Star Wars is a tricky thing. It’s so iconic and engrained in my memories of childhood that I am loath to say anything bad about it. Witness my somewhat lenient review of Episode II–which, in retrospect, could have sucked the rust off a road-weary ’86 Buick in Albany. It’s like bad mouthing your grandma or something; you love her and wouldn’t want anything to happen to her, and you owe her for all those times she snuck you cookies and Andes mints, but she’s going senile and you’re just sick and tired of hearing the same harrowing tales about depression breadlines and Sunday bingo at the rec center. Basically, this is what Lucas has made of the Star Wars franchise. You’re forced to see them because they’re like family, but you’re completely divested in the story and are ultimately depressed when you leave. Lucas is no longer handing us chocolate mints; the good old days are gone and we can buy our own sweets. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting older, but judging from the reviews of Episodes I and II, it’s more likely that people feel Lucas’ act has grown old. And then comes Episode III. And like the phoenix, the franchise is resurrected and rises from the ashes–only to come to an end. Granted, a lot of the writing and some of the acting is atrocious, but Lucas manages to actually hold our interest and deliver a compelling story filled with interesting characters. I think the reason it’s compelling is because it’s the first of the trilogy to have a logical tie-in to the second trilogy in a meaningful way. The first two episodes were just preamble to this, the keystone in the sextet. We didn’t care about baby Darth. We didn’t care about adolescent Darth and his stupid crush. We care about twisted evil Darth who dons the black suit and eventually kills both of his mentors, blows up his daughter’s home planet and chops off his son’s hand only to be eventually killed by that same son. Now that’s compelling! Anyway, this is the one that ties it all together, and as such really zooms along and brings everything to a head. In comparison, the first two films are pathetic attempts to entertain the kiddies and rake in a couple hundred million on the way to the real stuff. There is no doubt that this is the darkest of the Star Wars films–even more so than The Empire Strikes Back, which previously held that title. The fact that it garnered that bizzaro PG-13 rating (something that has made very little sense to me since its inception with Dreamscape) is an indication that something is up on the Skywalker Ranch. What’s up is a movie with some balls–for once. Lucas finally let down his guard and decided to kick some ass and get dark. The image that sticks with me is the half-charred body of Anakin with his bloody stumps crawling up the bank of a volcanic hill while he screams in agony. This isn’t Jar Jar, my friend. Then there’s the half-humanoid thing, General Grievous. He’s like the way cooler version of Boba Fett who can use two lightsabers at once and drive some sort of giant wheel thing that reminded me of the inflatable hamster wheel that Richard Pryor tries out in the department store in The Toy. That vehicle, along with many others in the movie, are some of the best they’ve come up with yet. I can’t believe there are people out there whose job it is to dream up awesome futuristic space ships and have them appear in living color on screens across the planet. Despite their cool rockets, and blazing lightsabers, everyone in this movie seems pissed off about something. Even Yoda seems to lose his cool at times. The movie is no without its flaws, though. Every time Portman comes on the screen an audible groan went through the crowd (despite seeing the movie for free). Her scenes are seriously cringe-worthy. She’s always pining away for Anakin, and lets loose one of the worst lines in all of movie history: “Hold me, Ani! Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo!” After that, it was over for her. She’s the new Jar Jar, the singing ewok. Luckily Ewan McGregor picks it up in this film, channeling Alec Guinness and bringing back the sly wit and subtle power that had been missing from any of the characters in the first two disasters. He’s still no Harrison Ford, but Han Solo is a tough act to follow–uh, precede–you know what I mean. There’s also a very Frankensteinian moment with Darth Vader that had to make Lucas’ people wince when they watched it in its early iteration. Of course being his own boss, Lucas is still blind to some of his own deficiencies, as that scene alone almost sunk the whole movie for me. It was really, really amateurish. I decided to be a Star Wars loyalist and forgive that one giant indiscretion (and the several other icky dialogues) in favor of the happy feeling of childhood that snuck into my gut as the closing blue credits graced the screen. It was a great way to finish up the series, but only now am I scrambling for more. Damn.