Rating: PG-13 for violence and mature themes
Run Time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
Evil is everywhere in George Lucas’ latest (and last) Star Wars installment, a gritty arcade game of a film sure to please diehard fans and fringe folk alike.
Episode III is the ultimate lead-in to the original 1977 version (Episode IV - A New Hope) and perhaps the series’ most revealing, wherein Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) finally succumbs to the dark side and transforms himself into the deathly malicious Darth Vader.
Not that you’d know it from the first hour, a crazy pastiche of energetic inter-galactic battles and incessant Lawrel and Hardy routines between Anakin and the venerable Obi-Wan Kenobi, played most un-venerably by Ewan McGregor.
While Anakin fights for universal tranquility as the eyes, ears and voice of the Republic he worries incessantly for the fate of his pregnant bride, the retired Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman).
The ultimate goal is to bring balance to the force but Anakin struggles with the balance within. Expectancy weighs heavily on every word as he searches for a life of conscience and significance.
Anakin’s age-old conundrum: stay true to his ideals and end the oppression of the Siths or surrender to a higher power and rescue Padmé from a tragic fate. Leading the charge of evil is Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who ostensibly stands for peace while controlling the Senate and the cutting-edge cool of the Jedi warriors. Palpatine is sinuously convincing as he leads Anakin down a path of redemption destined to end in destruction.
The second hour is a cinematic classic, a massive conflict of good vs. evil. A powerful montage illustrates the unimaginable execution of Order 66: the complete annihilation of the legendary Jedi. Anakin and Obi-Wan go mano-a-mano in a startling clash of black and white and Yoda rocks the house with hip light-saber moves against Force foe Darth Sidious (nee Palpatine).
Episode III isn’t without its flaws and head-scratching mysteries. The medical technology that salvages the charred remnants of Anakin Skywalker isn’t savvy enough to save Padmé from the less strenuous rigors of childbirth as she finally spawns future heroes Luke and Leia. Select themes are implied but not fully realized.
Performances are all over the map. McGregor is altogether too goofy to fill the distinguished sandals of Alec Guinness and Christensen and Portman are mediocre at best. McDiarmid is spectacular; a stunningly vicious turn perfectly in keeping with the perpetual sense of doom.
Segue from the sensibilities of Episode III to IV is seamless and consistently intriguing. Twice the pride, double the fall; fortunately for Lucas pride has prevailed.