Star Wars: Episode III
Written and directed by George Lucas

Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid


Star Wars: Episode III

Perhaps Anthony Lane of The New Yorker said it best: Episode III is better than the previous two "only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion." And even then, of course, you end up dead anyway. One thing we've learned from watching George Lucas turn from human being to cyborg over these last decades is that movies, like any art form, still need some human quality in order to resonate with us. The first three films, from 1977, 1980 and 1983 - or at least the first two and a half of them, until "Return of the Jedi" got a bit too mushy - were a miracle of casting, special effects and, yes, acting. Let's remember that Carrie Fisher and especially Harrison Ford were just delicious. They could trade barbed lines with each other, add some sex appeal and carry the story whenever it threatened to stop dead.

Then "Episode I - The Phantom Menace" undid everything good that had come before; we all picked on poor JarJar Binks, but he was hardly the problem. Nothing moved forward in that film; it was a series of tableaux instead of a movie. Poor Natalie Portman had what appeared to be a cold sore attached to her lip, and suddenly dialogue ceased to be human speech and became pontifical pronouncements. "Episode II" added Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, soon to be Darth Vader, and suddenly a young man of no talent, a man who cannot read the simplest line with anything resembling power, or wit, or humanity, or even logical word emphasis, was given the key role in the film. As Yoda might put it, embarrassing it was.

And more embarrassing it is in Episode III, which carries Anakin through his transformation from Jedi to the acolyte of Emperor Palpatine (once again, the marvelous Ian McDiarmid, who has never gotten the credit he deserves for providing the evil anchor of these films. He enjoys his work as much as the great Basil Rathbone ever did). Christensen has never met a line he couldn't swallow, or mangle, or dull down to zero.

But again, I'm blaming the messenger and not the man who sent the message. If Lucas wants to claim credit for this one-man show, which it is - he supervises every element of production, as well as writing and directing the film - he needs to face the fact that he has no ear for dialogue and no directorial talent for staging anything but fights. Anakin and Padmé (Natalie Portman, reduced to lines like "I love you, Anakin") have a couple of what are supposed to be crucial scenes together - first, in which she cautions him against Palpatine, and then, when she tells him she is pregnant (with the twins who will become Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia). Instead of letting us see any kind of intimacy between them, Lucas holds us at a distance and makes them run the lines as though they are in rehearsal for a high-school production of "Our Town."

And that failure carries over to weaken the rest of the film, because it robs them of any resonance; we just don't care what happens anymore. Instead of entering into that 'willing suspension of disbelief' that we hope for at the movies, and which we find in films like "Alien" and "Terminator," we sit back uninvolved and wait for it to end. There is talk of an Episode VII, VIII and even IX; let's hope that Lucas has nothing to do with them.