Star Wars fans have been put through the ringer when it comes to the prequel trilogy, with warring factions battling over the first two installments like rabid womp rats -- thankfully, the concluding film and the bridge to the beloved films of yore should hopefully please both camps and live up to the hype surrounding it. First things first, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is one dark, heartbreaking film. There's a reason that it's PG-13, and parents of youngsters should definitely take note. That said, those who are looking for a fitting tale of Anakin Skywalker's slide to evil will be pleased to know that George Lucas did, indeed, pull it off. Easily the most intense of the series, the third installment fulfills its hellish promises and sets the stage for the next hopeful chapter in the story. Besides the first rousing 20 minutes, one thing that this film isn't is the type of popcorn crowd-pleaser that audiences have come to expect, especially after the kiddie-friendly Phantom Menace and the action-packed lovey-dovey schmaltz that was Attack of the Clones. Thanks to a bravura performance from Ian McDiarmid, running wild here as the supremely sinister emperor of the galaxy, this episode finally has what the other prequels didn't -- a thoroughly nasty and evil villain. For all of the range that Hayden Christensen delivers in this one (and he's definitely filled into the role), the wicked Sith Lord commands the screen in a performance that virtually steals the show as he orchestrates the final coup in the prequel's complicated political plot that is at the heart of Lucas' cautionary (and eerily timely) mythos.
Now, don't worry, there are still epic battles with easily the biggest and arguably the best batch of lightsaber duels here, though the most engaging moments have to be what's underneath the digital flash. As it should, the action amply serves the story, and once the proverbial Sith hits the fan, the film's downward spiral pulls you in and doesn't let go. Drawing the series together in spectacular fashion is John Williams' score, thus completing a sprawling saga of work that deftly weaves old and new themes together to create a unified piece that is unprecedented in film score narrative history. Additionally, the FX department should be given highest honors simply for the extraordinary, subtle work that went into Yoda's harrowing performance, helped out once again by Frank Oz's voice acting. Now, in all fairness, the flick still suffers from moments of overtly cutesy stuff, while the actors continue to suffer a bit from the same stilted dialogue that has plagued the last two entries. The good news is that those scenes are so few and far between that only the most cynical viewers would continually hold it against the final product. With Revenge of the Sith working as both a stylistic and emotional bridge to the original trilogy, Lucas completes his masterpiece the only way he knew how, by supplying a soul to one of the screen's most memorable villains. Everyone might not agree with how he went about doing it, but it'd be hard to say that this chapter didn't deliver the goods that audiences have been waiting for since 1977.