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Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith   B+

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Temuera Morrison.

Review by Rob Vaux

"This isn't going to have a happy ending."
--Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), Seven

It's not easy defending the latter-day Star Wars films. People throw garbage. Small children spit on you in the street. Friends still refer to me as "the Jar Jar apologist" and make vague warnings about graveside eulogies. But now, with the grand finale to his 30-year-old space saga, George Lucas has finally given supporters like me some real ammunition. For not only is Revenge of the Sith the best of the three prequels, but it fully returns us to the joy and fun that the original trilogy conjured so well. For a lot of folks, Episodes I and II felt like Lucas asserting control over his private domain, doing what he wanted rather than what was best. Revenge of the Sith reopens that domain to the rest of us with welcoming arms. It has listened to the complaints, taken the criticism to heart, and responded with a resounding evocation of everything that makes Star Wars so gosh-darn cool.

Which isn't to say it's perfect. Far from it. Many of the problems that confounded I and II are still on display here (though Jar Jar Binks is kept to a blessed minimum), and while Revenge does its best to overcome them, they still make parts of the film quite unseemly. The dialogue, long the Achilles' heel of the series, shows signs of improvement during the first hour, but eventually reverts to depressingly tin-ear form. It's especially apparent during the intermittent romance between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman); the subplot was stillborn from inception, and watching the pair stumble around their faux affection and "I wuv you" lines is not pleasant. Revenge's efforts to line up with Episodes IV-VI don't quite make it either, as at least one uncomfortable continuity question is left hanging in the air when the final credits roll.

But against those quibbles, the film responds with vast improvements in almost every other area. In charting Anakin's final descent to the Dark Side of the Force, it brings a proper spotlight to the series' longtime strong point: the villains. Ian McDiarmid has a chance to really shine with his duplicitous Emperor Palpatine, the sinister mentor who seizes Anakin's soul in one hand as he tightens his grip on the galaxy with the other. A series of well-oiled monologues reveals the depths of his evil in subtle, seductive grandiosity, which McDiarmid relishes like choice porterhouse. In addition, Christopher Lee returns as Palpatine's apprentice Count Dooku, and his rematch with Anakin contains some priceless moments from the veteran actor. Revenge also introduces a third baddie in the cybernetic General Grievous, leader of the Separatist droids who fiercely war upon the dying Republic. Though solely a CGI creation, his skulking, Richard III-style presence is dripping with personality, and leaves a far more enjoyable impression than the similarly created Jar Jar Binks. Together, the trio gives the film its deliciously dark tone and makes it clear that the final entry in the series belongs unquestioningly to Team Evil.

Their presence wouldn't matter much, however, if it weren't for Anakin, whose slow conversion into Darth Vader marks the film's central arc. Lucas couches the descent in Shakespearean terms, emphasizing both the good man Anakin has been, and the temptations that gradually overwhelm him. His early banter with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor in another fine performance) is easy and natural, and conveys their friendship far more effectively than anything in Attack of the Clones. Anakin's concern for Padme (and the unborn children she carries) is more troublesome, though Lucas sets it up well by using it as the driving force for the young Jedi's undoing. The horrid deeds that he eventually commits are both clear and chilling, and while Christensen isn't always at his best, he maneuvers through Anakin's growing callousness with reasonable aplomb.

That Revenge of the Sith is filled with such darkness should come as no surprise. What's surprising is that Lucas respects the story's grim aspects while still retaining the excitement and entertainment that heralds the best of his saga. The film is gorgeous, of course, featuring both new planets full of breathtaking landscapes and old ones (such as Coruscant) sporting a stunning new coat of paint. The humor is far less forced than it has been of late, most notably during R2-D2's appearance in the film's outstanding opening sequence (sadly, his partner C-3P0 is left largely in the background). If lightsaber duels are your thing, Revenge of the Sith has them in spades, topped by the much-anticipated showstopper between Obi-Wan and Anakin. Each is thrilling and well-choreographed, and while they don't quite match the high point set by Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, they're more than enough to set longtime fans cheering.

And cheering should come as a relief for those who felt let down by Episodes I and II. Lucas has saved his best effort for the last, and though the series can never regain the freshness enjoyed by A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back there is at least the sense that not all has been lost. Revenge of the Sith is a fitting conclusion to the Star Wars saga, justifying our faith and patience with a final flourish that will leave all but the most adamant critics satisfied. Perhaps the Dark Side is stronger after all; it certainly makes the conclusion of this journey a memorable one.

Review published 05.09.2005.

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