(Wherein I finally get around to doing what all good nerds with blogs do: Reviewing Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.)
As you may have guessed from the name of this site, I consider myself to be something of a nerd. I have a lengthy résumé to back this up: I play role-playing games, I enjoy science fiction and fantasy novels, the best movie I’ve seen in the past year is Batman Begins. That being said, I have a few qualities that count against my official nerd status, as well. I am a big fan of football (Bear Down!), and I am married to a woman who is quite hot.
Perhaps my greatest transgression from nerdhood (Nerddom? Nerdism?) is the fact that I did not see Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith until last night. And worst of all, I was disappointed.
No, not disappointed. Depressed.
Like, well, pretty much every American male in my demographic, I grew up on Star Wars. The original film was the first movie my parents ever took me to. I had a bazillion toys. Star Wars did not just spark my imagination; it made me realize there was such a thing as imagination, and gave me my first ideas of just what could be done with it. Of course I developed other passions over the course of my childhood (most notably Legos and G.I. Joe, and later baseball and football), but Star Wars is where it all began.
Part of the thrill, for me, was the back-story. Before Star Wars it did not occur to me that fictional characters might have had lives before the events of the story. (Please keep in mind I was three years old when the first Star Wars movie came out.) But my mind reeled at the notion that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader knew each other, had been close friends, and had a falling-out so catastrophic that it led to a climactic duel brutal enough to put one in a permanent life-support suit and send the other into a twenty-year exile on a planet made of sand.
As the second and third films of the series appeared, more tantalizing details floated up from the mists of the past. Is there anyone who doesn’t remember the first time they witnessed the jaw-dropping, pants-crapping moment when Vader told Luke they could fit into each other’s genes? ‘Cause that meant … Darth Vader had sex! Probably with a chick!
Okay, that last bit actually didn’t occur to me until a few years later. But still, I mean, who was Luke and Leia’s mother? How did she fit into the story?
And then, of course, there is the whole history of the Empire, and the Rebellion, and the Clone Wars, and the extermination of the Jedi, and the Sith. These were all nebulous concepts, shelves to be filled in by my own imagination.
Did I stay up nights, wondering about the minute details of Darth and Obi-Wan’s first duel? Or did I ponder the role Vader played in the Emperor’s rise to power? Yeah, probably. I was that much of a dork. I don’t really remember, though. What I do remember is a handful of images, drawn completely by my own brain that managed, incomplete though they were, to create an entire history of the universe George Lucas invented. And it was all for me. The fact that I got to fill in the blanks, that Lucas left pages for me to fill in with whatever my prepubescent imagination could think of, made the entire experience of Star Wars that much more personal for me.
First off, let us briefly discuss the two previous “prequel” films, Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Most of us can agree that, a few interesting moments aside, these are not good movies. Rumors abound on the Internet of fan-edited versions of these films that are superior to the official studio edits. I’d give a kidney to see one of those. However, both of these movies can be dismissed as irrelevant, because neither of them addressed the specific plot points that I had dreamed about for the last twenty-odd years. Instead they focused on characters no one had heard of before (like Qui-Gon Jinn and Jar Jar Binks), or storylines that had not been introduced before (like the Trade Federation and Count Dooku’s separatist movement). As a result, I was able to give them a pass (barely) because they were essentially new stories that took place in the same universe.
Of course, that meant that everything had to go into this, the last installment of the series. Frankly, the finished product could not come close to living up to the cloudy, faded pictures in my head.
Almost like adding insult to injury, the movie starts with probably the single most brilliant shot in the entire series. The camera moves from the opening scroll down to a massive ship–obviously an early version of a Star Destroyer. As we glide in closer to the ship, two small fighters appear, and the camera shifts to follow them as they zoom across the body of the larger vessel. The camera slides gracefully into an overhead shot, and we see the two fighters drop into the midst of a massive space battle taking place in the skies above the city-planet of Coruscant. We follow the fighters as they zip through the fight, and gradually the camera closes in on one of the small ships. Our point of view moves slowly to the front of the fighter. Glare from the sun obscures our vision for a moment, but then the fighter moves into the shadow of the planet. The glare disappears to reveal the pilot, Anakin Skywalker.
The whole sequence probably takes about a minute and a half, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider it is one continuous shot. Absolutely brilliant.
After that, unfortunately, we get one letdown after another. You’ve heard all the usual complaints: Bad acting blah blah worse writing blah. To that I say: Meh. Neither the acting nor the writing is as bad as Clones, which is by far the worst of the bunch, or even Phantom. Which is not to say it is good, because it’s not.
The scenes between Anakin (Hayden Christiansen) and Padmé (Natalie Portman) are not poorly written so much as over-written. If they would just shut up once in a while, we might take them seriously as lovers. In fact, the only scene in which I actually felt any spark between them in this movie (or any of the movies) takes place with the two characters in separate locations, saying nothing at all. And then C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, written in for no reason other than you can’t have a Star Wars movie without this character) blunders in and ruins the moment.
Ian McDiarmid has probably the most enjoyable performance as Chancellor, and later Emperor, Palpatine. He seems to appreciate more than the other actors that the green-screen is a stage filled with scenery meant to be chewed upon. Unfortunately throwing the character into fight scenes decreased the authority and menace he exuded throughout the film.
My biggest complaint, however, would have to be the final duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan. This is the moment I had been waiting for my whole life. I was … so … disappointed. The problem lay in the editing. For reasons passing comprehension, Lucas opted to inter-cut an entirely pointless fight between the Emperor and Yoda with this scene. All I could think was, “What the hell?” Why would you do that? This is only the one moment that your entire film series has been working toward. Everything was focused on this one scene. Why would you cut it off at the knees by cutting over to a fight between an old man and a muppet? (Yeah, I know, Yoda’s not a muppet anymore. My point is that while his crazy Tasmanian Devil fighting style was cool briefly in Episode II, now it’s just silly.)
So, now I’m depressed. I realize now that the reason I put off seeing the movie for so long is that I wanted to avoid this exact feeling. I’m depressed because it’s over, but mostly I’m depressed because I don’t get to play make-believe anymore. I’ll have to get a new hobby.