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Face-Off: Revenge of the Sith vs. Return of the Jedi

11.08.2012by: Paul Huffman
In last weeks Face Off, we showed love to one of the best horror franchises of all time thanks to Sam Raimi in Evil Dead vs. Evil Dead II. The general opinion from our readers was that while the original Evil Dead was indeed a classic and paved the way for a lot of straight horror that came before it, the sequel with all its camp and its entertainment had more of a lasting impression. Ash's character transformation into the bad ass we know him as today couldn't be ignored.

This week, well, in all fairness maybe I should have saved the Bond vs. Bourne match for this month. But let's not cry over spilled milk. So instead, we're going with a theme that captures some other pretty big news that has been circulating the web lately. To do that, we've put together perhaps the only debatable OT vs. Prequel trilogy match up in Revenge of the Sith vs. Return of the Jedi. Fans are passionate about their love for the original Star Wars films, and just as passionate about their general dislike for the prequel films. Now in an interesting turn of events, Episode III was rather well recieved, thank goodness for that. Some even say that is surpassed ROTJ, the least praised of the original three films. But is that an opinion you share? Let's discuss.
Story
The Clone Wars are so close to an end the Jedi can taste it. But as they fight for an end to the conflict their distrust of Chancelor Palpatine and his antics grows more and more every minute. With good reason, as the Chancelor has finally decided to move on seducing a certain young Jedi warrior to the dark side of the force. It's a tale of suspicion, something that every character in this film felt a little bit of. It's the fall from grace we've all been waiting for since ROTJ was all said and done, and from my point of view at least...this particular section of the story delivered.
Luke Skywalker is so close to his delusion of grandeur in the form on becoming a Jedi Knight he can taste it. But when he discovers that there is truth to a pretty major claim made by his nemesis Darth Vader, the final step towards his destiny lies in one more confrontation with his disturbed father. Meanwhile the rest of the rebel alliance devise a plan to put a halt on the construction of a second Death Star, which in all fairness they made just a little bit harder to destroy this time around. I can only imagine what the shock was like for audiences when these movies first came out, but it rocked my world when I was a kid too. And it added the needed emotional weight for this final installment.
Acting
The standouts in this film were definitely Ian McDiarmid and Ewan McGregor. Ian's slow transformation from Palpatine into the Emperor we all love to hate was a joy to watch. Truly frightening performance. McGregor hit all the right emotional notes when absolutely needed, especially in the scene where Anakin gets burnt to a crisp. Speaking of that scene, while I'm not a fan of Hayden's acting...when the script called for him to look brooding, pissed off, and emotionally tortured, it worked for me this time around. Ten times better than his turn in AOTC. However I must say, that there were still some cringeworthy acting moments in this film, where I could have used a bit more emotion. NOTE: Special props given to Matthew Wood for his portrayal of General Grievous, with all his character nuances.
Harrison Ford brought his usual charm, Carrie Fisher while not as sassy as previous films still got the job done, Mark Hamill carried the emotional weight of Luke swimmingly, but I would really like to praise Ian McDiarmid (at the risk of being redundant) and the voice talent of James Earl Jones. Ian's role as the Emperor, while brief, was as menacing as any villain ever portrayed. Jones really delivered on portraying a Vader that we could see was beginning to doubt his life choices, you could feel the "conflict" in his voice, even in his body language. NOTE: Props to the fellow who made the most out of his one line in the film that read "rebel scum". He was determined to make himself remembered.
Musical Score
Here we got to relive what I thought was the best part of Phantom Menace aside from Darth Maul in the track Duel of the Fates, plus heavily emotional new tracks like the music that accompanied Order 66 and the track attached to the long awaited Anakin/Obi-Wan duel entitled Battle of the Heroes. The score in this film was tragic, heavy shit was going on here and John Williams is the king at conveying something like this.
I dug the somber feel of already existing music that we got when Luke found out that Vader wasn't full of sh*t courtesy of Yoda. Williams also doesn't let us down in action bits as proved by what he gave us for the Battle of Endor. What caught my attention though, was the low-key score for the last stretch of the battle between Luke and Vader and the payoff of his redemption. It was less in your face then what he gave us for ROTS, but equally as powerful.
Climax
The fall of Anakin Skywalker was among one of the most important things to get right in history of cinema. And for all Lucas' failings with the prequel trilogy, I think the birth of Darth Vader was handled beautifully. He had a lot of material to cover, so I bought Anakin's reasons for siding with Palpatine (I mean hey the guys last premonition turned out to be true). We were treated to a lot of wet dreams in seeing Yoda and the Emperor battle it out, the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan was emotionally satisfying, and let's face it...the "NOOOOOOOO" excluded...the first appearance of Vader was pretty bad ass. Seeing old set pieces that mirrored the OT was an added geek-filled bonus. Bottom line, ROTS deserves the praise it gets.
ROTJ was a cathartic experience, the idea that Vader still had some humanity left in him sort of came out of left field but it was believable nonetheless. You got a sense that every single character completed the paths they landed themselves on in the first film. One of the aspects I dug about the climax here was we got a couple breaks in the action between Luke and Vader for them to verbalize where there heads were at, although Vader showed no signs of faltering until he saw his son being tortured. That was all it took? How can I explain how happy I was with how this film ended? Let's say, if George had never sold his company to Disney, I think it's all safe to say we would have been content forever with how this saga ended. The Skywalker story came full circle in a beautiful way.
Overall
No sign of annoying kid actors, no sign of painful romantic dialogue (with the exception of a couple scenes), and only one glimpse of a Jar Jar without dialogue. Action plentiful, emotional content was present for the last hour. George Lucas, while having no talent for dialogue whatsoever, delivered on a visual level that was astounding. Glimpses of planets that I couldn't have dreamed up on my best day. A decent performance from a Hayden Christensen that had let me down in the previous film. ROTS was the film that Star Wars lovers had been waiting for since 1999. A perfect balance of humor, action, and tragedy. Not exactly Shakespeare, but it pleased this fanboy.
ROTJ was the Godfather III of the Star Wars franchise (with the Ewoks representing poor Sofia Coppola). Not quite as groundbreaking as the previous two installments, but also can never be counted out. It was satisfying. Late director Richard Marquand did a bang up job in bringing Lucas' vision to life, using an actual location for most of it no less. ROTJ was a satisfying end to a saga that is loved by millions. Think about it, if it didn't deliver in its own way, the OT would not be as praised as it is today. Bottom line. Our characters fulfilled their destinies. Can't ask for more than that.
Revenge of the Sith
I know what you may be thinking. Don't get me wrong, The Phantom Menace would never beat out A New Hope, the world ENDS before AOTC comes close to beating out ESB, but there was something that grabbed me on an emotional level when it came to Revenge of the Sith. The technological advances in the art of filmmaking weren't anywhere near relevant in this case. The music, the action, the performances of most involved (even Hayden when he didn't have to speak any dialogue) made ROTS a hell of a ride. Bottom line, ROTJ deserves praise for going out on an adequate note...while ROTS deserves praise for being the saving grace in the prequel trilogy. That speaks volumes. Do you agree?

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which film is your favourite?
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