The Force is strong with "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," the sixth andfinal piece in George Lucas' galactic saga, which represents a welcome returnto the ideas and the spirit that made his original "Star Wars" a pop-culturejuggernaut 28 years ago.
The circle is now complete, as Lucas' characters are fond of saying, andmuch of the film's joy comes from watching these familiar names and events fallinto place.
It is enormously satisfying to see young Anakin Skywalker (HaydenChristensen) teeter along the edge that separates good and evil, and to seewhat finally pushes the would-be Chosen One over to the dark side of the Force.
It's a wonderful, small discovery when Anakin receives the name Darth Vaderonce he finally swears his allegiance to Chancellor Palpatine, who revealshimself here as Darth Sidious, a Sith master and the eventual evil Emperor.(And all the other words that ooze from Ian McDiarmid's mouth leave you feelingso slimy, you'll want to take a shower afterward.)
But the moment we've all been waiting for is one that simply must beexperienced in a packed theater: when the mask goes on and the helmet comesdown and Anakin takes his first raspy breath as Darth Vader in all his dark,gleaming glory. (You won't hear anyone else breathing, it's such an absorbingsight.)
The iconography is powerful to behold, especially when compared to thehorrendously disappointing Episodes I and II. In retrospect, the first two "StarWars" prequels seem even more useless, with their stilted dialogue and theirnumbing, CGI-infused clone battles.
Lucas wisely has placed the emphasis this time on elaborate lightsaber duels- between Anakin and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) against the Sithlord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), and ultimately between Anakin and Obi-Wanthemselves. Some of the biggest thrills come from tiny Yoda, the Jedi masterwho's at the height of his powers here. He does as much damage with awell-chosen, structurally inverted phrase or the subtlest wrinkle of his round,green face as he does with a swing of his lightsaber. (And Yoda has madskills.)
Lucas' writing still clangs, though, especially during the exchanges betweenAnakin and his secret bride, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), whoannounces in Episode III that she's pregnant (with twins we've come to know asLuke and Leia in Episode IV, the original "Star Wars").
"You are so beautiful," Anakin dreamily tells Padme as she brushes her dark,flowing locks on a balcony in the moonlight.
"Only because I'm so in love," Padme coos back to him.
Thankfully, Lucas also didn't saddle her with the heavy headgear anddistracting dresses she wore in Episodes I and II, or else she would barely beable to get up and move about the galaxy.
That love for Padme, though, is partly the inspiration for Anakin'sconversion. Not to give too much away, but he becomes convinced that Padme isin danger, and the only way to save her is through the powers that come withdark-side membership.
He's actually just being manipulated by Palpatine/Darth Sidious, who wantsto turn the Galactic Republic into his own Empire and sees him as a malleableapprentice, especially at a time when Anakin isn't getting the respect andauthority he craves from the Jedi Council.
"Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose," Yoda warnsAnakin, but it's too late - and we know it's too late, and that built-in expectationis much of what makes "Revenge of the Sith" so riveting.
It's also a visually wondrous film, though. Lucas uses the digitaltechnology to far greater advantage than he did in the first two prequels,which too often had the glossy, detached look of a video game. Crisp daylightstreams through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Padme's apartment, and thecityscapes consist of silvery skyscrapers and golden sunsets. Even Chewbaccaand his Wookiee buddies look lifelike as they scamper in battle across thebeaches and jungles of the planet Kashyyyk.
Clearly, this is Lucas' war protest movie _ Obi-Wan shoots a character downwith a gun once his lightsaber is knocked away from him, and afterward sniffs,''So uncivilized.'' But it's also, at its core, a soap opera. It always hasbeen. Think of Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker, ''I am your father,'' duringthe heat of battle in ''The Empire Strikes Back.'' Episode III featuresfast-paced parallel editing between two staples of daytime TV: a childbirth anda complicated operation.
But despite its drama and darkness, Lucas gives us some light moments, too.He slips in a glimpse of the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks at the very end, andalthough the big, goofy Gungan doesn't say anything, his presence alone feelslike Lucas' last little dig at the naysayers - and a reminder with this finalfarewell that, nearly 30 years later, he's still doing it his way.
"Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," a Twentieth Century Foxrelease, is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images. Runningtime: 142 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.