Herald rating: * * * *

So the 28-year-long orbit of that galaxy far far away has spun back to its starting place. And with it - barring the inevitable retooling and repackaging in which George Lucas excels - the door finally closes on one of the most influential institutions in pop culture.

Yes, now the saga is complete. Darth Vader has breathed his first. And here we get to see why he has never sounded a well man. Yoda has headed for his swamp, Obi-Wan Kenobi to the hills of Tatooine. Those Skywalker kids have been carted off to separate planets to await their adventures in parts IV through VI.

Sorry for jumping to the ending so fast, but that finale is the most satisfying thing about SW: ROTS. It makes up for quite a lot of tedium in its early stages. It feels as if after the risible Nintendo Muppet show of The Phantom Menace (part one), then having recaptured some of the original film's rollicking excitement in the vastly superior Attack of the Clones (part two), this one knows it doesn't have to pull any surprises - just to show how dishy Anakin becomes dastardly Darth and - wheeze, wheeze - thank you, goodnight.

Yes, it is darker than its immediate predecessors. Then again, the original Star Wars wasn't afraid of the occasional spot of blood and gore. Lucas just aimed parts one and two younger, and now he's back where he started.

True, the opening space dogfight is impressive, as is every second lightsabre fight, and they now make the equivalent scenes in the original trilogy look like lifeless by comparison.

But there's still something missing in Revenge of the Sith, even when the evil-semi-android General Grievous wields four - way cool huh? - sabres at Obi Wan-Kenobi.

It's a spirit, a vibe, a ... oh, I dunno, a force or something. The original Star Wars films thrived on it.

Then again, most of it was delivered by a certain Han Solo, and there hasn't been an equivalent figure in the prequel trilogy - although we get to meet Chewbacca for the first time and it must be said that for such tall and hairy guys, Wookies sure do age well.

Slightly disappointed at Revenge of the Sith and wondering why, I dug out the original Star Wars on DVD to see how the stories linked up. Very well, as it turned out. The first act of the 1977 movie is really quite intriguing with its talk of the bad old days.

But, even 28 years later, it has something that ROTS hasn't, even if the acting's not much better.

There are some standout performances in Revenge of the Sith though, especially Ian McDiarmid as the duplicitous Chancellor Palpatine who takes young Jedi Anakin Skywalker (Christensen, still whiny) into his confidence.

Ewan McGregor does a fine job of channelling the original Obi-Wan Alec Guinness. And it's just plain disconcerting to see Temuera Morrison popping up every few minutes after his part-two character Jango Fett was cloned into the force of Imperial Stormtroopers. Every time a platoon commander takes off his helmet there's Tem. And there's Tem. And there's Tem. What a trooper.

Inevitably, it all comes down to Anakin turning his back on his Jedi comrades and heading towards Darth-dom. For even the least devoted of Star Wars fans it's riveting to watch. But you can't help but think Lucas has squandered what might have been a classic scene by basically shoving the helmet on Vader and raising him off the lab slab like Frankenstein's monster.

It should be hair-raising. But it's merely quite exciting, as is the rest of this almost-grand finale.

CAST: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
RUNNING TIME: 140 mins
SCREENING: Village Hoyts Berkeley cinemas from Thursday