inevitable extermination of beloved characters (only some of which go down fighting) and younglings he is adamant that no feeling is spared. He is aided in this by the superlative work of composer John Williams (whose been earning his pay, and then some, the whole time) and by Palpatine actor Ian Mcdirmand who finally is let off the chain to go full Emperor, cackling and hissing at every single thing that moves. Everything that he says or does is overblown, memorable and utterly fantastic: “POWER!” he bellows at one point “UN-LIMA-TED POW-AHHH!”, instantly making his undercover role in the past two films worth it.
It’s not all gold, however. Christopher bows out way too early and both Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman STILL are more wooden than the contents of an IKEA on Endor. Also Anakin’s final transition to the dark side is a bit too quick and convenient to ring entirely true but this is countered by McGregor, who is now having a whale of a time and gifts us with the “Hello there” that launched a thousand memes. And so we end up on a volcano planet with two best friends trying to kill each other while Yoda and the Emperor have saber measuring contest while trashing the Senate and you realize after two false starts and a bunch of “comedy” from a slang talking, orange, salamander: it takes one wheeze from Darth Vader’s respirator to make everything worth it.
“Yes, my master.”