Revenge of the Sith

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So with all the talk about lately, now that I've seen it, I suppose I should weigh in.

For the record, I don't intend to drop any spoilers on you guys, but I might do so inadvertently, and if I do, I apologize.

First though: Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Lets just get that out of the way right now. Because, well. . . if you don't know it, you've been living under a rock since 1983, and deserve to be slapped with the cold hard herring of popular culture. Welcome to the year 2005.

For the record, I'm planning to do another editorial, in a few days maybe, on piracy, ROTS floating around as a Torrent, information in the digital age, and my personal opinions about the MPAA and the RIAA. But that comes later.

For today, let's establish my credentials.

I grew up on the Star Wars movies. I got into the extended Universe at a young age. I own the box sets of both the THX remastered and the Special Edition VHS cassettes. I own a significant portion of the book collection produced up until about 1999, when I started getting out after seeing Episode 1 and getting over it.

I'm the kind of person who, when asked to do word association and given "Darth Vader" comes up with an answer like "redemption" and when given Boba Fett comes up with "Bad Ass." I covet the T-shirt that just says "Han Shot First" in block print. I still chuckle when people use lines from the trilogy in everyday conversation.

I grew up asthmatic, and so Darth Vader always held a special place in my heart, as a character who suffered every moment with an affliction that I feared, hated, and had learned was a part of my life. He was a sort of odd hero to me. Here was a man who in spite of an obvious disability (with which I can relate) manages to rise to power and still possess great physical ability in spite of his illness. For a kid who occasionally had to sit down before reaching the top of a single flight of stairs during attacks, that's an impressive role model and occasionally an inspiration. I'll admit I always felt I had more in common with Darth Vader than I ever did with Luke Skywalker.

Now, the film.

At its beginnings the movie drips cheese. It oscillates from inspired to horrid in moments. One second, Anakin is expressing profound joy at discovering that Padme is pregnant, then in the next moment there is wooden acting, wretched dialogue (how Miss Portman or Mister Christensen forced some of those lines from between their lips I'll never know) and mediocre concept work.

It is frustrating to say the least. Is this a children's film, or a dramatic production? Is it funny and uplifting, or dark and sad? Is it crap, or genius? The film can't quite seem to decide whether to be a masterpiece or a direct-to-TV quality after-school special, and you find yourself caught in the film's identity crises and it keeps you from enjoying the story. And so help me, when I hear names like "Naboo" "Padme" and "Count Dooku" it makes me want to laugh, moreso in the tense 'dramatic' scenes near the middle. Where the hell did they come up with these names?

Ignoring the film's occasional technical idiocy (robots != cyborgs, George) and silliness (dammit, if you're going to be dropping your lightsaber every time you take a fall, put a motherf*cking tether on that shit!), the story drives itself quickly towards its visually gorgeous and logical end. Along the way we come to see justifications for Anakin's decisions but never really understand them or identify with him. He's merely given excuses for his behaviour, the way a mother who is too soft on her son might explain that "well, he's just a very headstrong boy" when he flips her the bird and refuses to follow her teachings. That disappointed me, because I was hoping to get more inside the mind of the Dark Lord and see what drove him towards the efficient, brutal methods of leadership he has adopted by the time we meet him in Episodes IV, V, and VI.

On the acting front, Hayden and Ewan both manage to act their parts well. Ewan manages to actually pull off a character that could be seen as a recognizable landmark on the path between the young Obi-Wan of the first two movies, and the character Sir Alec Guinness created back in 1977. Hayden does 'brooding' very well, which is of course his primary job in the film.

For the rest of the cast, life hums along ok. Frank Oz lends a credible voice to Yoda, and even Natalie Portman, who at times seems distracted and out of place in the film, turns out a scene or two that make you feel she at least read most of her lines before she arrived on the set.

Ian McDarmid makes a wonderful Chancellor Palpatine, and plays his role to the hilt. It is amazing to see the man who played the original Palpatine return to the character's younger years and guide the evolution of what will have become (egads, that tense is awkward!) the wheezing, cackling ball of pure evil portrayed so rivetingly in Return of the Jedi. My only disappointment with Palpatine was that at one point they let the makeup and mask crew go overboard on him, and the result looks a bit ridiculous.

Most of the other characters acting ability is uninspired but unimportant, with the exception of Samuel Jackson. Now, I love Samuel Jackson. His performance in Pulp Fiction includes some of the best monologue and dialogue acting I have ever seen in any movie. His character acting breaks all limits in Changing Lanes. I even liked The Negotiator and Mister Glass from Unbreakable. But WHAT THE HELL is he doing in this movie? He manages to give an incredibly out-of-place feel to every single one of his scenes except the final one, where he finally seems to get it all right. For the rest of the time though, I just find myself wondering what the casting directors were thinking.

The fights are ok. A bit too much flipping about, but a generally cohesive style and a fast pace make them feel exciting and even add a bit of swash and a touch of buckle to scenes that would otherwise be heavyhanded, or just boring.

The final fight scene goes from "awesome" to "tense" to "dramatic" to "melodramatic" to "silly" to "where the F*CK did that come from?!" and all the way back to "dramatic", but the final transition is so fast that it is easy to miss and leaves with you with an odd feeling of anticlimax and silliness.

As far as filmmaking, it varies. Some of the early scenes are static and awkward. For the first half hour I was wondering if they had actually built any real sets for the movie or if it had all been filmed in one big blue room. But they do start using more real sets near the middle and that feeling subsides by the end of the film. There is a fantastic contrast between two medical scenes later on that almost brought a tear to my eye. The introduction of the Darth Vader suit and mask is both inspired and visually stunning. And to top it all off, subtle references and nods are given not just to Episode VI's characters and scenery, but also to plenty of other stuff from the other films, including Peter Cushing, mouse droids, and the far-reaching effects of the ship design work done by Lucasfilm's concept labs.

There are also hidden bits of wit and wisdom in some of the choices of casting and location, which earned my approval and even a wry grin. For example, when the scenery of politically neutral-but-still-influential Alderaan is shown, Switzerland is used for the backdrop. We see early versions of the Imperial Guard (though they disappointingly don't get a chance to show their skills). McCallum's and Lucas' children both have bit parts, and there's even a character credited to one of the design studios as "Javva the Hutt."

Thankfully the outpouring of fan disapproval of Jar Jar obviously had an effect (good job George! Way to listen up, 6 years too late!). Because he doesn't even get a speaking part in this film. In fact, when we see him, it's almost a surprise, and it makes you realize just how completely useless his character really was.

So yes, some concessions were made, but such is always the cost of spinning a cohesive visual reality from the boundless imaginations of a multitude.

In short, am I disappointed? Nah. Was the movie the best thing since sliced bread? No.

But deep down, did I want to throw the devil horns up and shout "ALL HAIL LORD VADER!" when the mask clicked down and all you could hear was that first solitary and ominous breath?

Hell Yes.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


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