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May 20, 2005

In Yoda-speak: Worth the wait, Episode III is

AMC River East 21: You will never find a more wretched hive of fandom and geekiness. Grown men and women in Jedi-wear battle with toy lightsabers. And I was proudly participating in a debate on whether the Ewoks saved or destroyed Return of the Jedi. Yes, the loyal had gathered to see if Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith would save the Force. For this loyal Padawan, it did. To paraphrase Master Yoda: "Balance the Force did George Lucas."

Granted, Episode I and II sucked ass; those movies are unredeemable. But Lucas wisely learned from his mistakes and crafted a concluding epilogue that, while it doesn't fulfill every Star Wars fan's wishes, at least delivers, and delights the loyal who waited in line for four hours to see last night's midnight showing.

What are the improvements? Mostly gone are the long, pointless filler scenes (i.e. the Pod Race in Episode I, any of the love scenes on Naboo in Episode II); Jar Jar Binks; and that midi-chlorian shit. Lucas gets back to basics with a tight, streamlined story that focuses on plot instead of gratuitous explosions; a majestic John Williams score; a kick-ass fight scene with Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson); a Wookie army; and James Earl Jones in a familiar voice cameo.

I can't give away too many spoilers; otherwise I fear I will receive death threats from those who are planning to see the movie this weekend. But it's safe to say the movie opens with the end of the Clone Wars. The Separatists are near defeat, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is sent to dispatch their last leader, the robotic four-armed General Grievous, and destroy the rest of the Sith—the evil Jedi lords who exploit the dark side of the Force.

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), feeling shunned and insulted by the Jedi Council, dreams of his pregnant wife, Senator Padmé (a whiny Natalie Portman), and listens to a conniving Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who sways him with the "rewards" of the Dark Side. I could go on about the politics of the movie—comparisons of Palpatine's role as "emperor" to a certain war on terror—but I'll leave off any politicizing in this review.

Visually, Lucas might have gone overboard again with the CGI. The crammed skyline of Corsecant made me miss the simplistic beauty of Cloud City in the originals. But the director in Lucas still knows how to craft scenes that are both poignant and devastating. The siege of the Jedi temple by Storm Troopers brought tears to the eyes of a girl sitting next to me. And viewing Anakin on the lava-filled planet Mustafar, the audience has a feeling where his actions as the newly appointed Darth Vader are leading him: Hell.

Acting has never been the great strength of the Star Wars prequels, as demonstrated by Portman and Christensen. Portman can't seem to match the spunkiness of Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia (or her character in Garden State), in this passive turn as Padmé. Christensen is stuck playing Anakin like a sullen, moody teen to express the darkness and hubris that surrounds the young Jedi. Instead, the Oscar-caliber performances belong to Frank Oz, who even without a Yoda puppet on his hand could convey bravery, wisdom, and remorse in his voice, and McGregor, who appeared to be really channeling Alec Guinness, deftly switching from action hero to noble father figure. McGregor is the moral anchor of the film; Star Wars is as much Obi-Wan's tragedy as it is Anakin's. You really see the pain in McGregor's eyes when he realizes that despite his best efforts, he failed his apprentice, his loved ones, and the Galactic Republic. Obi-Wan, a nearly defeated warrior, looks towards a Tatooine sunrise—and a certain baby boy—for salvation and a new hope.

We younger fans can never experience the wonder of Star Wars like the original fans, who watched with awe as the Millennium Falcon blasted from the Mos Eisley spaceport back in 1977. For the past six years, we've gone into the theaters with our expectations too high and were easily disappointed. Maybe it was great that our outlooks were soured by the first two movies. Revenge of the Sith is the pay-off for the disappointment of Episode I and II. It seems the Force is with us on this one.