As the 10th anniversary of Episode III approaches, StarWars.com revisits the film's first reviews.
Check your calendars. Yes, it's 2015 and that means the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the continuation of Season One of Star Wars Rebels and a glut of other new and exciting Star Wars ventures. But it's also a big anniversary year. Not only is it 35 years since the arrival of The Empire Strikes Back but this year also marks the 10th anniversary of Revenge of the Sith, the episode which -- until the announcement of a sequel trilogy in late October 2012 -- marked the final chapter in the six film Star Wars cycle.
Produced on an estimated budget of $113 million, the film arrived on May 19, 2005 with an opening day haul of $50,013,859 from an estimated 9,400 screens at 3,661 locations, for what was then the biggest single days take in movie history. A colossal North American first weekend gross of $108,435,841 on 3,663 screens followed, with a final domestic tally of $380,270,577 and a mammoth $848,754,768 worldwide. Wowing fans of the saga, it brought the prequel trilogy home in bombastic fashion, showing the tragic events which led to the creation of Darth Vader, the fall of the Jedi, and the formation of the Galactic Empire. The circle was now complete, but how did the film fare when it came to the critical opinions of the wider film press?
Joshua Tyler at Cinemablend, writing on May 19, 2005, was certainly enamored by the scale and grandeur of the film, highlighting the connections it made to the beloved first trilogy and the importance of George Lucas.
"I still remember the first time I really became aware of George Lucas. We swarmed to anything that had his name on it, ate up every Ewok Adventure or Star Wars Christmas Special because we knew George Lucas had created it. We didn’t just love Star Wars, we loved the mythos of George Lucas, a man who somehow seemed magical.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith begins at a torrid pace and never lets up. Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) appear in the midst of a stunning space battle, on a mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) being held prisoner aboard Count Dooku’s (Christopher Lee) ship. There’s no need to pause for character development, as Lucas’s exceptionally well crafted script melds deeper growth and personality right in with the action. He establishes the strong friendship between Anakin and Obi Wan immediately, in a way that was never evidenced in Attack of the Clones. This was always one of the great strengths of the original Star Wars movies, an uncanny ability to tell us volumes about its characters while in the middle of a wild ride through a meteor shower, or rescuing a princess from her torture chamber. Writer/Director Lucas has finally recaptured that here, and the film absolutely soars because of it.
Revenge of the Sith isn’t just a great Star Wars movie, it’s a flat out great film. Yes it’s technically proficient and yes it’s visually beautiful. Those things are a given. What hasn’t been is how solidly the film is constructed. Revenge of the Sith is a powerful, big budget experience. Yet it is the way that it fits so wonderfully into the existing Star Wars mythos that best sells it, the way it nestles so nicely into 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope that makes it special. The real beauty is that you could easily toss out the previous two awkward attempts, watch only this in sequence with the original films, and come out completely satisfied. Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace are best forgotten. Lucas’s real miscalculation was in not making this movie right from the start. He tried to stretch the story when all we needed was Vader’s rise in its purest form. Star Wars fans have finally been rewarded for their patience. George has made another masterpiece."
Here in the UK on Friday, May 13, 2005, Peter Bradshaw writing for The Guardian had little good to say about the film, citing the stock and clichéd complaints about the film -- too much spectacle, not enough heart.
"Revenge of the Sith has some almost decent things. Yoda is good value as ever, though his character is never allowed to breathe in the airless galaxy Lucas creates, and there is a good sequence at the end showing the "birth" of Darth Vader while Princess Amidala is delivered of her twins. It has what the rest of the film so conspicuously lacks: a spark of real dramatic life. But it comes far too late and it is over immediately. How depressing to compare any of this with the fun and gusto of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in the first movie. As for the elephantine trilogy as a whole, it was all too clearly a product of George Lucas's overweening production giant Industrial Light and Magic. No magic, little light, but an awful lot of heavy industry."
Writing in the New York Times on May 16, A.O. Scott wondered if the film would satisfy a list of requirements he had amassed.
"Would my grown-up longing for a return to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my own moviegoing boyhood -- and my undiminished hunger for entertainment with sweep and power as well as noise and dazzle -- be satisfied by "Revenge of the Sith"?
The answer is yeth.
This is by far the best film in the more recent trilogy, and also the best of the four episodes Mr. Lucas has directed. That's right (and my inner 11-year-old shudders as I type this): it's better than "Star Wars."
"Revenge of the Sith," which had its premiere here yesterday at the Cannes International Film Festival, ranks with "The Empire Strikes Back" (directed by Irvin Kershner in 1980) as the richest and most challenging movie in the cycle. It comes closer than any of the other episodes to realizing Mr. Lucas's frequently reiterated dream of bringing the combination of vigorous spectacle and mythic resonance he found in the films of Akira Kurosawa into American commercial cinema.
But of course the rise of the Empire and the perdition of Anakin Skywalker are not the end of the story, and the inverted chronology turns out to be the most profound thing about the "Star Wars" epic. Taken together, and watched in the order they were made, the films reveal the cyclical nature of history, which seems to repeat itself even as it moves forward. Democracies swell into empires, empires are toppled by revolutions, fathers abandon their sons and sons find their fathers. Movies end. Life goes on."
