Dir/scr: George Lucas.US. 2005. 145mins.

Movies don't come muchmore 'event' than the final instalment of Star Wars. But thankfully, StarWars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith has a good deal to offer besidesits cachet as the farewell to a pop culture phenomenon, a phenomenon that began28 years ago and has been garnering fans - and cash - ever since. While it maynot recapture the youthful drive of the original Star Wars trilogy, Revenge- directed, like the previous two films, by George Lucas himself - isconsiderably more satisfying than the disappointing Episodes I and IIand provides the series with the kind of finale that some fans had almost losthope of seeing.

The question from acommercial point of view is how much the film's dark tone and downbeat storywill limit a worldwide box office total that otherwise could be expected toexceed Episode II's $648m and maybe even approach Episode I's$923m. The answer will start to emerge from May 19, when Revenge Of The Sithopens day-and-date worldwide (except for in Japan, which will have to wait forthe film until July) with what is expected to be an even bigger print run than EpisodeII enjoyed three years ago.

In the US, enthusiasticreports on fan websites have already begun to counteract lingering resentmentcaused by the first two prequels. And with no really big late spring releasesin its way, Revenge could be set for a monster opening. The potentialhandicap will be a PG-13 domestic rating (the first for a film in the series)and advice from Lucas (in a recent TV interview) that the content is too strongfor young children.

The dark tone - coupled withthe universal attractions of spectacular action and dazzling effects - mightactually be a selling point in the international marketplace, where EpisodesI and II both performed better than in the US. The tone might alsohelp Revenge get more publicity value than did Episode II from anout-of-competition Cannes Festival screening on May 15.

As if to answer complaintsthat the previous two films were short on space action, Lucas, credited as solewriter on this instalment, begins with a dizzying air battle that goes on foralmost 20 minutes. The skirmish is part of the Clone Wars that started in EpisodeII, pitting the Republic against the forces that will eventually coalesceinto the Galactic Empire.

The battle leads to amission by Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and his Jedi pupil Anakin Skywalker(Christensen) to rescue Republic Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid) from droidarmy leader General Grievous (a new half-alien, half-droid character). Themission succeeds, but when Anakin returns to his secret wife, Republic SenatorPadme (Portman), he is already beginning his drift towards the dark side of theForce.

For a while, it seems asthough Revenge is drifting into the same kind of mire as its predecessors,letting convoluted space politics drive the plot and overindulging in elaborate- though undeniably impressive - digital effects sequences that bring anynumber of strange new worlds and strange new creatures to life.

There's still plenty ofaction - a string of elaborate and quite violent lightsaber duels should keepthe hardcore fans happy, especially since one involves a surprisingly sprightlyYoda - but it's interspersed with slow and often gloomy dialogue scenes thatkill the momentum. The only real sparks come from subtle references to theoriginal trilogy (whose events follow directly on from the events of Revenge),like a visit to the home planet of the Wookies and a brief appearance byChewbacca.

The drama becomes moreinvolving, however, when Anakin gets his real reason for moving over to thedark side. Once this plot point is revealed, and the events become more firmlyconnected to the rest of the Star Wars saga, Revenge gets a much firmergrip on its audience.

Over the remainder of thefilm Lucas gives some real dramatic weight to the big moments that even fairlycasual fans know are coming. Anakin's 'christening' as Darth Vader delivers thefirst frisson and the duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin/Vader on the volcanicplanet of Mustafar (visualised using real eruption footage shot on Mount Etna)is excitingly staged. Most effective, though, are the inter-cut sequencesshowing Vader being reconstructed in his black armour and Padme giving birth toLuke Skywalker and the future Princess Leia.

The big moments areintensified by stronger performances from a cast that seemed lost in theprevious two films. Christensen, in particular, is more confident as Anakin andhis shaggy hair and accusing eyes give the character a more intriguing lookthan before.

And this time out, theperformances are better integrated, technically and dramatically, with theeffects. According to press notes, Revenge includes more effects shots (2,200or so) than any of the previous films, but here they feel gratuitous lessoften. The effects also blend well with the real world locations - Revengecrews gathered footage in China, Switzerland and Tunisia to incorporate intosequences shot at Fox Studios Australia and Elstree and Shepperton in the UK.

The film looks smoother thanearlier entries as well, apparently because of the use of a new technologycalled '444' which records images from a high-definition camera at a muchhigher resolution than previously possible.

Though Lucas has confirmedthat Revenge Of The Sith will be the last Star Wars movie he didrecently reveal plans for two Star Wars spin-off TV series, one liveaction, the other animated. On the small screen at least, the Force mayactually continue to be with audiences for a while yet.

Prod co: Lucasfilm
W'wide dist:
20th Century Fox
Exec prod:
George Lucas
Rick McCallum
Cine: David Tattersall
Prod des:
Gavin Bocquet
Roger Barton, Ben Burtt
Costume des:
Trisha Biggar
John Williams
Main cast:
Ewan McGregor, NataliePortman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee,Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Peter Mayhew, Ahmed Best, Oliver Ford Davies, TemueraMorrison, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Keisha Castle-Hughes