We didn’t need to see Anakin Skywalker as a youngling. We didn’t need to see him struggling to portray a legitimate romance on a movie screen, “struggling” a key word. What we needed to see was the hate (not that the transformation wasn’t important) but Hayden Christensen finally lights up in the closing moments of Episode III.
Those deadened stares, those cries of hatred, and the fierce, driven power of those final lightsaber duels are what Star Wars fans were looking for. Since the prequels were happening after all, the shores of volcanic Mustafar were always going to mean closure, and apparently, enough to spark George Lucas back into his zone.
Sure, he blows it, destroying one of cinema’s all time greatest reveals in Empire by his inability to quit while he’s ahead. Enough has been parodied about the infamous, “No!” that nothing more needs said. The final shot of Vader should have been a profile of the mask being completed, but overcooked was the mantra for these prequels. Might as well show some consistency.
No doubt Episode III is the best of the prequels, mostly because it’s about conflict, you know, the stuff that this franchise was based on. Where as Episode I was sidelined by blatant comedy, Episode II a stilted romance, Episode III just guns it. Past that text crawl, the camera drops directly into action, 25-minutes of spectacle returning with a purpose, not just because.
It’s that driving pace Sith will continue to celebrate, sidetracks like General Griveous more of a shoehorned means of putting Anakin where he needs to be, but one that follows war. It allows the tragedy and manipulation to fire on all cylinders, the growing fear and hatred aligned. Lucas’ new found fascination with CG is used, generally speaking, with care. It lights up the finale with spewing lava, creates scale amongst the smaller confrontations, and then ruins part of it with nonsensical Clone Trooper effects. It’s impossible to find people to wear suits, right?
Sith is forced to share some of the burden created by its prequel brothers. As reviled as they are, it’s difficult to see past where these prequels have been to where it’s going in these final hours. Much of the hatred heaped onto Episode III isn’t fair, and since anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering, you’re only doing it to yourself. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Lucas continues with a digital trend, switching the camera for an upgraded CineAlta HDC-F950, and the difference between this and Episode II is remarkable. While there remain inconsistencies, mild generally, Sith is probably the best looking film of the series. Although, to be fair, with more up to date masters, the original trilogy could easily conquer.
To get the negatives out of the way, Sith will suffer from some, at times, heavy aliasing. Ships, windows, buildings, even people will break-up enough to be noticeable. That’s the downside of working within the constraints of 1080p, and such faults created by that technological decision will forever haunt the movie. Noise can also be present, slightly robbing this third prequel of it purity. Relegated to the backgrounds and usually during effects-heavy shots, noise here appears more like an average grain structure to the untrained eye. Finally, black levels will struggle, at times even within key scenes, robbing them of their visual intensity. Like everything else mentioned so far, it’s by no means consistent.
Sith steps up its game across the board elsewhere though, astounding during the intense, fast-paced space battle. CG effects are nothing short of a modern marvel, stunning in their sharpness and moving at such a clip, picking up any faults is impractical. Sparks, flames, and debris scatter, the hearty encode showing no signs of trouble. Even those brilliant shots producing an overhead view do not exhibit problems, and that’s where this transfer could have easily fallen into trouble. It’s not just the battles, those slow moving exteriors of the senate or Jedi council rooms spectacular. Kashyyyk, with its forested struggles, are a marvel of the format. The disc will also outperform expectations on Mustafar during that climatic duel, the DVD a rather harsh mess of artifacts, and on Blu-ray sterling in its definition.
This isn’t all about effects though, Sith replicating fine details on characters too, from the metal of General Grievous to the close-ups of Padme and Obi-Wan. Yoda is stunning, and Jedi robes feel infinitely textured. Make-up on the likes of Palpatine is finally exposed in all of its glory, while Anakin’s turn towards the Dark Side doesn’t adversely affect the eye candy. Nothing here appears unnatural; Sith is too pristine in its definition for that to happen. It’s all the more a mystery why someone felt smothering Episode I with DNR would make it equal something like this.
The intensity of the colors has been brought back too, sorely missing from the prior movie. The greens of Kashyyyk and the bright, saturated reds of Mustafar are jaw dropping. Lasers produce a heated intensity, and lightsabers shine exactly as they should. Flesh tones carry a natural hue, not an over saturated, warmed up shade of red. This is a dazzling display of Blu-ray prowess, knocked off its pedestal by minor grievances that will only hamper the hardcore videophile’s enjoyment. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Video]
This is a DTS-HD 6.1 mix that will come right out of the gate firing, explosions rippling through the soundfield and tearing up the subwoofer just like they should. Engines roar and rumble the low-end with little regard for your neighbor’s sanity, while lasers swing around into the rears. Tracking is an immense success, and it has been through all of these discs in the set really. There’s a lot going on Sith’s hectic opening though, making it an even more impressive start point.
Then, this track just dies. No, not the positional use; that will remain epic in its abilities to keep motion alive. Even some dialogue will seep into the stereo channels. It’s the bass that is simply lost from this mix, as if it were forgotten or completely mis-calibrated during the mixing phase. Either way, it comes across as a total defect, Sith now in the midst of a total mismatch even against the somewhat unnatural New Hope.
All of the energy is sapped from the grand finale, lightsaber clashes not even pushing a tenth of the low-end power created by Episode I’s Duel of the Fates with Darth Maul. Yoda and Palpatine’s scuffle in the senate as they fling seats at each other creates no momentum. Even the John Williams pieces with all of their power and heavy drums flatline, devoid of the spark they so desperately need to set scale.
It’s not just those closing stand-offs either, the battle with the Wookie horde devoid of impact even as ships meet their fiery fate. Engines barely elicit a bump, and the chase for Grievous never finds a home on this disc. It sounds unfinished, the clarity certainly there along with the ambiance, say inside the senate as crowds speak their mind. When you can turn off your subwoofer and hardly register a difference from when it was active, something needs fixed. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Episode III brings in George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, and Roger Guyet in for a commentary, the smallest crew of the entire set. An archival mixture of interview clippings involve 19 different cast and crew members.
The rest of Episode III’s extras are on a separate disc in the box set, ready to be reviewed at a later date in the interest of being as thorough as possible. The score reflects the film’s disc only. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]