Ed Driscoll

No Star Wars for Oil

Three years ago, when I saw Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, I was surprised that George Lucas inserted an anti-smoking message (remember the “death sticks” bit near the beginning of the film?) into the middle of a movie set “a long time ago in a galaxy…”, well, you know the drill.

This time around, Craig Winneker, editor of Tech Central Station’s European site, says that Revenge of the Sith is “rife” with “a recurring anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war message. Forget about the merits of the argument in question. This stuff has no place in a Star Wars flick”:

The dialogue in ROTS is rife with distinctly unsubtle references to the current political situation. “This war represents a failure to listen,” Padme laments at one point, before declaring after a vote to give executive power to Chancellor Palpatine: “So this is how liberty dies — to thunderous applause.” The wicked Chancellor, played brilliantly by Ian McDiarmid, talks on and on about “security”, giving it an evilly sibilant S, and about “peace”. As he lures Anakin over to the dark side, telling him what to say in Jedi Council meetings, you wonder if he’s supposed to be Karl Rove. He does, after all, appear to be the smartest man in the movie.

The ultimate reference comes in the climactic duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the planet of Mustafar, which seems to have long ago failed in its struggle against global warming. “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” Anakin shouts to Obi-Wan, who responds: “Only a Sith lord deals in absolutes.” Yes, and so, it would seem, do neo-cons.

Winneker speculates that the inclusion of this material came from a rewrite done by Tom Stoppard, whom Winneker describes as, “a vocal opponent of the Iraq war and recently wrote a dramatic trilogy idealizing the roots of socialism”.

Fortunately, as Winneker says, “The film is exciting enough that I overlooked the few annoying instances when it veered away from its fantasy world and towards today’s front pages”.

Now, Revenge of the Sith will print money for George Lucas, particularly since it’s being promoted as the last Star Wars film (I still think Lucas will eventually make the final trilogy, even if he only executive produces them and lets someone else direct. There’s just too much money to be made.) But it’s funny: the New York Times recently ran an article wondering why Hollywood’s box office is down this year. Could it be because of efforts similar this in so many other films over the last 15 year or so, sure to alienate moviegoers in, what after the 2000 election was dubbed the Red States–flyover country where films need to make the bulk of their money in the US to be a hit–have started to take their toil?

As the Times noted, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven had a surprisingly poor domestic box office showing:

The historical epic about the Crusades, which stars Orlando Bloom and was directed by Ridley Scott, took in just $20 million at the domestic box office, a puny opening for a film that cost about $130 million to make and was supported by a major marketing push. The film was helped by a stronger performance abroad, where it took in $56 million in 93 territories.

To be sure, “Kingdom of Heaven” is not the first swords-and-sandals epic to miss the mark with American audiences; neither “Alexander” nor “King Arthur” nor “Troy” was embraced by audiences in this country last year. Analysts said that the “Crusader” movie’s R rating contributed to its weak opening, along with reviews that declared Mr. Bloom’s performance inadequate.

Even $20 million sounds impressive until you consider that average ticket prices are around $9 in the US, which means that last weekend, only about 222,220 people saw Kingdom, which are far less viewers than Larry King or the average MSNBC show receives in a single night–and neither of those examples are at the top of the scrap for cable ratings.

The R rating doesn’t help: as Michael Medved has pointed out on numerous occasions, “Over the past 30 years, ‘G’ and ‘PG’ material has consistently drawn larger audiences than releases rated ‘R'”. In fact, it’s telling that the highest grossing R rated movie is The Passion.

Or, heck, maybe it was just the poor reviews Kingdom received from the Blogosphere

Update: Speaking of “No Star Wars For Oil”, John Podhoretz has some additional thoughts.