(Note: I reveal major details, but if you know what has to happen, there are no surprises.)
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Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith faces an interesting narrative predicament, because not only does everyone know where it begins (picking up during the Clone Wars, a few years after Episode II ended), they also know where it ends (about two decades before the original Star Wars begins). This both abets and subverts the power of the film, which must be considered the best of the three recent installments. Knowing what must happen eliminates the suspense factor, but adds different emotional layers that more than adequately fill that void.
As is expected from George Lucas and Industrial Light & Magic, the pervasive digital effects are excellent, forging worlds and creatures that delight the imagination. The film looks fantastic, probably too fantastic, absent the physicality and oddness of actual sets and scenery, of which there is little. This causes the actors to work against instead of with the backgrounds, depriving the film of a little reality, and giving it an almost cartoonish feel different than traditional celluloid products.
The actors, particularly youngsters Natalie Portman and Hayden Christenson, have aged a few years since the first two prequels, as have their characters. This newfound maturity combines with the stronger emotion of the script to produce better but still occasionally wooden performances. The work as a whole is hindered by Lucas's again stilted dialogue, lacking the edgy attitude and sharp delivery that highlighted the original trilogy.
Episode III waits until the halfway point to take off, spending the first hour setting the stage for the showdowns that everyone anticipates. Once the true conflict begins, the excitement makes the jump to light speed, climaxing with highly enjoyable intercutting light-saber battles that would be considered too lengthy if they were done with traditional swords. But come on, they're light-sabers. They're just cool.
What differentiates Episode III from the other prequels is the compelling emotion dripping from Anakin Skywalker. After two movies worth of buildup, the payoff finally arrives in the last hour, which is ridiculously engaging. Finally in this picture we see flashes of Anakin's potency, of why he will be (was?) referenced with such awe in the future. We also see the delicious why and how of the mentally torturous process he endures in crossing over to the Dark Side. One would figure that this transition to Darth Vader would be a crowning villainous moment. But while that thought has some truth, the overwhelming emotion is instead sorrow, a surprising yet cinematically pleasing moment that generates sympathy and wistfulness as the pendulum swings drastically from good to evil. This is undoubtedly the emotional zenith of the prequels, and possibly all six movies.
As just indicated, Episode III derives most of its power from the rest of the films. Were the same components part of an unrelated movie, it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. But because of the engrossing nature of the world and strong characters created in the original trilogy, the entertainment value skyrockets. Simply seeing cinematic friends on screen again is a welcome sight. Joy is found in little things like the actions of Yoda and R2-D2, and in the filling out of one of the greatest movie stories ever. Above all, it's Star Wars. 8 of 10.
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