Movies: Dark Side Rising

The first three Star Wars were epic. The next two, not really. Now George Lucas has pulled out all the stops and finished the cycle with Revenge of the Sith

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Clever, indeed. After two episodes--The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002)--that often dawdled in political filibustering and starchy line readings, after the fan base's outrage at the unfortunate Jar Jar Binks incident, Revenge of the Sith shows Lucas storming back as a prime confector of popular art. Again one feels the sure narrative footing of the first Star Wars, the sepulchral allure of Empire, the confident resolution of a dozen plotlines that made Jedi a satisfying capper to the original enterprise. True, Lucas can pack little surprise into a backstory that's obliged to complete the saga's circle in the middle. But there's an origami elegance to his folding of the old (new) story into the new (old) one. Sith will surely start a stampede to resee the 1977 film as a reminder of how the 13-hr. tale proceeds. Lucas is nothing if not an expert extender of his franchise.

Sith has some clunky bits--all the films have those--and some amateur acting. But McGregor grows and grays intelligently into the middle-aged Obi-Wan, and his fellow Scot Ian McDiarmid has a starmaking turn as Chancellor Palpatine. It is brooding stuff, the most violent of the series--it's rated PG-13--about the coming-of-rage of a classic villain. Anakin even has a bit of Shakespearean resonance: the conflicted Hamlet finding the grasping pride of Macbeth, the noble assassin Brutus festering into a yellow-eyed Titus Andronicus.

Sith begins in agitation with the opening crawl's exclamation "War!" and a zesty, muscle-flexing skirmish between a quartet of Federation droid attack planes and the Jedi fighters of Anakin and Obi-Wan. "This is where the fun begins," Anakin says. The lad is a hotshot aerial ace, a proto--Han Solo, with the ego and adrenaline that are the marks of a superb warrior and will breed a hubris that Darth Sidious can exploit.

The two Jedi find Palpatine manacled in the lair of the Sith lord, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), an ally of General Grievous, the dog-faced, metal-skeletoned, prune-gutted--and computerized--droid leader. In the ensuing lightsaber battles, Anakin gains strength and focus from his anger and, instead of arresting his foe, executes him. "It's not the Jedi way," the lad says remorsefully afterward. But that taste of righteous fury will prove addictive.

After more escapes and escapades, the Jedi pair bring the Chancellor back to Coruscant, capital of the Republic, where Anakin is reunited with his love--and secret wife--Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman). She is pregnant, a condition that, if known, would mean Anakin's expulsion from the Jedi priesthood. Much more troubling is a dream he has in which, as he tells Padmé, "You die in childbirth." "And the baby?" she asks. "I don't know," he replies. [Readers who don't want to know the identity of Darth Sidious are free to skip the next two paragraphs.]

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