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'Sith' an Uneven Walk Down the Dark Side

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith technically opens Thursday in theaters across America. But at many theaters, that really means tonight, a few seconds past midnight. Revenge of the Sith brings the six-part Star Wars saga to a close, roughly where it began with the first George Lucas surprise hit in the summer of 1977.

Revenge of the Sith has already sold some $50 million in advance tickets, which may render good or bad reviews irrelevant -- but Bob Mondello has one anyway.

After the familiar scroll-type opening to set the scene, Lucas cuts to an interplanetary shoot-em-up so digitally detailed that it makes the aerial dogfights in the original Star Wars (now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) look almost primitive.

"Fabulous effects have long been the George Lucas calling card," says Mondello. "Of course, Lucas once knew how to direct people... whereas now he's more comfortable putting droids and Wookies through their paces. Anything, basically, that doesn't talk -- which makes sense when you hear his dialogue."

Despite these drawbacks, Mondello says Revenge of the Sith offers a serviceable tale of the genesis of Darth Vader, and how a "fair-haired kid from the intergalactic suburbs ends up emphysemic, dressed in black, and serving a dictator."

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.