This weekend was not kind to my neighborhood multiplex. Even though Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was playing on four screens, the force was not with the theater's management. On Friday night, there were hordes of people on three lines (Star Wars, Star Wars, and Not Star Wars) waiting to pay cash because the computer ticketing was down. On Saturday night, I heard that there was a small fire at the theater from two people who had wanted to see The Interpreter (aka Not Star Wars line).
With ten dollars cash, I managed to secure a golden ticket to a galaxy far, far away on Friday night. It was a happening. Families eating nachos and gummi bears. Friends drinking coke and diet coke. It was the last Star Wars. Even though you knew it was going to end badly, you just had to see it.
Warning. If you have not seen the movie and don't want to know everything that happens (besides the fact that Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader), STOP READING NOW.
You have been warned.
Unlike other reviewers, I am going to start at the end of the Sith and then ramble around the Star Wars galaxy, so I will cross-fade a lot in that great George Lucas tradition.
Wait a second, let me blow the dust off my Return of the Jedi videotape, pop it in the VCR, hit fast forward. No it's past Jabba's palace. Past Han Solo saying ‘Fly Casual' (He really was a cutie in that film). And here we are. . .
Ext. Ewok Village – Night
Luke: Leia, do you remember your mother, your real mother?
Leia: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.
Luke: What do you remember?
Leia: Images really, feelings.
Luke: Tell me.
Leia: She was very beautiful, kind, but sad. What are you asking me this?
Luke: I have no memory of my mother. I never knew her.
Leia: Luke tell me, what's troubling you?
So according to Return of the Jedi, Leia knew her real mother. Her real mother was very beautiful and very sad. Isn't Padme her real mother? Now yes, Leia's real mother could be Mrs. Organa who would raise Leia as her own according Bail. However, I always assumed that Mrs. Vader lived on for a few years, then died of heartbreak caused by the knowledge that her beloved had become a mechanized mass murderer. Oh well, so much for assumptions. Maybe I'm just being overly technical.
I think Natalie Portman did a good acting job across the three films. Unfortunately, she doesn't get much to do in this episode---and this brings me to the second part of my Padme beef.
Padme doesn't do anything. She brushes her hair. She comforts Anakin. She wishes the horrible war would end. She sits and waits. Sure, she's preggers, but the gal's got Naboo Queen, Galactic Senate, and lots of fun and adventure on her resume. Is she really gonna chuck all that to be super mom in the lake country of Naboo? How very lame ass suburban mom of her?
Girlfriend, the father of your children is a Jedi Knight and not just any Jedi Knight---THE CHOSEN ONE Jedi Knight. Sure the Republic is at war. Sure hubby is having visions of you dying in child birth and hanging out with creepy old Palpatine (wayyyy less fun than Obi Wan). But that doesn't mean you should give up your fabulous one-bedroom with docking platform and Jedi Temple views. You don't have to give up your senate career. You can have it all, Padme. That's what decoy handmaidens are for.
Besides, every pregnant woman I've ever known has a strange power that would make even the Sith shake with fear. Call it nesting. Call it hormones. Don't mess with the pregnant ones. In fact, I'm sorta surprised that Padme wasn't all packed and ready to go to the Lake Country.
‘Honey, it's all arranged. I talked with Yoda, and we're moving to the Lake Country. Kenobi can visit in summer.' Padme could have told the slightly bedazzled Anakin fresh off his latest adventure.
But enough of Star Wars feminism and all those gosh darn women in the Star Wars galaxy. In Sith, we did get to see a female Jedi Knight---right before she got killed by the clone army. In the original trilogy, Princess Leia taught me that I could do anything I wanted and still date a scoundrel. Okay, maybe not the best Princess Leia lesson. Scoundrels won't always become generals in your cause.
Cross fade to Darth Vader in his new suit coming off the assembly line. Basic black is just sooooo him. The scene ends with him shouting PADMEEEE! in his best James Earl Jones voice. Looking back on that scene, I think of several things, , ,
Of Marlon Brand shouting STELLAAAAA in a Streetcar Named Desire.
Of Bill Shatner shouting KAHHHHNNN in Wrath of You-Know-Who
Of Boris Karloff taking his first steps in Frankenstein
Of Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein (that's Frankensteen). Life! Give my creation life!!!!
Of recent New York Times photos of James Earl Jones performing in On Golden Pond
Of how I will never look at Darth Vader the same way ever again. The mystique is gone. But wait! Then I think about the light saber duel with Ben Kenobi in A New Hope and how that has a whole new weight to it. Then, I think about what Luke's determination to redeem Vader in Jedi. No wonder Yoda and Dead Ben both said, ‘no way, he's bad'.
Cross fade again.
For twenty plus years, I saw Revenge of the Sith in my mind's eye. The fall of the Republic. The rise of the Emperor. Darth Vader hunting down and destroying the Jedi Knights (that overhead shot of him leading the clones into the Jedi temple was chilling). That final light saber duel between Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader with molten lava all around them. At the same time (in that great way that Lucas intercuts scenes), the birth of the twins is happening. Vader feels their birth and becomes distracted. In that split second of distraction, Kenobi deals the final blow and loses his apprentice forever. Oh the angst! Oh the pain! Yes! That would have been wow! Whoahhhh. Wait a minute, I'm feeling lightheaded. Then the Emperor finds Vader's charred head and torso (oh wait, this happens in the film) and gets him the best medical droids possible. Meanwhile, Obi Wan rushes to Padme, splits up the twins, and sends everyone into hiding before the Emperor can find them.
