Spoiler-free capsule summary: not bad. The script is still atrocious, and there were numerous chemistry failures, but the story is powerful and the individual acting is generally much better than in the previous movies, and that pulls the film through. While it's as much a special-effects extravaganza as expected, I found that the characters were interesting enough to take the front seat this time. I'd agree with the common sentiment that this is the best one since Empire Strikes Back. That's slightly damning with faint praise, but I didn't come out hugely disappointed, for the first time in 20-some years.
In particular, I think that Sith validates the previous two movies, and especially Clones, in ways I hadn't expected. I've been thinking about this as I read and comment in other journals, and realizing that Sith casts the story in a very different light than I expected.
First of all, I may be the exception here, but I really loved Hayden Christensen in this film. Yes, he's still exactly the same person as the whiny teenager in the previous film. But that winds up just adding to the sense of menace and doom here. Of *course* that teenager grew up to become Darth Vader. Sith zeroes in on Anakin's character flaw very precisely: he's a bundle of ego, ripe to be manipulated. The resulting transformation is smooth and completely believable -- he progresses from frustrated twerp to monster with nary a break. All of the best moments in this story are in Anakin's face, as we watch him gradually go insane.
The funny thing is, I think I viewed the previous movies incorrectly, and I suspect many others did as well. It was very easy to see this as The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. Certainly, that's what the Jedi all thought. But it really isn't. This whole trilogy is The Tragedy of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
A tragedy, in the classic form, is watching a good person be done in by their own pride. That is *not* what happens to Anakin. Yes, he's proud, but he was never really all that good. I had assumed that the whiny quality of Anakin in Clones was a failure of direction, but I'm no longer sure of that. Rather, I think that's exactly what he was supposed to be: powerful, but without any of the wisdom necessary to use that power well. He was never the hero of this story, nor even really its protagonist; rather, he's the pawn that everything swirls around.
Rather, the tragedy in this story is Obi-Wan's dogged certitude that this is the child of Prophecy, and his stubborn attempt to mold Anakin accordingly. It really never crosses his mind that maybe he's wrong here. If, instead, you consider that Anakin never *was* the prophesized kid, the whole story turns completely upside-down. Obi-Wan pushed Anakin into the Jedi, kept at him, kept telling him that he was the chosen one -- kept building his ego up, and up, and up. And in the end, that's exactly what destroys the Jedi. (My favorite moment of the movie is directly tied into this, as Obi-Wan finally, just a little, starts to get it. The result is the most genuine emotion in all three movies.)
There's a lot more to the movie, both good and bad. Several characters never get a fair shake -- in particular, Padme and Mace Windoo never rise above two-dimensional, and I really wanted more depth from both of them. But that's because this story really only has three important characters: Palpatine on one side, Obi-Wan on the other, and Anakin being yanked back and forth. That story ultimately succeeds for me, so I find the other flaws forgiveable. The end result isn't high art, but it was a good deal better than I was expecting...