Ed Driscoll

"He Killed...Younglings!"

I just got back from a midnight showing of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. The last half-hour was as thrilling a piece of filmmaking as I’ve seen. The special effects throughout are staggering. Visually, this is a stunning and utterly believable universe.

…And it’s all largely for naught, because everything John Podhoretz wrote in his damning review for The Weekly Standard is true: like the other two Star Wars prequels, the dialogue (such as the line in this post’s title) is wooden and inert, the acting only more so, and only the lighting fast pacing manages to mask those sins–and then only slightly.

Podhoretz really hit the nail on the head, here:

Back in 1977, we were told in the original Star Wars that Darth Vader “was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force”–that Vader had become a villain because he had been consumed by a lust for power, so that he could boss people around, blow up planets, and, generally speaking, control the universe. Like all great villains, the Darth Vader we saw in the first Star Wars actually loved being a bad guy. He enjoyed being able to choke annoying underlings by pinching his thumb and forefinger together. He relished his swordfight with his old mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. He didn’t even mind slicing his own son’s hand off (in the second film) just to prove a point.

But the Darth Vader we see at the end of Revenge of the Sith hasn’t been seduced. He’s been tricked. He’s not a villain. He’s a schmuck.

And what of George Lucas? He is, by leagues, the most commercially successful moviemaker in history. Forget the billion-plus dollars he has earned from the Star Wars movies. Industrial Light & Magic, the special-effects firm he began with his Star Wars profits, grosses $1 billion per year.

But what happened to the director who made the thrilling mood piece American Graffiti, that deceptively casual account of a bunch of teenagers in a California town in 1962 hanging out on the last summer night before the school year begins? What happened to the guy who revolutionized science fiction by making an outer-space adventure that managed to be cheerful, exciting, and lighthearted?

The tragedy of George Lucas is that he made billions of dollars, and all it did was turn him into a drag.

The audience in the theater I saw it in, in a San Jose suburb, was filled with at least two geeks in full Darth Vader regalia, a pony-tailed fellow in his mid-30s wearing Obi-Wan’s khaki and brown robes, and someone in an orange X-Wing pilot’s uniform, and helmet. In addition, several who weren’t otherwise in costume brought their own plastic D-cell powered light sabers.

They were let into the theater at 9:30 PM–they waited a full two and a half hours for the film to begin. When the lights went down, and the trailers were over (quick prediction: based on the audience’s reaction, this film will print money for Disney at Christmastime), they roared at not just the LucasFilm logo, but the 20th Century Fox logo, and even the THX Sound logo. And then they really went crazy when the screen went black and the magic “A Long Time Ago” words and the Star Wars logo appeared.

When the last shot faded out and “Written And Directed By George Lucas” appeared in that familiar blue typeface, they clapped, somewhat perfunctorily and politely.

The first Star Wars, in 1977, was a fun little hot rod of a movie, appearing in the middle of a decade worth of great, but typically dark, cynical films. The majority of this film creaked and stumbled as badly as Darth Vader’s first steps when he emerges in his black mask and costume at the climax of the film.

To borrow from James Lileks’ riff on Episode II, this film didn’t entirely suck. But if it didn’t carry the Star Wars name, its reels would have been quickly tossed into the same volcano that dominates and fuels its last 30 minutes–and quite deservedly so.

It pains me to write such a cynical take–and yet, these three prequels are so far removed from the tone and the fun of their predecessors from ’77 to ’83 that it’s sad.

The 1977 edition of Star Wars was eventually subtitled “Episode IV: A New Hope”. The largely inert Episode III I saw tonight gives that phrase new meaning.

Update: For an alternate view, the ending of Episode III was powerful enough for Will Collier of VodkaPundit to have loved the rest of the film, writing, “In a word,
‘Wow.'” and “At long last, this really is the one we’ve been waiting for.”

Will makes a great point here, something I should have included in my post (but hey, it was 3:15 in the morning when I wrote it):

the alleged Bush-bashing stuff has been completely overblown. Trust me on this one. If you get offended by this movie on political grounds, you probably also go into a frothing rage when the car in front of you turns on its left-turn signal. If it weren’t for the dumb press coverage, you wouldn’t even notice the supposed “controversial” bits.

I think a few of the lines still would have symbolically kicked me in the ribs even without the earlier reviews, but all-in-all, the symbolism in Episode III is pretty minor stuff–Fahrenheit 9/11, it ain’t.

Update (5/20/05): Welcome InstaPundit and Slate readers!