May 21, 2005

MOVIES: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005)

Well, the movie looks terrific, and it's even reasonably entertaining so long as the screen is filled with aliens and distant planets and battles and spaceships. But the second that anyone actually says something, the whole thing goes to hell and back because of Lucas's complete hostility to such niceties as acting and dialogue.

Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson are among our best actors, and Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman have done solid work in other movies. But in the Star Wars movies, they aren't simply giving bad or ill-conceived performances; they're deliberately flat and lifeless. Whether he's right for a role or not, you don't get "boring" out of Samuel L. Jackson unless you've asked for it. People have long said that George Lucas doesn't know how to direct actors; the truth, I think, is even worse. He is directing them, and getting exactly what he wants from them: hollow, vacant performances that will not distract from his creatures and his effects.

There is one good performance in this movie, and that's Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine. It's a broad, deliciously unsubtle performance; McDiarmid wallows in Palpatine's evil, and knows exactly how far to go without completely collapsing into camp. When Palpatine tells Anakin that "the Dark Side brings with it many powers, some of which have been considered -- (dramatic pause) -- unnatural," there's such sly wit and intelligence in his delivery that you wonder how Lucas let him get away with displaying an actual personality.

There are, of course, no surprises in the story -- Anakin is tempted to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader; the Chancellor becomes the Emperor; Padme delivers little Luke and Leia -- and there are moments, especially in the last half-hour, when Lucas is clearly going through the storytelling motions, putting in pieces the details that have to fall into place for Episode IV.

But the battles are fun, the effects are impressive, and McDiarmid is a hoot, which adds up to enough reason to see the movie. And heck, you've seen the first five movies, you might as well finish off the series, right?

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