Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
directed by George Lucas
(LucasFilms/20th Century Fox, 2005)

It was the biggest question in movies in many years: Could George Lucas recapture the wonder of the original Star Wars?

Well, no. It's been done. Lucas in 2005 certainly didn't break new ground or redefine the nature of special effects the way he did back in 1977.

OK, but did Revenge of the Sith make up for two movies full of missteps? Did it atone for giving us Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks? Did it bring back the storytelling and filmmaking qualities of The Empire Strikes Back?

Hoo, yeah.

Episode III, the sixth -- and, if we are to believe Lucas this time, the final -- installment of the Star Wars saga, begins with a scene of dizzying aerial combat, a scene with maneuvers that make the old Millennium Falcon look like it was standing still. Almost immediately, there's the familiar "face" of R2-D2, the pluckiest 'droid in cinematic history, as well as the almost-familiar early models of the X-wing, TIE fighter and star destroyer.

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been kidnapped by the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and the evil General Grievous (a droid with a heart), and top Jedi knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are on their way to save him. But they don't know, as we do, that Palpatine is also the treacherous Darth Sidious, Lord of the Sith and architect of his own abduction; he is behind both sides of the war that's torn the Republic in twain.

The rescue involves some fierce three-way swordplay as Anakin takes a few more steps towards the Dark Side of the Force ... at Palpatine's prodding, of course. Palpatine, outwardly a kind and selfless servant of the people, begins to reveal his true nature in this film, showing glimpses of his hidden powers and the intricacy of his machiavellian plots in an attempt to lure Anakin away from the Jedi way of life and onto his own twisted path.

Of course, anyone who's seen the first three films in the series -- Episodes IV, V and VI -- knows basically how things will turn out. The chancellor becomes a despotic emperor, the Republic collapses and Anakin dons the black armor and mask of the infamous Darth Vader -- but not before siring a pair of heroic twins. (You did know that, right?)

Revenge of the Sith details the dramatic events that led from the great Republic, where Jedi knights maintained peace and order, to the dark Empire. It shows the increasing darkness of Anakin, still mostly a hero as the film begins, and a surprisingly resourceful R2-D2. It explains why C-3PO failed to recognize Tatooine or the Skywalker name in the first trilogy. It reveals the reasons for separating the twin infants Luke and Leia, so that they would grow up unaware of each other and, for the first two movies at least, think each other kind of sexy. It even provides a brief glimpse of Leia's infamous future hairdo.

The primitive majesty of the Wookie homeworld reminds us what the climactic land battle on Endor could have been. Jar-Jar, although he appears in the movie twice, never says a word.

That's not to say Sith is perfect. I'm not sure there's enough justification for Anakin's sudden transition from hero to fiend. The romance between Anakin and Padme (Natalie Portman) is still stiff and cold, lacking passion and unable to sustain the steps Anakin is willing to take for her sake. And, while Christensen has clearly grown into the role after his lifeless performance in Clones, the talented Portman is wasted in this movie, content for the most part to sit and pace worriedly at home as Anakin's dutiful (but secret) wife. The tough-as-nails ex-queen of previous movies is now there just to look pretty and fragile.

The dialogue is often stilted and awkward. Let's be honest here, Lucas hasn't entirely mastered the art of scripting a believeable conversation.

There are also some subtle errors of fact. The dread Death Star, for instance, is shown as being nearly complete, and yet in the Star Wars timeline, it isn't finished and put to use for some 20 years -- just in time for young Luke and Leia to get involved. Also, Leia in Episode VI recalls a few memories of her real mother; this movie makes it clear they never met.

For many, the pinnacle of this movie's success rests on the incredible spectacle of Jedi/Sith swordplay. The art of wielding a lightsaber is a far cry from the stiff, wooden duel between Kenobi and Vader in Episode IV; in Sith, battles are masterfully choreographed -- and there are plenty of them. Impressive clashes involving Kenobi, Skywalker, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Palpatine, Dooku and countless other Jedi all pale beside the final match between Kenobi and Vader -- a pivotal fight foreshadowed since the very beginning of the series. While you might find yourself wondering how the two men are even breathing in a lava-spewing cavern, the visual excitement of this scene -- alternating with a similarly climactic battle between Yoda and Palpatine -- is simply extraordinary.

The series has been 28 years in the making, and now that it's over, it seems too soon. If Revenge of the Sith is truly the last film in the series, it's certainly a bang-up conclusion. But it also whets the appetite for more, and I hope Lucas -- and perhaps a good dialogue coach -- can be persuaded to give us the fabled Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 1 June 2005

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