George Lucas has finally done it. After countless years filled with shoddy merchandise, poor licensing decisions and reissue after needless reissue, he has finally managed to ruin his once revered Star Wars franchise. The latest installment in his prequel trilogy, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, is merely the last bullet to pierce this already riddled corpse. Mired in horrendous acting, terrible dialogue, uninspired fight scenes and an utterly pointless plot, Revenge of the Sith follows the uniformly poor precedent set by its two predecessors and concludes a storyline intent on tarnishing one of the most interesting, and unabashedly kick-ass, villains in science-fiction, Darth Vader.
As practically everyone knows, the purpose of Lucas' latest trilogy was to reveal the events leading up to the kind-hearted Anakin Skywalker's transformation into the evil Vader. Herein lies the largest problem with the film--it had to do too much. The first two installments in the trilogy did little to actually advance the story, serving more as introductions to characters and the galactic struggle which brought about Anakin's fall than as proper movies. This leaves Revenge of the Sith with the unenviable task of illustrating not only Anakin's conversion to the dark side but also the revelation of Chancellor Palpatine as a Sith lord, his eventual takeover of the Republic, Padame Amidala's pregnancy and childbirth, the destruction of most of the Jedi, the inevitable duel between Anakin and his former master Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the damages inflicted upon Anakin, forcing him to adopt the now legendary costume of Darth Vader. There is simply no way a film can cover this much territory in just over two hours and not come across feeling rushed and incomplete.
This flaw wouldn't be as fatal if the movie delivered in other areas, but sadly it falls flat at nearly every opportunity, most notably in the performances offered by its star-studded cast. The worst perpetrators are Haden Christensen (Anakin), who is intolerable every time he opens his mouth, and Natalie Portman (Padame), who gives her already personality-void character a particularly lifeless interpretation. Unfortunately, these two characters appear on-screen together throughout much of the film resulting in a multitude of cringe-inducing or unintentionally hilarious scenes.
The rest of the cast doesn't fare any better. In the first two Star Wars prequels Ewan McGregor tried to make the one-dimensional Obi-Wan Kenobi interesting, in Revenge of the Sith he gives up entirely, lowering himself to the level of his co-stars. Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) also finally abandons playing a fictional character, opting instead to play Samuel L. Jackson, just like he does in all of his movies. The only actor who gives a passable performance is Ian McDiarmid who manages to pull off Chancellor Palpatine's creepiness quite well, considering what he had to work with.
Of course, this is a Star Wars movie, plot and acting are secondary concerns, at best, to the legions of fans who crave nothing but lightsaber duels and X-wing dogfights. Somehow the film even stumbles here, on what should be its bread and butter. There is only one space battle, occurring at the very beginning of the picture and though it is possibly the most entertaining part of the whole trilogy, it comes nowhere near some of the battles Lucas devised in his earlier Star Wars work. Though the sheer quantity of lightsaber fights will thrill many fans, their overall quality won't. Desperately trying to top previous offerings, Lucas and company load Revenge of the Sith with one battle after another, either filming the scenes tight to the characters, conveniently solving the problem of choreography or jamming as many lightsabers as possible into a given confrontation in every conceivable way, including a quadruple saber-wielding cyborg.
In fairness, Revenge of the Sith is far and away the best of the three new Star Wars movies. It is a considerably more mature film than Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and its emphasis on action allows for less dialogue, making it less infuriating than Episode II: The Attack of the Clones. Make no mistake, fans will come in droves, praise will be shovelled out as liberally as commercial tie-ins, but Revenge of the Sith, like Lucas' entire prequel trilogy, is not worthwhile. It succeeds only in soiling what made Star Wars so damn cool in the first place.