Sith Happens Posted by: Dale Franks
on Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Finally, my review of The Revenge of the Sith is done, and I can turn it over to you all for your perusal. Be advised that the review does contain minor spoilers. At least if you've been living under a rock since 1977, and don't know anything about the story arc.
So, if spoilers upset you, then just scroll down to the post below, where McQ presents a story about corruption in the US Border Patrol that appears to have been treated with a wink and a nod by the USBP leadership. I'm sure you'll find it calming.
For the rest of you, on we go.
Writing reviews of Star Wars movies has been, since 1982, a rip-roaring snort of a good time. The Empire Strikes Back was the last really good Star Wars movie. In fact, it was a good film. Unfortunately, The Return of the Jedi was the start of a long, horrific, downhill slide. And a steep one, too, considering that the hideous Jar-jar Binks made even ewoks look like a mature, adult plot device. Let's face it, the last three Star Wars movies have been bad, which makes reviewing them a lot more fun.
So, I went into The Revenge of the Sith with low expectations. In was looking for things to hate about the movie. Imagine my surprise when I realized that...I liked it.
This is not to say the movie is perfect. Far from it.
The main problem is the script. George Lucas is not your go-to guy for believable dialogue between star-crossed young lovers. Nor is he a guy who’ll tell the story by actually allowing the actors to act it out. He apparently prefers that they sit around a table and tell the story to each other. This was a key weakness of The Clone Wars, and it rears its ugly head here, too.
In the beginning of the movie, Anakin, who has secretly married Amidala—or, Padme, as she is now called—gropes her right in the entrace hall of the Republican Senate. If you are going to be kicked out of the Jedi order for having a hot young wife, popping the bone to her in public isn’t the best way to avoid calling attention to your illicit marriage. Moreover, they appear to live together, without anyone in the Jedi Temple becoming suspicious because Anakin’s never around at night. There’s no scene with another Jedi accosting him in the temple, and asking, “Hey, Anakin, I went to your room last night and you were gone. I tried to call you again on your quantum phone, too, and didn’t get an answer. That’s like the fifth night in a row. Where’ve you been, man?”
Then there’s the whole Anakin “Turning to the Dark Side” subplot. Anakin’s conversion to the Dark Side is, frankly, unbelievable. In one split second, Hayden Christiansen goes from being a horribly conflicted young man with poor acting skills trying to do the right thing, to being a remorseless murderer of children with poor acting skills. I mean Mr. Christiansen, not the children.
Although, the Jedi younglings don’t wow you with their acting either.
And why does young Anakin turn to the dark side? He’s afraid that Padme will die in childbirth. In a society where technology has created jet-skis that travel faster than the speed of light, and allow hideously burned and diseased people to be transplanted into android bodies, Anakin acts like he’s living in Elizabethan England when it comes to maternity care. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether she dies in childbirth, since Anakin tries to kill her himself with the Sith neck-squeeze deal.
Although, he does regret it later, in a scene that includes the obligatory "Nooooooooo!" cliché.
And there’s Yoda. “If look at the security tapes you do, only sadness will you find.” After 800 years, you’d think he would’ve found the time to learn proper Galactic Standard. I mean, even Schwarzenegger speaks English better than that.
But those really, are just quibbles. They detract from the enjoyment of the movie, but they don’t destroy it. There were no huge plot holes in the movie, for instance, like those in the profoundly stupid The Stepford Wives with Nichole Kidman, where the director was unable to choose whether the Stepford wives were robots or simply brainwashed, and in an act of stuporific obtuseness settled for them being both. The errors that do appear in Sith are errors of character and motivation, and, in the case of Mr. Christiansen, casting.
Or, in Mr. Lucas’ case, writing dialog.
And even with those errors, Mr. Lucas turned out a surprisingly watchable, exciting, and tragic story.
Unlike past films, Mr. Lucas steadfastly refrained from lightening the ending of the movie. He deals with the tragedy face on and, even if ineptly handled in portions, doesn’t hesitate to give us the full depth of the evil and betrayal the story embodies. The only thing hopeful about the ending at all is that we’ve already seen the next trilogy, and know how the story ends. Mr. Lucas gives us the betrayal and murder of the Jedi, the massacre of the younglings, and the triumph of the Sith without flinching. As a little extra added fillip, in the last scene of the movie, the emperor and the newly breath-masked Darth Vader are standing on a starship’s observation deck, watching as the first framework parts for the Death Star are welded together. Standing with them is what appears to be a young Peter Cushing, as the Grand Moff Tarkin.
