- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The good news about “Revenge of the Sith,” the sixth and final installment of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” saga — or “Episode III” in his trilogy of “prequels” — is that it proves a more imposing last chapter than the preceding last chapter, “Return of the Jedi” in 1983.

“Sith” is the installment in which it becomes official that the moody Jedi prodigy Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) will succumb to evil, aka the Dark Side of the Force, and disappear into the armature of Darth Vader.

Annakin and Jedi stalwart Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) enter in swashbuckling form, piloting and dueling their way through massive dogfights and imperiled spacecraft in order to rescue a dignitary known as Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).

Alas, he has been a self-evident snake in the grass throughout the saga, plotting the destruction of Mr. Lucas’ Republic, a baffling and byzantine oligarchy at war with a comparably nebulous Separatist Alliance.

Spectacle remains the filmmaker’s strong suit, particularly air battles of a magnitude that congest the sky with flaming replicas of the Hindenburg in distress and light saber duels that accentuate amazing neon-lit virtuosity. The sword fights also have a funny way of being interrupted and suspended more often than they’re concluded.

For example, the Jedi gnome Yoda duels Palpatine to a no-decision. Not a great surprise, given that they had to survive long enough to be in the first — chronologically later — trilogy.

To compensate, Mr. Lucas has encouraged Mr. McDiarmid to steal his scenes while reprising Palpatine; they confirm his power-grab as emperor, the role he played way back in “Jedi.” It’s a bit like watching a grim reaper filch candy from a baby when Mr. McDiarmid weaves flattering rhetorical spells around the sulky, weak-minded Anakin.

As we know, George Lucas is preoccupied with the good mentor-bad mentor problem. As melodramatists do, he often gives the bad ones credit for being brainier. Or brainy enough in this case to sabotage an esteemed but evidently ripe-for-the-taking republic, utilizing renegade Jedi knights, a brotherhood called the Sith, as his pet assassins. Despite that effete and cadaverous facade, Palpatine does seem a smarter cookie than the discernible Jedi braintrust, which again yokes Samuel L. Jackson to a dull, thankless role.

Mr. Lucas’ inability, during the last installment, “Attack of the Clones,” to write a love story for Anakin and his sweetheart, Natalie Portman’s demure Padme (now an expectant mama), anticipates his ineptitude with their estrangement in “Revenge of the Sith.” The merely clunky or absent-minded features of his screenwriting generate a certain fondness, but he leaves the lovers in a permanently immature fix.

The Anakin character works well enough as the emperor’s dupe and dependent. Ultimately, the emperor even saves his life, out of a certain genuine pity. The movie skips right by a great fade-out in order to make sure we don’t forget about other things on the goodbye agenda: Padme in childbirth, the separated twins, the horse face of Jar Jar Binks.

Staged on a volcanic planet called Mustafar, the duel between Anakin and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi achieves a stirring ferocity. It’s the best specialty act of its kind since Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker clashed at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Mr. Lucas, like Peter Jackson at the close of “The Lord of the Rings,” finds parting such sweet sorrow that I wonder if he plans to change his mind again and authorize that once promised third trilogy. I’ll pass, but it has been fun to watch the “Star Wars” phenomenon come out of nowhere and then expand to unwieldly, repetitive proportions.

**1/2

TITLE: “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith”

RATING: PG-13 (Frequent sword duels and depictions of massive aerial combat in a science-fiction setting; occasional graphic violence with gruesome illustrative details)

CREDITS: Written and directed by George Lucas. Produced by Rick McCallum. Cinematography by David Tattersall. Production design by Gavin Bocquet. Costume design by Trisha Biggar. Sound design by Ben Burtt. Visual effects music by John Williams

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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