Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ends and Beginnings

A large, waxing gibbous moon sinks into the horizon. It is framed by the two bare flagpoles that during the day would fly the Dartmouth Green and the Stars and Stripes. Above it, there is an overhanging bough, buds freshly blossoming to hail the coming of Spring to Hanover. It is 2:30 AM, and I am walking back to my dorm. Along with five hundred odd people, I have just come from the final Star Wars movie.

Warning: Massive Spoilers Ahead. I mean massive. Don't read this until after you see the movie. Otherwise, you'll read it and come hunt me down, because I'm going to tell you everything.

I had fought with myself about whether or not to see this movie at midnight. On one hand, I found Attack of the Clones eminently disappointing, for reasons that I have articulated to most people who know me. For those who do not: Natalie Portman cannot act, George Lucas cannot write. Nuff Said.

But finally, I had to see Revenge of the Sith on opening day. Or opening midnight as it might be. I had to because Star Wars occupied so much of my adolescence, whether it was the head of my Jedi Apprentice getting blown off on the first day of a pen-and-paper RPG campaign, or the feel of the remastered versions in the theaters, or playing Dash Rendar in an N64 video game, or reading the multitude of books. I will never, ever, again have the time or the desire to see a movie at midnight on opening day. No other work of literature, no sequel, no original screenplay, no actor or actress can get me that worked up.

And when the sparkling Lucasfilm logo came up on the screen (after only ONE preview, I might add), I knew again that Lucas, despite his many trespasses which are too many to list, still has an effect on me. The force, if you will.

The spoilers really start here, by the way.

First, my rating: Out of 4 stars, I'll give it a 2.9. I can't in good conscience give it a 3.

The title crawl was a bit disjointed, as I've lampooned before.

And the opening space battle, while exhilirating and impressive on a technical scale, is extremely confusing to any viewer. I actually think a computer programmed to "enjoy" a CGI scene would like it better than most human viewers simply because it could process it faster.

I could also tell from the very beginning one specific problem I would have with this movie.

None of the ordinary human characters draw any empathy from the viewer. I knew this from the instant Red Squadron lined up behind General Obi-Wan and some of them started getting killed. In the first trilogy, there were normal contrasts to the superhuman heroes and archetypes represented by Luke, Leia, Han and Obi Wan. We had Biggs for a scene, Wedge Antilles, even Mon Mothma. Heck we even had Porkins. He was . . the Pork. There are none of those individuals in this movie, and it's a jarring lack. This is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of soldiers are clones or droids.

Moving along, another immediate impulse you will recieve regards the repetitive nature of the film. Whether it is Obi Wan repeating lines from the first trilogy, or the familiar look of a Star Destroyer, Rebel Blockade Runner, X Wing, Tie Fighter or Advance Transport, it's all there. I suppose they wanted to establish some continuity, especially because it seems strange technology would have regressed between Episodes 3 and 4, but it's a bit much.

It seems a bit much especially considering where continuity is broken. For instance, there is no suggestion of how Chewbacca, who owed Han a life debt and was his first mate in the first trilogy, was before a leader on Kashyyk and KNEW Yoda. Yoda's line "Miss you, I will, Chewbacca," is possibly the most confusing line in the entire movie. Other instances of continuity include Leia's memory of her mother, R2-D2's mad l33t skills, and others.

To some extent, the extensive self-referencing does work though. Hardcore Star Wars fans will analyze the color of the lightsabers, the lines that characters repeat, Padme's ear danishes (does she don a skull cap in one scene?), the planets mentioned, the characters mentioned by other characters, etc. etc. etc., ad nauseum. I was actually surprised Ackbar wasn't in this movie, or any other Mon Calamari. Or Bothans for that matter.

Many Bothans died to bring you this review.

I'll preview some of the more random references at the end of the review. But a lot of it really falls flat, especially the dialogue.

Oh, the dialogue. Everyone will say "Oh, Lucas can't write. Empire Strikes Back is the best film because it wasn't written or produced by Lucas." And to a certain extent, it's true. His rehashed lines rarely work, except to elicit knowing laughs, and his original lines often garner laughter when there's not supposed to be laughter.

