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May 2005

By Julian Roman

Star Wars (Episode III): Revenge Of The Sith

Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: George Lucas
Producer: Rick McCallum
Screenwriter: George Lucas
Cinematographer: David Tattersall
Composer: John Williams
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl-Jones (voice)



George Lucas's epic Star Wars franchise comes to a thundering finale with Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith; a dark tale of betrayal weaved into a gorgeous cinematic spectacle. The film has its clunky moments and suffers from some bad dialogue, but more than makes up for it by the skillful plot execution and incredible action scenes. Everyone who has seen the Star Wars films knows that Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader and is horribly scarred after a duel with his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. What Revenge of the Sith masterfully accomplishes is filling in the details of this transformation. It adds depth to the Star Wars lore without being contrived or forced. An avid fan of the series myself, I was quite surprised by the film's dramatic tone. It lives up to the Shakespearean-like tragedy reflected upon in the original trilogy. This is what makes Sith the best of the prequels and a magnificent ending to cinema's most popular films.

The story begins with a huge space battle above the planet of Coruscant, the capital of the republic. The Separatist army, led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and his robotic underling General Grevious, have kidnapped the republic's leader, Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) crash land on their ship and attempt to rescue Palpatine. They're successful, but Anakin commits a murderous act that pushes him closer to the dark side. Back on Coruscant, Anakin is reunited with Padme (Natalie Portman) after a long separation. She tells him that she is pregnant and they're both overwhelmed with joy. Anakin's initial happiness turns to dread when he has a nightmare that Padme dies in childbirth. He remembers his failure to stop his mother's death and vows to save Padme at all costs. He meets with Yoda, but is not satisfied with the answer he is given about his fears. Anakin then turns to Chancellor Palpatine, who begins to manipulate him with the promised power of the dark side of the force; the ability to create life and prevent death. The Jedi council, especially Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), has become very suspicious of Palpatine and Anakin's relationship with him. With Anakin's confidence in the Jedi diminishing, Palpatine preys on his fears of Padme's death and reveals his true identity; thus setting in motion the events that lead to the destruction of the Jedi and emergence of the Galactic Empire.

While Revenge of the Sith is the story of Anakin Skywalker, the revelation of Darth Siddious and finally being able to see the villain in action is astounding. Ian McDiarmid owns this movie utterly. His subtle deception turns to full blown evil as the constantly alluded to "Phantom Menace" shows what he's made of. The much anticipated showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan is intercut with the duel between Yoda and Darth Siddious. It's very impressive. Ian McDiarmid has played the role of the Emperor/Darth Siddious in every Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi. He plays an abominable character and delivers this performance expertly. McDiarmid is never really mentioned as a critical part of Star Wars success, but his tremendous ability has put a defining stamp on the films.

The special effects in Sith are the finest we've seen in cinema to date. The technical wizards at Industrial Light and Magic have really outdone themselves. Every scene ripples with detail and vibrancy. Revenge of the Sith is loaded with alien characters, numerous settings, and intricate battle scenes. The light saber duels in particular are something to behold. They are truly amazing. We see the most powerful Jedi duke it out in terrains that have never been seen. Anakin and Obi-Wan duel on a volcanic planet in a raging sea of lava. Yoda, who is completely digital, fights Darth Siddious in the cavernous senate chamber. The film has a high degree of realism. I was absorbed by the action and never felt like I was watching a cartoon or video game. ILM and Lucas have taken CGI effects to a whole new level. It would be a travesty if they didn't win the Oscar for visual effects next year.

The glorious action and effects wizardry would have amounted to nothing if the story was poorly done. Sith is plot heavy and fills its two and a half hour runtime. While some scenes, especially the ones between Anakin and Padme, are poorly written; the pace of the film never slows down. There's a lot happening in Sith. I didn't think that any scene amounted to filler material. It's a great accomplishment to deliver such a complex storyline without having periods of drag. Sith successfully resolves its storyline while setting up the events in the original trilogy. Lucas will never win any awards for writing, but has proved himself to be an expert storyteller.

The most surprising aspect of Revenge of the Sith is how incredibly dark it is. Lucas has always promised a much darker film than the others and did not disappoint. Many characters die brutally. The film is filled with scenes of decapitations and limbs being chopped off by light sabers. There's a scene in the Jedi temple that will really shock fans. The violence is not gratuitous. Sith does not have a happy ending. The bad guys win and do it on their own terms. Lucas deserves credit for following through his vision of the Jedi demise and Anakin's tragic path to evil in an age where big-budget films are controlled by corporate marketing demographics.

Casual fans and diehards alike should be very happy with Revenge of the Sith. People who walk in looking to criticize will undeniably find places to nitpick. The film is not flawless, but none of the Star Wars films were. Revenge of the Sith is a pop cinema triumph. It is a brilliant conclusion to a well-loved saga and a remarkable piece of entertainment in its own right.