Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 23, 2005
POP CULTURE: Fully Armed and Operational

Well, I went to see Revenge of the Sith yesterday; my wife and I took the kids, ages 7 and 5. I should say that the movie was rather intense for their age, and my daughter had to hide her face in a few places. I think it's OK for a 7-8 year old, but if we'd been able to get away with it I wouldn't have brought a 5-year-old to see this.

I went in really wanting to like this movie, and if it wasn't perfect, it was a heck of a thrill ride and a fittingly satisfying end to the Star Wars saga, one that I think will stand up as the equal to Return of the Jedi in terms of action, drama and the resolution of loose ends. And yes: the Wookie army is cool, and serves as a crucial plot device. The bottom line: this was so much fun, and there was so much going on (some of which I missed, due to the mumbling of some dialogue and the kids peppering me with whispered questions) that I'm dying to see it again. (You should read the reviews (including spoilers) by Michele and Will Collier, who had much the same reaction).

I'm not quite ready to say "all is forgiven" - in particular not turning the Force into a biological phenomenon - but most of the misfires that marred Episodes I and II were but distant memories after Sith. Of course, I didn't hate Episodes I and II - Phantom Menace was enjoyable at the time, but the whole Jar Jar thing, among several other key failings, makes it painful to rewatch much of the movie. Attack of the Clones was better, but the love scenes were deadly and the entire thing was more a series of entertaining set pieces than a cohesive story.

Sith is better in that regard - everything is finally working together in a single multilayered plot held together by the masterful evil of Palpatine/Sidious, and the pacing of the movie (as well as its one startlingly graphic sequence) reminded me more than anything of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The movie's climax packs an emotional wallop despite the inevitable lack of suspense, as both Anakin and the remaining good guys watch everything they have fought for slip from within their grasp.

The special effects are great, and only in a few places - the big lizard, and some parts of the opening space battle - do they look a bit cheesy.

The dialogue isn't . . . well, it just isn't the point of the movie, but for a guy who gets a rap for bad dialogue, Lucas sure has written a lot of memorable lines. He gets in a few well-placed one-liners here.

Many of the knocks on the acting are misguided: while the acting is uneven in places, and even Ian McDiarmid - who gives the film's showstopping performance as the Emperor - takes a few lines a bit too far, most of what you want from the acting in a movie like this is not to detract from the plot.

I still think Hayden Christensen gets a bit of a bad rap - he was entirely realistic in his portrayal of Anakin in the last movie as a whining, melodramatic, self-important teenager, and he expands on that performance here as a young man who is long on courage and ego and short on patience and good judgment. In fact, if you go back and think about the Darth Vader scenes in Episodes IV-VI and imagine Christensen's voice and expressions, they actually fit quite well. Darth Vader was never, after all, an evil genius - he was always a villain whose downfall was his impatience and rash, impetuous decisions. When the Death Star is under siege, does he devise a clever, multifaceted defense of the station? No, he hops in his own specially designed Tie Fighter to go take care of what his damned incompetent subordinates can't do themselves. He runs through generals and admirals like Steinbrenner used to run through managers, sends a fleet of star destroyers into an asteroid field, and lets the good guys get away repeatedly.

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Vader's famous plea to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back - "join me, and we can rule the galaxy together as father and son" - is nicely foreshadowed when he makes the same plea to Padme, only to be rejected. (Side note: one of the film's continuity problems is the time line on Padme's preganancy, which goes from a secret to full term in what looks like about a week or two. And not many nine-months-pregnant women would wear the miniskirt she wears in the climactic scene). Personally, I found his transformation convincing, especially the fact that he turns against Mace Windu, and thus begins to truly commit to the Dark Side, before he has really thought through the consequences.

More random thoughts; I may add to these:

*I liked some of the contiunity touches, especially the way Anakin's burns matched those on Darth Vader's head at the end of Return of the Jedi; also Obi-Wan making off with Anakin's lightsaber at the end of their battle. And the opening sequence gives us confirmation, if we needed more after the Phantom Menace, of Anakin's reputation as a pilot.

*We saw again that the Stormtroopers get their reputation for deadly accuracy from shooting people in the back as well as from liquidating unarmed civilians and whupping overmatched Jawas and battle droids. Real opponents remain elusive.

