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“Take a Walk on the Dark Side”
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Comparing “Revenge of the Sith”, the latest in the “Star Wars” saga, to its two precursors is like weighing the nutritional value of apples to pop rocks, unfortunately, when you stack up “Sith” to the original trilogy, it is “Sith” that plays the pop rocks in this analogy.

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) continue a clandestine affair that culminates into a secret marriage and a pregnancy. As the droid army and its leaders, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and General Grievous, continues its war against the republic and the Jedi Council, their mysterious master, Lord Sideous, manipulates the pawns in his conquest to rule the entire Empire.

It’s no surprise that “Sith”’s main purpose would be to close the circle, connecting “Attack of the Clones” to “A New Hope” (the original 1977 film). George Lucas had a laundry list of events that needed to occur. A Jedi promised-hero had to devolve into a half-robotic hulking monster. Two future heroes must be born. A respected leader must be revealed as a puppeteer, a vengeful master of the dark side. It’s to Lucas’s credit that the money shots inspire applause by the already anticipatory audience.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker’s light saber battle, a precursor to the ultimate battle in “A New Hope” that leaves Obi-Wan vanquished, set amongst the exploding embers of a volcano lava waterfall, conveys unexpected tension when juxtaposed with Yoda’s battle with Lord Sideous. Here’s a difficult scene. Thanks to “Star Wars” IV to VI, we know all four must survive in some capacity, which could potentially dispel suspense, but two well choreographed fights keep the scene from running out of steam.

Lucas invents some interesting new characters, particularly General Grievous, a droid with arachnid legs, who sprouts new legs like a transformer when in battle. Even old characters present new moxie. R2D2, more resourceful in this film, protects himself like a James Bond car, pouring out oil and other gadgets and more than ever, the tiny Yoda proves to be a formidable force. The puppetry for the Jedi Master exceeds anything seen in the previous four films.

Ironically, thirty some years after the man gave Lucas his start, Lucas chose this film to honor his mentor Francis Ford Coppola with several homages, including the Fight of the Valkyries beach invasion from “Apocalypse Now” and the baptism executions from “The Godfather.” These touches seem to illustrate appreciation for the man who began Lucas’s career, and give the film much needed heart.

That necessary heart doesn’t compensate for the disconnection felt for the characters. Lucas once again displays his hubris and his inability to hone performances, even from actors who consistently are talented. Last year, Portman’s pixie role in “Garden State” reinvigorated the audiences’ love affair with her. Two years ago, Christensen portrayed real-life liar Stephen Glass and infused the role with a delusional Blanche DuBois essence that make him heartbreaking. In 2001, McGregor swooned as the penniless writer in “Moulin Rouge.” We know these actors are future stars, but under Lucas’s leaden eye, their talents vanish. Even the usually dynamic Samuel L Jackson is listless here.

Because the acting falls flat, “Revenge Of The Sith” like “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack Of The Clones”, spotlights spectacular fight scenes tied together by dispassionate dialogue. Even with those silly ewoks, the tales of Luke, Leia and Han Solo always kept our attentions. When action slowed down, they entertained us with humor, pathos and gripping plot twists. “Sith” only gratifies during the climactic set pieces since the characters are as compelling as stick figures. Grade: B

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