SEEN STAR WARS I HAVE: I took a break from packing for the move to join Malory for a screening of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith yesterday afternoon. I wasn't expecting much after George Lucas almost destroyed the franchise with the horrible Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Horrible is being kind. Total shit is more like it. Georgie boy must have been paying attention to the fans when he was writing and filming this alleged final installment. Sith restores grandeur and awe to the mythology that is Star Wars, albeit with some horrible dialogue, overextended battle scenes and plot holes you could drive an Imperial cruiser through.

I've been a fan of Star Wars since I was a kid. Rather than taking me to see Smokey and the Bandit in 1977, my parents forced me to see Star Wars because my best friend at the the time, Chad, had spent the night and wanted to see this new science fiction film. Ick, patooey. Needless to say, I was hooked from the beginning. Hundreds of dollars in action figures and playsets later, my parents agreed that Smokey and the Bandit would have been a better choice of film. I clearly remember standing in line as a child to see The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi on opening day. I was one of those geeks.

When Lucas released Phantom Menace everyone was so excited to be going back to that world he had created 20 years earlier. Except it wasn't that world. It walked and talked like Star Wars, but it wasn't the genuine item. There was the horrible, HORRIBLE Jar-Jar Binks character, which almost single-handedly destroyed the picture with his Step-N'-Fetchit accent and general goofiness. Fans cried foul...loudly. The wooden acting and dialogue in Phantom Menace made the original trilogy sound like Shakespeare. Lucas did himself a great disservice by not working with a real scriptwriter, like he did with the brilliant Lawrence Kasdan on Empire and Jedi. Then came Clones which was slightly better, but so long and full of boring exposition that you were nearly asleep by the time Yoda whipped out his lightsaber for the climatic duel with Count Dukoo (where the hell does Lucas come up with these names?).

So, Revenge of the Sith was anticipated with equal amounts dread and delight. Although the dialogue and acting is still fairly bad, Lucas salvages his reputation and the entire series with this film. It's whizz-bang fun from the moment the film starts. Obi-Wan (with Ewan McGregor channeling Alec Guinness with gusto now) and Anakin (the incredibly hunky and ripped Hayden Christensen -- way to go Georgie for giving us a little skin this time out!) on a mission to save Senator Palpatine during the height of the fabled Clone Wars. One of the revisionist elements Lucas pissed off fans with appears quickly: R2-D2 flying. He pops out of the star fighter like he's in The Matrix, lasers down some robots and sets them on fire with a blast from a flame-thrower. Wha-wha-what?

Anakin dispenses with Count Dooky with a lightsaber scissor cut that's gory and cool...but turns him further toward the Dark Side. Then Obi-Wan and Anakin face off against Lucas' new villain - General Grievous, who appears to be an insect-human-robot hybrid. Grievous has numerous arms and can fight with four lightsabers. My inner geek was delighted, and his duel with Obi-Wan is very cool.

Of course Palpatine is really evil and is luring Anakin toward his destiny as Darth Vader. Ian McDiarmid gives the best performance in the film as Palpatine. He somehow manages to take Lucas' words and turn them into fearful pronouncements. Poor Natalie Portman is reduced to a crying, pregnant plot device as Padme, who has secretly married Anakin and now carries his children. She's around to give birth to Luke and Leia at the end before she dies and little else. Samuel L. Jackson still seems out of place as Jedi Master Mace Windu. Maybe it's because I can't shake those Quentin Tarentino movies out of my head.

We get some strange lip service via Palpatine about how there was once a Sith Lord who had so mastered the Dark Side of the Force that he had the ability to create life and stop others from dying. Palpatine intimates that he killed him and took over and is now the Lord of the Sith, but it's very unclear. This is also a clumsly attempt to explain away Anakin's virgin birth from Phantom, which was one of the most ridiculous plot lines ever. Palpatine promises this power to Anakin (who's been having nightmares of Padme dying in childbirth) if he'll turn to the Dark Side.

Anakin's turn is fairly gory. He slices and dices his way through the Jedi temple and even kills a room full of young children. We get to see Obi-Wan injure Anakin so badly in their climatic lightsaber battle that he must be put inside the Darth Vader suit to survive and we get to see a Yoda vs. Palpatine smackdown in the massive senate chamber. Of course, we know how this all ends. We know neither Yoda or Palpatine die and that Yoda and Ob-Wan must go into hiding. We know Luke and Leia are separated at birth and will find each other again in 20 something years to defeat the evil Empire. There's really no big surprises, just lots of tying up of loose ends. Well...sorta.

In the final moments, we see Palpatine (now the Emperor) and Vader on a large cruiser heading toward the already under construction Death Star, which is cool, but makes no sense. It didn't take the Empire more than 20 years to build the Death Star did it? Something else that makes no sense is how Princess Leia gets her Princess title, when she's the adopted daughter of a senator and knows nothing of her birth parents. How does Chewbacca (who's leading the Wookies against an invasion in the Clone Wars) ultimately hook up with Han Solo? Why do Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru look like teenagers when Obi-Wan brings them baby Luke on Tatooine, but like senior citizens in the original film? It's only 20 years. Does raising a future Jedi Master cause them to prematurely age? There's a dozen more problems like this, but it's best not to think of them. Continuity has never been Lucas' strong point.

However, Lucas did answer the burning question I'd had since Phantom Menace, which was: How was Lucas going to explain C-3PO and R2-D2 not remembering Obi-Wan, Yoda or anyone else they had known in the past? Needless to say, Lucas fixes this and even gives C-3PO a great final line in the process. Oh, and Jar-Jar gets a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo at the end of the film, sans dialogue. Hooray!

My inner geek is satisfied. May the Force be with you.


nolapoet said…
No substitute for the original. Some things just shouldn't be trilogized!
Collin said…
I agree with you, and then again I don't. The original trilogy was fantastic. "Empire Strikes Back" was better than "Star Wars," but "Return of the Jedi" was weak. "Revenge of the Sith" is nowhere near as good as any of the original trilogy, but it's pretty close.

The only other trilogy I can think of that has worked completely is Krystof Kieslowski's "Three Colours: Blue, White & Red." Three of the best films ever made.
iggy said…
I feel asleep 3 times... all 3 during fight scenes...
Collin said…
Poor, Iggy. It was a bit long. Two and half hours is a stretch in any film. I could have done without a lightsaber duel or two. There really is only so many ways you can film that kind of thing and I think with Grievous fighting with four lightsabers at once was pushing it...but still kinda cool.

Personally, I'm just amazed that nearly 30 years later, and I still care so much about those films. They really are a touchstone from my childhood. This movie made me remember that, and a bit nostalgic.

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