I reckon there will be no shortage of commentaries on Revenge of the Sith that resort to the creaky old homily about the third time being the charm. This one you're about to read here will fall into the same category. But by no means do I intend to suggest that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were disappointments and Episode III finally "gets it right." Anyone who's read my dissertations on the first two prequels knows better than that. I shall invoke the cliche regarding the magic of third efforts from another point of view entirely.

First Lesson: Your Focus Determines Your Reality

Kenobi vs. Vader The first time I saw Revenge of the Sith, on a May 19 midnight showing, I was overcome with cathartic satisfaction. My emotions were relentlessly pummeled and I shed tears without inhibition. Here was the culmination of the mythology that has sparked my imagination for nearly thirty years, the fulfillment of schoolyard gossip that Darth Vader wore that suit because Obi-Wan Kenobi had knocked him into a lava pit. After seeing these tragic events unfold at last, the only word I could come up with to describe Revenge of the Sith was perfect.

Getting home past 2:30 a.m., I was way too amped to go to sleep, so I tore into my stack of untouched Episode III books. To preserve the purity of that first viewing, I had stayed away from spoiler details to the best of my ability, but I went ahead and bought all the books that were inappropriately published in April. These tomes of forbidden knowledge were now waiting for me like presents on Christmas morning. Eagerly I dove in and devoured their contents till the wee hours of the morning, when exhaustion and depleted adrenalin forced me to rest. By this time, my slide toward the dark side had begun.

I have to say, reading these books is definitely not the best way to appreciate what Star Wars is all about. The Making of Revenge of the Sith book is almost brutally candid, a far cry from the typical behind-the-scenes marketing fluff. While I value the book's no-bullshit approach, this chronological diary of the film's genesis can engender a sort of "little man behind the curtain" view of George Lucas.

This is not a portrait of an almighty cinematic wizard surefootedly orchestrating every detail of his saga's climax in accordance with a precision-wrought scheme. We see Lucas fumbling for ideas, contradicting himself, procrastinating about even beginning his script... in short, a man who seems uncertain. For the swarming masses of the He-Man Lucas Haters Club (to borrow a term of derision coined by Kevin Smith), this inside look offers a justification for their contempt. After all, Episode III tells a story that millions of fans have been playing out in our fantasies for decades, and the creator himself actually had to struggle and strain just to get it down on paper? What's up with that?

And let's be honest. In unspoken black and white, Lucas's screenplays have never inspired confidence. Even an admirer like myself must confess that the shooting scripts for all three prequels come across as awkward and disjointed when read cold. The e-book of the Revenge of the Sith screenplay reveals an abundance of stilted and redundant dialogue whose exclusion from the final edit is a blessing. Could Lucas's vision of the long-awaited concluding episode really be so foggy?

These were the voices that began whispering to me, planting seeds of doubt in my mind. Even though I thought Revenge of the Sith was excellent, could nostalgia and my own need for closure be coloring my judgment? Was I so desperate to connect the dots that I would accept whatever half-baked denouement that Lucas threw together and proclaim it a masterpiece? No, never, of course not... but still, for some reason, I was asking myself the question.

Second Lesson: Your Thoughts Betray You

Darth Sidious I went back for a Thursday afternoon matinee to see Revenge of the Sith a second time. I was groggy and dislocated, running on about four hours of sleep, and it was really too soon to be making a more critical evaluation of the film. But as the true Star Wars geek that I am, nothing would do me but to see the Episode III again as soon as possible.

While my assessment of the movie changed little on this go-round, I felt more numb in my reactions. The near-capacity audience was less hardcore than the diligently receptive midnight crowd, as evidenced by the audible snickers and groans that greeted some of the lovey-dovey dialogue and other selected moments that might register on one's cheeseometer.

I walked away still convinced that Episode III kicked ass. But I was compelled to explore my feelings, as well as the reactions of others. I read some reviews and got emails from friends and Lard Biscuit readers. Most of the comments I came across were positive, but a common theme was emerging: "It was great, but..." This part was weak, that part was inconsistent. This scene was too long and pointless, that scene shouldn't have been deleted. This plot thread didn't get explained, that tie-in was too contrived. Every move Lucas made is being called into question. And in so many cases I could not decide whose judgment I agreed with.

I spent the weekend stewing in uncertainty. It's maddening to be emotionally convinced of your convictions, while being intellectually uncertain of your feelings. On an absurdly reduced scale, my soul-searching was comparable to Anakin's lone meditation in the Jedi Council chambers during Palpatine's arrest. And that was when I also chose to delve into the dark side.

I went to the online Star Wars discussion forums.

Looking for insights and answers, I entered the now-mooted "spoiler" forums assuming I no longer had reason to fear them. I was wrong. There I beheld the heart of darkness. Since the old days of alt.fan.starwars, I have despised how online discussions of the saga invariably deteriorate into venomous and juvenile rancor. I have seen the depths to which these clueless morons can sink. But the responses I found to the premiere of Episode III make "dIE JaRjAR!!!1!" and "Lucas raped my childhood" look like Kierkegaard.