Owen Glieberman at Entertainment Weekly, writing on May 18, notes that with the completion of the -- then -- final film, the previous two films had succeeded in their mission to set up the grand finale.
"Having spent two scattershot blockbusters whetting our appetite for the fall of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), George Lucas makes it easy to experience Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith as a rush of deliverance.
Unlike The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith unfolds with a fury of consequence. There are rousing lightsaber duels, like the one in which the skull-faced General Grievous wields four sabers at once. Yoda, with his twinkly scowl of purpose, has become such a crowd-pleasing action figure that when he coughs up solemn syntactical howlers like ''A prophecy that misread could have been'' — well, forgive him almost you can. The madly detailed cityscapes raise eye candy to a dimension of comic-book awe, though I confess I miss the nearly tactile thrills generated by the original Star Wars films. Lucas' digital imagery allows for whizzy, swirling layers of technological hyperactivity, yet its lacquered gleam is just artificial enough that when a panoramic window gets smashed during a battle in the Jedi chamber, my reaction was to think, ''Gee, how will they find replacement glass that big?''
Kirk Honneycutt, writing on May 6 in The Hollywood Reporter was effusive in his enjoyment of the film, going so far as to request an immediate repeat viewing.
"The final episode of George Lucas' cinematic epic Star Wars ends the six-movie series on such a high note that one feels like yelling out, "Rewind!" Yes, rewind through more than 13 hours of bravery, treachery, new worlds, odd creatures and human frailty. The first two episodes of Lucas' second trilogy — The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002) — caused more than a few fans of the original trilogy to wonder whether this prequel was worth it. The answer is a qualified yes. It did take a lot of weighty expositions, stiffly played scenes and less-than-magical creatures to get to Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. But what a ride Lucas and company have in store!
Needless to say, international box office will register in the hundreds of millions. The real question is how much money the entire series, now ready for packaging and repackaging for all sorts of formats and media, will eventually take in. Let's just say a lot."
And Honeycutt underlines just how far digital cinema and visual effects had come under the guiding hand of George Lucas.
"Now completely at home with digital filmmaking, Lucas can blaze a pioneering path as no one else. Shooting on soundstages in Australia and Britain with additional photography in China, Thailand, Switzerland, Italy and Tunisia, Lucas thrusts viewers into pitched battles in looming caverns and giant spaceships or a lightsaber duel on a river of molten lava. Combining choreographic action aesthetics that are American, Chinese and otherwordly, Lucas has redefined fantasy filmmaking with Star Wars while teaching a generation of filmmakers to accept no limitations.
Yes, by all means, rewind!
Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, a magazine closely associated with the saga over the years, was less than impressed on May 19. Indeed, his polarized opinions highlight the love it/hate it nature of the prequel trilogy. No one ever sat on the fence when it came to these three movies.
"In this heretic's opinion, Sith is a stiff. I kept thinking how much better Sith would play as a silent film, with only Chewbacca allowed to do his Wookiee growl and John Williams to trumpet his recycled score and yet, Revenge of the Sith is the movie that will do more business (my guess is $400 million-plus), sell more popcorn and brainwash more audiences than any blockbuster this summer. There are reasons: Sith is the last time Lucas will ever skywalk with the Skywalkers on the big screen (talk persists of a TV spinoff). There is enormous goodwill built up by the original series Lucas began in 1977 with Wars: A New Hope, continued in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back and ended in 1983 with Return of the Jedi.
Lucas almost pulls the plot out of the fire in the film's final section, showing Obi-Wan hacking away at Anakin with his light-saber on the lava planet of Mustafar. Lucas even drops a hint that Anakin thinks Padme and Obi-Wan may have been getting it on. As we watch Anakin nearly melt in the lava, only to be put together, Frankenstein style, in a lab while Lucas intercuts scenes of Padme giving birth to the twins Luke and Leia, a link to genuine feeling is established at last.
On May 6, Harry Knowles, a lifelong admirer of the saga wrote his review at Aint It Cool and started his piece with what was --then -- a stark fact of truth.
"I have watched my last new STAR WARS film.
The imagery in REVENGE OF THE SITH -- The turning of Anakin, the annihilation of the Jedi, the expulsion of Yoda, Obi-Wan vs Anakin, Palpatine revealed, the birth of the twins, Alderran, the adoption of Luke, what became of the droids… These are all near religious iconography in the minds of children raised in the ways of the Force. I’ve spent a quarter of a century discussing these things, speculating on what it’d look like, how it’d play out… I’ve seen it in countless dreams, but never with my eyes open. Never George’s dream of what it was. Till now.
I’m having a really hard time writing about this one. It’s just so damn big. So full of literally everything that I wanted to see in all the prequels – but crammed all into this one. This really is the big Michael Corleone episode of STAR WARS… It’s where all the traps are sprung, all the cards are laid on the table, where everybody dies, all is lost and evil rules the galaxy.
