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STAR WARS: EPISODE III
Revenge of the Sith

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Jimmy Smits, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, voices of Frank Oz, James Earl Jones
Director:  George Lucas
Audio:  Dolby Digital EX 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  140 Minutes
Release Date:  November 1, 2005

"Anakin...I'm afraid."

"Have faith, my love...everything will soon be set right."

Film ***1/2

It took a long time to get here...most of my life, as a matter of fact...but at long last, George Lucas' extraordinary vision is complete.

Star Wars: Episode III finally grants us fans what we've wanted to see for decades:  mainly, how a promising young Jedi Knight named Anakin Skywalker falls from grace to become Darth Vader, the darkest of all intergalactic villains.  The first two episodes were merely prologue; Revenge of the Sith is the chapter that really delivers.

Since we last left the story, the Clone Wars have been fought and are ending (see the two animated volumes from Fox for that story, if you wish).  Anakin (Christensen) has grown more powerful under the close tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor), and the watchful eye of Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid).  In the opening stretch, the two Jedis stage a rescue of Palpatine from Count Dooku (Lee).  Anakin is the hero, but it's only the beginning of his troubles.

He remains secretly married to Padme Amidala (Portman), and she has news:  she's pregnant.  But instead of happiness, it brings Anakin a new set of nightmares:  dreams of Padme's death in childbirth.  The last time he had such dreams, they were about the death of his mother...and that time, he had not been able to save her. 

While the Chancellor grows more and more powerful within the Galactic Senate, he also begins to turn Anakin's fears to his own advantage.  There is more to the Force than what the Jedi teach.  With the powers of the Dark Side, he muses, anything is possible.  Even unnatural things.

Call it the Last Temptation of Anakin.  His fears of losing his love make him susceptible to the Chancellor's suggestions, while the Jedi Council, led by Yoda (voiced by Oz) and Mace Windu (Jackson) begin to trust him less and less.  With the fate of the Republic in the balance, Anakin has to choose sides.  And I'm sure every fan realizes what choice he makes.

The main points of the story were known by fans even before viewing the third installment, but there are still surprises in store.  Though the end destination is known, the real pleasure of the film is the journey.  For about the first hour, I was actually wondering if we were going to get the full effective payoff we'd been imagining.  There are large but empty action sequences in which Lucas fills his screen with so many images that it's hard to know where to look.  And some of the dialogue between Anakin and Padme still borders on painfully banal.

But there is a turning point at about the hour and ten minute mark.  Suddenly, the tone turns to something darker than ever seen in a Star Wars film before (hence the PG-13 rating).  We witness Anakin getting closer and closer to his destiny, and we finally see the point of no return.  I wouldn't dream of disclosing it, but I can say there is a definite moment when we know this once good, promising hero is irretrievably lost.

The climactic scene in which Obi-Wan and Anakin face off as enemies is one of the most thrilling sequences in the entire saga.  Set against the background of a volcanic planet, and fueled by Anakin's newfound hatred, the battle is exciting and haunting at the same time.  And it's juxtaposed against another spectacular battle:  the sprightly Yoda against the man who would be Emperor.

There is a great sense of finality to Episode III, even though fans know from here we return to the beginning and start again.  Lucas has given us a circle in perpetual motion; a story that folds in on itself and opens up again.  This may now be the darkest installment in the series, but it ends with a glimmer of hope that we know isn't false.  The children in the movie, as in life, are the future. 

And the thrill of seeing the birth of one of cinema's most legendary villains is only comparable to the thrill of eventually seeing him born again.

Video ****

Lucas and company knock another one out of the park in their final at-bat.  The Star Wars discs have all been exemplary in the video department, and this final first installment episode is as good as they come.  Colors are bright, well contained and vivid throughout, even in the many light-against-dark backgrounds, and images are crisp and clean; almost three dimensional.  Despite the heavy action, there is no noticeable compression.

Audio ****

Is there nothing better than hearing the opening strains of John Williams' classic score on DVD?  Actually, yes.  This whole Dolby Digital EX soundtrack is astounding.  Action galore makes maximum use of all your channels, with smooth crossovers and sharp effects commanding terrific dynamic range.  The subwoofer will keep the outer space machinery humming, while dialogue remains clean and clear throughout against all the music and effects.  Superb.

Features ****

Once again, Lucas delivers a double disc set to enhance his vision on DVD.  The first disc contains another group commentary, featuring Lucas and his creative team Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, John Knoll and Roger Guyett.  Want to know how to end a saga that began thirty years earlier?  He'll tell you all about it.

Disc Two features everything else.  There are six deleted scenes, completed with post production and special effects just for this release, starting with an introduction by George Lucas and Rick McCallum.  The documentary "Within a Minute" is exactly that...it will show you just HOW MUCH work goes into what amounts to one minute of screen time in a Star Wars movie.  Two more featurettes are included:  "The Chosen One" talks about Anakin's descent into Darth Vader, while "It's All For Real" shows the amount of training it takes to get the actors ready for an all out battle to the death.

Lucas' famed web documentaries are here:  15 episodes chronicle the making of the movie.  There is a terrific music video for John William's haunting "A Hero Falls" theme.  There is a teaser and launch trailer, 15 TV spots, poster and photo galleries, X-Box game previews, and DVD ROM content.  Not to mention the always-cool menu screens, which of course can change as you access them!

Summary:

Just as every saga has a beginning, so also must it end.  Revenge of the Sith brings Lucas' vision to full circle, and yet if you think about it, it's not the end at all...the original movies continue the story, so fans can go back again and again and relive the story of how Anakin Skywalker falls from grace and is eventually redeemed. 

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