It’s not just the end that’s a downer. The whole movie is dark. Anakin slides toward the dark side from the very beginning of the movie. There are no ewoks. No Jar-Jar Binks, except for a brief scene where the horrid little amphibian doesn’t utter a single word. There’s not even much robotic zaniness from C-3PO or R2-D2, who become background figures, much as they were in the original Star Wars . Such light moments as there are, and they are few, merely serve as brief respite from the growing tragedy of the movie’s climax, not a descent into cartoonish humor that characterized the first two episodes of the trilogy.
The special effects, of course, are fantastically well done. The opening scenes of the movie, with massive battle fleets clashing above Coruscant are superbly detailed. Best of all, the special effects, though they are in nearly every single frame of the movie, do not become the story. They are part of the texture, but not on center stage. Do you remember Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where fully one-half of the movie consisted of Douglas Trumbull showing off what he could do with visual effects while the actors stood around and watched silently, awestruck? Well, Revenge of the Sith is almost exactly unlike that.
Finally, let’s talk about the political message supposedly contained in the movie, centering around the famous line, “Only a Sith believes in absolutes.” I don’t know if that was a dig at George W. Bush or not. If it was, you really have to be reading way too deeply into the story to get that out. It’s also just silly, coming, as it does, from Obi-Wan Kenobi, who believes with a burning conviction that the Sith are evil, and must be destroyed. Maybe it’s just me but it seems...intolerant. It’s like the followers of Derrida in academe, who believe that all language is just a construct, and that rational argument proves nothing, and who go on to write heavily footnoted, closely-reasoned academic papers about how rational thought proves nothing. It’s amusing, in an absurdist way.
Overall, there were rough spots in the movie, but I found it an enjoyable ending to the Star Wars universe. It neatly tied the two trilogies into each other, and gave the ending a solidly enjoyable adult story. It was—and this is not true of all too many movies today—fun to watch, and worth the money.
Actually in two interviews I saw with Lucas, he did admit to the purposeful parallel between emperor palpatine and GWB. In that interview he feels that we are headed down the same road. And so his status of absolutes was a dig at the you are with me or against me. In fact he has Anakin saw exactly that.
So its not a matter of reading into it, it is a matter of that Lucas truly feels that way and endeavoured to put that point across.
Yes, Anakin is foolish to believe in absolutes, but just moments later in their fight, Kenobi calls Palpatine "evil". The whole problem with Lucas is that in attempting to make a political point, he can’t get away from the very theme of the Star Wars trilogy... good vs. evil.
A note I’d add to the review Mr. Franks is the acting of Ian McDiarmid. He was great in Revenge and if you look at Return of the Jedi, he was superb. I’m amazed he hasn’t been a villian in other high profile movies. I thought he elevated Ep. I-III with his ability to play the guard of the Republic/villian simultaneously.
There were no huge plot holes in the movie, for instance...
Like you, I thought the movie much better than Episodes I and II, but there were a couple of big plot holes:
1) You hit on this one in your post: Anakin and Padme’s marriage was supposed to be "secret," but ... they were FREAKIN’ living together! Every time Obi Wan was looking for Anakin, he went straight to Padme’s apartment.
2) At the very end of the movie when Yoda, Obi Wan, and Jimmy Smits are talking about what to do with the newborn twins: "we’ll have to hide them somewhere the Emperor and Vader will never find them ... how about on Anakin/Vader’s home planet, Tatooine, with his Uncle." Ummm, isn’t that the first place Vader would look? And, wasn’t Anakin an only child? So exactly who is that "Uncle" of little Luke anyway? And Obi Wan is going to stick around in the neighborhood for 20 years just to keep an eye on him (and not even bother changing his last name)? I guess Lucas’ hands were tied with this one, because Episode IV has already been out there for 30 years, but he could have at least come up with a flimsy excuse and stuck it in ROTS.
3) R2D2 knew who Ben Kenobi, Vader, and Leia were throughout the course of Episodes IV, V, and VI and never bothered to tell Luke?
A couple of little plot holes that I found annyoing:
1) C3PO can pilot starships now?
2) If you assume Luke is 18 years old in Episode IV, that means it took almost 20 years to build the first Death Star, but only one or two years to build the second, larger Death Star?
Anyway, ROTS was much better than Episodes I, and II, but that’s not saying much. IMHO, Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones should have been condensed into the first movie, and Episode II should have consisted of events portrayed in the excellent Clone Wars cartoon series.