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Sith Happens

I made it out to see "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith" yesterday. I went in with conflicting emotions--one the one hand, I’ve been a dedicated Star Wars geek since the I saw the original film, at age 10, in 1977. On the other hand, I remembered only too well the bad taste that "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" left. So you might describe my going the way that Samuel Johnson described second marriage--a triumph of hope over experience.

Something I’ve noticed in all of the recent Star Wars films--all of the last three, plus, I think, "Return of the Jedi" has been George Lucas’s seeming inability to direct actors (as opposed to special effects). It’s amazing how he can take very good actors like Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson (okay, admittedly he didn’t have much to work with in Hayden Christensen, whose on-screen emotions run the gamet from sulking to full-fledged brooding), and get lackluster performances out of all of them. One can almost imagine him, sitting just out of camera range, asking his actors if they can deliver their lines just a little more woodenly.

I guess a lot of it has to do with the stilted dialogue. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I liked the franchise more before all the Force and Jedi mumbo-jumbo got out of hand (here again, this started with "Return of the Jedi"). Consider the original film: a farm boy, a sassy princess, a wisecracking smuggler, some droids and a furry guy for comic relief. Sure, there was Obi-Wan going on about the force, but he was just one character. Plus, he was played by Alec Guinness, and because he was old and British he could pull it off. Nowadays we have Amidala and Anakin sharing tender moments that sound like they come out of 18th century political philosophy. And just once I would’ve liked to see Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Jedi master Mace Windu) drop the hocus-pocus and call Anakin Palpatine’s bitch.

Then there was this little gem. Right in the midst of a lightsaber battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan on the volcanic planet of Mustafarr, the following exchange takes place:

ANAKIN: You are either with me, or you are my enemy.

OBI-WAN: Only a Sith talks in terms of absolutes.

Huh? What was this whole franchise about, if not absolutes? The light side of the force versus the dark side? Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker? The Rebel Alliance versus the Galactic Empire? Indeed, just five minutes after this exchange Obi-Wan tells Anakin that Chancellor (by this time emperor) Palpatine is evil. My wife had to restrain me from standing up in the theater and shouting, "I thought only the Sith spoke in terms of absolutes!"

Okay, but I have to admit it--it was cool seeing Darth Vader in his helmet and armor for the first time. But that may have been because I knew it meant we wouldn’t see any more of Hayden Christensen’s acting.

Discussions - 7 Comments

John, I saw it with Becky and Johnny this weekend and I had the same reaction as you did. I groaned at that exchange, and was mumbling "only a Sith talks in terms of absolutes" all the way to the car. I hope Lucas can be made to be embarrased by this. Fool.

I agree totally with you guys about relativism countering the entire struggle of good and evil. The dialogue is indeed wooden and poorly written. Anakin doesn’t need to yell, "I hate him" over and over again - a good actor could show the emotion. Nevertheless, one compelling thing that I liked about the movie was the inherent chivalry of the movie. While critics have panned the movie a bit for lacking a compelling reason for Anakin turning to the Dark Side, what better motive than to save the woman he loves. There truly was conflict between doing the right thing as a Jedi and trying to save his wife. There was also the classical themes of jealousy, corruption, evil, etc., not to mention some cool saber duels. I thought it a very good movie, or should I say story, despite the acting and annoying lines (whatever Lucas has his character say about absolutes, the struggle between good and evil is there, and present in a way that it was largely absent in the last two films).

It has to be admitted that the new movies look better than the old ones - in the theatre they are just beautiful. Also, the Hong Kong influence in Hollywood - growing since the 70’s, put into overdrive by John Woo, the Matrix, Crouching Tiger, etc in the 90’s, has turned the Star Wars films into full-fledged Kung Fu movies. Lessee...

"My powers are greater than yours" type dialogue? check. Sith vs Jedi techniques? check. Each major character with his own fighting style? check. Wretched dialogue? check. (only you cannot blame the voiceover artist)!! It is eadier to enjoy the movies when you think of them this way!

Good point, wm. It’s worth remembering that Lucas originally drew his inspiration (some would say stole) from Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress.

wow - didn’t know that! I’ll check it out

I must say I was mildly disappointed with Revenge of the Sith for numerous reasons, probably the biggest being that I am a Star Wars geek and expected this one to finally live up to the hype.

1. The whole thing on absolutes. If Lucas was trying to make a point about the President, he did an absolutely awful job of it. Sure, Anakin mutters the line, but Palpatine is the most nuanced politician in the film. He speaks of good being only "a point of view." Meanwhile, Mace Windu has the chance to arrest Palpatine and chooses to try and kill him instead. If that’s not a study in the contrast of absolutes, I don’t know what is.

2. Yoda didn’t so much as lose his fight than he did just give up. Along those same lines, Palpatine is supposed to be the very shadow of ruthless evil itself, but comes across, at least in the fight, as an Emperor Ming type of character out of Flash Gordon.

3. Anakin reacts to finding out about Sidious/Palpatine with remarkable calm. Again, along those same lines, rather than tell Windu in despair about what he has found out, he passes along the information like he was giving out a bus schedule.

4. No dialogue from Anakin/Vader when he kills the folks on Mustafar. At least in the book it makes clear, through dialogue, the extent of his evil and the obvious pleasure he is taking in being able, at last, to be free from the constraints of the jedi.

5. General Grevious came across as weak. I wouldn’t have feared him since the movie gave me litle reason to.

6. The lightsaber fight. The mid part was great. However, the beginning, where Padme merely grabs her throat and Obi Wan calmly walks down the ramp of the ship was absurd. Wouldn’t it have been better to scream at Anakin to stop as he tightens his grip. Then, as Obi Wan shouts again, "Anakin, release her," he yells, "That name no longer has any meaning for me." Obi Wan then rushes on and the great duel begins. And the ending, where Obi Wan blandly proclaims, "It’s over - I’ve got the high ground," was pretty pathetic. A better way, in my ever-so-humble opinion, would have been for them to have been fighting along a metal scaffolding high atop the lava. Vader drives back Obi Wan, thinking he is about to win. As he moves to strike the killer blow, Obi Wan flips over Vader’s head and cuts the scaffolding, causing the fall(maybe Anakin could have dropped his lightsaber by then and Obi Wan catches it with the force).

7. There was no mention of the initial formation of the Rebel Alliance. Mon Mothma wasn’t even in this one, and that bit of political intrigue - how to prepare rebellion while appearing to stay loyal - would have been cool to see.

8. Finally, the Frankenstein bit at the end when he comes off the table was too stilted and made Vader look less like a villain and more like a schmuck who had been duped.

Yes, as you can see, I’ve given much thought to how this could have been a MUCH better movie. Hopefully you don’t think I’m too much of a geek, but if so, so what?

The so-called "wooden dialogue" of STAR WARS has been around since the first movie in 1977. Now, after 28 years, you have a need to complain about it now? How chicken shit!

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