All the shit that we wanted to see in any prequels to "Star Wars" FINALLY HAPPENS. The shit hits the fan, lightsabers are everywhere and the world gets really dark, and Lucas has learned some lessons. And just so everyone knows - Jar Jar Binks has no lines, and I only noticed him in one shot. I still find it amusing that the whole downfall of the Republic is his fault.
BIAS ALERT: I shouldn't have to mention that I've had a history as a "Star Wars" geek, but it's been diluted after the first two iffy films. This one managed to bring it back a bit, and now I might have to go watch the first trilogy again.
All rightie. We start off with "WAR!" The Separatists, led by COUNT DOOKIE and a weird alien-droid hybrid named General Grievous vs. the Republic, led with an ever-more-consolidated power by Chancellor Palpatine and the clone troopers, with the help of the Jedi. Palpatine's been captured, and Anakin, Obi-Wan and R2-Freakin'-D2 charge in to go save him. Yes, R2 actually gets to KICK ASS here. Christopher Lee gets the Saruman treatment again, and he's outta the picture in the first 15 minutes, but at least he made the film this time, and it sets up the Palpatine-Anakin "Yo, Dark Side! Dark Side, man! Dark Side, Dark Side yo!" relationship a bit more.
This is exacerbated by the fact that Anakin starts having dreams about Padme's death, and he starts to get really paranoid about everything, getting suspicious of the Jedi, who are suspicious of Palpatine, who is playing upon all of this to weasel his way into Anakin's head and set him up for the fateful turn, and then stuff just starts to get darker than I'd ever expected. You'll know the exact moment when it became a PG-13 movie, and goddamn if it doesn't make you sad when everything starts to crumble and The Conehead Jedi gets his.
I won't go into much more detail, but there's a LOT more action in this one, so be thankful. Obi-Wan Kenobi, after being sorta shown as a subpar Jedi in the first two movies - good, but not great, fucks things up and needs to get bailed out by Anakin a lot - finally gets to kick some ass on his lonesome, when he goes to bring in Grievous, who busts out some quad-lightsaber action on his ass. He also gets to unclench a bit, finally. One of my big issues with the new trilogy is that there's nothing close to Han Solo to really carry the audience along with charm, smarm and the ability to roll his eyes at everything. Han Solo is the Man and the Suckas He Devours! The fact that Obi-Wan gets to enjoy himself a little bit and smile occasionally here helps assuage that somewhat. Until, of course, he comes back to find everything's gone to fuckery.
Mace Windu gets to strut his stuff a bit, too, making me wonder who exactly is more powerful, Mace or Yoda... and Mace doesn't go out like a punk, which is good. The final showdown on lavaworld between Anakin and Obi-Wan is pretty brutal, interspersed with Yoda taking on Palpatine. In a lot of ways, this is Ian McDiarmid's movie. This is the most we've seen out of ol' Darth Sidious in any of the films, and he's smooth as can be until he gets the opportunity to bust out the mad crazy killah. Not to mention busting out the lightsaber himself. There's just a faster pace and a lot more going on now, and it keeps you entertained and wide-eyed.
That's not to say it's a perfect film. Any moment between Anakin and Padme is still pretty painful, but it's thankfully kept to a minimum, and their last exchange is their best one. Christensen is noticeably better, but still not great, and Anakin's turn to the Dark Side is done well, but his descent from conflicted soul to outright monster seems too quick. It's something overlookable, though. The dialogue often leaves plenty to be desired, and while the Hot Wookiee Action was cool, I would have loved to see more of it. Chewbacca's there, but he doesn't actually DO much of anything... although Yoda's apparently down with the Wookiees, and they help save his ass during the Jedi purge. I've long been stumping for the last third of this movie to be all full-regalia Vader kicking ass, but I knew that wasn't to be. James Earl Jones only gets a few lines in, but hearing him do an anguished scream is really, really weird. The CGI is pretty good, but still more distracting than I'd like it to be.
One thing that surprised me, though was a brief swerve into commentary on the current political climate. Anakin declares "If you're not with me, than you're my enemy!" to Obi-Wan, who replies "Only a Sith deals in absolutes!" But much more biting, and possibly the best line in the film, is Padme's. She really doesn't have much do to other than be pregnant and cry, for the most part, but she gets this one. Sitting in her Senate seat with SMITZMAZTER ZERO! JIMMY SMITS MOTHERFUCKER! Palpatine is announcing the reorganization into the Empire to provide a safe, secure Republic to an appreciative crowd. She just looks on with disbelieving sadness.
"So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause."
Overall, there's a lot more asskickery here than complainability, which is a first for the new trilogy, and a skeptical friend even said it might be the third best Star Wars film of all (nobody likes "Return of the Jedi," I guess). It comes full circle, and it's definitely something I want to go see again. Probably a few times. But I'm telling all you motherfuckers out there - if you ever are in a position to decide how a child is first exposed to the Star Wars movies, you HAVE TO START WITH "A NEW HOPE." You cannot watch them in chronological order for the first time, or every surprise is ruined... and kids probably won't deal with 70s effects as well as schmancy new CGI. Sad but true.