Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Cannes Festival World Premiere–“Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith,” the sixth and final episode of George Lucas' sci-fi epos, is so much better than Episodes I and II of the prequel that it almost obliterates the bad taste left after the 1999 and 2002 installments, which managed to offend even the hardcore fans of the seminal series.

Darker and more resonant, tautly directed, and handsomely produced, Episode III shows that Lucas took to his heart the criticisms of his previous segments and produced the best film he could, one that pays attention to detail, character, and mood and meets the challenge of filling in the gaps and unifying the mythic six-part series begun in 1977.

Reflecting the new advances of technology, of which Lucas was always a pioneer, “Revenge of the Sith” also shows the influence of Peter Jackson's superb trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings,” on the “Star Wars” series. This episode is by far the fastest-paced, most thrilling, and most intense of all “Star Wars” movies.

That said, as before, Lucas acquits himself better as a director than a writer. While the plot is reasonably satisfying, the dialogue is not. The lingo, particularly in the dramatic scenes between Anakin and Padme, is so simple and often banal that it seems to have been inspired by a high school play. The film has other flaws, but they are minor. Overall, Episode III concludes the “Star Wars” saga with a bang, literally.

As the story opens, the final catastrophic battles of the Clone Wars are taking place galaxy wide–one in the skies above the city-planet Coruscant, the set of the crumbling Republic and also home to the Jedi Knights. Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been taken hostage by the nefarious General Grievous, the leader of the droid army, composed of mechanized battle troops of the Separatist Alliance.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) take on a desperate rescue effort, facing odds to free Palpatine and destroy Grievous. This daring mission is only the start of the fiercely pitched battles and Jedi action that fill Episode III, the most action-filled of all the “Star Wars” films.

The opening battle sets in motion a series of events that lead up to the moment of truth for Anakin, whose secret threatens to catch up with him. Anakin is leading a double life as a Jedi Knight, while covertly married to the beautiful Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). Preying on Anakin's fears of losing Padme, Palpatine reveals to Anakin the dark side of the Force, one that was hidden to him but which promises to teach him powers he had never imagined possible.

Obi-Wan recognizes Anakin's inner conflict, and ultimately must face off against his once-promising Padawan learner in a lightsaber battle on the volcanic plant of Mustafar. But, again, the final lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wani is just one of many show-stopping action sequences in “Revenge of the Sith.” The action sequences, which get bigger, better, and more elaborate as the narrative progresses, occupy at least one third of the 140-minute-long movie.

One of the highlights of the opening space battle, which lasts almost a reel, recalls the thrilling dogfights of “Episode IV: A New Hope” even though, technically, it doesn't take place in space but in the outer atmosphere of Coruscant. The new locale allows for spectacular showing of massive explosions, with fire and smoke pouring off the spaceships.

Not surprisingly, conforming to conventions of other actioners, many of the fierce battles end in mano-a-mano. The earlier one between Obi-Wan and Grievous, who's a chilling combo of droid and human, foretells the ultimate fate of Anakin Skywalker himself.

In “Revenge of the Sith,” the Clone Wars are still taking place throughout the galaxy, and everyone is in full battle mode, prepared for anything to happen at any moment. The action in this movie is a crucial link to “A New Hope,” which opens as Darth Vader and his storm troopers invade a Rebel spaceship.

Lucas says that even though he didn't start writing the prequels for another 20 years, the structure of that story has not changed much. It was always meant to be epic story with Greek tragedy proportions about father who is redeemed by his children.

Indeed, after seeing Episode III, the two-generational issue, the relationship between father and his children become even more visibly the running motif of the whole series. As such, the saga is replete with Freudian psychology. For starters, we have Anakin and Padme (who's pregnant for most of this tale) as the biological parents of twins, born at the very end of the episode. Then there are Obi-Wan and Chanceller Palpatine as surrogate fathers to Anakin, the former exerting a positive influence, and the latter a negative and destructive one.

The essence of Episodes I, II, and III is in Anakin's larger story, relating how he starts out as a good person, becomes evil incarnate, and then subject of redemption by his twin children, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, separated at birth, but destined to lead the legendary Rebellion against the Empire.

