I went to see Episode III this weekend. I hadn't rushed out to see it because I just couldn't get enthusiastic about it and I feared feeling the same disappointment I had felt at seeing the previous episodes. The new movie wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but was far from as good as it could and should have been.
The rest of this review is littered with spoilers, don't read it if you have not seen the film.
I thought the relationship was good between Anakin and Obi Wan at the start of the film, there's some genuine feeling and repartee between them and my hopes for a good flick were lifted. The sequence on Grievous's ship was old-style Star Wars: they always seem to end up in another jam. Grievous, however, is an undermined villain. He sounds like he's got asthma and is sometimes bent double with painful coughing fits, hardly the Jedi killer he is supposed to be. Then there's Dooku, a man who fought off both Anakin and Obi Wan last time and lived despite going toe-to-toe with Yoda. Yet he's dispatched easily. Grievous doesn't put up much of a fight before running.
The jedi successfully return the Chancellor and Anakin sees Padme. Now, he says they may not have been brought back from the outer rim if not for Grievous snatching the Chancellor, which implies he's been away a long time. Padme announces she's pregnant, but doesn't show it, so how long is a long time? He must have only been away two-three months, by four months it would have been physically obvious she was pregnant. A jarring error as far as I can see.
The main problem I had with the story was Anakin's descent into evil. It's completely unrealistic (yes I'm aware irony of that statement). Anakin seems a much more controlled person at the start of the film than he did in Episode II. So his descent is that much harder to make work. The entire thing seems to hinge on his desire to save Padme. His love for her is what drives his decisions. When he kills Dooku he seems guilty, upset that he did, but he does it with barely a thought. The same seems to be true when he converts to the Dark Side. He becomes aware that the Chancellor is a Sith Lord, something he has been fighting for so long, he knows he and everyone else has been deceived, that the war is purely about gaining power, yet he puts all that aside when he's offered the chance to save Padme, in an instant, no questions, nothing. I would have expected at least some internal struggle. Saving his wife means overruling a lifetime of training and devotion. Not just to the things he has devoted himself to, but also the things Padme devotes herself to. He could end all of the suffering and the war right there, just strike him down, but no. He calmly wanders off back to the Jedi and tells them their greatest enemy, their greatest threat, is the Chancellor, to which Mace Windu responds pretty much by saying: 'Oh, right, best get over there and arrest him then.'
After Anakin has watched Sidious kill Windu, he says 'Oh, what have I done?' There is no rebelling, no real feeling, no being wracked with guilt. Sidious says serve me and he basically says, 'Oh, okay.' Not, 'wait, I can't go through with this, it's wrong, I can't wipe out and annihilate my friends, a whole order dedicated to protecting life.' Sidious doesn't have to convince him, he just says 'go and kill them all,' and he does. This is someone who has been brought up to defend life, protect innocence, who has love in his heart, yet where there should be a huge emotional battle, a painful overcoming of what he knows is right in order to save the woman he loves, there is nothing. You'd have thought facing the killing of children he'd have faced the same turmoil, at the least I'd have expected him to order his troopers to do it, and not be able to do it himself.
And what's with Yoda and Obi Wan running off? Yoda was easily holding his own against Sidious, a man Windu nearly killed (and Windu doesn't match up to Yoda). Instead he gives up and walks away. I was expecting Sidious to turn thousands of men on Yoda so he had no choice but to run. He would have gladly sacrificed his life if he thought he could kill Sidious. It would have taken hundreds, thousands of troops between him and Sidious to stop him. But no, he just sort of slinks off.
Then there's the birth scene, which could only have been filmed by someone who has never seen a woman in labour. There was no striving, no sweating, no immense and continuous shouts of pain, just a 'nghh' and out pops one, naming him Luke, without rhyme or reason, then 'nghh' and out pops Leia, again, no reason for naming her that. Padme isn't suffering any bouts of sweating or looking pale, and bearing in mind she's dying at the this point, no gaunt, drawn, tired expression. She looks ready to have a cover shoot for Vogue. Then, 'there's still good in him, ah,' and she's dead.
Then we get to cover George's ass regarding the original films. The entire point about Jedi being able to come back and offer judgement, to become immortal, is covered in two minutes as an aside between Yoda and Obi Wan. This is a fairly significant plot point, it needed far more time and a far less boring description. I was more than happy that all Jedi become one with the force when they die and that they could come back in spiritual form, but that one of them has suddenly discovered how to become immortal and it's just a matter of knowing the key is stupid and pathetic.
