By Laurence Washington
The eagerly awaited "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith" arrives in theaters on May 19. Thats good news - unless youre a Jedi - because this sixth and final installment punctuates "boy toy" Anikan Skywalkers conversion to the Dark Side of the Force and his metamorphosis into the evil Darth Vader, scourge of the universe.
Just in case youve been living on the third moon of Tatooine for the past six years, George Lucas decided to connect the missing links of his popular "Star Wars" trilogy, which during the late 70s and early 80s rose to cult status and defined a generation of sci-fi geeks.
Lucas dove into the six-chapter saga beginning with chapter four, "Star Wars" (77).
The premise followed a young farmer who discovers hes destined to become a Jedi Knight like his father and leader of a rebellion against the evil Empire.
The series attracted such a devoted following, that 16 years after the final film, "Return of the Jedi" (83), Lucas backtracked and made the three chapters leading up to the original "Star Wars" film.
Lucas, who has unprecedented total control of his films, including final cut, said he always wanted to complete the series. So he forged ahead despite harsh criticism from critics that its all about the Benjamins.
However, contrary to some reviewers, Radio KOA 850 film critic Reggie McDaniel believes Lucas isnt after the money at all.
"I think he has a legacy to protect," McDaniel says. "He has had his one shot, and hes made the most of it."
A shade less sympathetic, "Rocky Mountain News" features editor and home video columnist Mike Pearson says clearly Lucas wants to sell tickets.
"But I think he also wants to prove that hes still the master of the sci-fi genre. He also wants to be considered as someone on the cutting edge of new film technology."
A desire, Pearson points out, that got Lucas into trouble with the obnoxious digital character, Jar Jar Binks.
"I think he miscalculated peoples desire for humanism, even in the sci-fi realm," Pearson says.
McDaniel concurs. "He felt that it was his story, and he could tell it like he wanted to, whether anyone approved or not, which explains Jar Jar Binks - in spite of being universally hated as a character."
Like many fans, "Phoenix New Times" editor Rick Barrs, a "Star Wars" hard-liner, viewed the shufflin Jar Jar sidekick as an extraterrestrial Stepin Fetchit. Barrs had written years ago that hed hope, "Massa George" would eventually kill off the goofball character.
No such luck. Jar Jar makes his third appearance in "Revenge of the Sith," and plays a minor role in the decision where to hide the Skywalker twins from their father Vader.
"I think it's good when the filmmaker realizes his audience," McDaniel says, "however - and there's always a however in life - it's foolish to disregard them and make the movie to spite them or to show your superiority to them."
With that said, "Star Wars" fans are expecting great things this summer, despite Lucas arrogance and the fact that many critics say "Mr. Industrial Light & Magic" has a lot of explaining to do in the films brief two hours.
Lucas has to silence his detractors and satisfy legions of true believers by successfully and seamlessly bridging the prequels together with the original trilogy.
Pearson admits heís a fan of the series, however, hes marginally looking forward to "Revenge of the Sith."
"I was disappointed with the last two films," Pearson says. "Im curious as to how hes [Lucas] going to pull this one off. The fact that it deals with Skywalkers transformation to Darth Vader means there should be a stronger dramatic arc. Im hoping it will be as strong as "The Empire Strikes Back."
Industry insiders agree, and say the buzz around Lucas Skywalker Ranch is that the arc is so dramatic, that for the first time in the series history, Lucas is asking for a PG-13 rating - a fact he underlined in a recent "Vanity Fair" interview warning parents that "Revenge of the Sith" is a little tougher than your average "Star Wars" film. Its scarier, more brutal and a lot darker than the others. Lucas suggests leaving the 5-and 6-year-olds at home this time.
Pearson says he hopes the insiders are correct, because Lucas has always been at his best (see Empire) when he's being dark.
"That explains why the film with the Ewoks was such a joke," Pearson says. "It was too kid friendly."
No matter the end result on May 19, critics will have little impact on the films performance.
In fact, Lucas was considering whether or not to let critics see the film before the general public. Either way, itís going to make money again and again, as Lucas releases it in 3-D later this year for the IMAX, and all the DVD box sets yet to come.
"The Star War franchise is critic-proof," McDaniels says. "But I view them as a fan, rather than as a critic."
And McDaniels believes that because so many critics are also fans that may, in part, explain why the last two made a "billion gazillion" dollars in the opening weekends.
Pearson adds that most films with a strong audience base are critic-proof.
"That said, critics aren't merely there to put seats in theaters," he explains. "The critics' job is also to provide context, i.e., how well a movie stacks up when compared to others in the series. The first Star Wars films were more than entertainment; they were cultural phenomenons. Look at how they inspired a flood of imitators. So, should Lucas have gone back to the well for the last three films? Was he being exploitative - or does he truly have something new to say?"