Only the most diehard of Star Wars’ fans would ever claim that the first two prequels were anything but disappointments that failed to live up to their legendary sequels made over twenty years ago. And while this, the third episode chronologically, but the final episode to be produced, still fails to equal any of the installments in the original trilogy, it stands far above episodes I and II. It manages this by ditching most of the clunky love story, intricate political machinations, and annoying characters that dominated the earlier installments and puts the focus back where it belongs, i.e. onto the action and the core group of characters.
The movie opens strongly with Obi-wan and Anakin on a mission to rescue Senator Palpatine, who has been kidnapped by the cybernetic General Grievous and his master, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Following this opening, the story moves into the central plot, which revolves around the Emperor’s final seduction of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the Force wherein he will emerge (as has been foretold) as the black suited, iron lunged, Darth Vader, complete with his own theme music.
Lucas, as he always does, proves himself to be a master of visuals and spectacular special effects, but is utterly unable to create a true or honest quiet moment of emotion. The movie features some stunning set pieces. There are several large-scale battles, but the best action comes in the form of one on one combat. Not only is the final battle between Obi-wan and Anakin shown in all its glory, but at long last the question of who would win if Yoda and the Emperor ever faced off in a fight, is answered.
Unfortunately, the quiet moments, those featuring Anakin and Padmé (Portman), are embarrassingly laughable. Why does Lucas still insist on writing his own scripts? And better yet, when he hears his own dialogue spoken back to him, how can he believe in it? It’s a sad state of affairs because apart from these few weak scenes, Portman has very little to do. Her character has been reduced from an active participant, to the weak, stay at home pregnant wife.
One of the most surprising elements of this film is Lucas’ political statement. “Any one that’s not with me, is my enemy,” Anakin says at one point, paraphrasing the famous line from a George W. Bush speech. “Only a Sith believes only in absolutes,” Obi-wan replies. “So this is how liberty dies,” Padmé points out in another scene as Senator Palpatine is laying out his new political strategy. “With a round of applause.”
For the longtime fan, there are many familiar faces and elements from the earlier stories. Although much has been made of Chewbacca’s appearance in this movie, his part is quite tiny and the amount of time spent on the Wookie home world, is minimal. However, there are many other moments of nostalgia. So many in fact, that by the end of the film, Han and Lando are the only major characters from the original trilogy to not have appeared in the prequels.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy’s dad (Sean Connery) tells him, “You left home just when you were getting interesting.” That’s how I feel about these new Star Wars movies. Only now, as they are ending, did Lucas manage to recapture a hint of the old magic. And now, just when they’re getting interesting, they’re going away.