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: Review: The 'Star Wars' experience

: Review: The 'Star Wars' experience.


Screenwriter William Goldman once said the cardinal rule of Hollywood is "Nobody knows anything." Usually, Goldman is right -- even in a time of granular marketing and sequels to sequels, it's still hard to predict what will work and what will fail.

That said, "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" -- like its "Star Wars" brethren -- will make hundreds of millions of dollars and be an international megahit. The film made more than $16 million at its midnight screenings alone. It's absolutely critic-proof.

With that in mind, my editor -- in his infinite wisdom -- decided I should see the final episode of this inter-galactic saga with real people instead of at an industry screening with jaded Hollywood folk, to see it as a moviegoer as much as a reviewer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the original "Star Wars." I still remember the day I saw it in May 1977, a few days after its opening, at a theater on Broadway in midtown Manhattan. The word-of-mouth was spectacular, and -- to paraphrase another movie character -- "It had me at hello." I was captivated as soon as I saw the words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." I still get chills thinking about it.

In 1980, along came "The Empire Strikes Back" -- and that was even better! "Return of the Jedi" in 1983 concluded the epic story of the Skywalker family. I saw it, and I was still mesmerized.

Then along came the prequels. With the insipid "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" in 1999 and the uneven -- sometimes dreary -- "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" in 2002, the spell was broken. Both were written and directed by Lucas, and suddenly, his poorly written dialogue and the performers' wooden acting became painfully apparent.

(The same could be said about the three earlier films, but somehow they were different. They had style, humor and spirit. They had Harrison Ford!)

So it was with decidedly mixed feelings that I headed out on opening day to see an early afternoon showing of "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" at a Los Angeles theater. This particular venue had fourteen screens, five of which were devoted to constant screenings of "Star Wars III."

And guess what? It's pretty damn good!

'What are all of you people doing here?'

OK, it's too long and has a few too many light saber battles -- there are only so many ways you can play those scenes. But overall, it does a great job of blending the story into "Star Wars" (now known as "Episode IV") and setting up everything that happens in "Empire" and "Jedi."

The 278-seat theater was almost packed to capacity, and the crowd was a rather mixed bag. Predictably, there were plenty of guys in their early 20s wearing baggy shorts and sporting goatees and baseball hats -- typical hardcore fans. But there were also lots of young couples snuggling up with pounds of popcorn and huge soft drinks, and behind me two elderly women. Doesn't anybody in this town work? This was a Thursday afternoon!

(I think one man was as surprised as I was: Just minutes before the film started, an older guy with a bushy gray beard walked in -- after all the good seats were taken -- and yelled out, "Oh s***, what are all of you people doing here?")

Finally, John Williams' familiar theme music filled the air and the entire audience broke out into applause.

It starts out with a bang as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are engaged in battle during the continuing war of the Clones. They're on a mission to save the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, who delivers the best acting in this film) from General Grievous, a computer-generated character voiced by Matthew Wood. He's a new, deliciously evil villain.

Among the many revelations in "Episode III" are: Palpatine showing his true colors; exactly why Anakin turns to the dark side and how he becomes encased in that suit; why the twins, Luke and Leia, are separated; and how the Republic falls.

C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) are back, as well as the beloved Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz). Best of all, though the annoying Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) makes an appearance, he (it?) thankfully has no dialogue.

Deserving of ovations

My favorite foreshadowing moment came with the first appearance of Padme (Natalie Portman). She's wearing her hair like Princess Leia, a hairdo that made Carrie Fisher look as if she had a Danish pastry stuck on each side of her head.

Oh, and lots and lots of characters from "Episode I" and "II" die. Hey, I'm not giving anything away. Just look at "Episode IV" and check out who's missing.

As always, Industrial Light and Magic has done an amazing job with its computer wizardry. The company has won 14 Academy Awards for visual effects and might just win another one next year.

The audience broke out into spontaneous cheers and applause three more distinct times during the film -- when Yoda confronts Palpatine, when Christensen as Anakin finally dons the infamous Darth Vader helmet and suit, and again at the film's conclusion. The ovations were well deserved: "Episode III" does an outstanding job of providing a well-thought-out story arc joining all six films.

On the way out, I saw quite a few people excitedly break out their cell phones, undoubtedly to brag to friends that they'd seen the film and to start spreading that all-important word-of-mouth that the Force, indeed, is still with us. Thank goodness.



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