By BETSY PICKLE
Scripps Howard News Service
May 17, 2005
Maybe George Lucas is a genius after all. He lowered expectations for the final link in his "Star Wars" chain with the indifferent "Episode II - Attack of the Clones." Besides, he already had a history of crafting shaky third installments, as evidenced by "Return of the Jedi" (known in modern parlance as "Episode VI").
"Revenge of the Sith" had good odds of feeling like an improvement no matter which way it turned. But Lucas, who wrote and directed the film, seems determined to vindicate himself and earn respect for the final act of his "Star Wars" prequel trilogy.
"Revenge of the Sith" has the most emotional impact of any of the prequels, and it comes close to rivaling "The Empire Strikes Back" with its angst. And even though the characters finally take their rightful place as the most important elements of the film, the action is full-throttle and fulfilling.
While "Revenge of the Sith" is the first of the "Star Wars" films to be rated PG-13 instead of PG, it starts out playing to the younger fans. Vertically challenged droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) struts his stuff while assisting Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and makes all the sounds and shows off all the whimsical heroics that have made him a favorite.
The situation is far from lighthearted, however. Anakin and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), are trying to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has been kidnapped by clone leader General Grievous (voice of Matthew Wood).
Anakin and Obi-Wan are successful, mostly through Anakin's efforts, and it's the younger Jedi that Palpatine leans on, confides in and fetes. It's almost as though Palpatine has Anakin in mind for something.
Back on the planet Coruscant, Anakin breaks away from his official duties to reunite with Padme (Natalie Portman), to whom he is secretly married, and she shares the joyful news that she is pregnant. With Padme and their child as his chief priority, Anakin isn't as focused on being a good Jedi as he should be.
Jedi Knights Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Yoda (Frank Oz) sense that conflict in Anakin, and when Palpatine makes Anakin his representative on the Jedi Council, they refuse to grant him full Master Jedi status. Anakin's insecurity and immaturity make him ripe for the influence of Palpatine, who is secretly a Sith, a practitioner of the Dark Side of the Force.
"Revenge of the Sith" has several tough jobs. For starters, it needs to make up for the shortcomings of the first two films in the prequel trilogy while providing a satisfying link to the original series. It has to prove that Lucas made the right choice with Christensen as the teen and young adult Anakin, and it has to make Anakin's transformation from Jedi Chosen One to evil Darth Vader believable. Finally, it must leave fans feeling good about investing 28 years in a fictional film world.
The movie does all that. The plot churns with complexity (it definitely helps to have seen the other films), and the characters are as reflective as they are proactive. The classic Achilles' heel of power-lust is just as chilling in this era as in any other.
The action sequences, both lightsaber duels and full-scale battles, convey import as well as excitement. This is a fight for a way of life, one that reflects the real world in this era of unilateral decision-making and philosophical intimidation.
Christensen still has some awkward moments, but he has come a long way, and the rest of the actors are all aces. "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" is a powerful closing chapter.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images
Four and a half stars (out of five)
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