A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away George Lucas actually made a good movie. It was called Star Wars. Later on, it was called A New Hope, but we're ignoring that for now. He followed it up with one highly regarded sequel (which he did not direct) and a trilogy-ending capper that had its moments, but mostly rehashed the good parts from the previous films. Years later, he returned to the storyline, giving the world a pair of prequels that were alternately juvenile and ungodly complicated. Now, Lucas has decided it's time to put this baby to bed. This summer—as if you didn't know—Lucas is unleashing the final Star Wars film. So excuse me while I cut to the chase: Longstanding fans of Lucas' star-spanning empire can breathe one big, collective sigh of relief. This is the first film to actually compare favorably with Lucas' original vision.
Me, I was 8 years old when the first Star Wars film hit theaters. Needless to say, I was just the right demographic and spent the next half decade (give or take) obsessed with all things Star Wars. When Lucas returned to the well in the late '90s and dredged up Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, I was less than impressed--perhaps, it could be argued, because I was no longer 8 years old. Lucas' defense has always been that these films are, you know, for kids. Even so, I can go back and watch my original Star Wars DVD and be fantastically entertained. I can't even bear to flip past Phantom Menace on network TV for fear of a Jar-Jar sighting.
With Revenge of the Sith, Lucas finally gets around to delivering the story everybody's been waiting for. I don't recall too many people salivating over the question that Phantom Menace seemed intent on answering, namely, "What economic trade conflicts led to the dissolution of the Old Republic?" Sith, however, gives us the biggie: "How exactly did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader?"
Lucas seems as excited by this prospect as the rest of us, and he dives right into it, delivering a dark, near-operatic tragedy about Anakin's descent into the Dark Side of the Force. The film opens with a much-talked-about space battle pitting Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) against the forces of toyetic new villain General Grevious (a red-hot action figure if I ever saw one). The impressive, action-packed and largely self-contained sequence reads like the pre-credit intro to a Bond film—and, believe me, that's high praise.
For the most part, the film keeps up the pace, delivering one breathless action sequence after another. Occasionally, Lucas takes a breather to deliver some expository dialogue—most of which occurs between troubled Anakin and his now-pregnant wife Amidala (Natalie Portman). As usual, Lucas' dialogue is several degrees off from actual human speech. At this point, most viewers are used to it, and the actors seem resigned to delivering the wordy speeches. Mind you, I still couldn't decipher the politics behind it all. There's a lot of talk about Republics, Droid Separatists, Jedi Councils and Galactic Senates; it's like C-SPAN with light sabers. Still, for the first time since the original trilogy, the political babble is outweighed 10-to-1 by the action. In other words: If you just came here to see Yoda throw down, you came to the right place.
Anakin's seduction by the evil, soon-to-be Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) is slowly and dramatically detailed. His love for Amidala, his lust for power and his paranoia about death all figure into his inevitable transformation. Don't expect to see Christensen tromping around in full Vader regalia for much, if any, of the film. But do go expecting to get the complete, and more or less satisfying, tale of Darth Vader's birth.
Those looking to pick a fight can turn to the usual Lucas criticisms. The dialogue stinks. ("The Dark Side of the Force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.") The acting is melodramatic. (McDiarmid's lording over the Senate with glowing yellow eyes and evil voice is roughly equivalent to George W. suddenly showing up in Congress with horns and a red tail—wouldn't somebody find it a little, I don't know, obvious.) And, of course, the story still doesn't mesh very well with the original trilogy. (So the Jedi decided to hide Anakin's infant son Luke Skywalker in the one place no one could ever find him—back on Tatooine with his relatives, cleverly disguised as a kid named "Luke Skywalker"?)
Such standard quibbles aside, my only major beef (and I'll admit it's a weird one) is Lucas' stifling sense of symmetry. Nearly every shot in the film is notable for its perfect mirror-like geometry. Every set looks like a Marriot Courtyard designed by an anal-retentive. I suppose Lucas is trying to give some sort of visual metaphor for the duality of the Force, but it kind of boggles the eyes after a while.
In the end, though, Star Wars lovers new and old will be perfectly happy to claim this one as their own. Only the youngest of Jedi masters will be shut out by the film's grim tone and PG-13 rating. With its serious drama, surprising violence and more focused storyline, Revenge of the Sith is the Star Wars film true Star Wars fans have been waiting more than 20 years to see.
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