Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of The Sith (12A)

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The Independent Culture

When Star Wars fans heard that George Lucas was planning a trilogy of prequels, I don't suppose any of them thought, "Hey, I hope there's a goofy animated caricature of a negro slave called Jar Jar Binks in it." Whereas every one of them was salivating over the prospect of Luke and Leia's birth, Darth Vader's rebirth, and the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Now, at last, they can let out a sigh of relief. All of those scenes appear in - deep breath - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of The Sith, and they're laid before us with such ceremonial reverence they make the Pope's funeral seem like a coffee morning.

When Star Wars fans heard that George Lucas was planning a trilogy of prequels, I don't suppose any of them thought, "Hey, I hope there's a goofy animated caricature of a negro slave called Jar Jar Binks in it." Whereas every one of them was salivating over the prospect of Luke and Leia's birth, Darth Vader's rebirth, and the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Now, at last, they can let out a sigh of relief. All of those scenes appear in - deep breath - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of The Sith, and they're laid before us with such ceremonial reverence they make the Pope's funeral seem like a coffee morning.

Whether Revenge of The Sith will redeem Star Wars for anyone who doesn't collect the figurines is another question. Initially, though, it looks as if the answer might be a resounding yes: the first 20 minutes or so thrum with all the giddy excitement that the franchise used to have. In one high-velocity sequence, there's a vertiginous aerial dogfight, R2D2 becomes an action hero, Christopher Lee's Count Dooku somersaults into the fray, and we shake talons with one of the series' most memorable baddies, General Grievous, a scuttling, vampiric cyborg with a nasty cough. There's even some dialogue that for once doesn't sound as if it's been translated from the ancient Greek by an 11-year-old. Crowd-pleasing moment tops crowd-pleasing moment until the heroes crashland a hulking space-cruiser, and you'd bet that the director had pulled his ailing saga back from the brink.

Appropriately enough, however, the film comes down to earth with a bump straight after that crashlanding. Lucas seems to think that our appetite for entertainment is sated, so he trots out more of those scenes which have hurt all the prequels so severely - the cloddishly acted, excruciatingly tangled, and horribly scripted scenes of people sitting in council chambers making portentous pronouncements about the principles of the Republic and the state of the Jedi Order. For what seems like hours the tedium of political gobbledegook is interrupted only by the tedium of watching Anakin and his wife (Natalie Portman) fret about whether she might be injured in childbirth - not much of an issue, I'd have assumed, when your science is advanced enough to mass-produce a clone army.

The film does eventually return from jaw-jaw to war-war, but it never quite gets off the ground again. There are plenty of combat set pieces, each of which culminates in someone lopping off someone else's arm with a lightsaber, but Lucas never lets us sit back and enjoy them. Ten seconds into any battle, he'll cut away to different characters on a different planet, and then cut away again 10 seconds later, like a boy who should have the remote-control taken away from him. A further irritation is that although the CGI has progressed since The Phantom Menace, the film still has the feel of a computer game. It's a shock to read that there was location shooting in China, Italy, Switzerland, Thailand and Tunisia, because it always looks as if the actors had been cut-and-pasted onto the concept paintings done by Lucas's design department. Every surface is smooth and clean and slightly out of focus, and, faced with this constant sign that it's all make-believe, it's hard to convince yourself that any of the characters might be in danger. Even when McGregor and Christensen are surfing down a raging river of lava, there's no sense that either of them might even get an eyebrow singed.

The pity is that Lucas and his team couldn't have just manufactured the toys and the "Making Of" coffee table books and given the films a miss. Every shot is an exhibition of wonderfully bizarre and baroque imagery, so you have to be impressed by how much attention has been lavished on the robots, spaceships and costumes, even if it's at the expense of the acting and the writing and the other things which traditionally keep film-makers busy. But the fans are going to see Revenge of The Sith in their droves anyway, and they can rest assured that it's the best of the prequels by several light years. It has to be. Jar Jar Binks is hardly in it at all.

George Lucas, 140 MINS, 12A

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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