Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
It's fitting that Revenge of the Sith supposedly marks George Lucas' last big-screen jaunt into the world of Star Wars, as the film is not only the best of the prequels but of the entire trilogy. As virtually every critic and reporter on the planet has already noted, Revenge of the Sith is the darkest installment of the series - literally and figuratively. The result is a movie that's bound to satisfy fans and casual viewers alike, though because the film is mostly devoted to payoff rather than setup, folks who've been following Lucas' opus since the beginning will find a lot more to appreciate here than neophytes.
The story picks up a few years after Attack of the Clones, and kicks off with Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) engaged in mission to rescue Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and the evil General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood). The remainder of the film is devoted mostly to Anakin's fateful trip to the Dark Side, and the effect it has on the people closest to him (primarily mentor Obi-Wan and pregnant wife Padme).
While Revenge of the Sith features many of the same problems that have plagued the prequels thus far - ie stilted dialogue, uneven pacing, etc - there's no denying that the film is generally exceedingly entertaining. Writer/director George Lucas finally gives the fans exactly what they've been clamoring for since the beginning - Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader. However, those hoping for sequence after sequence of the original trilogy's Vader wreaking havoc will surely be disappointed; though he's anointed Darth Vader about midway through the film, Anakin doesn't actually don the infamous black outfit and mask until the film's closing minutes.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Christensen is actually quite good in the role, something that couldn't be said of his performance in Attack of the Clones. The actor imbues Anakin with a palpable sense of indecision, and although it becomes increasingly difficult to swallow his rationale for crossing over to the Dark Side (a choice that seems to hinge entirely on a relatively insubstantial matter), Christensen effectively captures Anakin's many sides (ie he convincingly goes from loyal servant to unstoppable bad guy within the space of a few scenes).
McGregor is expectedly charming and ingratiating, while Natalie Portman - reprising her role as Padme - is given little to do other than worry about Anakin's well being. But the real surprise here, performance-wise, is McDiarmid, who does an astounding job of turning Palpatine into more than just a shadowy, sinister figure. As the instigator of virtually all the terrible things that occur in Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine is undoubtedly a flat-out villain - though McDiarmid infuses the character with the sort of sleazy charm that's a prerequisite among memorable cinematic miscreants.
Though the film is never boring (how could it be, really?), Revenge of the Sith does occasionally feel somewhat overlong - a problem that's exacerbated by Lucas' tendency to emphasize expository, undeniably melodramatic dialogue. This is compounded by the presence of a few sorely underdeveloped characters - something that's particularly true of General Grievous, a robotic Sith Lord who carries around the lightsabers of his Jedi conquests - and yet it's impossible to cling to such complaints thanks to the film's spectacular action sequences and increasingly dark sensibilities. And though it seems clear that younger viewers will have a hard time sitting through some of the more disturbing sequences, Revenge of the Sith is certainly the prequel everybody has been waiting for.