Yes, I know. I should not rewrite other people's movies. That is not the Jedi Writer's way. I must be calm, at peace, focused on my own stuff.
Cross fade with music.
Boy those Jedi Knights really missed the boat on the whole Palpatine being a Sith Lord thing. Yes, Jedis make mistakes. They're only human (or whatever sentient life form they might be), and the galaxy is an imperfect place. However, there are mistakes that make one say ‘oops' and there are mistakes that have Death Star consequences. In the new trilogy, the Jedi seem to go on more wild goose chases than. . .than. . those guys that normally chase geese. Didn't any of them stop and feel a wild goose vibe? Maybe there are no geese in a galaxy far, far away.
Now 1200 words into my piece, I should tell you that watching Revenge of the Sith was not an agonizing experience for me. Phantom Menace was the agonizing experience. Attack of the Clowns (I mean, Clones) was a basically annoying experience. I found the Sith kind of enjoyable (and you can quote me on that). Finally, after two films of ‘oh no, bad stuff is coming', we finally get the film where the bad stuff is here.
Why do I like Star Wars so much? That's simple. I grew up with it. I even had the action figures. I have memories of seeing it in 77 and playing Star Wars in Illinois with my next door neighbor, Patrick. He was Luke Skywalker, and I was Princess Leia. We fought because I wanted to play escape from the Death Star and he wanted to go straight to his X-wing fighter and attack the Death Star. I would always complain that Princess Leia doesn't do anything while Luke's in his X-wing. Empire Strikes Back scared the shit out of me when it first came out. I had nightmares about Darth Vader for a few nights, then I went and saw it again. When Return of the Jedi came out, I was so excited to see it a second time. I wanted to go back to those worlds and characters. It had an energy to it that went beyond hokey religions and ancient weapons.
As a student and then adult, I found other films and stories to challenge me, but I always watched Star Wars with a smile on my face. My first play was a deconstruction of Star Wars, and I finally sold my action figures to finance my move to the West Coast just a few years ago (they were worth a lot of money---I still had the little guns).
In the Star Wars galaxy, there is a definite good and a definite bad, and the movies are about finding that balance. There's a great deal of sincerity and optimism to them. Han Solo goes from cynical anti-hero to good guy in A New Hope. Lando betrays the good guys, then helps them escape in Empire Strikes Back. In Jedi, Vader is redeemed by Luke. In the original trilogy no one turns from good to bad. However, in Sith, no one turns from bad to good. In fact, it goes bad for a lot of people. I think the only happy people at the end of Sith are The Emperor, the twins, the Organas, and the Lars family.
Getting back to those vengeful Sith, I did gasp in awe during the film. I laughed at the jokes. I've always liked the dry Star Wars humor. I even choked up a bit during the lava scenes---he's a good kid, just a little misguided. I loved the space battle at the beginning. However, some of those CGI interiors felt a little too unreal---like the actors physically weren't present in the space. Also, where would these people be without R2D2? I would love to have an R2 to help me out. I wonder if it can word process.
In the writing realm, I thought the story of Sith was a too all over the place. They go here, there, and everywhere. I think the movie is a buddy picture about Anakin and Obi Wan. Anakin is the brash, young ladykiller. Obi Wan is older, more thinking. As the film progresses, Anakin becomes addicted to the future and more paranoid about the whole Jedi Council thing; as a result, his friendship with Obi Wan breaks down. I find it interesting that this fear of the future (seeing the big bad future and wanting to change its outcome) drives both Anakin in Sith and Luke to leave Yoda in Empire.
Also, the original trilogy had Leigh Brackett (Empire Strikes Back) and Lawrence Kasdan (Empire and Jedi) working on the scripts, and I think their dialogue is a lot sharper. George Lucas is a vision guy. He has the broad vision. His strengths are also editing and movement. Unfortunately, the space ships have to stop sometime. A lot of the dialogue in Sith is clunky and wince-worthy. What is it about being in love that makes you so beautiful? Does Yoda have to invert all his sentences all the time? However, I thought the Wookiee dialogue was right on the money.
As for the acting, uhoh. Cue the Empire theme. I have two words that sum up Star Wars acting: Mark Hamill. Like Mark Hamill, Hayden Christensen had the really tough job of selling this force business with blue screens all around him. However, both actors could give you something powerful in the money shots. If you want to see what Hayden Christensen can really do, rent Shattered Glass.
To me, the best acting in any Star Wars movie was Alec Guinness. There would be no force without Alec Guinness. . .and John Williams. Honorable mention goes to Harrison Ford who makes acting next to a giant carpet look easy and smiles his way through Return of the Jedi with that cocky grin that's just so. . .so. . .ohhhh.
There is good acting in Sith. For the first two-thirds of the film, Ian McDiarmid is a delight to watch as he baits young Skywalker and shakes up the Old Republic. He's doing sci fi Shakespeare---the like of which we haven't seen since Patrick Stewart commanded the Enterprise with ‘make it so'. In the last third of the film, it's all Obi Wan Kenobi. Finally! Finally! Finally, Ewan McGregor gets to act. This is the Obi Wan we've all been waiting for. This is the Obi Wan of legend. When he walked off Padme's spaceship, Ewan McGregor was Obi Wan Kenobi. He was no longer an Alec Guinness wannabe. Yes, yes, yes, Obi Wan he was.
Trying to find an ending to this piece is like trying to find a flea on a bantha. If you're still reading at this point, you have the patience of a Jedi. All that Star Wars. Like a dream it was. How did this piece get this long? I guess Star Wars just does that to me.