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Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith ( )
Written and Directed by George Lucas
Revenge of the Sith
Principal Cast
Ewan McGregor -- Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman -- Padmé
Hayden Christensen -- Anakin Skywalker
Ian McDiarmid -- Supreme Chancellor Palpatine
Samuel L. Jackson -- Mace Windu
Jimmy Smits -- Senator Bail Organa
Frank Oz -- Yoda (voice)
Anthony Daniels -- C-3PO
Christopher Lee -- Count Dooku
Keisha Castle-Hughes -- Queen of Naboo
Silas Carson -- Ki-Adi-Mundi & Nute Gunray
Jay Laga'aia -- Captain Typho
Bruce Spence -- Tion Medon
Wayne Pygram -- Governor Tarkin
Temuera Morrison -- Commander Cody
David Bowers -- Mas Amedda
Oliver Ford Davies -- Sio Bibble
Ahmed Best -- Jar Jar Binks
Rohan Nichol -- Captain Antilles
Jeremy Bulloch -- Captain Colton
Peter Mayhew -- Chewbacca
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Newbert

We were all looking forward to this, weren't we? Star Wars is a de facto cultural phenomenon now, so how could it be otherwise? Everyone, from impassioned fans who camped out for weeks in front of the wrong theater, to sneering detractors who saw the last two films as the backsliding of the franchise, have been waiting to see what George Lucas had up his sleeve for this final go-round.  It's gratifying to see Lucas finally deliver -- and I mean deliver -- with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, by far the grimmest and darkest -- yet in many ways, the most thrilling -- of the saga's installments.  Fans should find that it was worth the wait, and the critics will find... well, less to complain about.  

  It's all about Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader, of course. Whereas Attack of the Clones presented him as a petulant, combative -- even murderous -- teenage prodigy, Sith takes him the rest of the distance, showing how he helped to destroy the Jedi and turned the galaxy into a fascist's playground. Much of the exposition was laid down by the previous two films, so this new one can afford to jettison everything that isn't related in some way to this basic story arc, streamlining the film and returning it to the elemental drama of the original trilogy. (The Phantom Menace, while it remains a gorgeous spectacle, has become fairly irrelevant to the development of this series, aside from first introducing Anakin as a bratty little tyke with mechanical aptitude.  It's a beautiful film, but disposable.)

Episode III opens with the Jedi partnership of Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), attempting to rescue Senator Palpatine (a terrific Ian McDiarmid), the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, from the clutches of Separatist leader Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and General Grievous, commander of the droid army.  (Grievous is one of the best new characters in the Star Wars universe -- a spindly, cyborg specter who collects the lightsabers of dead Jedi.)  Quickly the rescue becomes a series of escapes, shot and edited with near flawless aplomb, and if nothing else, the first twenty minutes of Sith prove that Lucas is still a master of the action sequence as thrill ride. In fact, this installment may be even more impressive in its visuals than the other films. Everything's been kicked up a notch, with greater detail and vibrancy than ever before.

In my review of Clones, I wrote, "I want to visit someday those fields Padme and Anakin had their picnic on, surrounded by beautiful waterfalls; or enter a bar in the planet-city of Coruscant; or cruise just over the waves of Camino, until I come to one of the gigantic lifepods that seem to grow out of the ocean like mushrooms. [The]images could have come off the covers of Thrilling Wonder Stories and are part of the movie's sense of 'fun'; they are unlike anything else in movies right now." A similar enthusiasm applies to the production design of Sith.

Back on Coruscant, Padme (Natalie Portman), who secretly wed Anakin at the end of Clones, reveals that she's pregnant, news that shortly leads to Anakin's haunting visions of Padme's death in childbirth. Lucas's best idea was to turn Anakin's love for her into the tragic fulcrum for his conversion to the dark side; it's the reason he chooses to damn himself, as it were. He's already lost his mother and now can't stand to lose the woman he loves, and he'll do anything to save her. (Yoda's recommendation for giving up all attachments to the worldly realm in order to minimize jealousy and suffering may work for Buddhists and for the Jedi, but I imagine it's pretty cold comfort for the rest of us.)

The Chancellor, in between grabs for greater and greater political power, makes a play for Anakin's allegiance during a visit to the theater, where they discuss the future of the Galactic Republic while watching zero-gravity acrobats pass between suspended, giant spheres of water.  (They're characters in a space opera watching characters in another kind of space opera.)  Palpatine knows of Anakin's visions, his concern for Padme, and holds out a hope of reversing death through the powers of the Sith. An awful lot of heavy lifting is accomplished in this scene: it contains considerable subtext, has insight into character, introduces backstory and foreshadowing, and is tense in a quiet way that we're not used to seeing in the Star Wars films.  Considering its consequences, it may even be the lynchpin of the entire series.

The faults of Revenge of the Sith are the faults of the series as a whole. Lucas's dialogue, for instance, remains as pedestrian as ever. Rumour has it that the director was persuaded to hire playwright Tom Stoppard to polish it up, but you can't put a polish on dirt.  Truthfully, the dialogue has never been the point of a Star Wars film, but there are speeches here that force the film to crawl along like it was suddenly stunned with a hammer.

The actors come off well generally, especially McGregor, who has the right mixture of flippant humour and solemn gravity in his performance as Obi-Wan.  Natalie Portman's Padme, who was such an integral part of the action in Clones, gets marginalized here as a symbol of redeeming love, but brings genuine emotion to her role.

Christensen, however, is another matter. The script doesn't give him the tools he needs to convey a tortured soul, only a confused one, so he tries to suggest anguish with glowering looks and smoldering intensity. He has at least one great scene: while brooding at the Jedi temple, he gazes across the city at Padme's apartment. She stands on her balcony, looking back over the cityscape. The scene's editing manages to wordlessly shrink the distance between them, and it becomes one of Sith's most evocative.

The whole thing leads to a final confrontation between Obi-Wan and Anakin on the volcanic planet Mustafar, intercut with a duel between Yoda and the Emperor; both are tremendous lightsaber battles, though not as kinetic as the one with Darth Maul at the end of Menace. What they have going for them are emotional drama and symbolic resonance. When they're finished, you'll feel like the series has definitely turned a corner.

Ironically, this final Star Wars film is probably too intense for the younger audience that helped make Lucas a billionaire with merchandising profits, but that's the way it goes when you turn to the dark side: you can't afford to coddle the Jar Jar crowd.

Copyright © 2005 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years before joining the college book trade. He lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.

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