Realizing that the millions of fans of “Star Wars” have long known many of the key plot points that drive the series, Lucas has gone out of his way to create an experience that surprises and deliver the goods. The result is that the events depicted in Episode III change the perspectives on the story, as told in the next three episodes: “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi.” Indeed, watching the six episodes in chronological sequence, an activity that will take about 14 hours, becomes a totally different experience.

Lucas exercises a unique style of filmmaking, one that uses the screenplay as a blueprint for building the film. After watching a scene play out on the screen, he revises it through editing and re-shooting. He starts with the normal editing and post-production, and then takes it to the extreme.

Though the new “Star Wars” trilogy reflects state-of-the art technology, in essence, like the former trilogy, it recalls the movie serials of the 1930s and 1940, a defining influence on the sensibility of Lucas (and Spielberg). But, paradoxically, the process by which he gets to that classic mode of storytelling is a non-traditional one. Lucas breaks his movies down into pieces, before rearranging the disparate elements into a new pattern, a process similar to putting together an animated picture since gathering the assemblage is done fluidly, bric-a-bric, shot-by-shot.

Space doesn't allow me to dwell on each element of Episode III. I was impressed with the conceptual design of “Revenge of the Sith's” new villain, General Grievous, a combination of alien and droid that's truly scary. Concept artist Warren Fun builds the creature upon the idea of a living alien inside the shell of a droid.

Visually speaking, Episode III is used as a continuous link between the lush, romantic opulence of Episodes I (“The Phantom Menace”) and II (“Attack of the Clones”) on the one hand and the harder-edged yet classic feel of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. The high-definition digital photography serves well the colossal number of effects shots.

With 72 major physical sets (50 more than most large-scale productions), the scale of the production is impressive. Several of the sets created with digital effects blend seamlessly with the rest, from Padme's opulent residence to the cockpit of a Trade Federation Cruiser to a sinister-looking conference room on molten Mustafar, that even outshines Kubrik's pioneering one in “Dr. Strangelove.”

Also striking and meticulously detailed are the six costumes worn by Palpatine, which get progressively darker and more ornately decorated throughout the movie. He begins wearing browns and light grays and then switches to grays and blacks to indicate his dark side. His high-collared jacket that looks like the skin of a snake on screen matches his reptilian character.

There's much to praise about the eye-popping, exciting climax, which as in Westerns, depicts the final showdown between good and evil, between Obi-Wan and Anakin. While it's not the first onscreen showdown of lightsabers and swordsmanship, it's the longest and most thrilling. Along with its physical dimension and fighting prowess, the duel conveys the couple's respective characters. Anakin has learned his fighting skills from Obi-Wan, but he has not mastered the mental and psychological side of it.

The acting in Episode III is also improved all around, particularly of its lead, Hayden Christensen, who gave a stiff performance in the previous episode. In an emotionally intense turn, Christensen is excellent in morphing from the good husband and loyal Jedi to the villainous Darth Vader, consumed with greed and schemes of power for power's sake.

What unifies the film and gives it its arch are the two central transformations. The first is of Palpatine, from a benevolent and thoughtful Chancellor of a Democracy into the dictatorial and power-thirsty leader of the feared Galactic Empire. The second and more important transformation is that of the heroic Anakin, prophesized to be the Chosen One, the single individual to bring balance to the Force and ensure peace throughout the galaxy, who becomes the dreaded Darth Vader, the Emperor's right-hand man.

However, dark and somber as it is, which explains it Pg-13 rating (the first episode to be ranked this way), there's a ray of light at the end. Anakin's mentors, the swashbuckling Obi-Wan Kenobi and the diminutive Jedi Master Yoda, manage to survive the fabled destruction of the Jedi order, even if they have to live hiding on distant, hostile planets.

Tying things up neatly, Lucas gave the final line of Episode III to the beloved character that speaks first in Episode IV. With all the pieces falling together, and significant connections made, the impressively mounted and emotionally engaging “Episode III–Revenge of the Sith” does proud to the entire “Star Wars” saga.