May 22, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

All For Love

poster Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith
Written and directed by: George Lucas
Runtime: 140 minutes
Release date: May 19, 2005
MPAA says: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.
Never, ever use the Dark Side as your stylist: Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker (needs better shampoo, or at least a comb); Natalie Portman as Padme (maintains a careful balance by mock-brushing her tangle of curls); Ewan MacGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi (hair and beard you'll want to run your fingers through); Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu (solves hair problem by having none); Frank Oz as the voice of Yoda (clearly having trouble with scalp condition brought on by his ill-considered development of a clone army); Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine (doing quite nicely with that deceptive short haircut until exposure to the Dark Side plays havoc with his head); Christopher Lee as Count Dooku (it was hard to tell, what with the dramatic lighting on those cruisers); Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca (his virtue is apparent from his head-to-toe glossy pelt); Jimmy Smits as Senator Organa (he, too, must be virtuous, though only from the neck up); Anthony Daniels & Kenny Baker as C3PO and R2D2 (never having had hair, clearly they are unaffected by the clashing currents of the Force); Temuera Morrison (suffering from helmet-head a thousand times over); and Scorpius as Peter Cushing.

Revenge blah blah of the blah blah
Finally forced myself to get through my apprehensions and get to Star Wars episode III, Revenge of the Sith, Saturday night. I had to wait a while before writing commentary, for my conflicting opinions to settle into a single miasma. It's hard to be disappointed in an experience crammed with such nonstop action, but Star Wars is also a story, a legitimate modern heir of Gilgamesh and all the other great epics, not just an adrenalin rush. There are lots and lots of lightsaber fights and gee-whiz-bang special effects and glowing crop circles (gee! whiz!). Lots of self-referential dialogue (lame, but concentrated toward the beginning). And a young actor who can't act his way out of a theatre with the lights on and the exit signs clearly marked in red neon, his deficiencies brought into sharp relief by the actors around him who are marginally or many orders of magnitude better at the craft. Unlike most of the epics before it, Star Wars is weighed or buoyed by the fixed set of actors interpreting the story. One or the other can occasionally stumble and the epic carry on. (To use a newly born analogy, like Afleet Alex tripping but hauling himself to the win at Preakness.) The problem comes when both stumble together.

Young Skywalker and his 'do Jimmy Smits is pretty good and warmly paternal, and even heroic. Natalie Portman is pretty and manages to get by, ably supported by masses of curls. Ewan MacGregor is prettiest when he's ruffled. When allowed to show the torn edge of emotion instead of being absent-mindedly goofy, he will, indeed, rip your heart out (which is all right, since you probably won't be using it much during the love scenes, and you'll want it out of your throat during the gee-whiz stuff). Hayden Christensen, with his startling inability to act (or even move, unless there is a lightsaber in his hand), sucks the humanity out of the movie every time he is on screen. And succumbing to the Dark Side is really really bad for your hair.

You got your politics in my peanut butter
Some people who apparently don't enjoy popcorn have lately been criticising George Lucas for infusing political commentary into his art. He rightly took them to task to explain that, well, you know, that's the point of art, all that business of commenting on the world and the human condition. If themes in the age-old story of Positive versus Negative, Good versus Evil, Selflessness versus Selfishness, appear to have current relevance, that would be because these themes, however deftly or sloppily handled, are age-old. Life imitates art, over and over, and we humans just can't help ourselves. In a benevolent universe where the Force (Jedi or market) was used only for good, movie tickets wouldn't cost $10, now, would they?

The story
Anakin loves Padme. Padme loves Anakin. They love each other, and even though they seem a little bit uncomfortable touching each other, Padme is delicately and form-flatteringly pregnant. Jedi aren't supposed to get all emotional about love affairs. Apparently Senators aren't supposed to get shacked up or knocked up. A truly nasty droid voiced by Jay Laga'aia (Draco of Xena, among other roles, sounding a little James Earl Jones-y) threatens the stability of the Republic with fleets of cutesy but deadly smaller droids. Senator Palpatine accuses the Jedi Council of not being quite so selfless after all and plotting their own power grab. Anakin has nightmares Padme will die in childbirth. Everything he does from here onward is motivated by his desire to save her life, since apparently the technology that can replace a severed hand with a fully functional cybernetic one is completely inadequate or indifferent to easing complications of childbirth. Lip service is paid to Anakin's ambitions toward power and their possible influence on his career choices. Time that could have been spent on character development is relinquished to scenes of spectacular lightsaber fights, space battles, and planetscapes. The Sith Lord misses a really obvious opening in Mace Windu's lightsaber fighting, and I wish I had my epee, then I realise I'm drifting toward the Dark Side and resist for the sake of my hair. The outcome of the climactic battle is obvious, but it doesn't really matter; Ewan MacGregor makes this part of the movie, at least, more than worthwhile.

To See or Not to See
There are those who will go to see this no matter what any reviewer's opinion. I would have been happier not trying to blend the intimidating Darth Vader of my childhood memories, one of the history of film's greatest villains, with this Young Skywalker (he's called this so often, so much more often than Luke ever was, I figure it must be his first name, as there's no Old Skywalker or Middle-Aged Skywalker around). Young S. is doomed more by the flimsy story than by the actual dialogue. A better-crafted character arc would have offset the actor's immature abilities. A better actor would have brought vast layers to the words and plot... in fact, many of the other actors do, uttering the most astonishing statements with gravitas and imbuing their plots and counterplots with logic through sheer verbal force. What Mark Hamill could get away with as bright-eyed, life-affirming Luke, Hayden Christensen cannot as a man on a swift, soul-consuming descent. The great modern mythology becomes, through much of this movie (and much of the previous two, I'd argue), just another special-effects spectacular.

Of course, I couldn't not see this movie and leave myself ignorant of the end of the story. I mean, the middle. Whatever.

As for the rest of you—those of you who didn't grow up with Star Wars, whose parents didn't take you to the first movie on your birthday, who didn't spend the summer running up and down the street dressed as Han Solo (because, tough as Leia was, who really wanted to wear that earmuff hair?), those of you who weren't left flabbergasted by Empire Strikes Back because you didn't know a movie could end on a cliffhanger, who didn't skip school to see Return of the Jedi, and those of you who aren't in the current generation of kids and teenagers entranced by epic science-fictiony fantasy—well, you're going to have to go see it, anyway. And you'll have to see it at a theatre. No matter what its flaws, it's still a Movie, made large and broad and deep, not a television-size story stretched out for a theatre screen. It just doesn't make sense to wait to watch it on DVD. Treat yourself to a ticket. Flawed as it is, it's still what the movies are all about.

Final Advice (to the character, not the reader): Get with it, Vader. You only have about twenty years to become James Earl Jones and David Prowse. We'll meet you in orbit over Tatooine.

Outside Food: Black-and-white cookies and Pepsi, for the Dark Side. No, just kidding. I had Sobe all-natural, herb-laden, fruity healthy drink, like a good Jedi.

Previews: Yes, there were. Yes, yes, I'll write it all up. Really, this time. Really...

Comments: I still haven't done the reinstallation to fix the comments section, but at least this means all those spammers who keep trying to hit the site aren't sticking. If you'd like to comment or if you have any suggestions for Dark Side hair-care products, you can drop me a line at critic at outsidefood.com.

Posted by OutsideFood at 01:30 AM