The dialogue between Anakin and Padme continue to be stilted and leaden, to the extent that the audience was often laughing at their banter. Their most effective scene together actually occurs when they aren't in the same room and neither of them are speaking. This is the extent to which this relationship simply does not work in this film.

As for other writing, Lucas just forgets the whole "show, don't tell" thing, and lets his characters lay it all out on the line. Obi Wan has several lines like "Oh, drat" or "Oh, that was close." Before their final duel begins, Obi Wan and Anakin have this exchange (pardon the paraphrase)

Obi Wan: Palpatine is EVIL!
Anakin: No, to me, the JEDI are EVIL!
Obi Wan: I ain't evil, B
Anakin: You steppin', B? Come get some.

In retrospect, my version sounds better than Lucas'.

And the conversation between Darth (newly anointed in his Dark Armor) and Palaptine is really bad. For one reason.

Palpatine: She died, Anakin. You killed her. (Or something like that)

At times, Lucas has horrible timing when it comes to comedy. Little droid noises and little droids intrude on the most inopportune moments. Droids falling apart are his version of physical comedy, to replace Jar Jar, and it really doesn't work. At all.

I was also surprised by the shoddy editing in this movie. Some scenes looked like they were added at the last minute. There is a scene between Anakin and Palpatine that just pops onto the screen almost randomly, nearly breaking your cinematic standards, like the 180 degree rule. Other scenes are superfluous, like a ten second shot of Anakin looking angry and snarling on Mustafar, the volcano planetoid thingy.

And the action scenes. They would have been well done if they had stayed away from extreme closeups. The shots tend not to be as close as the beginning of the Anakin/Dooku duel in Ep II, but they're longer and closer than they should be in this movie. It gives a very disorienting strobe-like effect, and I could hear people murmer "what the heck is going on?" during certain scenes.

You might ask yourself - "after all this, why would he give this movie nearly three stars out of four?"

Well, plenty of the movie does work. The CGI shots are pretty, as are the landscapes. I actually think the best landscape is the last shot, which I believe is only partially CGI. And that's more because of the memory it calls up, if anything.

The light/dark imagery also works, despite being heavy handed. Watch the shadows on Anakin especially; Lucas actually does some excellent work lighting this movie the way he wanted to.

And of course, you will find yourself remembering the old trilogy, and loving this movie for it. Sometimes, the images are just too good. The silence as Darth Vader's mask descends on him, and when you hear the familiar rasping breath is simply stunning. As I just mentioned, the last shot, a twin sunset on Tatooine, is without a doubt the best ending/beginning this movie could have asked for.

The dialogue in this movie is somehow better than that of Ep II. Obi-Wan does have some crap lines, and one really silly conversation, but for the most part, Ewan McGregor sells Obi-Wan very well. At one point near the end, Obi-Wan is screaming at Anakin, who he has just defeated and is in the process of sliding down into some lava. And you hear convincing emotion as Obi-Wan yells "You were my brother! I loved you!". Actually, that "I love you" is by far the best one of this trilogy, possibly of all six films. I say that because the whole "I love you", "I know" thing between Han and Leia was cheesier, although not excessively so.

I do have to admit that Padme gets one decent line, and she delivers it well. But it comes after her worst line of the movie, which is a pity.

Worst Line: "Anakin, you're breaking my heart!" - a good example of Lucas telling and not showing.

Best Line: "You're walking down a road and I can't follow you!" - despite being a little cliche, this one works, and is actually poignant. Too bad most of the audience was laughing at the last line to hear this one.

Besides the dialogue and the CGI, the movie does succeed in one other large respect.

Although his reason for turning to the Dark Side was a little silly (he wants to save Padme from dying during childbirth, and he doesn't sense that she's carrying more than one child?), the turning itself is effective. This is partially because Lucas has him butcher all the little kiddy Jedi, which is plain old audience manipulation, but again, it works. You don't look at Anakin the same way after that.

In addition, the execution of the Jedi, the short vignette style of the executions does work. It's emotional, it's tragic, and it works for the film.

To a large extent, this film was easy to butcher and easy to get right at the same time. Lucas managed to do both to some extent.

But the worst thing I see in this film, the reason I cannot give it three stars, or my full endorsement, or even my partial blessing, is because of George's attitude towards women.