*Lucas' treatment of mercy toward enemies is rather inconsistent. Anakin's journey to the Dark Side is shown as being advanced when he beheads Dooku, but then again, Mace Windu is obviously right - if tactically foolish given Anakin's response - to want to finish off Palpatine then and there, and no moral frieght is placed on Obi-Wan finishing off General Grievous. On the other hand, Obi-Wan's decision not to kill Anakin is reminiscent of Bilbo sparing Gollum in terms of its later significance.

*General Grievous' decision to fight Obi-Wan rather than have him shot was, of course, ridiculous and stupid.

*Was I the only one who half expected Mace Windu, when he told Palpatine he was under arrest, to add "m_____f_____"? I guess that's just subtext when you have Samuel L. Jackson in the role. At least he got to be a critical plot device.

*I assume we are to believe that Palpatine was lying through his teeth with the story about the Sith being able to stave off death. At any rate, you have to figure that he knew from the outset that Padme, given her history, would never go along with the whole Dark Side thing.

*The political angle has indeed been overdrawn by critics. There are a few War on Terror parallels, which felt especially strong in discussing the manhunt for General Grievous, but on the whole Star Wars is a fable like the Lord of the Rings, adaptable to and resonant with many political circumstances but ideally parallel to none. And if you can imagine George W. Bush giving Palpatine's oily lecture about how good and evil are just a point of view, you need professional help.

*As many people have noted, what the whole prequel trilogy was missing was someone like Han Solo. Lucas couldn't find one character besides Jango Fett who at least preferred shooting people to lightsaber fights?

*The intervening 20 years were obviously hard on some people. Obi-Wan, like Luke's Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, obviously aged quite a lot living in the desert. Vader, of course, has been stewing in his own bitterness - a young man entering the prime of his life and starting a family, suddenly widowed and friendless by his own betrayals, charred, disfigured, and propped on prosthetic legs. And Chewbacca has gone from being a major figure in his planet's army to a wandering co-pilot taking orders from a smuggler.

*I'm not sure I see the same problem Jim Geraghty does with the construction schedule at the Death Star. The second one was very unfinished at the time of Return of the Jedi.

*Instapundit, as always, has more links.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:35 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (2)
Comments

I saw it Saturday & loved it. The action & quick pace made up for the dreadful dialogue (sometimes it resembled Harvey Korman talking to Vicki Lawrence during a Carol Burnette skit). I'll see it plenty more.

Posted by: Ricky at May 23, 2005 12:48 PM

It was about what I expected; not great, some bad dialogue, but satisfying enough. I think the problem people have with Anakin's switch is that it just happens too quickly. One minute he's yelling at Mace Windu to put Palpatine on trial, and then he's kneeling at his Master's feet. It could be believable if you think that once you commit to the Dark Side, it just takes over completely.

Good points about Vader's generally poor decision-making, and the comparison to Temple of Doom (which I think is a pretty underrated film, it's probably not up to the level of Raiders, but it's still damn good. Unfortunately, it's remembered more for being so gross as to create the PG-13 rating.)

Posted by: Devin McCullen at May 23, 2005 5:18 PM

I enjoyed the movie a lot - it's still not as good to me as any of the first three, but it's the best of the prequels by far. The Order 66 sequence, along with the Temple scenes, was painful and unexpectedly effective.

The scene I really wanted to see was a glimpse of Qui-Gon at the end of the movie. It would have been a stronger demonstration of the irony of Anakin's choice - to go with the side that can't beat death but says it can, and leave the side that actually pulls it off. But having Yoda just talk about it was weak.

And for a really geeky point: They play with just how Palpatine would beat death in the comics. I don't know how much Lucas had to sign off on for those stories, but: Palpatine can stay alive by bouncing his mind around from body to body - clones of himself. But the more powerful he becomes, the faster he burns out a new body, and the more painful the transition becomes each time. Eventually he just won't be able to do it anymore. It's another reason he wants to pull Luke over to the Dark Side - as Anakin's son, his power in the Force would make a clone of him powerful enough to last longer.

Yoda should have pounded Palpatine into the ground.

CS

Posted by: Captain Sunshine at May 24, 2005 11:34 PM

Re: Death Star construction

Who's to say that the Death Star in ANH is the one being built at the end of ROTS? Maybe the first few Death Stars self-destructed due to severe over-heating problems that were eventually solved by adding a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port... ;-)

Posted by: AstroBryGuy at June 9, 2005 1:15 AM
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