This week, 28 years after the release of the original “Star Wars,” George Lucas brings his intergalactic saga full circle with “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” Fans will breathe a sigh of relief — after the mediocrity of Episodes I and II, “Episode III” will exceed all expectations.
“Episode III” is dark, foreboding — and also exhilarating. While little of what happens in this chapter comes as a surprise, from its outset — beginning with a full blown battle sequence high above the planet Coruscant — Lucas gives his audience little opportunity to catch their breath in this nearly two and a half hour finale.
“Revenge of the Sith” picks up at the end of the Clone Wars, as the leader of the droid army, General Grievous, takes Chancellor Palpatine hostage. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are dispatched to rescue the Chancellor. Yet even more disturbing events are about to unfold, as Anakin’s loyalty is torn between Obi-Wan and the way of the Jedi, the promise of untold power offered by Palpatine and the love of Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), whom he has married in secret and now carries his child.
Anakin’s resulting internal conflict and the events that bring him to the Darth Vader persona are where Lucas hits his stride as a storyteller. This is galactic Shakespearean tragedy wrapped in the archetypal mythological themes of his late mentor Joseph Campbell. Lucas hits his stride as a storyteller here, and even where his dialogue occasionally falters — which is much less conspicuous than in the previous two episodes — the betrayal and hopelessness of the characters and their inevitable fates rings true.
The strength of “Episode III” is furthered by the performance of Ian McDiarmid, whose duplicitious Palpatine is all at once beguiling and terrifying. Despite an awkward introductory scene reminiscent of a high school staging of Romeo and Juliet, Christensen and Portman have finally gained some confidence in their grasp of their characters. By the end of the film they are fully invested in the emotional turmoil that Anakin and Padme eventually drown in.
Topping off the experience is John Williams’ stirring Wagnerian score, which both compliments and perhaps even magnifies the mythic proportions of the story and the visually arresting special effects. All of these elements draw together to weave a modern fable that sets a high watermark for 21st century filmmaking.