“The ‘Sith’ Hits the Fan”
by Scott Mantz

“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith”
Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor
Directed by George Lucas

Impressive…most impressive! The class of 2005 poses for “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith”

The circle is now complete! Six years after the first of the “Star Wars” prequels hit theaters, and 28 years after the original film sparked a manic pop-cultural phenomenon, George Lucas finally brings his epic space saga to a close with “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.”

This is it — the one we’ve all been waiting for, and the one that was promised to a generation of moviegoers who first fell in love with the original trilogy a long time ago. This is the defining moment in that galaxy far, far away, where everything falls into place — specifically, why Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) betrayed Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), crossed over to the Dark Side and became one of the greatest villains in motion picture history.

Despite being burned not once, but twice with the initially promising, but ultimately disappointing prequels — 1999’s “Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and 2002’s “Episode II — Attack of the Clones” — the prospect of seeing the Dark Lord of the Sith again after all these years is still pretty darn exciting. The same can be said about the birth of Luke and Leia, the twin siblings who would one day overthrow the dreaded Empire, restore order to the galaxy and bring balance to the Force.

But while “Revenge of the Sith” may answer a lot of questions with regards to the mythology of the series, it also asks loads of others — for starters, was it all worth it? Let’s face it, it’s not like the previous prequels were any good, especially when compared to the awe-inspiring beauty of 1977’s “Star Wars,” the masterpiece that was 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” and the entertainment value of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” Despite Lucas’ best intentions, was it really worth diminishing the integrity of that masterful series just to show how it all started (and sell a gazillion action figures in the process)?

Even at this point, it’s hard to say. While “Sith” is easily the best of the prequels, it still doesn’t come close to “Jedi” (which is generally regarded as the weakest film in the classic trilogy). The problem is that many of the flaws that inflicted the other prequels — particularly “Attack of the Clones” — are still quite evident in “Episode III.” As a writer, Lucas has never had a penchant for dialogue, and “Sith” is no exception. There’s no chemistry between star-crossed lovers Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, the pace drags in spots, and the computer-generated special effects can be overwhelming at times. In addition, since we know where the film has to go, the element of surprise is gone, and even the nostalgic presence of Chewbacca and his army of Wookies isn’t as sensationalized as it should have been.

But all that changes about 90 minutes into the film, when dark, violent “Sith” (the first and only “Star Wars” film to carry a PG-13 rating) hits its stride and packs a powerful emotional wallop that will leave fans hungry for more. The final lightsaber battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan will keep you on the edge of your seat, and you can’t help but get the chills when Darth Vader is unleashed in a Frankenstein-style fashion. Moreover, it finally feels like a “Star Wars” film when prototype TIE fighters go screaming across the screen (with the Death Star under construction in the background), and the final images serve as the perfect link to the original trilogy.

Ironically, the strongest performance in “Revenge of the Sith” comes from the actor you’d least expect it to. After a noteworthy performance as the Emperor in “Return of the Jedi,” Ian McDiarmid had the unenviable task of portraying the same character decades younger in the prequels (which were filmed almost 2 decades after “Jedi”). After playing both sides of the coin in the previous prequels — as the seemingly tame Senator Palpatine and his scheming altar-ego Darth Sidious — McDiarmid gives a terrific breakout turn as the evil mentor who convinces Anakin to embrace the Dark Side of the Force.

Sadly, the rest of the acting isn’t anything to write home about. Not that acting has ever been a staple of the “Star Wars” films, but at least the witty banter and sensuous chemistry between Han Solo and Princess Leia in “The Empire Strikes Back” served as a reminder of how great it could be. Ewan McGregor is passable given what he has to work with, but the brooding Hayden Christensen fails to rise above his shoddy dialogue. And after portraying a strong female character in “Attack of the Clones,” Natalie Portman’s pregnant Padme Amidala is left with little to do except worry about Christensen’s funky moods (which more or less makes her the “Star Wars” equivalent of a “desperate housewife”).

So with that, “Star Wars” is finished. Done. Kaput. Well, not really, given the fact that Lucas is planning not one, but two spin-off TV shows, but getting back to that previous question, was it all worth it? There’s no doubt that the now-finished prequel trilogy pales in comparison to the classic trilogy, but love ’em or hate ’em, they have served to change our perspective of how we view the old films. For example, key scenes like the showdown between Obi-Wan and Vader in the original “Star Wars” and the first confrontation between Luke Skywalker and Vader in “The Empire Strikes Back” take on a whole new meaning after watching the prequels, so who knows. Maybe it was worth it after all.