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May 24, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

Saw it Saturday night. I almost wrote, "finally," because even though it had only been out two days, the movie had been announced 28 years ago. Yes, despite it all, despite Jar-Jar Binks and CGI-Yoda and an Attack of the Clones that had enough storyline to fill a 20-minute short, I'm a fan. Now, I don't go around putting cinnamon buns on my head, but I'm a fan.

I liked it. A lot. Was it Return of the Jedi? No. But Lucas effectively used our nostalgia for the old series (sadly heightened by the flubs of the new one) by leaving us off at a familiar place, 20 years before where we were, 28 years ago. It left me wanting to buy a DVD player so I could watch Episodes IV, V, and VI again.

First, everything you've heard about the dialogue is true. The less said, the better, which should have been applied to the script.

Most of what you've heard about the acting is true. Apparently, the Jedi pharmacy stocks lithium, because that pretty much explains Samuel L. Jackson's performance. And Natalie Portman, who, unlike Carrie Fisher, had the sense to make some films in-between Episodes, is given little to do except lie back and think of the franchise. But Ewan MacGregor brings warmth to Obi-Wan, Hayden Christensen wears the struggle on his face, and Ian MacDiarmid is persuasively, chillingly, oleaginously evil.

But finally, mirabile dictu, the plot works! MacDiarmid confuses Anakin with moral relativism, playing on his personal fears and weaknesses to corrupt and subdue him. At the end, Anakin, now Darth Vader, seems more defeated than triumphant. It explains his Emperor toss at the end of Jedi perfectly.

The politics works reasonably well, too. Palpatine's use of a manufactured war as a means to power predates Casear, and Lucas has said he had Hitler in mind when he concocted the story, several decades before Bush II. (A montage of unsuspecting Jedi getting it in the back all over the galaxy reminded me of The Godfather.) A little more backstory here would have helped, but between the 20wenty, the previews, and 140 minutes of revenge, I understand that length became an issue at some point.

Way too much has been made of the "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," line. It's personal, not political, and if the two merge, it's only to remind us that imaginary fears often hold the greatest power.

There's also been a lot of confusion about Obi-Wan's comment that "only the Sith deal in absolutes." I honestly don't see anything here that should set off conservative alarms. Palpatine is palpably evil, yet he uses moral relativism to confuse Anakin, and open his internal, mental doors. Of course he becomes absolutely evil. Of course, he labels the Jedi as such. But his willingness to accept this is only made possible by the denial of evil in the first place. This is an insight conservatives ought to cheer.

So if Lucas the writer and Lucas the director continue to prove the Peter Principle, Lucas the myth-builder can still bring it. In a perfect world, we'd get to see Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, created by Lucas but written and directed by someone else. Lucas at this point it too much enamored of his own "creative freedom" to let that happen, though.

This movie doesn't redeem Phantom or Atatck - nothng could do that -, but it does make a satisfying closing of the circle. To the extent that it feels incomplete, it's in large part because those two movies were so weak that we really didn't care much about the characters. Episodes I and II were disappointing wasted opportunities. I walked out thinking that it completed the original trilogy better than it completed this one.

Posted by joshuasharf at May 24, 2005 09:25 AM | TrackBack

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