- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Superhero and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can’t get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the melding of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

George Lucas’ final “Star Wars” film has arrived in theaters, and Xbox owners can appreciate an experience mirroring the big-screen excitement through the video game Episode III, Revenge of the Sith ($49.99).

LucasArts’ third-person adventure mixes 16 levels of light-saber-fueled battles with more than 12 minutes of footage from the new movie to immerse a player into a story about the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader.

What’s the story? War. The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith lord Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.

In a stunning move, the fiendish droid leader General Grievous has swept into the Republic capital and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, leader of the galactic senate.

As the separatist droid army attempts to flee the besieged capital with its valuable hostage, two Jedi knights lead a desperate mission to rescue the captive chancellor.

Characters’ character: Players familiar with the combat titles from Electronic Arts’ “Lord of the Rings” games will feel most at home with a challenge boasting hack, slash and flash but too much dunderheaded, linear shenanigans for the connoisseur of action games to love.

During the single-player Story mode, one takes control of either Anakin Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi, depending on the level, as he visits such exotic locales as the Republic stronghold of Coruscant, the sinkhole planet of Utapau and the volcano world of Mustafar.

“Star Wars” authenticity oozes from the game as Jedi utilize an acrobatic array of eye-popping moves that are executed simply by pushing a button. There’s also an assorted range of other powers — such as saber throws, Force lightning and debilitating grasps of enemies to eloquently build skills.

The game excels at clearly defining cinematic motivations that, due to diminished directorial and writing abilities, Mr. Lucas never pulls off in the latest film.

These include Anakin’s decision to side with Chancellor Palpatine (played out via a gruelling duel with Jedi Master Mace Windu highlighting his power and ferocity) and Anakin’s methodical destruction of a Jedi temple. (The latter is realized when the player must hunt down the temple’s guardians amid rooms and secret passages sacred to the heroic order.)

Embellishing the events further are a nail-biting musical score from Academy Award-winning composer John Williams and those characteristic sound effects that helped define a galaxy far, far away. Unfortunately, none of the actors from the film came aboard to provide voice-over work.

Success in the Story mode leads to bonus missions as a player controls the likes of General Grievous and Yoda; cooperative levels for a pair of players to unleash major mayhem on separatist droids and creatures. You’ll also find a watered-down 3-D fighter game in which players take on one another — in the guise of such famed characters as Count Dooku, Mace Windu and General Grievous.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? Although the lieutenant loved the concept of light-saber duels, button mashing to pull off combination moves left his thumbs blistered, and the occasional ability to control gun turrets left him wondering whether the game could have been much more varied.

Revenge of the Sith does liberally allow characters to quickly recoup their health by draining their Force meter into the health meter during lulls in the action, making most levels extremely manageable —even for the average gamer.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/90, slightly elevated. Graphic, bloody violence doesn’t paint the screen. But players will still routinely slice off appendages, electrocute (with images of skeletons glowing under the flesh) and skewer an assortment of Jedi, separatists and alien races, which gives the game its justified “T” (for teenager) rating.

What if I feel like reading a book? Dark Horse Comics offers the sequential-art adaptation to the film in a trade paperback format ($12.95). And its five-part series, Star Wars: Obsession ($2.99 each), further explains the emotional toll the Clone Wars .

What’s it worth? Compared with other LucasArts “Star Wars” games, such as Jedi Academy and Knights of the Old Republic, Revenge of the Sith is a disappointment. However, when rented as a companion to the actual film, it’s an enlightening experience that’s almost required to be played through to completely grasp the downfall of Anakin Skywalker.

Pop bytes

Here’s a brief review of a game title that didn’t have time to get fully plugged in:

m Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Original Soundtrack from Sony Classical (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $18.99). Lovers of Mr. Williams’ musical scores for all of the “Star Wars” films are in for a multimedia treat via a bonus DVD companion to the single CD soundtrack package. It actually does a much better job of relaying key characters’ motivations and feelings than any of the recent trilogy of films.

Contained within 70 minutes of pristine digital video and sound presentations are 16 vignettes, introduced by actor Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), that merge Mr. Williams’ many “Star Wars” scores with movie moments from all six blockbusters. The presentation also incorporates dazzling artwork from the film’s pre-production panels and comic book series.

Especially affecting are “A Fateful Love” and “A Hero’s Fall,” which take viewers on an emotional roller-coaster ride into the tortured soul of Anakin Skywalker. Each offering — punctuated by the actor’s expressions, dialogue snippets and orchestral passages — triumphs through the paced direction of Tippy Bushkin and editor Jeremy Stuart.

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