I know, I know. It's a movie. It's popcorn. It's sci-fi. But Jesus H. Christ, Lucas went from Leia, who shot people and did things and looked damn fine doing it, to Padme, who didn't really do anything, who can't help Anakin, and still looks pretty doing it. Neither one is the epitome of a feminist ideal, perhaps, but Leia was independant, while Padme is stereotypical.

Near the end of the movie, Padme goes to find Anakin and Obi-Wan sneaks on board. She brings C-3PO, who says in the cockpit "Gee, I'm getting the hang of this flying thing." She can't fly a damn plane and has to leave it up to a protocol droid? My, I like that stereotype. Even in the future, women can't drive.

And worse, she "loses her will to live?" This is the reason the MEDICAL DROID gives for not being able to save her. That's why she dies? Some faux-depressive bout with lost love? She fades and wilts away like a delicate flower? NO WAY. She even says to Obi-Wan with her last breath - "There's some . . . good . . in . . . him." Damn it bitch, you don't give up if your hubby turned to the dark side and he STILL HAS GOOD IN HIM. What's that say about you, huh? Luke doesn't abandon his father, because he senses the good in Vader. But you abandon Anakin despite sensing this? I couldn't take that. It was just too much. The "weakness thy name is woman" works in other ways too.

In Empire Strikes Back, Luke senses his friends in danger. And despite Yoda's warnings that his training is not complete and that it is a trap, he goes off anyway, finds out his parentage, and loses his hand. But all's well that ends well there. It's a rite of passage.

For Anakin in Ep III, he senses his wife in danger, turns to the Dark Side, and slaughters the Jedi. You might say it's because he turns to the Dark Side to try to accomplish this, but there seems to be a large shift there, in terms the legitimacy of loyalty versus the legitimacy of love. That made me very uncomfortable, especially because Lucas made it such an obvious dichotomy.

This is another thing to look out for - A or B. Lucas often presents you with image A and image B. One is good, the other is bad. One is going up, the other down. Etc. Etc. For a movie that professes "Only the Sith deal in Absolutes," Lucas deals in a whole lot of absolutes.

Ok, that's that. Now, some weird, kind of fun stuff to look out for.

Check out the Twilek honey that dressed like J-Lo at the Grammy Awards. Damn Gina.

Who's the woman/androgynous thing with Palpatine? His wife? Because in that case, I understand why he turned to the dark side.

Ok, Nute Gunray and the other Separatists start the movie with weird, dub-sounding American accents. Then they switch back to the Chinese/Taiwanese accent. This was really strange to me.

Apparently, early hyperspace works in similar ways - Cowboy Bebop, meet Episode III. This isn't exact. Just something I noticed.

If I were Boba Fett, I wouldn't have gone bounty hunter because Mace Windu cut off my dad's head. No, I would have done it because all the clone soldiers WERE my dad. I think that would present some serious issues to a kid.

Some reviewers have complained that the movie is too sanitary - by that, they mean no one shits, drinks, eats, etc. etc. Well, Luke did come from a moisture farm, and there is plenty of eating in the first trilogy, but check this out.
I don't know if this is true, but when Obi-Wan slips onto Padme's spacecraft (sounds dirty already), does he hide himself in the fricking bathroom? It honestly looked to me like an airplane bathroom. Maybe he was hoping for some action from Padme - the Parsec Club or something like that. Dude, she was still pregnant. That's kinky.

Check out Padme's funeral - ignore the fact that Padme is reduced to a still symbol, blah blah, misogyny. I already talked about that. Check out the queen. That's whatsherface from the Whale Rider movie - Keisha Castle Hughes.

Near the end, Senator Organa tells a certain Antilles (can't be Wedge, must be his dad) to take the droids, and have 3P0's memory wiped. Now, is this actually an Extended Universe reference? Because I think it is. Can't remember though. Huh.

Check out the credits. Wait for a while. There's a credit to Javva the Hut after the Key Grips and stuff. Even the coffee gophers get slick titles when they work for Lucasfilm.

Another credit - is one of the characters played by one of Lucas' children? Jett Lucas? I seriously think so.

So in conclusion, that's it for me and the Star Wars universe. I can't decide if it's a clean break or if I'll go back and watch this one again. A real clean break would be not watching the old ones again either, and excising references to Star Wars from my daily vocabulary. We'll see.


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