By and large, these people lack any proper perspective on Star Wars and have no basis on which to appreciate it. They somehow feel that they have taken ownership of the saga and anything Lucas does that deviates from their personal vision is categorically wrong. I could go on and on, but this has all been said before and does not need repeating. I'll get to the point.

What's really sad about the erstwhile spoiler-mongers is that they really have irrevocably destroyed their experience of Revenge of the Sith. Looking back on their exchanges dating back through the months before the theatrical release, you can trace how they have lapped up every leaked detail, evaluated it entirely out of context, and made their unwavering judgments about what's cool and what sucks long before seeing the film. After the official books were published in April, there ensued a feeding frenzy of complaints and disappointments. The subsequent release of the movie itself -- an event that must have seemed nearly a mere addendum to these folks -- ushered in a crushing tide of laments that the movie did not match up with the novel and the screenplay and whatever particular spoiler report that proved inaccurate. These so-called fans have made it utterly impossible for themselves to enjoy Revenge of the Sith, because no matter how good or bad it is in reality, it is not what they expected.

One example in particular sticks in my mind, when some ass-clown made a remark along these lines: "General Grievous was going to be so cool, but I should have known Lucas would screw him up." Now just stop and think about how many things are wrong with that statement. It's pathetic and misguided and stupid beyond words.

I should have turned away at once, but I hypnotically kept scrolling through page after page of this senseless bleating, watching every small attempt at reason quickly smothered by idiocy, growing more furious as I went. I realized that this experience was proving something important. To determine the true worth of Revenge of the Sith, I could not rely on the responses of others. The only path was to search my feelings and find the answer within myself.

Third Lesson: When You Are Calm, At Peace, You Will Know

A New Hope On the following Monday afternoon, I spontaneously decided to take in my third viewing. Well rested, my mind clear, uncluttered by anticipation or doubt, I watched the movie the way you're supposed to watch a movie: let go of your conscious self, let the images wash over you, and immerse your awareness in another world. Typically I look back on the first time I saw each Star Wars movie as being "the best," but in this case, I honestly have to say... the third time was the charm.

This time I loved Revenge of the Sith more than ever. I absorbed it more deeply and felt its impact more powerfully than either time before. And I caught lots of little things that I had missed.

I should be embarrassed that it took me three viewings to understand what Obi-Wan meant when after defeating General Grievous, when he said, "So uncivilized." I thought he was referring to Grievous, but I finally got that he was talking about the blaster, a weapon we've never seen the character use elsewhere, as he flung it away in disgust. Clumsy and random, indeed. Maybe I'm slow, but I'm really glad I got to figure out that little connection for myself instead of reading about it in a spoiler forum or list of Episode III secrets. (And if you only just learned it from me now and wish you hadn't, my apologies.)

I can now say with all confidence that Revenge of the Sith is a wonderful and brilliant motion picture. And to hell with what anyone else says. It's not perfect, as I overestimated in my initial rush of euphoria. It has its flaws and its aspects that might have been better. But then, so do all the Star Wars movies. Thanks to George Lucas and his hard-won creative independence, Revenge of the Sith is exactly what it was meant to be. No more, no less.

In time, I will write a full-blown analysis of the movie, in keeping with my dissertations on the previous two episodes. This may take the form of a book on all six films, if I can convince a publisher to take a chance on such a project. But that remains well in the future, as I have no immediate intention of tackling this undertaking, so I ask for the kind patience of those interested. For the time being, I will offer the following insights.

Rough drafts and false starts are inherent to the creative process. Because of the popularity of Star Wars, Lucas has granted extraordinary access to his preliminary work and its phases of development. It's unfair to censure him for any seeming uncertainty during the evolutionary steps of trial and error that he could have chosen to leave private.

Yes, it's true that Revenge of the Sith doesn't answer every question and tie up every loose thread. But I think that's more a virtue than a flaw. On a practical level, the movie would have been bogged down with another couple hours of exposition if it had addressed every last continuity tidbit the fanboys might have wished to hear about. But more important, Lucas has preserved some mystery and mystique that the prequel trilogy might otherwise have eradicated. Now that we've seen the Clone Wars and learned why Anakin turned to the dark side, we have some new unanswered questions to ponder. What happened in the Sith wars of a thousand years before? Who was Master Sifo-Dyas? Did Darth Plagueis create Anakin, or maybe Darth Sidious? You can read the Expanded Universe novels for answers to some of these mysteries, if you're so inclined (and James Luceno's Labyrinth of Evil contains some intriguing insights gleaned from consultations with Lucas himself). But I'm content to have some things left to our imagination.

In short, this is my dilemma. From the beginning I have viewed the proposition of prequel trilogy with the inevitable events of Episode III in mind. My mantra in defending Episodes I and II has been, "Wait until Episode III and you'll understand everything." Now that time has come, and while I have found satisfaction beyond words, other people still do not see it. All the pieces of the puzzle are there on the table, and some folks either can't or won't put them together for themselves. And that's fine. Help them, I cannot. Worry about them, I cannot. Peace and fulfillment have I found for myself, and let go I must of the anger and aggression that consume the souls of others.

Kiss my ass, they can.

Cinema