REVENGE OF THE SITH is a masterpiece. The final piece of the puzzle Lucas first presented me at age 6. 27 years later, the Jigsaw is complete and damn if it isn't just damn near the most tragically cool thing I’ve ever seen put to film. We won’t see another like this. This is it.
We’ll see enormous sci-fantasy told, with more focus and even grander visions in our lifetime… but we’ll never care as much about a story like this one. For our generation, Star Wars is our mythology. The big story we lived to see told the first time. For those of you that were kids in lines in 1977 through to the coming weeks… I have to say, it has been an absolute ******* honor to do this with y’all.
Remember – this isn’t a Star Wars movie to cheer for, to erupt into applause and call cool. If you really love STAR WARS – this one is heart ache. Not only is it the end of a nearly 30 year journey for us… It really is the story of how things got so bad, that the good guys had to be a rebellion, where the Jedi had to hide and how evil ruled the galaxy. Wow, I’ve seen my last new Star Wars film."
Over at the BBC Paul Arendt wrote on May 20, and explained that Revenge of the Sith satisfied almost all the questions the fans needed answering.
"Good news first: George Lucas has delivered the film Star Wars fans have been praying for. Yes, it's true: Revenge Of The Sith kicks geek botty. The final episode of the prequels completes the cycle begun in 1977. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is reborn with the familiar face furniture and bondage leathers of Darth Vader, the Emperor (a splendid Ian McDiarmid) reveals his nefarious plot, and we discover the true origins of Leia, Luke, Yoda and a certain walking carpet.
Revenge Of The Sith strings a complex plot onto a framework of practically non-stop action. The first 20 minutes -- a breathtaking rollercoaster of space battles, lightsaber duels, explosions and acrobatics -- rivals anything we've seen in the series. There's an impressive new villain, the Dickensian cyborg General Grievous, a galactic holiday brochure of new locations and, as Anakin succumbs to the dark side, a bleak, bloody atmosphere that's shocking and occasionally even moving.
"WHAT WE WANTED ALL ALONG"
But, lapses aside, Revenge Of The Sith is what we wanted all along: a chunky, funky space opera spectacular."
Ken Tucker in New York Mag seemed less overtly impressed, although did have good things to say about the movie.
"(T)his final edition does have its pleasures—all of them, as usual, on its surface. Big spaceships, narrow-bladed lightsabers, and the freshly CGI-animated, martial-arts-leaping Yoda make our eyes feel happy. Someone at Skywalker Ranch apparently decided to remedy complaints about the earlier movies’ dourness, and so Hayden Christensen burbles, “This is where the fun begins!” before engaging in a zippy air battle, and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi gives us some sly grins and ingratiating winks. (As affable as they are, neither is any Han Solo, whom we can now definitively proclaim the best human character in the Star Wars series, thanks to Harrison Ford’s slow-burn charisma.) And as Star Wars’ most engaging villain, General Grievous is fab: a menacing clickety-clack meanie who wheezes and groans, sprouts new praying-mantis-style appendages with which to wield extra light-sabers, and provides the series with its best one-on-one tussle, against Obi-Wan.
Let's end with the legendary Roger Ebert, writing on May 19, who had plenty of positives to highlight from the film, as he always had throughout the two trilogies.
"George Lucas comes full circle in more ways than one in "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," which is the sixth -- and allegedly but not necessarily the last -- of the "Star Wars" movies. After "Episode II" got so bogged down in politics that it played like the Republic covered by C-Span, "Episode III" is a return to the classic space opera style that launched the series. Because the story leads up to where the original "Star Wars" began, we get to use the immemorial movie phrase, "This is where we came in."
And Ebert compares the techniques used to make the original trilogy to the new ways in which the prequels were crafted.
"The lesson, I think, is that special effects should be judged not by their complexity but by the degree that they stimulate the imagination, and "Episode III" is distinguished not by how well the effects are done, but by how amazingly they are imagined. A climactic duel on a blazing volcanic planet is as impressive, in its line, as anything in "Lord of the Rings." And Yoda, who began life as a Muppet but is now completely animated (like about 70 percent of what we see onscreen), was to begin with and still is the most lifelike of the non-humanoid "Star Wars" characters. If he got bogged down in solemnity and theory in "Episode II: Attack of the Clones," the Force is in a jollier mood this time, and "Revenge of the Sith" is a great entertainment."
And he had a perceptive point to make about future Star Wars movies.
"Note: I said this is not necessarily the last of the "Star Wars" movies. Although Lucas has absolutely said he is finished with the series, it is inconceivable to me that 20th Century-Fox will willingly abandon the franchise, especially as Lucas has hinted that parts VII, VIII and IX exist at least in his mind. There will be enormous pressure for them to be made, if not by him, then by his deputies."
Mark is a long-time contributor to Star Wars Insider, the co-owner of Jedi News, a regular contributor to the UK’s biggest free newspaper The Metro and co-host of RebelForce Radio’s UK-centric RADIO 1138 podcast. When he’s not talking or writing about Star Wars, he can usually be found sleeping, where he’ll most likely be dreaming about Star Wars.