With Them, The Force Is

star-wars-revenge-sith_7‘Revenge of Sith’ satisfies in its attempts to bring the Star Wars saga full circle

About 10 minutes into Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) find themselves in a galactic bind. Obi-Wan turns to Anakin and says, “How did this happen, we’re smarter than this?”

You want to laugh—and not in the good way. Most would have said the same thing after Attack of the Clones in 2002.  And after Phantom Menace (1999), who could blame them? But McGregor’s corny delivery of the line—something that was better suited coming out of the likes of Mark Hamill back in the ’70s—immediately brings to the surface the main problem with the prequels to George Lucas’s Star Wars: Many of his characters lack passion on screen.

Nor do they show much depth, shocking considering we’re diving into deep territory here—the force and all that. This lack of real pizzazz was as indiscreet as a Death Star in the first two outings where most everyone emoted when they ought to have truly been feeling something. In Sith, when Christensen stares back blankly at McGregor, you think, “Boy, this sure feels awkward.  And why do they look so uncomfortable together?”

It’s hard to know what, exactly, went wrong with the chemistry that should have been there between McGregor and Christensen, the two vital tent poles in Sith. This is, after all, the final bow in Lucas’s space opera, an epic that, to date, has banked more than $600 billion worldwide. But at some point, you simply accept the fact that these two characters are supposed to be close even though they seem more like strangers on a passing starship. When droids are seen sharing more of a common bond than humans, there’s a major disturbance in the force.

This is one of the main problems that make it challenging to applaud Sith—very loudly. Fortunately, it never fully detracts from the overall picture, which manages to muster up an emotional charge that will leave fans of the series satisfied if not nearly complete with how Lucas brings this space soiree full circle.

Sith opens with the final catastrophic battles of the Clone Wars disrupting the galaxy. The ruckus has spilled over the skies of the city-planet of Coruscant, where the Republic is crumbling. Coruscant is  home to the Jedi Knights, too. (Why the female set have not been allowed into this “elevated” sect is an interesting observation.) The planet has also become the refuge of Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), who has quite a surprise waiting for the young buck that is Anakin when he returns from battle: “I’m pregnant,” she announces. After a soulless stare back, Anakin replies that he couldn’t be happier. (You could have fooled us!) But happy is not his destiny—far from it. Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid)—Linda Blair for the Star Wars set—has other plans for Anakin. After Obi-Wan and Anakin rescue the Palpatine from the shifty General Grievous, who’s been busy at the helm of the droid army—mechanized battle troops of the Separatist Alliance—Palpatine goes bowling for the poor boy’s soul, paving the way for a descent into a hell that most moviegoers should relish.

Already leading a double life—nobody knows of his marriage to Padmé— Anakin wrestles with his karma. The Jedi council wants him to keep an eye on Palpatine. Palpatine wants Anakin to consider his future and surreptitiously offers him a longevity he could never have even dreamed of having—odd considering Anakin is “the chosen one,” and the son of a virgin. (But let’s not get into the whole Metachlorian debate.) The senator’s offer could come in handy, Anakin wonders in one his weaker moments, especially since his prolific dreams suggest that Padmé will die. Should Anakin take it—open himself up to the dark side—Padmé’s life could, perhaps, be spared.

It’s during these moments that it feels as if the spiritual ramblings of 7th Heaven fell out of WB orbit and vomited itself all over the Star Wars universe. Maybe it’s just Christensen, who seems better groomed to wear some nice jeans and a cutoff T. One imagines him splashing around The O.C. with the deadwood that is Mischa Barton—and not having to inject believability in what is, really, a tortured soul. The good news is that Lucas’s script suddenly comes alive during the second half. All portions of the Star Wars puzzle begin to fall into place. Palpatine, we discover, has a rich history of his own. Who knew? Situations force Yoda into battle and he enlists the help of the Wookies and Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits). It’s nice to see a youthful Chewbacca tossing back his Wookie head. You’d like to see more of him—ditto for C3P0 and the frisky R2D2, but there’s a lot going on. The Republic is falling—and so is Anakin. Repeatedly caught in the middle of the Jedi Council’s suspicions of Palpatine and Palpatine’s suspicion of them, Anakin is basically the rope in their monstrous tug of war. Later, when Padmé utters, “What if the democracy we thought we had doesn’t exist?” you can sense all the liberals in the audience moving toward the edge of their seats in hypnotic splendor. Later, when she experiences her own hell—her heartbreak over Anakin and the discovery that she is carrying twins (the Luke and Leia we’ve already embraced in Episodes IV, V and VI)—it’s enough to send the poor girl spinning in a shuttlepod.

And then comes the coup de theatre: the final battle in which a confused, hurt Anakin goes light saber to light saber with Obi-Wan on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. Only here do we see Christensen and McGregor finally “relate” to each other. “You were the chosen one,” Obi-Wan moans as volcanic ash shoots hither and fro. Curiously, not a drop of persperation leaves either men’s brows. Meanwhile, Yoda has issues of his own and dukes it out with a foe in empty senate chambers. These concurrent duels are some of the best filmed and Anakin’s fate—the breathtaking, bloody shedding of his humanity—is particularly graphic if not completely effective.

The aftermath of it all leaves you spinning, perhaps a bit exhausted from the ride, even though having come full circle leaves you fully rinsed of your anticipation. When all is said and done, most will say Anakin did it all for love. And it’s hard not to like him for it, even though the consolation prize is, well, life on the dark side. But even that, we’ve already learned, eventually sees its brighter days.





*** (out of four)

With Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jimmy Smits, Christopher Lee and Anthony Daniels. Written and Directed by George Lucas. Rated PG-13. 139 minutes.


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