October 28, 2008

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

***1/2  (139m | PG-13)

This may well be the best of all six "Star Wars" movies -- with the caveat that you need to have seen the other five films to truly grasp its significance. The cunning dexterity and gravitas with which George Lucas snaps into place every remaining puzzle piece in his 30-year story arc is remarkable. The talent of Hayden Christensen will surprise his detractors as he portrays a complex, compounding crisis of conflicting loyalties (between the Jedi Order and deceptively kindly Senator Palpatine, the future Emperor) that tear Anakin Skywalker apart, leading him to slip ever more rapidly toward the Dark Side of the Force during the zenith of the Clone Wars. The potent sensations of betrayal and inevitability that fuel his climactic duel against former master Obi-Wan Kenobi are positively goosepimpling, even though the outcome has been known since 1977. These elements, coupled with much improved dialogue, fewer video-game-like scenes, and genuinely compelling emotions make up for a myriad of small shortcomings (Yoda's goofy backwards diction has become distractingly acute), a few larger ones (Natalie Portman's role has been reduced to fretting and crying), and a couple "what was George thinking?" moments (Obi-Wan rides a giant lizard). This movie delivers on the promise of "Star Wars" with more than just incredible special effects and spectacular light-saber duels -- it redefines the entire saga to such a degree that even if "Sith" isn't universally considered the finest of the bunch, it is unquestionably the most pivotal.