And thus it ends, not with a bang but a whimper ' on Tatooine, the small planet where it all began a long time ago. When Obi-Wan Kenobi hands over the newborn Luke Skywalker to an aunt and uncle for safekeeping, George Lucas' Star Wars saga, which has had an incalculable effect on our own small planet, comes full circle. Luke will grow up to look a lot like Mark Hamill, and the first three episodes, which turn out to be the last three episodes, will forever bask in the glow cast by The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and ' to give it its full title ' Star Wars: Episode III ' Revenge of the Sith. Of course, some of us didn't detect much glow coming off The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. But with Revenge of the Sith, Lucas has heroically roused himself from his slumbers. It gives me great pleasure to say this: Star Wars finally matters again.
Not as much as it might have mattered. The dialogue's still as clunky as it was in the old '30s serials that Lucas perhaps loves too much. And the actors still seem more concerned with hitting their marks than with leaving a lasting impression. But there are no drawn-out discussions of trade policy this time around. And Hayden Christensen, who must finesse the transition from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, no longer seems like a boy sent to do a man's job. Plus, Lucas has injected just enough humor to remind us why we fell in love with Star Wars in the first place. 'This is where the fun begins," Anakin says to kick off the movie's opening aerial battle, and although he's too busy turning to the dark side of the Force to share in much of that fun, a Whoopee cushion slipped under its butt is exactly what the series needed. The darkest of the six episodes, Revenge of the Sith nevertheless manages to stay light on its feet.
Meanwhile, the Republic appears to be on its last legs. Senator Palpatine, now Chancellor Palpatine, has been using a separatist rebellion as an excuse to amass power, but politics isn't the only trick up his sleeve. He also turns out to be a Sith lord ' a disturbance in the Force that the Jedi knights seem uncharacteristically slow to pick up on. Now, the only thing standing between Chancellor Palpatine and Emperor Palpatine is Anakin Skywalker, a young Jedi knight who may be too rash, too arrogant and too much in love with his childhood sweetheart, the increasingly irrelevant PadmÃ Amidala (Natalie Portman). One can imagine an even better handling of Darth Vader's squirmy struggle to be born. This is, after all, what the entire series turns out to be about. But Lucas manages to get the job done. In Revenge of the Sith, events unfold with the horrible inevitability of a Greek tragedy.
And they do so via some of the most stunning images ever projected on a movie screen. This, finally, is Lucas' greatest contribution to the history of cinema ' the dreaming up and meticulous construction of worlds that are exotically different from, yet strangely reminiscent of, our own. Actually, Revenge of the Sith is somewhat less stunning, visually, than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. It spends a lot of time on Coruscant, which we've already gotten a pretty good look at. And the aerial battles seem a little ' dare I say it? ' perfunctory. (As do the lightsaber duels. Has Lucas finally run out of things to do with fluorescent tubes?) But there's a brief glimpse of Kashyyyk, home of Chewbacca and the Wookiees. And Obi-Wan and Anakin bid each other adieu on godforsaken Mustafar, a lava-splurting volcano trying to pass itself off as a habitable planet. Mordor, eat your heart out.
It makes sense that Darth Vader's dark-father destiny is forged in the fiery pits of hell, and Revenge of the Sith reaches for and achieves an epic grandeur as our fallen angel takes his first iron-lung-assisted breath on the operating table. Suddenly, the last 28 years of American entertainment and ' oh, hell, why not? ' American history snap into place. Star Wars was born in the shadow of Vietnam and Watergate ' optimistic movies for pessimistic times. And now it comes to a close in the shadow of Iraq and the Patriot Act ' still pessimistic times, but the movies now seem less optimistic, more mature. Against all odds, Lucas has once again cast a spell over a country that doesn't always recognize when it's turned to the dark side. And if he's had to wallow in the dark side himself to get the job done, well, stay tuned for Episode 4: A New Hope.