For me, the "Star Wars" saga faded with "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi." It wasn't the cutesy Ewoks, although the teddy-bear warriors were irritating beyond belief. No, the big problem was the fact that Darth Vader, who had killed countless souls without hesitation and destroyed an entire planet just to make a point, nonetheless wholly redeemed himself by refusing to kill his own son. Thus Vader won a coveted spot in the afterlife sitting by the eternal campfire with Jedi good guys Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.
The dead Darth-turned-Anakin looks happy, too. You can imagine him turning to his old chums, and saying, "Sorry about Alderaan. Have a nice day."
If only Hitler had sired a son. Then, after the Blitzkrieg and the Holocaust, Hitler might have had that redefining moment that would have gotten him in touch with his paternal inner self, and taken up gardening. Or origami.
The problem is, George Lucas has written a saga about evil, featuring the most infamous villain in film history, but he doesn't understand evil. As evidenced in the new release of "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," Lucas may not even know what "really bad" is.
Think of Lucas as one of those muddled liberals who think George Bush is evil, while Saddam Hussein is a piker. In an act that should be, but isn't, campy self-parody, the left-wing fanatics at Moveon.org have produced a new TV spot that depicts Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist "as a hooded villain who seeks absolute power over our courts." (Need I remind you, gentle reader, that if conservatives compared blocking the filibuster for appellate court nominees to mass annihilation, talking heads in tweed coats would be dismissing the analogy as dangerously over the top?) To round things out, let me add that Lucas' view on the very bad is analogous to conservatives whose darkest fear isn't Osama bin Laden, but Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Reviewers have been quick to note the nexus between President Bush's statement, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," to Anakin Skywalker's pronouncement, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." A coy Lucas told an audience in Cannes that he started writing "Star Wars" when Richard Nixon was president, and he sees strong "parallels" between Vietnam and Iraq.
Let me credit Lucas with this much. "The Phantom Menace" produced complaints that he engaged in facile racial stereotypes that demeaned Asians, Arabs and Africans. Since then, it is clear, Lucas learned that there is only one facile stereotype that is safe in Hollywood: Republican equals evil. Bush bad.
Fine by me. If Lucas wants to take the mantle of the Bush critics, be it understood that he spent jillions of dollars and made six epic -- and let me add, very watchable -- movies, just to make the point that a man can wipe out entire civilizations, and still have a germ of cuddly goodness in him.
What's more, that germ of goodness means more, at movies' end, than the countless children he has killed, the void with which he replaced entire communities and the dull misery he inflicted wherever he went.
Thus, we discover, as Obi-Wan says before the final light saber duel, that the Sith are evil (despite their germ of good?), not just for what they do, but because, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." In Lucasworld, moral relativists are the real good guys in a universe of gore.
Which doesn't make sense because the Jedi do trade in absolutes, as does every tribe. They've got their rules, too -- and they're pretty good rules, if they do become overly cumbersome, hokey and dangerous at times.
Here's a sign, early in the movie, Lucas gives moviegoers that Anakin Skywalker is drifting toward the dark side. After hacking to death every body in his path, Anakin has an evil mastermind at his feet. Kill him, the future emperor coos.
Afterward, Anakin notes it is not the Jedi way to kill an "unarmed" man. Forget that this particular villain can't be unarmed as long as he has his mind. Forget that he is the reason so many others died, and the Jedi didn't fret about their end.
Most laughable: Of course he was unarmed. Anakin had just cut off his hands.
I sigh. In younger times, Lucas had a unique and dashing vision. Among dazzling special effects and in a universe far, far away, there was a hero with the simple message, "I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you."
But after years of accolades, spin-off corporations and merchandising deals, the word is now, to put it politely, decidedly middle-aged: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."
May the force be with you.