The acronym for Revenge of the Sith is “ROTS.” I just wanted to point that out.
So I saw Lucas’s latest tour de Force. For the record, I hadn’t planned to see it for at least a few weeks, being entirely unenthusiastic about the prospect. But as it turned out, my girlfriend was seeing it (not necessarily voluntarily) with the rest of her lab at grad school on opening day; and since I would have found it annoying for her to have seen the film and me not to, I decided to get it over with.
My conclusion? The line I’ve been giving people is, “I don’t like the storyline Lucas went with for the prequels, but if they’d all been like this movie, I wouldn’t hate him so much.” Faint praise, I know. The dialogue is painful–Lucas’s ear isn’t tin, it’s titanium. Several scenes–in particular, anything between star-crossed lovers Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman)–consist entirely of the worst, hoariest cliches in the book.
But there are a number of exciting scenes, and I enjoyed Ian McDiarmid’s hammy-but-effective portrayal of Palpatine, the chancellor and Sith Lord who would be Emperor. But before he can get there, he has to seduce Anakin to the Dark Side, which he does in fairly unconvincing fashion (but for that, I blame the writing and portrayal of Anakin, rather than anything to do with Palpatine).
I’m just glad this whole prequel mess is over. Now, if the united Star Wars Nation can just convince Darth Lucas to release a “Star Wars Classic Edition” DVD set, consisting of the same versions of the original films as seen in the pre-Special Edition VHS set that came out around 1995-6 (or the laserdiscs from the same era), I’ll be all set.
Personally, I’ve always felt that Lucas made a number of wrong decisions from the very beginning. First, the prequels have no Han Solo character. Han was the most human character in the prequels, the Everyman who had no supernatural powers (a la Luke) and wasn’t royalty (a la Leia). He was easy to identify with, and was played by Harrison Ford, an actor with a gift for playing a regular guy in strange worlds. But most of the major characters in the prequels are Jedi–that is, sorcerers and superheroes–so we can hardly identify with them.
Worse, the ostensible protagonist of the films is Anakin Skywalker, a character who, as we know ahead of time, will grow up to be an intergalactic Hitler. I think this was a big mistake. It would have been much wiser to make Obi-Wan Kenobi the hero of the films, and use Anakin as a buddy-turned-antagonist. The prequels should have been about Obi-Wan’s failure, not Palpatine’s boring political machinations and Anakin’s predictable, yet still unconvincing seduction to the Dark Side.
Then there’s Yoda. In the original films, Yoda serves as the archetype of the wise old master, the hermit who lives out in the middle of nowhere. The idea with that sort of character is this: if your instructors have taught you all they can, but think you show promise of more, they send you off to the 900-year-old hermit.
Fine. But what Lucas is asking me to believe is that at the spring chicken age of 880, the Aged Master isn’t out on the mountaintop, but serving as Dumbledore in the School for the Force-Sensitive. I don’t buy it–enjoyable as the Yoda fighting scenes were, I don’t buy it.
Worse, the prequels are loaded with coincidences. It seems everyone in the universe has met R2D2 and C-3PO, despite Kenobi’s line in Star Wars that he doesn’t “recall ever owning a droid” (a line that is now yet another lie, or at the very least, a misleading truth–he knows who Artoo and Threepio are, unless he’s had his memory wiped as well). Oh, and…
…Chewbacca’s met Yoda. Right.
As I’ve gotten older, I have to admit I’ve become a bit less enamoured of Star Wars as a whole, including the original films. Back in 1999, science fiction author David Brin wrote an article called “Star Wars despots vs. Star Trek populists” which I think makes some pretty good points (though, to be fair, I’m not as fond of his Lord of the Rings critique).
Star Wars has been called “science fantasy”–but it’s mostly just fantasy. As several reviewers have pointed out, we’re dealing with a civilization that can cross galaxies in days, but apparently doesn’t possess ultrasound technology. For all its galactic politics and incredible technology, the world of the Republic is no more evolved than that of ancient Rome–and no more morally complex than a Saturday morning cartoon.
That’s fine for a series of fun movies intended to evoke the spirit of the old matinee serials (and you’ll note no one ever harps on the Indiana Jones movies). But for something that has grown to such enormous, bloated cultural significance as the Star Wars franchise, even a fan like me has to admit it’s a bit disconcerting.