Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Reflections on Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Standing in the line at the theatre, I overhear the ticket clerk asking the guy in front of me “For what movie?”
“I’m finally going to see Star Wars Episode 3,” the guy replies.


At midnight tonight it will only have been a week since Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith was released. I mention the man’s foible to Jenica as we take our seats, but upon reflection, wonder if maybe the word finally was more in reference to how long people who saw Star Wars back in 1977 have been waiting to see the roman numerals preceding the Episode IV: A New Hope.

As a kid I had no concept that the original Star Wars was episode "anything." It was just Star Wars, and I loved it. In my youthful zeal, I collected the cards, the comics, the action figures. I helped bankroll the other films. In so doing, I also learned the origin of Darth Vader. I don’t remember when the revelation came, but I know that by the time Empire Strikes Back was released, we knew that Darth ended up in the suit as the result of an apocalyptic lightsaber battle with Obi Wan Kenobi. The overactive imagination of a creative child wondered at what Darth really looked like under the mask, and what had lead him to become this terrible villain.

I know that’s what I would mean by the word finally. As the 20th Century Fox logo came up and John Williams’ iconic fanfare blared out through technology whose legacy is wrapped up in the history of these films, I pondered that this is finally it. As Darth Vader said to Obi Wan in Star Wars, “The circle is now complete.” It’s been nearly 30 years since I first heard that music and saw that logo. There’s a sense of history here, and I took a moment to reflect upon it.

For my sister and father, there is also a "finally, we get to hear what Mike thinks." We took the Star Wars journey together; our whole family enjoyed the films, but we were the trio who could mimic Yoda and act out the scene where Luke first meets the wizened Jedi Master on Dagobah. I thought of them both many times as I watched the movie, wishing they were there with me. So I’m dedicating this article to the two of them.
So finally then. What did Gotthammer think of George Lucas’ final offering in the Star Wars’ saga?
First off, I’ll say that I enjoyed it. I loved the opening with a massive space battle, something sorely missing from Episode II. The first ten minutes were great fun, before the film settled into the more serious business.

The movie exists in two acts, and while the aforementioned opening of Act I was superb, the remainder vacillated between some of the best moments in the prequels, to the same sort of superfluous action that dominated Attack of the Clones.

The first act concerns the seduction of Annakin to the dark side of the Force; in short, visions of Padme dying in childbirth drive the young Jedi to acquiesce to Palapatine’s offer of power through the dark side. On the surface, this works really well. In fact, if Annakin was the same Jedi we’d left off with in Episode II, I’d have bought it. But the motivation seems strained, given that he’s a really obedient and noble Jedi in most respects. Sure, he’s still angry and headstrong, but he’s not really a bad guy. The transformation from Annakin to Vader was a little too swift, and not entirely convincing for my taste. Even if his action to save Palpatine could be justified as being in the heat of the moment, his subsequent decision to swear allegiance to the flag of the Emperor felt, pardon the pun, forced. I think there were really two films here, and Lucas could have used a lot of it in Clones.

Thankfully, the second act is ushered in with such visual strength that we forget completely that Annakin was ever a good guy, that he used to be a cute kid who pod-raced on Tatooine, or that he ever told Obi Wan that he was thankful for all his teaching. Herein lies Lucas’ trump card: like David Lynch, Lucas excels at making great images, not stories: I wondered if, between the scene where Annakin and Padme are shown awash in a palette of warm colors watching the sun set on Coruscant, and the montage of the Jedi massacre, Lucas wouldn’t have done better with no dialogue whatsoever in this film. The movie is often at its strongest when we’re left with nothing but the image and John Williams’ soundtrack, which blends the best themes of the prequels and original films to masterpiece effect.

If all there was to Sith was the second act, it would be a ten. Once Annakin becomes Vader, the film never falters. The questions of motivation are laid aside as the movie begins to gain inertia towards the inevitable. My objections to lack of motivation are cast aside given the Wagnerian scope of the final battles, primarily between Obi Wan and Vader.

I don’t know that I could say I love this film. How can you love a film where the hero will shortly be a villain? I’m not sure I love any of the prequels like I love the original trilogy. But there have been elements about them I love, and that remains true here as well. I love Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi, a combination of the heroic youth from Episode I and the wise old man Alec Guinness immortalized. I love Ian McDiarmad as the Emperor, serpentine and deadly. I love the way General Grievous foreshadows Vader, and I loved how dangerous a villain he was, triple the threat Count Dooku ever was, or while we’re on the subject, Boba Fett.
There are still many things to pick at, but that has been part of the Star Wars legacy since Return of the Jedi for me. Anyone who’s been subjected to my tirade on Ewoks will know what I’m talking about. At the end of the day, it’s George Lucas’ movie, and while I didn’t like everything on the tour, I have to say the journey was well worth it.

I wasn’t as sad as I thought I’d be at the end, which is Lucas’ bow to us as fans at curtain call. Following the entombment of Annakin within the death’s head mask of Darth Vader, we are given a vision of the Death Star under construction, foreboding the “dark times” Obi Wan will one day speak of to Luke. But then, in all the digital glory that ILM can muster, we see doomed Alderaan, where the Organas cradle an infant Leia. We are then treated to what is the most powerful homage to the original film the prequels provided. When Obi Wan leaves Luke with Owen and Beru, they are standing in the same spot Luke stands at the outset of Star Wars, watching the Twin Suns of Tatooine set.

For me, this was more than just a film experience; it’s a reflection upon my life, from the first time I saw Star Wars in a theater in Penticton BC in the summer of 1977, followed by the days when I imagined myself as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, playing in my living room while the soundtracks spun on the turntable; of standing outside the theater in Medicine Hat with my sister, waiting to get in for our eleventh viewing of Empire; of reading the comics and books; growing up and growing a little distant, the toys sold and the comics lost, until my college roommate watched Empire Strikes Back nearly every day for a month, and spoke Wookie to a cashier at McDonald’s; until the Special Editions were released in theatres and I sat beside a woman who’d never seen Star Wars before, granting me a window I’d never had into how funny the droids are, or how gripping the story is. Of flying an X-wing of my own, playing Rogue Squadron on the N64, staying up late with friends to get the knack of flying a snow speeder around an AT-ATs legs in order to bring them down. Of seeing Episode I and experiencing some of that initial excitement all over again as an adult; disappointed with moments during the prequels, but glad to have the franchise back. And now, at the end of the road, looking back, I realize that for my generation, we can probably tell you what year it was by which Star Wars movie we were seeing that year.

I think that’s why many of us will love Revenge of the Sith, not necessarily because we love the movie itself, but because we love where the story has taken us. Being at the end of a journey means you can look back on it, and say, "Finally."

So, kudos, and thanks George. It’s been a great journey.

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