No whimpers: Lucas goes out with a bang

Star Wars is over! Well, except for myriad new DVD configurations, the videogames, TV series, graphic novels and– can you doubt it?– Broadway musical.

Never say never, but George Lucas claims he's calling a halt to the big-screen series after Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

 Lucas goes out with a bang, with more of what's good and maybe a little less of what's not so good in the rest of the prequel trilogy. The line between reality and computereality is more successfully blurred in a record number (2151, but who's counting?) of visual effects shots. And, as usual, the screen is filled with the kind of extensive, exquisite detail that keeps viewers coming back for more and buying DVDs to see it again and again.

But there are also– what's the technical term?– actors. Although some of them are passable, and Ian McDiarmid is practically brilliant, it's sad to see someone of Samuel L. Jackson's ability phoning it in. Hayden Christensen is bad when he's good but gets good when he turns bad.

As everyone in the galaxy knows, this is the episode that connects the second trilogy to the first. That means we have to see Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) go over to the dark side of the Force and his secret bride (Jedi knights are celibate) Padmé (Natalie Portman) give birth to twins, Luke and Leia. Astute observers will note Padmé's coiffure, an indication that, long long ago, women's hairstyles didn't vary from generation to generation (or was/will Leia be going for a retro look?).

The first 25 minutes, packing more action and imagination than most of this year's movies combined, show Anakin and his Jedi mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), rescuing Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid) from General Grievous (computer generated). In the process, Anakin eliminates Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, not cut from the last part of this trilogy as he was from Lord of the Rings, although there's hardly beaucoup Dooku), leaving an opening for a villain.

Sith leader Darth Sidious, who is actually Palpatine, has an idea for "a new apprentice, one far younger and more powerful": Anakin. His seduction of the youth is the dramatic heart of the story. Anakin dreams that Padmé dies in childbirth. It's not clear whether Sidious/Palpatine somehow generated that dream, but he knows about it and uses it, telling Anakin the Sith have the power to "save others from death."

Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), who in Episode I said, "Fear is the path to the Dark Side," now expands it: "The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side." His counsel is less appealing to Anakin than Palpatine's promise, and the Chancellor almost hypnotizes him with Orwellian logic into believing the other members of the Jedi Council are traitors to the Republic. Ultimately Anakin must make a choice– and he does.

Aside from Palpatine's conversations with Anakin (and even they grow repetitious), most of the film's dialogue is inane, boring or both, and in most cases the actors' delivery doesn't help. Consider the parting of the ways of two former friends:

OBI-WAN: My allegiance is to the Republic, to democracy. (So is he Republican or Democrat?)

ANAKIN: You're either with me or against me.

OBI-WAN: Only a Sith deals in absolutes. (Funny, he sounded pretty absolute two lines back.)

Lucas overuses the cross-cutting technique Coppola employed infinitely better in The Godfather. Whenever a fight starts, he cuts away annoyingly to another fight, usually involving lightsabers (some toy company must be planning a big lightsaber promotion in conjunction with this movie), or something else. Instead of heightening both events, the technique diminishes them.

The climactic events, both involving surgery, are intercut somewhat more effectively. At last the Darth Vader mask is placed on Anakin, and he says his first words: "This is CNN." (OK, I made that part up.)

I'm glad to see the Star Wars series end on a relatively high note, but I'm gladder to see it end. In retrospect, the first trilogy was enough. When Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) says, "I am going to end this once and for all," I couldn't help cheering inwardly, knowing he was speaking for George Lucas.