Master Lucas strikes back with a thrilling ‘Episode III’
The revenge of a Lord of the Sith hardly compares to the vengeance of a legendary director determined to atone for past sins.
George Lucas was maligned — for the most part deservedly so — for the lackluster “Star Wars Episodes I and II.” However, here he makes a nice comeback with “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” which arrives this week as an occasionally flawed visual masterpiece that should silence a galaxy of doubting critics and whining fans.
After three tumultuous years of Clone Wars, the Jedi Council dispatches Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to bring to justice General Grievous, the menacing leader of the Separatist droid army.
As “Episode III” begins, Obi-Wan and his finest student, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), fly side-by-side to attempt the daring rescue of Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). This is the same Palpatine who, himself lured by the power of the dark side, will later tempt the petulant Anakin, offering him glory and the protection of his expectant wife Padme (Natalie Portman). (The couple’s marriage is kept secret since Jedi are forbidden to make attachments.)
The opening rescue scene, which lasts more than 20 minutes, is a non-stop onslaught — a stunning spectacle orchestrated at light speed, demonstrating not only Lucas’ determination to rouse his audience but his peerless gift of technological wizardry. Simply put, this scene is not only the best in the “Star Wars” double trilogy but as dazzling as anything committed to film thus far.
Once the film settles in to the crux of the drama, Lucas’ penchant for melodrama surfaces. Fortunately, the acting is better than in the previous two episodes and the storytelling is more concise and focused. These aren’t happy times in the Empire, (you can almost hear Lucas shouting “No smiling!”), and the darker tone is not inconsistent with what’s at stake. But absent are the quips that brought some humor to the first trilogy — the primary void left by Han Solo’s absence.
The editing is a noticeably mixed bag as well. A big chunk of the middle section of the film feels clunky with choppy dialogue that bounces from scene to scene so quickly it diffuses the tension that only occasionally ratchets up toward the fulfilling finale.
A crucial scene involving Palpatine’s fateful duel with Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) that invokes Anakin’s turn to the dark side elicits some unintended chuckles.
But immediately thereafter dramatic duels between Yoda and Palpatine, who is now the Emperor and who makes the most of his major screen time, and between Anakin and Obi-Wan are magnificently juxtaposed showcasing Lucas and his ILM team of effects specialists.
While nothing jaw-dropping is revealed, even non-“Star Wars” fans will enjoy the action and splendor of this final installment.
Questions will surface. (If there’s no gravity in space why do people slide off spaceships? If Grievous is a droid why does he appear to have respiratory issues? Are five or more lightsaber duels too many?) But “Episode III” brings back the thrill, if not the pioneering wonder, of the first trilogy. It’s a fitting final chapter, but in some respects is so much better than its two previous installments it makes them irrelevant. “Episode III” shares one common element with the first trilogy — it is worthy of at least one return trip. The din of the cash registers is going to be deafening.
Critic’s note: Speaking of sound, the new SLS speaker system installed at Coral Cliffs Cinema in Hurricane definitely enhances the theatrical experience. Also parents should note that this is the first “Star Wars” film to warrant the PG-13 rating for sci-fi violence and some intense images.