Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" Review

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Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" Review

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 140 minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2005
Directed by: George Lucas
Genre: Sci-Fi

"Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" is the last of the Star Wars series. Technically Episode III, this last installment creates a bridge between the films of the late '70s and early '80s and those of the new century-and what a fantastic bridge it is. Some sci-fi fans were a little concerned after "Phantom Menace" that the series had lost its way. After "The Clone Wars," the ship looked like it was on the right course again. It's now safe to say that "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" has moments of greatness that put it on par with "Return of the Jedi," and all things considered, that's an awesome achievement.

In the Star Wars movie universe, three years have passed since the start of the destructive Clone Wars, and the Jedi Knights are spread pretty thin fighting the separatists. The political intrigue of the prequels is what sets them apart from Episodes IV through VI; "Revenge of the Sith" is no different. Everyone has hidden motives, and nothing is what it seems. Before the movie ends, everything will have turned upside down and back again.

The movie opens in appropriate whiz-bang fashion. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been taken captive by the military leader of the separatists, General Grievous. On board the general's flagship, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewen McGregor) fight an intense lightsaber battle with Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). When Obi-Wan is knocked unconscious, Anakin continues the fight, eventually killing Dooku. In the background, Palpatine urges the young Jedi along; it's the beginning of a very unhealthy friendship.

It's obvious that something's not quite right with Palpatine, but so far no one has put his finger on it. The Jedi Council is definitely suspicious. When Palpatine appoints Anakin to be his representative on the council, the Jedi instruct the young knight to spy on his new mentor. Anakin resents this, feeling like he's still being treated as an inferior. There's a moral to all this: pride and arrogance lead to the dark side, literally.

At the same time, Anakin is not all bad. Even Palpatine may have some trace of goodness in him somewhere. Anakin's interest in the dark side of the Force begins when he has dreams about his wife, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). He sees her dying during childbirth and is ready to do anything to prevent that outcome. For the audience, it's easy to see his pain and even understand why he chose the path he did.

Palpatine is the master manipulator in all this. He needs new followers to build up his power base. He knows how much potential is hidden away inside young Skywalker, just waiting to be unlocked. Palpatine is like a crooked, smiling politician on steroids, promising the moon and stars. The power that he has is so much more than just the Force-Palpatine uses words and ideas, which can be the most powerful tools of all.

The moment when Anakin Skywalker gives himself up to the dark side is heartbreaking. Of course, any Star Wars or sci-fi fan is going to see it coming, but that doesn't soften the blow. The massacre at the Jedi Temple is even worse. Lucas really tapped into the emotional mother lode here; grown men and women will almost certainly cry when Skywalker accepts his new title-Darth Vader-and everything that means. Sometimes, the Star Wars movies became bogged down in technobabble or too much talk, but not here. The action tells the story, which is as it should be.

The last few scenes of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" are some of the highest and lowest moments in the entire series. Anakin's visions of Padme's death come true, but not how he had expected. Angry with her for what seems like betrayal, he chokes her almost to death. It's very hard to watch, but if anyone had doubts about how far gone young Skywalker was, they should be erased at that point. The near death of Darth Vader/Anakin is almost too gruesome for the screen. His reassembly is symbolic of how he's no longer fully human. In fact, he's mostly inhuman parts and pieces.

Despite the low points, the movie does end on a slightly hopeful note. For one thing, Yoda and Obi-Wan have both escaped. Luke and Leia Skywalker have survived, but must be kept secret form Palpatine and Vader. It's interesting to imagine Obi-wan-Ben-Kenobi settling down on Tatooine to watch Luke grow up, a young man totally unaware of his place and his destiny. As the credits roll on "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," it's a safe bet that more than half the audience is eager to pop in "Episode IV: A New Hope." That's what a great entry in a series is supposed to do; it keeps the audience watching.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5