Star Wars III The Revenge of the Sith

Twenty three years later, we have our answer. We now know how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. I wish I could be more excited about it, but Star Wars has never been at the center of my geeky affections. Oh sure, I loved the first one and was at the first showings of Empire and Jedi, but in 1977 when this all started, I was 17, too old to be that influenced by it. Star Trek, which I had found a few years earlier, is closer to my heart.

Nevertheless, I am a geek and since The Phantom Menace came out, I have devoted a great deal of thought as to what has gone wrong with the franchise. The disillusionment actually began with Return of the Jedi and those awful Ewoks. That was the first indication that George Lucas cares more about his merchandising profits than his stories. I think at some point, Lucas decided that kids buy more toys, and Star Wars should be for them. The promised darker tone for the prequel trilogy never really materialized. Phantom Menace is a children’s story; Attack of the Clones stretches to include young adults and Revenge of the Sith…well, lets just say that if Lucus hadn’t begged for a PG-13 rating, he’d have never gotten it. The violence is comic book. There’s no sex or bad language.

It’s not that Revenge of the Sith is bad. It’s easily better than Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones but that’s not saying much. It is not, however, better than Jedi, despite what some other critics are saying. That says a lot about this age of sadly diminished expectations for Star Wars.

Let me point to some good things about Revenge of the Sith first. Star Wars has always been about the visuals, and this one is no less spectacular. There is a look to the architecture and costumes of these films, that while borrowed from from Earth cultures, is pure Star Wars. The effects with a few execptions are state of the art. The only problem is that they are so prevelent and overwhealming that it’s a little numbing. Remember the awe we felt during the chase through the asteroid belt in Empire? This whole film is better technically than that, but there’s nothing with that impact in Revenge of the Sith, simply because we are bombarded with great images throughout the film. Also the scenes in the river of lava do look cheesy. I noticed the same thing in Lord of the Rings. Lava seems to be a problem for the computer graphics animators, especially when combining it with real actors. They had a similar problem with water a few years ago. Maybe when they get lava perfected, Lucas will go back and fix these shots.

What he won’t be able to fix in a few years is the acting and the dialog, both of which are atrocious. Now if you’ve seen a cast list for American Graffiti, you know that Lucas has an eye for talent. He just can’t direct it. This is a story that hinges on Anakin’s decision to go to the dark side, which in turn, hinges on his love for Padme. That moment has zero emotional impact because over two films Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman have never developed an ounce of romantic chemistry.

And George Lucas cannot write dialog. Congress should pass a law banning him from trying. I’m certain the Supreme Court will uphold it, especially if you screened this movie for them.

So, back to the question: what went wrong? The easy answer is ego. George Lucas makes the early Hollywood studio moghuls look about as powerful as mail room clerks, and nobody is going to tell him when he makes a mistake, especially with Star Wars. But I think it’s more complicated than that. What Lucas has wanted to do from the beginning is to recreate early movie serials with modern effects. Bad dialog and acting were staples of those serials. So this may all be a choice. If so, it’s a bad one. Why update just one aspect? If you go to the trouble of hiring A list actors, why not let them ply their trade to the best of their ability? Why not hire screenwriters who can write ringing dialog worthy of the scope of the narrative?

Don’t get me wrong. Star Wars is a monumental creative acheivement, and my voice joins the chorus of those who say George Lucas is a genius. But I think that in the future, most people will only talk about how much better Star Wars could have been.

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