Sith City

Darkness finally falls on the 'Star Wars' saga

And that's the problem. The actors don't have the gravitas or the presence to fill in these cardboard characters--and when you have Padmé explaining away Anakin's turn to the Dark Side by saying, "He's been under a lot of stress lately," you need something more than Portman's mallrat simper or Christensen's pouty, petulant torment to put it across. Instead, Anakin's downfall has all the cosmic grandeur of a guy going postal because he was passed over for a promotion. Lucas gets exactly the performances he wants--ones that mesh perfectly with their digitized, mechanized surroundings. But is that any excuse to turn actors into human coat racks? Poor Samuel L. Jackson: As the Jedi Mace Windu, he gives roughly the same monotonous performance that Robert Bresson would've beaten out of him after 50 punishing takes.

Lucas has many eccentric gifts as a director, but tragic depth is simply beyond him: This is, after all, a series of movies that opened with the casual vaporizing of a planet. The shallowness of the characters is doubly frustrating in Revenge because they've been assigned grand passions they don't begin to possess. A hint of Anakin's darkest deed--a bit of lightsaber child care--is chilling, all right, but as much for the creepy affectlessness of Lucas's staging as for the act itself. And because we've known since 1977 how this story is going to play out, we're aware at every juncture of how it's being rigged to get us there. Anakin's premonitions, like his love for Padmé, are a convenience that gets Episode II to Episode IV. More than anything, Episode III just seems...obligatory.

At the start of the film, when the Star Wars logo appeared with that orchestral bampff!, I felt my heart in my throat. And that was pretty much the last emotional connection I had to anything onscreen. With his unprecedented clout and unlimited bankroll, George Lucas may be the only truly independent filmmaker at work today. This is freedom? Lucas has been the prisoner of his creation for 28 years. The creative recklessness and studio confusion of early '70s Hollywood enabled him to gamble (and fail) with THX 1138; ironically enough, the success of Star Wars slammed the door on scruffy, marginal studio fare, ensuring the terminal adolescence, effects-driven monotony, and emotional atrophy of mainstream American movies for decades to come. The dude in the black helmet couldn't have struck a more lucrative devil's deal.

Under a lot of stress: Hayden Christensen in 'Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith'
Lucasfilm Ltd./20th Century Fox
Under a lot of stress: Hayden Christensen in 'Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith'

But if Lucas is finally free of the Force--if he can reclaim the human warmth of American Graffiti or the experimental spirit of THX--then this saga may have a redemptive ending after all. Maybe, in the screwy chronology of Lucas's bookended trilogies, this closing chapter is the one that should be called A New Hope.

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