Whoa! For several minutes in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, there’s actually an inkling of character development. While creator George Lucas doesn’t get too carried away fleshing out his dark hero, he manages to insert enough emotion into this final installment of his six-film science-fiction extravaganza to make it a satisfying experience.
Sith, the so-called link between two Star Wars trilogies that have been 28 years in the making, chronicles the transformation of the righteous Anakin Skykwalker (Hayden Christenen) into the evil Darth Vader. Christensen does fairly well with Lucas’ humorless, pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue, faring better than Natalie Portman as his secret, and pregnant, wife Padme Amidala. Portman, an effusive, delightful actress in non-Star Wars roles, including the wonderful Garden State, can’t breathe life into the stilted role.
Likewise, the typically brilliant Samuel L. Jackson, as one of Skywalker’s fellow Jedi knights, is utterly wasted. Ewan McGregor, as Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin’s mentor, does a workmanlike job. The acting hero is Ian McDiarmid as the below-the-belt Chancellor Palpatine, the movie’s only really juicy bad guy. (His main competitor is the animated General Grievous, a character who looks like a big metal bug.)
In the movie’s most compelling scenes, Palpatine, with a metaphysical assist, effectively convinces Anakin to explore the dark side of the Force. He assures Anakin that his premonitions that Padme will die in childbirth won’t come true; if he turns to the other side, he can save her. Anakin finds the argument appealing, more so than those of his Jedi cohorts, who don’t trust Palpatine and worry about the future of the democratic Republic with Palpatine at the helm. It’s hard to ignore comparisons to George Bush’s empire, but then again, Lucas has never been known for subtlety.
Still, politics and subtleties aren’t the reason why Star Wars movies have multitudes of devoted followers. When it comes to dazzling visual effects, thunderous battle scenes, quirky gizmos, exotic locales, mechanical armies, lightsaber sleight of hand, goofy creatures and speedy, often hard-to-read action sequences rivaling those of a video game, Revenge of the Sith scores on all counts It’s punctuated beautifully by John Williams’ booming, soaring, and yes, quite familiar, score.
The movie gets off to loud, crashing start with a lengthy battle scene that pits Anakin and Obi-Wan against bad guys Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and the aforementioned Count Grievous. But the skirmish is soon eclipsed by the big face-offs fans have anticipated for decades: the wise, computer-generated Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) strutting his lightsaber skills against Palpatine, and, of course, the inevitable, fiery showdown between Obi-Wan and Anakin on cliffs surrounded by spewing lava.
So when Anakin dons the Darth Vader suit–a la Frankenstein–it’s no surprise. Episode III has brought viewers full circle to number four, A New Hope, the first Star Wars movie that set off the fervor back in 1977. Aside from some hard-to-digest time element problems, the most egregious being that baby Luke Skywalker ages to teenhood between the two episodes, while Obi-Wan morphs from the young virile McGregor into the decades-older Alec Guinness, Revenge of the Sith offers up what all but the most rabid fans want: an engaging sense of closure to a tale that has captivated more than one generation, and one that has made cinematic history.
– Leslie Katz