Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith

Directed by George Lucas. Starring Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, and Ewan McGregor. Rated PG.

The Star Wars cycle is at an end. After six films and almost 30 years, Star Wars has made George Lucas richer than Croesus and the potentate of his own business empire. But before, and above, that, Lucas is a writer and director.

Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith comes with perhaps the greatest burden of expectations imaginable. Star Wars was a phenomenon to my generation. More than a mere spectacle, it was one of our defining myths. Going to see it 10, 20 times was a hobby and a club badge, but mostly a tribute to a vision.

The prequels, which commenced in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, were pretty jolting. Not only were episodes one and two overly long and fraught with silly acting and clunky dialogue, they completely changed the focus of the overall story. The cycle was no longer about our hero, Luke, but about his father, Darth Vader-the villain. What was the point of that? We knew how it would end.

Episode III doesn't make Jake Lloyd or Jar Jar Binks more acceptable, but it is good enough to turn my mind around on the validity of Lucas's choice. It's a compelling, if depressing, two hours of cinema that brings together the two halves of the narrative with skill and emotion.

The plot is foreordained. It spoils nothing to say that it is about the transformation of Chancellor Palpatine into the dark emperor, the destruction of the Jedi, the birth of Luke and Leia, the death of their mother, and the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Skywalker, which leaves the master in friendless exile and the student disfigured and condemned to a mobile iron lung.

I knew all of this was coming, but Lucas directs his actors-Ian McDiarmid, Ewan McGregor, and the much-maligned Hayden Christensen-into such moving and intense performances that there's no camp and surprisingly great suspense. After a short battle sequence involving the rescue of the creepy chancellor, the fun is over. Anakin's change is handled well; his petulance has been replaced with swagger, covering deep fears. When he changes sides, it is just plausible that he thinks Palpatine to be right, as well as his best hope for power and security. From then on, the movie shows us the crimes of Anakin in gloomy detail.

Swiss psychologist Alice Miller attracted much criticism for attempting to humanize Hitler in her book For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, but her purpose was to show that unfathomably monstrous evil springs from fairly ordinary individuals. The Star Wars series, as completed, is a pop-culture attempt to make the same point. It's a profound movie, and a fine one. I've not even mentioned the visual aspect, which is miles above similar effects pictures, but we would expect that, not the excellence of filmmaking that contains it.