Later, Vader.

Reviews of the latest films.
May 17 2005 7:42 PM

The Passion of the Sith

I dream of Jedi.

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So when does Revenge of the Sith really grab you? As the heroes of Ghostbusters might put it, it's when Lucas "crosses the streams." It's when Anakin takes off after every Jedi and Jedi ally in the galaxy, while Obi-Wan lops light-saber-wielding limbs off a special effect called Gen. Grievous and Yoda joins forces with a hairy old friend. ("Good relationships with the Wookies I have!") It's when Obi-Wan and Anakin plunge into an epic battle to the death on a planet of volcanoes, debating the movie's themes as John Williams pulls out all the Wagnerian stops and the special effects finally amplify—even metaphysicalize—the emotions instead of distracting us from them. It's when Anakin goes to his hellish fate amid swirling jets of lava and we know why, for Darth Vader, there was no going back.

It's also, surprisingly, when Lucas' anti-fascist politics come into focus: when the senate rises to cheer the new order of the first galactic empire, and Padme realizes that she and everyone else have aided in the dismantling of a democracy by ceding more and more power, in the name of security, to an unscrupulous dictator. (An old '60s guy, Lucas takes a palpable swipe at our own Darth Dubyous.)

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It must be said that there's a touch of the term paper in how his characters' fates play out, and the actors still wear the glazed, helpless expression that comes from declaiming lines with no subtext in the direction of Creatures To Be Animated Later. But it's worth doffing our beanies to a man who wouldn't settle for Flash Gordon—who was driven to turn a Saturday-matinee space serial into something that needed the combined forces of Milton and Shakespeare to do it full justice. In the end, there's a breadth, a fullness to the Star Wars saga. It's so much more than the sum of its clunks.

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.