Star Turn

The other characters may fall by the wayside in 'Star Wars: Sith,' but it is the shining moment for Ian McDiarmid's Palpatine


So this is it. Barring Episodes VII, VIII and IX, we’re done with Star Wars movies. That’s not to say we’re done with some Star Wars manifestation on TV, or re-tooled, 3-D/IMAX versions of what we’ve already seen. But in some sense, I need to be done.

The first Star Wars (few of us knew we were walking into the middle of two trilogies) came out when I was 8-years-old. About a year later my parents would be divorced. By the time The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters, my mother was engaged to my soon-to-be-stepfather, and I was old enough to go to the mall by myself. So I saw Empire eight times that summer.

And so on and so forth. Everyone can mark his or her life with correlating events that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Popular culture has been engaged in George Lucas’s creative expression for longer than we’ve known the Simpsons. We’ve been at this for 28 years. C-3PO, get off the stage!

Obviously, there is a lot of pressure on Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith to be the capstone on Lucas’s decades-long tale. At least for some of us. There are plenty of kids who weren’t around for the Lucas’s first (second?) trilogy, and plenty of old folks — and others — who never took part in wookies, nor ewoks, nor jawas, nor Jar Jar.

From many of the rest of us, Sith has been treated rather unfairly. As a summer blockbuster, it delivers. The effects are dazzling. The script has twisted itself to make sure it gives some sort of answer to most questions left over from the other five movies. And it packs more than enough bang to compete with any summer blockbuster, past or present.


The greatest complaint has been leveled against the acting. Sith has no soul, people say. True, it doesn’t have the emotion of Empire, the only installment to have an over-the-top budget, plus no cute characters for the kids. What should be emotionally charged scenes between conflicted Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and his doomed Padmé (Natalie Portman) are oddly dimension-less. The rapid pace of the film sucks us in, even as we find ourselves caring less and less about the characters. At least once you get to the point where Padme is about to buy the farm, you can start rooting for fetal Luke and Leia.

All of these shells of characters are not really a problem, however. Why does it matter not that a hologram of Princess Leia pleading, ”Help me Obi Wan. You’ve my only hope,” evokes more emotion than most of the performances in Sith? Because this is Ian McDiarmid’s movie.

He nearly stole the show in Empire as a hologram in Darth Vader’s meditation chamber. Even if that wasn’t McDiarmid. But it was our first glimpse of the head honcho running this evil empire that was striking back. We thought Darth Vader was bad, but he had a boss.


In Return of the Jedi, we finally got to see Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine flex his evil. But it was short lived, as he was hurled into one of the many dangerous chasms Lucas’s not-very-safety-conscious galactic engineers tend to erect all over the place.

With Episode I, McDiarmid returned as Senator Palpatine, a kindly, silver-haired shadow of all his beautiful wickedness. So sad. In Episode II, we find him settled into his new role as Chancellor Palpatine, cunningly clawing his way up the republic’s political food chain.

Only with Sith, however, do we finally get a film nearly dedicated to this Palpatine character. And high time. If you get right down to it, after all, this entire six-film franchise centers on Palpatine — a.k.a. Darth Sidious — manipulating an entire galaxy till he comes out in top. McDiarmid does him proud.

McDiarmid’s Palpatine is delicious at every turn. His lines slither forth when he’s at his diabolical worst. And when he’s convincing Anakin of the lure of the Dark Side, cynically characterizing the Jedi as a gaggle of corrupt clergy, I know I was about to fall for it. Five movies’ worth of ”Dark Side bad” can’t prepare you for Palpatine’s seductiveness. All the other characters may fall by the wayside in Sith, but it is the shining moment for the Devil finally given his due.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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