I'm not sure how useful this review will actually be at this point; Matt actually did a pretty good job summing up my feelings in a paragraph. However, long-windedness is one of my gifts of the force, so I'll post my review anyway.
We went to the movies on Saturday afternoon expecting long lines and a packed theater. We got the former, but the theater was actually only about 75% full (thus allowing the requisite buffer seat on each side of us. I don't mind going to packed movies, and it can be a lot of fun, but I'm a big guy, and I hate battling strangers for the armrest throughout the film. This is another reason I hope to build a lovely home theater when we have money--in other words, probably never, but a guy can dream). There were several people in the audience who said they'd already seen it two or three times, which is pretty amazing, since it had only been out for a day and a half at that point. No costumes, however, so I was a little disappointed.
So what was this film? Was it the salvation of the Star Wars saga, as many have proclaimed? Well sort of, in that it was definitely the best of the prequels. Was it a good action movie and a fun time? Absolutely. Was it the best Star Wars film yet? Not by a long shot. But it was what Star Wars fans (and I definitely put myself in that category, though I don't think they're the greatest movies ever made or anything) have been waiting for since Lucas announced the prequels nearly a decade ago.
I don't think there are too many surprises in this film--if you don't already know Anakin's fate at this point, you really probably don't care enough about Star Wars to read this review--but I think Lucas does a nice job making his switch to the Dark Side at least understandable. This is a guy who has been used and abused until he honestly doesn't see right and wrong as mutually exclusive categories on even big issues like murder, let alone the little things. I do wonder why Anakin never seemed very likeable or smart in any of the three prequels. I wondered why the heck Obi-Wan (and Ewan Macgregor is great as usual) has put up with him for the past fifteen years. He's always been rash, always slightly dishonest, always spoiled and petulent. But that's ok; though some people blame Anakin's problems on Hayden Christensen, I think the real problem is that George Lucas needs to make Anakin a good hero for Prequels 1 and 2, but make his fall understandable by 3, and though the man has a great imagination, he's just not that good of a writer to make that sort of character arc believable. Maybe he doesn't have to be; after all, these are just action sci-fi flicks, but they're also a lot more than that. And Lucas just doesn't have the writing chops to make it as epic as he (and we) want it to be.
The writing really grated on me, I have to admit. Clunky lines like "Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo" and "From where I stand, the Jedi are the evil ones" just don't hold up very well. At one point, one character even stood, hands clenched in fists, and shouts "Noooooooooooo!" as the camera backs away. This is just B-movie-bad writing.
That said, however, this movie is a lot of fun. There are some exciting space battles. There are some fantastic light saber duels (in my opinion Obi-Wan becomes one of the most interesting figures in this saga, watching him progress from Phantom Menace through the ghost in Jedi, and his moves in this film are pretty dang exciting) . The events that eventually put Anakin in the Vader suit are pretty horrible. And they even do a pretty good job foreshadowing the major style shift leading into the slightly more low-tech look of the original films.
I would even go so far as to say I think this is a really good prequel to the films--good enough that I'm still not sure why we needed the other two prequels, but whatever, they're ok for what they are. The film is good, but it still doesn't top the original trilogy, or even come close to the best Star Wars film: The Empire Strikes Back.
But really, how could it? The Star Wars machine has gotten to the point where it's consuming itself, and there's no way this film or any of the prequels could fully live up the hype surrounding them. This film is nearly (minus the bad writing) as good as it can be, and is definitely worth your time at the movies. Just don't forget about the original trilogy (and good luck if you can find it, since Lucas will only release his rehashed CGI-ified versions on DVD) and what made this universe so exciting in the first place. Final Grade: B+
By the way, you think he'll make the final trilogy like he was originally going to? I'd love that. And all the actors are old enough now that it would be pretty cool. He says he won't, but he always says that...