The first two prequels, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, were not the greatest of films, but seeing a young Obi-Wan (a perfectly cast Ewan McGregor) and Darth Vader as a pipsqueak kid was geek fun. Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith gets a little deeper and a lot meaner than the "Lucas has some new tech toys!" happy sheen of Phantom and Clones. Dark, engaging and even a little heartbreaking, Anakin Skywalker's inevitable turn to the dark side of the Force proves to be the dream movie fans have been waiting for. It's time to shut up about Jar Jar Binks and let go of your anger.
Lucas starts his final chapter with a gigantic space battle that ranks in the annals of Star Wars special effects masterpieces. Things get serious as Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), being held prisoner by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). A fateful light saber battle ensues, and Anakin takes his next step towards becoming an altogether bad entity in a walking iron lung.
Sith moves along at a good pace and jettisons most of the cartoon characters, political psychobabble and lubby-dubby stuff that kept Phantom and Clones from being classics. Lucas provides a couple of groaner scenes between Natalie Portman's Padme and Anakin, but they aren't nearly as bad as the momentum killers in Clones. Don't let the sappy love scenes kill your buzz. They're necessary in moving the plot forward (Wife Padme is pregnant, and Anakin isn't all that happy with the news), and let's face it, love scenes in Star Wars films have always been clunky. Well, actually, some of that Leia-Solo action was pretty hot.
Christensen does a masterful job of making the viewer dread the inevitable. He actually makes you wish he doesn't become Darth Vader, and that's just about the biggest praise you can heap upon the guy. His struggles are far more mature and believable in Sith (much better than his adolescent bitching in Clones), and Anakin's final descent is the stuff of real tragedy. The franchise's most poignant moment comes in the climactic light saber battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin on a volcanic planet. McGregor, Christensen and Lucas manage to provide this showdown with the sort of emotional gravitas that was missing from the first two prequels.
The look of the film works as a nice bridge to Episode IV: A New Hope. The shiny-new-penny appearance of the first two prequels has gotten a little mucky, as if a few years of the Clone Wars have resulted in the Galactic Janitorial Union getting a little lax. The space stations and ships have been floating around for a few decades now, and with all the political unrest, nobody's cleaning up. Visually, this carries over into the next trilogy nicely. R2-D2 and C-3PO even end their prequel journey on a very familiar starship.
McDiarmid is unholy evil incarnate as Palpatine, aka the Emperor, also aka Darth Sidious, the worst-kept secret in the Star Wars universe. While the Darth Vader of old (once again voiced by James Earl Jones) doesn't appear until the film's final moments, McDiarmid provides the movie with more than enough wretched villainy.
Lucas insists this is the final Star Wars film. If so, it's a satisfying conclusion to the cinematic portion of the franchise (a couple of TV series are in the works). The back stories of Anakin and Obi-Wan have been fleshed out nicely, and the first two prequels have even been legitimized to some degree.
Is Sith the best of the Star Wars films? No. Those came out more than 20 years ago. Is it a great Star Wars movie that will delight hardcore fans and make some new ones? Most certainly. This is a solid, thoroughly entertaining conclusion to a classic story. To quote Darth Vader during his legendary battle with Obi-Wan in Star Wars: Episode IV nearly 30 years ago, "The circle is now complete."