Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. 20th Century Fox presents a film written and directed by George Lucas. Running time: 140 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and some intense images). Starring Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones (voice).

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Honestly, I don't know why I'm even bothering to write about this. Due to my unfathomable laziness, as I'm putting fingers to keyboard right now Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith has already set a box-office record, and it has made over $70 million in its second week. I, personally, have seen it twice, and I know people who have seen it many more times. It really doesn't matter what score I have up there, whether four stars, or three, or none. If you haven't seen the film already, you probably aren't going to, and if you are, you don't care what I have to say.

Because it's Star Wars, man. The last one (I hope), the end to a saga that has captured the imaginations of billions, whether they were alive when A New Hope came out or have seen the films only in George Lucas's bastardized redigitalizations. Lucas, for better or worse, has left his mark forever on the cultural landscape of America. The original trilogy, the re-releases, the prequels. The films will endure forever - one hundred years from now, people are still going to be reciting dialogue, breathing like Vader and making that cool light saber noise with their lips.

And so Revenge of the Sith is almost impossible to view as a movie rather than an experience, as something so much more than a sci-fi flick dominating your multiplex. But that's what I'm here for, and it's what I'm going to attempt. I've assigned a score, however meaningless, and I have my reasons. The film is the best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back, for what it's worth, but it's far from perfect. There are moments of sheer brilliance and power, true, but there are also moments of ineptitude. Anyone who tells you different is fooling themselves.

By this point, everone knows the story of Revenge of the Sith. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is corrupted by Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and becomes Darth Vader, the most iconic villain in filmdom. Padme (Natalie Portman) gives birth to Luke and Leia. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) faces off with Vader and defeats him, scarring him for life, resulting in the black suit we all know. The Jedi are hunted down and killed. Evil takes control in the Empire. The end.

The first half of the film is typical Lucas exposition. He sets up the power struggle between the senate and the Jedi Council; he expands the Anakin-Padme romance; he shows the events that lead up to Anakin's turn. And, unfortunately, he does it clumsily. The politicking is thankfully less prevalent than in the other prequels - mainly limited to the Council talking about Palpatine - but it's still uninteresting when it shouldn't have to be. The romance is just as bad as it was in Attack of the Clones, full of the same atrocious dialogue - "I'm only beautiful because I love you so much"; "No, it is because I love you so much" - and puppy dog eyes.

Still, it's clear that this story, the one that we all know, is the only one that Lucas really wanted to tell. He was just spinning his wheels with The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, locked into his promise to make an all-new trilogy. The material in those two films could have been - should have been - condensed and inserted into the beginning of this one. Because nothing that happens here gains any power or resonance from the other prequels, simply from what we know will come after.

And what power the second half of the film actually holds. Once Anakin turns, the film grows despairingly - almost smotheringly - dark. It is sci-fi adventure as Greek tragedy. The slaughter of the Jedi is portrayed in a broad, epic montage backed by operatic classical music, and it is a truly striking, stirring sequence. But nothing in the film matches the sheer impact of the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel. For once in the trilogy, something that happens has actual weight, the knowledge that what is going on will affect the world forever. When Anakin has been defeated, his legs and one good arm chopped off, and Obi-Wan cries, "You were the chosen one!", the heart swells. Yes, it's a broad, potentially cheesy moment, but it also has a certain majesty that is undeniable.

It is a testament to McGregor's tremendous performance that the scene works so well. He has spent the entire trilogy being that glue that kept the films together, and here it all comes full circle. He seems to be channeling Alec Guiness - his sense of humor and adventure, his pathos - and it helps bridge the gap between the two trilogies. He has true moments of emotion, and his heartbreak at dealing with Anakin is palpable.

No other actor fares as well. Christensen has improved, but not enough. His pre-evil scenes showcase his ability to pout childishly almost as well as in Clones, and by the time he actually starts doing a good job - post-Vader - it is too little, too late (frankly, I blame Lucas; he has never been good with actors, and Christensen has done strong enough work in the past - see Shattered Glass - to give him the benefit of the doubt). Portman is utterly wasted, but no one should ever deny her ability to call up lots of tears on command. McDiarmid, praised in many reviews, hams it up unbearably for the most part, hissing and moaning and all but twirling his handle-bar mustache; his is evil by way of Snidely Whiplash.

As always, the film displays an astounding array of special effects. It may just be the most technologically impressive film ever made; it looks great, too, sharp and brightly colored. For the first time in the trilogy Lucas seems to know what he wants to do in his direction, which is more focused than ever before - but what the hell's with the wipes? It would be okay if they were all just vertical, horizontal or diagonal, but when he starts getting as fancy with it as he does here it becomes almost unbearably distracting.

I'm beginning to ramble. This is the kind of movie that has that effect on people. It is such an important event that we feel the need to talk about it - about the good, the bad, whatever; just talk, get our emotions and feelings out. Star Wars is over. It's right that it's over - and it should stay that way - but the films have been such a part of our lives for so long that to know that there will never be any more is a strange feeling. Revenge of the Sith, the final episode, is powerful, uneven, severely flawed and utterly essential. There is no excuse not to see it.

© 2005 Matt Noller, not that anyone would ever want to steal this