May 20, 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars is a peculiar series and I think that while it benefits the series monetarily, it also creates some rather unique problems. I would suggest that no other science fiction series in any medium has had the effect on modern popular culture than the original Star Wars trilogy has and that, as such, the original series has been deified to a certain degree. Adding to this holy trinity is like coming up with a new set of chapters for the Bible. Now, I'm not going to suggest that the prequels are perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel like people expected so much that when the prequels were decidedly unperfect people began to focus far more intensely on the flaws present in those movies than if it were another movie.

Drew and I were talking about this on the way down to the theater, but I think with a lot of science fiction action movies get taken far more seriously than they should be. Independence Day is a pretty good example, and it's what we talked about. I first saw that movie on its opening day. The crowd was excited, people hooted, clapped, and cheered, and it was a lot of fun. I walked out of the movie with a very simple feeling of having had a fun time. Sure, there was some bad dialog and there were some logical inconsistencies and flat out impossibilities (a Mac can interface with alien technology? That's handy!). As I got a little older and started getting what I'd call snobby about art generally, I started picking movies apart. I'd triumphantly congratulate myself when I found all the less than stellar bits of dialog or some aspect of the plot that didn't make sense. Now, while I still get this from time to time, in the last couple years I started to realize that there was something I was missing, and that was the feeling I had walking out of the theater after ID4. I'm not going to say ID4 is a good movie, but I had lost that exhuberance for film (and art in general) in favor some arbitarary set of rules about what made "good art". Though cliched, I wasn't seeing the forrest for the trees.

That's a pretty long preamble, but basically the point is, I felt that way walking out of Episode 3 and it felt pretty good. Drew talked about an NPR review he had heard where, though each individual thing mentioned in the review was negative, the overall tenor was positive and I think there's something to that. Yeah, if you want to you can point to any number of things in this movie that I would have changed; there's some droid humor aimed pretty directly at children and didn't do anything for me, there's some sappy dialog that I wish they could have tweaked a bit, and there as a few things they could have done a bit earlier and done a bit more to explain. But I had fun. The acting is somewhat uneven. But I had fun. Yoda didn't get out more than one gramatically correct sentence in the whole damn movie. But I had fun.

For the first time since the original trilogy I cared about what was happening. Anakin wasn't just a whiny padawan, he was a poor kid trapped in a crappy political situation where everyone was using him and no one trusted him and everything seemed to be spiralling out of control. It was the second full movie where a lot of the choices were, to a degree, morally ambiguous. Other than towards the end of Empire, Jedi is the only other movie where the major choices being made didn't have a clearly "good and right" series of solutions for the characters to run down. Furthermore, this movie is packed to the gills with cool things that I've always wanted to see in a Star Wars film. And the lightsaber fighting is badass.

Long story short; don't go expecting Citizen Kane. Star Wars has never been something any you should take too seriously, especially if you can't enjoy the fun of the film in doing so. There's certainly something to fandom and the fun of obsessing over details, but there's a fun movie here and if you can't see if you're missing something. Maybe you're being too serious, maybe you're too attached to the "purity" of the original trilogy, or maybe you just don't like sci-fi, I don't know. I'd suggest you take this movie on its face; recognize its flaws, but don't lose that fun feeling.

1 comment:

Noumena said...

I saw Revenge of the Sith night before last, and I think the only real problem the Star Wars films have is Lucas' writing ability, or the lack thereof.

Consider General Grievous. I didn't find him scary at all in RotS, and laughed along with the rest of the audience when he did that tornado of lightsabers thing. His wheezing and insipid dialogue didn't help either. But cartoon Grievous, in Clone Wars, was this mysterious, powerful menace who collected lightsabers as trophies and single-handedly took down three jedi at once. And all without saying a word.

The writers of Clone Wars used dialogue like a scalpel, a precise but forceful tool to move the plot along or develop certain feelings in the audience. Lucas, by contrast, often wields dialogue like a club, crudely beating his audience over the head with simplistic dichotomies and plot devices that could've worked if he hadn't been so annoying about them. I will add, however, that Lucas has some excellent non-action sequences in here that work precisely because of the minimal use of dialogue, such as the attack on the Jedi.

Overall, I enjoyed RotS in the way I didn't particularly like Episodes I and II. Like Return of the Jedi, and unlike the other Star Wars flims, this film has a tragic darkness and mythological spirit that comes through quite well, and makes for a decent adventure.