Trade embargoes and senatorial debates, romantic dialogue with less passion than a passed kindergarten note and, last and certainly least, the black hole of inspiration that is Jar-Jar Binks.
In Star Wars terms, George Lucas’ delay of the inevitable has, to this point, been about as much fun as that of waiting until April 15 to file taxes.
But in Revenge of the Sith, the final filmic bit of Star Wars, there’s a Forceful refund for those still with this saga. It’s the only new-trilogy movie that doesn’t feel like it had robots behind the camera, and the most thrilling, enthralling and tragic episode since Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back.
Everyone knows Anakin Skywalker, a precocious pod-racin’ kid who was the next big Jedi thing, becomes the evil mouth-breathing Darth Vader by the end of this run. What makes Sith wholly involving is that Lucas finally grounds the how-and-why details in tangible feelings of love, hope, guilt, doubt, sadness, betrayal and fear, not stilted talk of politics, philosophy and “midichlorians.”
Oh, and Jar-Jar mumbles all of two words that you’ll mercifully be hard-pressed to recall.
Lucas and his team of effects wizards still can create wowing new worlds and creatures with the best of them, and there is not one clunky visual effect to be found.
Ships on a planet full of Wookiees resemble angry wasps and landing pads on another world are made up of gargantuan creature bones. The villainous droid lackey General Grievous cuts a menacing digital figure. And the volcanic planet where Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, the picture of disappointment and resignation), engage in a climactic lightsaber battle makes Middle-Earth’s Mount Doom look like a playland.
But remembering the great story he has the tools to tell feels like Lucas’ greatest accomplishment.
In so much as spoilers can exist for a movie where 99 percent of its audience knows the ending, the details here will be light. But not only does Anakin’s eventual turn hinge upon a critical power promised to him by the Dark Side, but the slick salesman speech that lures him that way provides an antidote to his nonsensical immaculate conception of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.
This moment comes during, imagine that, a muted scene with a stationary camera, minimal flash and a simple discussion between two people — Anakin and the nefarious Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, finally delivering the evil father-figure and puppet-master beats he needs to).
It’s the first of many brilliant scenes that launch the film toward its inevitable, intense conclusion. And Lucas earns praise for neither being gratuitous nor backing down on the inherent violence. It’s not just lopped-off Jedi arms, anymore — it’s decapitations, dead kids and burning flesh, and it’s apt to freak out the smaller set.
The only such cop-out is calling a group of slaughtered Jedi trainees “younglings.” They should be called what they are — children — and not what sounds like the latest tie-in toy.
There are some very mild disappointments here. An early action scene has that slightly sterile video-game detachment. The number of Wookiees in the trailers and commercials is a disproportionate bait-and-switch. A battle on their planet is brief and suffers from frequent cutaways. And the tin-eared hooey of Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones still sloshes around in Lucas’ brain.
But for once, the wretched cutesy-poo dialogue (sample: “You’re so beautiful.” “It’s because I’m so in love.” “No, it’s because I’m so in love.”) between Anakin and pregnant wife Padme (Natalie Portman) is used not to convey love, but to mask the mounting sadness and pain.
Ending on a classy note of hope, Sith is a fitting bridge to the redemption of the coming episodes. Lucas has rediscovered the wonder, imagination and powerful pull of his Star Wars universe, and his fans will, too, in this, the real Star Wars movie fans have waited so long to see.