Then, at the end when Anakin is told he's killed Padme, there is rage, but he doesn't rebel against the Dark Side -- the thing that turned him into the monster -- he doesn't lash out at the lord who caused it. He'd have cut his head off in a heartbeat, but all he does is scream and then proceed to serve the cause of his distress faithfully.
Throughout the film there's a distinct lack of spectacle. This is the greatest era of the Jedi, facing some of, if not the, most powerful Sith in history, yet where are the epic battles? Anakin kills Dooku with ease, Sidious wipes out three of the jedi trying to attack him with a single stroke in half-a-second before a lame battle with Mace Windu. Grievous proves less of a foe than he should against Obi Wan too. This is a cyborg who has four arms and wields four lightsabres (which he has taken after killing four Jedi). He should push Obi Wan beyond anything he has done before, to the very edge. Then we come to the Obi Wan/Anakin duel. This should be the biggest battle we've ever seen, two Jedi at the peak of their powers going head to head.
And to add to all of this is the inconsistency with the later films. Leia specifically says she remembers her mother, yet she dies in child birth, so she couldn't. Sidious tells Yoda that Anakin will become more powerful than either of them, yet that never seems to be the case in the later films, Vader always appears a servant. He asks for Luke's help to rule the Empire. And, as an aside, if your strength with the force is related to your midichlorian count, wouldn't having large chunks or body (and hence large numbers of midichlorians) chopped off diminish your strength?
So it's fair to say I was disappointed. But it's easy to criticise, but what would I have done different? Well, this (and I came up with this in ten minutes after seeing the film, not having developed the story for the better part of 30 years like Lucas has):
Open on one of the outer rim planets, with Obi Wan and Anakin leading forces in an effort to capture Count Dooku. At the successful conclusion, with Anakin having unleashed his rage to defeat and kill Dooku after he nearly kills Obi Wan and threatens Padme (thereby letting us know that Sidious is aware of the relationship), they head home for some R&R. Anakin heads back to Naboo where he spends an idyllic few days with Padme and his toddler-age children.
He gets a call to return to Coruscent where he is told General Grievous has been spotted and that he and Obi Wan are to head over and sort him out. He hears that the council is concerned about Palpatine. Before he leaves he chats to the Chancellor who voices concerns about the Jedi’s motives and how that they don’t care about anyone but themselves.
Grievous is strong and arrogant, but skilful and he repels the Jedi until it looks like they will gain the upper hand and he escapes (minus a limb). The two Jedi head back to Coruscent separately but on the way Anakin intercepts a mayday message from Padme (or gets one of them vision things) and flies to Naboo. He finds Padme nearly dead, she tells him something of what happened before dying in his arms (Grievous is responsible). The children are nowhere to be found (perhaps Padme tried to reach them but the building was on fire).
Anakin is enraged. He returns to Coruscent bent on revenge and demands help from the Jedi council, who say they cannot spare men for such a search. The Chancellor says he has heard the bad news and that there were Jedi on Naboo but they did not help Padme. Anakin is further enraged, blaming them for her death and the death of his children. The Chancellor says he knows someone who can give Anakin the power to defeat Grievous and avenge Padme.
Anakin meets with Sidious, threatening to kill him as soon as he realises he’s a Sith Lord. Sidious blasts him with a few lightening bolts and brings him to his knees. Then he says that he can teach Anakin these powers, power enough to kill Grievous and get his revenge. All he has to do is pledge allegiance and serve him.
Obi Wan has followed him and reports to the Jedi who try and stop Anakin, but with his new powers, the Sith Lord at his side and an army of stormtroopers he overpowers them. The Chancellor/Sidious call the Jedi traitors and begin their systematic destruction. Anakin is consumed with rage, finally battling and killing Grievous (and sustaining injuries) he continues his fight against the Jedi, despite being injured in many engagements his rage carries him through and the Emperor is there to make sure he is always taken care of.
The final battle is between Anakin, Mace Windu, Obi Wan and Yoda, with the others holding their own but Mace sacrifices himself and seriously injures Anakin to allow the others to escape as thousands of clone troops arrive. They meet up with Bail Organa, who saved the children in the attack against Padme and split the children up, saying they will be killed and are important to the future.
The emperor takes the thrown with the newly encased and still vengeful Vader at his side.
Two cracking links to illustrate my points, first the comic version, then a transparent version of the script for Episode III.