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Star Wars Episode III:
Revenge of the Sith

The temptation remains great to be clever in this opening, but we played that three years ago with Attack of the Clones. Why taunt and tease with two time-killing paragraphs (or movies) when you want to get to the meat of the third?

As promised (or threatened), Revenge of the Sith is indeed the darkest of the prequel trilogy. It is also indeed the strongest film of the three. That may be damning with faint praise, but really, even though it still has many weak spots, the overall effect gets more powerful with time.

Let's be honest: going in, we already know who will live and who will die. Unfortunately for the corner George Lucas boxed himself into, with the major characters we can have few surprises. That makes it harder to have an emotional investment like we did with "our" original crew of Luke, Leia and Han. The only mysteries can be in exactly how things happened, and for long-time fans, even some of those have been spoiled since the 1977 novelization.

But it's the telling, not necessarily the tale, and in some moments Lucas tells it very well indeed. If you take a step back from the specific story of Anakin's turn to the Dark Side of the Force, the writer/director has something very important to say about how easily fascism can sweep a nation, or in this case, interplanetary alliance. Padme (Natalie Portman) even has a few lines that should stand out from this film as cautionary quotes.

Some of those cautions come in argument with Anakin (Hayden Christensen), willingly and naively listening to the political and personal seductions of Palpatine (Ian McDarmid). It may be tempting to draw parallels to our current world situation, but Lucas may be making the bigger point that this happens over and over in history, even in a galaxy far, far away.

All that is required for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing. Of course, even as the ostensibly good Anakin succumbs, Lucas still has his heroes. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) cuts an even more dashing figure than allowed in the previous two films, and it's still hard to believe that if Padme really wanted to marry a Jedi, she would choose the self-absorbed Anakin over Obi-Wan. But that's a subtext that never quite gels, though Lucas stages a few awkward scenes that underscore why Anakin might be jealous.

Even Lucas admits that he works best in the louder parts of the story. Here, he outdoes himself with a dazzling opening space battle, full of new ideas and imagery. It still follows the clunky exposition that leaves us a little unsure as to why the battle happens, but he gives us enough bright lights to distract us from that problem.

At first, it all has something to do with Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), reduced to a videogame character here, and the new menace of the alien cyborg General Grievous. The whys matter far less than the fun, and Lucas barely lets the viewer catch a breath as Skywalker and Kenobi fight their way through a star destroyer to rescue Chancellor Palpatine. Even R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) gets a great moment that reminds old fans of the magic they used to instinctively feel. Then again, Lucas has always been good with technology.

Despite a bit of meandering, Revenge of the Sith does have the most straightforward plot. The subtle machinations of Palpatine in earlier films get thrown to the forefront. Most of the fight scenes actually move the film forward, though a side trip to Kashykk, the planet of the Wookies, really could have been cut entirely, but Lucas wanted to give a shout out to Chewbacca.

He should have worried less about the fans' familiarity, and run with the chance to build some new characters. Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), a long-time cipher in the mythos, starts to really come into his own, and because his path isn't as set in stone as the others, he has the potential to be the most interesting. Unlike the Jedi, Organa accidentally becomes the right man in the wrong place at the right time, and in many ways, his heroism rings truer.

Events sweep him up, and he could have been our key into these horrible events. We already know we have no midichlorian count, so we identify with this guy. And maybe we still will, as Lucas has been open about doing a television series set in the Star Wars universe. Smits keeps looking for a really good series role - and how long can The West Wing last anyway?

The other characters don't fare nearly as well, which again holds back our emotional investment. At least Lucas holds true to his promise not to let Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) die like a punk, but despite the magnitude of Jackson, it's hard to feel anything for it. If you've read the comic books, you might shed a tear for Ki-Adi-Mundi (Silas Carson), but buying Dark Horse comics would also be the only way you would know his name.

At least the romance, always the series' weakest point, takes a backseat, even as it becomes the motivation for Anakin's turn. Christensen does a better job here than in Episode II, but the script offers little support.

Part of the problem is still that fandom seems to know the movies better than Lucas does. Sure, all your questions will be answered, sort of, but most in the last five minutes. It feels rushed and forced, and will definitely have fans picking nits for months. Allegedly the novelization does a better job of explaining some things, but the script should have had it covered.

Yet we've endured this for well over two decades. Is it a satisfying conclusion? Not exactly, because that should have been Return of the Jedi. But as the last official "film," it's okay.


Derek McCaw

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