(director/writer: George Lucas; cinematographer: David Tattersall; editors: Roger Barton/Ben Burtt; music: John Williams; cast: Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Frank Oz (Yoda), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Matthew Wood (General Grievous, only his voice); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Rick McCallum; 20th Century Fox; 2005)

“Redeems some of the luster lost from the previous two installments.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Lucas’sthird installment of the second trilogy of prequels (the sixth film that began in 1977) brings allegedly to an end the popular sci-fi saga and money-making franchise, a vehicle that has been running out of steam for quite some time though still an institution on the American pop culture scene. This last installment, of a tale of a galaxy long ago, redeems some of the luster lost from the previous two installments (it returns to the same eloquent space opera style as when the film was first launched), as at last we come to the Dark Side of the Force and learn who Darth Vader is (which has been no big secret for some time) and why he became Darth Vader (which has been kept a secret and is nicely answered here). That power corrupts is the film’s mythic theme, and in this characterization of evil we see that it’s not only the usual reasons of arrogance and a lust for power but the twisting of a young man’s mind by a wily veteran politician, sheer chance, the characters alienation and a possessive love for a woman that pushes his blind descent into a hellish evil.

It still bears the flaws of the other recent versions such as the overall wooden acting (the acting consists of either making speeches, faces, or throwing tantrums), trite dialogue (British playwright Tom Stoppard was rumored to have worked on the script), a narrative too deeply submerged in digital effects, computerized magic and set action pieces to breathe by itself, too many scenes that pointlessly drag, a putrid unmoving love story and the failure of the two lead Jedis to be charismatic action heroes. But after a slow first hour the film catches fire in the second half, where the lines of battle between the forces of evil and good are drawn and go at each other in the name of the Force. It then lives up to its billing as an exciting escapist film that also comes with a few welcome surprises that connects its Sith war with Bush’s infamous Darth Vader statement to the world “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” It goes on to show the problematic logic that a democracy must trade off some of its freedoms to withstand a fascistic enemy, which can possibly lead the free country itself into becoming a fascist state.

Lucas despite his tin-ear for prose still offers a superior cutting-edge special effects film, as well as making as beautiful a looking sci-fi film as there ever was. His florid dreamscapes smolder in hot lava, his oceans are beautifully roiling in magma and the long drawn out light-saber duels in the Sith fortress and in the vast Senate chamber are works of great construction.

The plot picks up after three years of fighting when the Clone Wars are nearly at an end and the Jedi Council dispatches on a rescue and arrest mission Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his young disciple, the Chosen One, who according to the prophesy will be the one to save the land from the evil Siths, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). The Jedis aim to rescue from the Siths the kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), elected leader of Coruscant, who is held by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), and then capture his secret ally General Grievous, the deadly leader of the Separatist droid army. Even though they were setup in a trap, the Jedis successfully rescue the Chancellor after an ardent light-saber duel; but, after inflicting many casualties to General Grievous’ army he escapes. The Chancellor, on his return to power, has caught the suspicious eye of the Jedi Council, especially the wise little green rubbery man Yoda (voice of Frank Oz), because of his power-grabbing political machinations and attempt to corrupt young Anakin to go over to the Dark Side. Anakin has also secretly married Senator Padmé (Natalie Portman), not telling anyone because such an admission would cause his dismissal as a Jedi, and upon having nightmares that his pregnant wife will die at childbirth he succumbs to the Chancellor’s claims he has been trained in the Dark Side and can save his wife’s life. Later Anakin’s wife dies but gives birth to twins Luke and Leia, as she no longer has the will to live. Despite Palpatine’s failure to keep his personal promises and his betrayal of Coruscant–leading it from a Republic to an Empire–Anakin is already doing the bidding of the baddies.

The impatient Anakin has let his ambitions get the better of him, as he foolishly demanded he should be a Jedi master even when the astute Jedi Council leader Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) cautions him to wait his turn for when he grows up and can handle such responsibilities. The kid rebels (as teenagers will often do) and is just an enticement or two away from going completely over to the Dark Side. When Anakin finally gives in to the last temptation (acting more like a spoiled brat than a real bad dude), he relinquishes his virtuous Jedi vows and finishes off a roomful of “younglings” who beg him for help when the Jedis are attacked and massacred by an order given by the double-dealing Chancellor/Emperor–the most treacherous and evil one in the film. Episode III nears its conclusion as Obi-Wan and Anakin go at it in a light-saber duel on a lava planet, and that fight scene intercuts with the duel between the Emperor and Yoda. Anakin will be slain but rise seemingly from a hellish volcano, and in the end will return to put on his Darth Vader black mask and become the incarnation of evil (voiced by James Earl Jones). The film goes full circle around and ties up all the loose ends, which should give the film’s loyal followers something to cheer about.

It’s still mostly a film for fan boys, those who get off on such adolescent fantasies, followers of someone like Joseph Campbell who feel compelled to seriously take in such a pop culture myth, techies, cultists, lovers of adventure films, and those who count this as more of an event than a real movie to be critiqued. But this version is also filled with many pleasurable moments, plenty of spectacle, a surprisingly substantial political context, enough intelligence not to digress into something silly, and in balance there’s still more to like about it than not. It still has Force.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”