Watching Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith is like reading the middle chapters of a book whose ending you have already read. You know where it is all going and what is going to happen at the end. But that knowledge enables you to appreciate the details of the story-the setup of the plot and the development of the characters-in a richer way. Though the earlier episodes in George Lucas's space epic were disappointing, Star Wars III is a worthy prequel to the first trilogy. And its theme of temptation and fall is of special interest to Christians.
This episode focuses on the transformation of Anakin Skywalker, the idealistic young Jedi knight, into the evil Darth Vader. We see the steps he takes on the path to the Dark Side: a rebellious attitude, rationalization that allows him to kill a helpless enemy in violation of the Jedi code, injured pride, disillusionment-all of which make him easily manipulated by the evil emperor-to-be. And finally what hardens his heart is a combination of guilt and despair.
Part of what turns Anakin against the Jedi is their muddled theology. When Anakin is worried that his pregnant wife is going to die, all Yoda can offer him is New Age Buddhism-dying is part of the great oneness of life, so you must simply detach yourself-which does not answer his human need. Jedi knights -and likely the movie's writers-are confused about whether they are relativists. At one point, Obi-Wan declares "only a Sith deals in absolutes." (A Sith is like a Jedi only on the Dark Side.)
But the Sith Lord tempts Anakin by telling him that he needs to broaden his views to include the Dark Side of the Force, as opposed to the Jedi's "narrow, dogmatic" views. "Good" is just a point of view, the Sith Lord tells him, sounding like a contemporary university professor, and behind such concepts is just a struggle for power. Later, Obi-Wan tells Anakin that the chancellor is evil. "From my point of view," the Darth Vader-in-training replies, "the Jedi are evil." Obi-Wan correctly concludes, "Then you are lost."
Star Wars III (rated PG-13 for violence; but there is no sex or bad language) has many fine moments-a Wookie army; a light sabre duel with a four-armed droid; stunning visual effects-and none of the annoying sidekicks and sappy sentimentality that marred the first two episodes.
Is the movie an allegory critical of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, as some liberals and defensive conservatives interpret it? Not really. There are some parallels, including efforts to end the war by capturing a "monster" who keeps escaping (reminiscent of Osama bin Laden) and the notion of using a war as a pretext to eliminate political liberty. Anakin does say, "If you are not with me, you are my enemy." But that is not necessarily an allusion to President Bush's ultimatum about countries that support terrorism. Jesus Himself said, "Whoever is not with Me is against Me" (Matthew 12: 30).
We can believe Mr. Lucas that the story was written well before the Iraq war and that he never intended any political allusions. The real parallel of a free Republic voluntarily morphing into an authoritarian Empire is the history of Rome. Though many people here and abroad think America is the new Evil Empire and project that fantasy onto whatever they see, Star Wars III does not create that impression in itself. Even if some anti-Bush propaganda got worked into the script, one cannot imagine the Emperor calling for less centralized government or passing a tax cut. He is far more reminiscent of Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Hitler, Caesar, and other big-government Sith.