"Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" is a three-star movie from a four-star director, a slam-bang action flick that's ripe with unfulfilled potential and reaches its climax a quarter of the way from the ending.
It will probably rank as the best of the three prequels ("The Phantom Menace," "Attack of the Clones") but "Episode III" doesn't reach the emotional range of the original trilogy of "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."
By the end, it feels a trifle flat. Regrettably, the last movie in the saga, the one that promised to show how Darth Vader came to be evil incarnate, gives us lots more detail but little more insight or depth into the tragedy of his failed life.
Part of the problem is that it's a messy tangle of stories. One is about how Vader (Hayden Christensen), a former Jedi named Anakin Skywalker, became the scourge of the Galaxy. Another is the betrayal and destruction of the good guys, the Jedi Order. A third is the political story of how the democratic Galactic Republic evolved into the repressive Empire. Finally, there's the love story of Vader/Anakin's forbidden marriage to Senator Padme Amidala, which ends in despair.
As the movie opens, the Galactic Republic is at war with the Separatist movement and their Droid army, led by General Grievous. The army has captured the leader of the Republic, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), and the Jedi are sent to rescue him. In the process, Anakin, egged on by Palpatine, breaks the Jedi code by killing an unarmed prisoner. His path down into the Dark Side starts. By the end of the movie, he'll have wreaked carnage and betrayed everyone who loves him. It is a grim movie.
The story of how Anakin succumbs to Palpatine, the most evil soul of all, and the Dark Side is compelling. He is seduced on the level of his most basic insecurities: fears of abandonment and betrayal and the loss of a forbidden love. In many ways, the Jedi dig their own grave by mistrusting Anakin's motives until he trusts only one person: Palpatine, who has always supported and never criticized him.
By the end, the Republic has traded democracy and freedom for safety and security. The Senate cheers when Palpatine pronounces the First Galactic Empire. As a despairing Padme says, "This is how liberty dies _ to the sound of applause."
After extensive plot twists, Anakin ends up in a spectacular duel with former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has been sent to stop his rampage. But that's not the end _ there is more film to come and it dwindles into the mechanics that set up "Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope," the original "Star Wars" movie.
By the end, Palpatine has become Emperor, Anakin is the mostly mechanical Darth Vader, and Padme's twins, Luke and Leia, are separated at birth and hidden from their father. The two remaining Jedi (that we know of), Kenobi and Yoda, go into hiding until they can restart the Jedi Order.
Visually, "Revenge of the Sith" is stunning from the private Senatorial apartments of Padme Amidala with its elegant styling and tinkling fountain to the exciting computer graphic created battle scenes. Lucas has created a definitive style for all the planets in this movie from the forests of Kashyyyk to the canyon city on Utapau where Kenobi has a final duel with General Grievious. The costumes are unbelievably rich with intricate details and sumptuous fabrics.
The finest performance is from Ian Diarmid as Palpatine, who shows how evil can hide behind a persuasive manner and can warp even the most dedicated men. "Revenge of the Sith" lacks the subtle handling which its mythic plot richly deserved.
What a pity.