One thing Mrs. Exile and I were able to do last week was go see Revenge of the Sith while Baby Exile spent her regularly-scheduled Friday in daycare. Frighteningly enough, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Although the first half of Sith was disconcertingly leaden like its two predecessors--the spectacular extended opening battle sequence notwithstanding--the film found its groove as George Lucas finally stopped dithering around and committed himself full-bore to what was supposed to be the heart of this prequel trilogy, i.e. the Fall of Anakin Skywalker. As the illusions of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are peeled away one by one (in retrospect, a large part of why those two movies were so unwatchable had to do with the fact that we as the viewers knew that they were all just smoke and mirrors, false conflict after false conflict engineered by Palpatine/Sidious to bring about the trainwreck of destiny that is the third film), the Chosen One finds himself pulled in what become increasingly irreconcilable directions, at which point Sith stops being just another a Happy Meal commercial and descends into the stuff of tragedy. I swear I got a chill when at the ultimate confrontation between Anakin (Hayden Christensen), Padme (Natalie Portman), and Obi-Wan (Ewan MacGregor) when I realized that Lucas was actually going to allow his principals to act.
There was more emotional resonance in that one final standoff than in the previous two movies combined, which along with Ian McDiarmid's masterfully creepy apotheosis from Chancellor to Emperor and seduction of Anakin to the dark side lifted the film to something worthy of the Old Trilogy. George Lucas was also much more judicious in his use of CGI, using it not to clutter the screen as he had in Episodes I and II but to paint sumptuous planet and cityscapes--the transitional long shots of Coruscant were particularly breathtaking, making you almost wish you could fly around the imaginary scenery to the sounds of New Age music like those PBS flyby documentaries showcasing Italy or Greece. Gone is the hubris that force-fed us the virtual abomination that was Jar-Jar Binks. Lucas almost seemed restrained at times in his use of digital effects, and the finished product proved all the better for it.
Now don't get me wrong--the film still had its problems. Not only did the movie lumber along through the first hundred minutes or so, but the dialogue ranged from tolerable to wretched, and characters such as General Grevious (who was much more interesting and significantly more of a badass in the Clone Wars cartoons) and Samuel Jackson's Mace Windu remained annoyingly undeveloped. But despite these shortcomings and others too niggling to mention here, despite the dreadful prequels before it, despite having every good reason to be pessimistic about George Lucas' continued abilities as a director, when the end credits finally rolled, I found myself wanting more for the first time since Return of the Jedi. It may not redeem Jar Jar--what could, really?--but it sure goes a Hell of a long way nonetheless.
I've noticed that my colleague Jason F.C. Clarke has a somewhat less enthusiastic take on Sith. His official review--which aside from being quite entertaining posits the legitimate question of why anyone should get so excited over a film that's essentially about the rise of a Hitler-type figure (possible answer: Darth Vader looked much cooler than Hitler)--can be found at Fungible Convictions. While none of his criticisms are off the mark, I still couldn't help liking this movie. Go figure.