Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Well, at midnight on May 19, I finally saw the last Star Wars movie. I saw it again earlier today, so I feel like I've finally been able to process the film enough to write about it. There's going to be spoilers below, so beware.

This wasn't a perfect film, but watching the final scene, I knew that it was right, that things ended the way they should, and the ground was properly paved for the original trilogy. I'd spent a lot of time speculating about how the prequel trilogy would end, and I imagined that it would be with Obi-Wan dropping Luke off with the Lars, and going off into the desert, and that's pretty much how it happened, but the scene itself was gorgeous, and I loved the recall of Luke standing outside watching the two suns setting. It's all cycles, and that moment was the perfect bridge between what had come before and what would come after. The other two films had moments that felt very Star Wars, but this was a Star Wars film through and through.

I had a strange feeling watching the movie, because I had a vague idea of everything that would happen, but to actually see it enacted was strange, I've speculated so much about how certain things would transpire, to finally see them happen was overwhelming. The big moments in the film lived up to the mental image I had created over so many years of anticipation. Obi-Wan defeating Anakin, the emperor taking power, Padme giving birth, it all lived up to my mental image.

The major drive behind this film is Anakin's conflict about his place within the jedi. He always seems an outsider among the Jedi because of his strong emotions. Unlike the other Jedi, he has not been training since birth, he has personal attachments, and these attachments are what cause him problems. The other Jedi would have no need for the powers that Palpatine could give him, because they would have no one that they need to protect. However, Anakin came to the Jedi late, and has attachments, specifically to his mother and Padme. Because of what happened to his mother in AotC, he is extremely protective of Padme, and it is his fear of losing her that drives him to Palpatine.

The thing I liked most about the film was the sheer scope of the events. This is an entire galaxy in trouble, and both the individual lives and the life of the republic are at stake. The best films gnerally revolve around the biggest moments in the character's lives, and these are definitely the most important moments for pretty much every character. And this importance is reflected in the dazzling visuals. The film is gorgeous, and the effects are better integrated into the narrative than in any of the previous prequels.

There's so many great moments, it's difficult to single out stuff. Pretty much everything after "Order 66" is phenomenal, and stuff that I've been waiting to see for a long time. There's an incredible feeling of hopelessness hanging over everything that happens, notably in the Yoda/Emperor fight. Yoda has been built up as such a legend and to see him struggling and ultimately get defeated is harrowing. Respect has to be given to the effects team behind Yoda, because he's utterly convincing, and you really feel for him, particularly as he falls from the senate and climbs out through some tunnels.

Some of the best stuff in the film is the parallels with the original trilogy. The opening sequence gives us the best portrait of the Obi-Wan/Anakin relationship, but also a great revisit of the Emperor/Vader/Luke confrontation in Jedi. The set is designed to resemble it and seeing Anakin give into his anger and kill Dooku lets us know that things are not destined to go well. That fight is also revisited when Mace Windu battles the emperor and we see Anakin save the Emperor, instead of Luke as he does in Jedi.

I think one of the major problems with the film is that there's no clear moment where Anakin goes dark, it just sort of happens. I'm not sure if that was intentional, it does make a point about evil, he doesn't all of a sudden say, "I'm evil," it's just that he keeps having to do more and more morally questionable things in pursuit of his goal.

The whole story is motivated by the fact that everyone around him treats Anakin like a child, except for Palpatine. No one will listen to his fears, Yoda basically says, death is a part of life, so don't worry about it. Palpatine sees his concerns and reaches out to help him, and that's why he ultimately sides with Palpatine over the Jedi. I think through the whole trilogy, he feels constrained by authority, that's his major problem with Jedi, they restrict him from expressing his emotions. Padme stops him from going public with her impending pregnancy. And he sees the senate as something constricting the republic from moving forward. I think a major part of the reason he goes with Palpatine is because he sees it as the best way forward to power. He hopes to lead, with Padme, and give her the chance to do what she wants as a leader. So, when she rejects his outreach, he sees it as Obi-Wan's influence and frustrated, lashes out at her.

One of the best things about the film is the way Lucas makes it so tragic. I think people have been waiting the whole time to see the Jedi fall, but when we finally get there, it's really sad. The montage of Jedi death is really affecting and you get such a sense of betrayal. Similarly, when the Darth Vader suit finally appears, it isn't so much a birth as it is a death. I'd been waiting for the suit for three films, and when it finally appeared, I didn't want him to go in it. It was a sad moment, not cool, and that's an accomplishment.

I love the cutting between the rebirth of Vader and the death of Padme. One of the most interesting things was the scene in which the Emperor tells Vader that he killed Padme. This is why Vader doesn't look for his kids in A New Hope, and it makes things even more tragic. Seeing this, Anakin cannot go back, he has nothing left, and has to embrace the empire, and that's a sad moment. The Emperor has manipulated him all along, told him what he wanted to hear, and at the end, Anakin has no one left, except for him. Ian McDiarmid was great in this movie, particularly in the scene where he tells the story of Darth Plagus.

The other acting was hit or miss. I thought Hayden Christensen was great in pretty much every scene except those with Natalie Portman. Ewan McGregor was excellent and Yoda was phenomenal as well. It was mainly just Natalie who didn't work. I don't know if it's just that she didn't engage with the material, but she was not very good. There's also some issues with the dialogue.

However, I'd rather have a film with these flaws that aims so high than something that doesn't even try. The sheer visual and thematic scope of the film exceeds nearly every other film ever made. So much happens, and it's so emotionally deep, that what the film does overwhelms what it doesn't. Watching the final scene, I felt like the story really was complete, and that's what this film had to do.

George Lucas said that he made the prequel trilogy to show the Star Wars saga is actually the tragedy of Darth Vader, and with this film, he has succeeded in doing that. Anakin never seems evil, he's just misguided and manipulated by everyone around him, and the one person who actually treats him as a person is actually the biggest manipulator of all.

And, it makes the conclusion of the saga even stronger. What Luke does is merge the emotion driven fighting of the Sith with the inherent good of the Jedi. The Jedi in this era are so remove from emotion, they are unable to deal with real world problems. Having been told to ignore his emotions for so long, Anakin can't deal with his problems in this film. At the end of Jedi, Luke draws on his emotions, and Anakin does too. It's his love for Luke that compels him to throw the Emperor into the reactor. The new Jedi will not ignore their emotions, but draw their strength from them, and in that way, Anakin has brought balance to the force.

The Star Wars saga is the greatest story ever told in film. Nothing else ever attempted can match the scale or thematic depth of this series, or the entertainment value. These films show what cinema can do, they inspired a generation of filmmakers, they inspired me and they will inspire many more people in the future.


Mariano said...

What the heck! Have 2 years already passed?!?

The Greatest Story Ever Told.


Patrick said...

It goes really fast, I'm still not used to the idea that the saga is over, the whole story told. I always had those new Star Wars movies out there, but no more. Oh well, say what you will about the prequels, that final moment was fantastic and left me feeling good about the whole enterprise.