Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith (a.k.a. Revenge of The Really Bad Hair)...
(Warning: mild spoilers ahead.)
STAR WARS III
I succumbed to the Dark Force this past Victoria Day long weekend and actually sat through the third, and last (or so they say, although Star Wars Epidose 0 is rumoured to be in the works, I kid you not), installment of the gajillion dollar franchise that is Star Wars. The teaser trailers back in what seems like January, and the commercials on my television, did nothing to titillate me as they clearly did a lot of people. I just didn't see the hype.
Now, there is tons of hype surrounding Star Wars. Just say the name and people will go out, buy ridiculous hairy costumes, all in the name of authenticity and bad Chewbacca impressions. They're the hardcore fans, of which I am clearly not a part. Just trying to talk shop to them might prompt an eye roll or a punch in the face for my clear ignorance on the whole thing. Rather than purposely injuring myself by testing this theory out, I often choose to stay mum on the subject. This also applies to The Lord of the Rings, and most superhero films.
Growing up, I adored the older Star Wars. The fantasy, the romance, the action…it flowed from the screen effortlessly. It was the epic to end all epics, and each episode was a creation in its own right. I didn't see the films in their initial release, but in my youth I spent many afternoons watching it on my local station's Saturday At The Movies. The campiness and inferior effects weren't a problem; in my humble opinion, it only added to the atmosphere of the films. Star Wars wasn't ambiguous like the more recent films The Woodsman or Monster - there were the good guys, and the bad guys, and you always knew who you were rooting for. Luke Skywalker was like the rest of us, essentially: searching for the good while being surrounded by the bad.
And then George Lucas came and crapped all over it. Now, I'm not as familiar with Lucas as I am with other directors, but I do know that he likes to wear plaid shirts, has a bazillion dollars and holes himself up on a cajillion-acre ranch, where he keeps animators and designers locked up in the basement to do his bidding. Everything is true except for the last part, which I made up. There was a skit on Madtv once, where Alex Borstein played Barbara Walters visiting Lucas' ranch, and Lucas rode around in a golf cart and took her to lunch at McDonald's, where they went Dutch and he kept pawing at her fries. So, my knowledge of Lucas? Not great. My Internet research leads me to interviews by American Cinematographer and Wired. Just as the third installment of this franchise is fantastically glorified, so are these technical interviews fantastically going over my head. Lucas is a visionary; Lucas is prophetic - these are the things that I am supposed to gain from these articles (and I do, as I've always thought of Lucas as being a very influential filmmaker). So I jump over to the Internet Movie Database for a crash course in Lucas-ology: he dated Linda Ronstandt; rather than use one of his trillion-dollar computers, he opts to write in longhand in a loose-leaf binder like he's Virginia Woolf; he refuses to put critics' quotes on his movie posters; he disowned Howard the Duck (which he executive produced) after the film's release; and apparently, he once said, "From being a struggling, starving filmmaker to being incredibly successful in a period of a couple of years is quite a powerful experience, and not necessarily a good one." Alas, if you substitute "filmmaker" with "Jedi knight," it almost seems as though Lucas is doing a plug for Episode III.
As the film begins, the familiar black screen appears as the old school, Photoshopped Star Wars logo flashes across the screen. And then the scrolling writing, to catch us up to speed. There's something about the kidnapping of a Chancellor and the evil Count Dookoo, and I am already lost. I know they are pivotal characters in Episode I and Episode II, but I am still trying to keep the hobbits' names straight, so I forget. The writing keeps scrolling, although it is barely legible by the time the last sentence appears on the screen.
The film opens with an incredible galaxy shoot-'em up scene, true to the namesake of the franchise: there are stars, and there is a war. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) has not only inherited the task of training Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), but also the Legacy of the Beard, as previously sported by Liam Neeson. Seriously, McGregor looks like he just wandered off the set of the upcoming film, The Mountaineer. Which doesn't actually exist, but it should as McGregor obviously went to so many lengths to look the part. We know that Anakin is plucky, young, and has doubled his Jedi powers since we last saw him, and Obi-Wan is older (he has a beard, people!), wiser, and probably drinks when no one's looking.
It is obvious that Revenge of the Sith is meant to tie all the loose ends, and it does. For anyone familiar with the later episodes, we know that Anakin is going to turn into Darth Vader at some point, all deformed and evil (and I must admit, this was probably the only draw to the film for me, and why I reneged on my vow to boycott the insanity for at least a month and went to see the film in the last leg of its opening weekend). We can make educated guesses as to which leading characters survive and which don't. This makes the film's first hour drag on more than it should, but it's not Lucas' fault. He has to set up the story, and he does - bad dialogue and all - by showing us how Anakin is lured into the Dark Force. Once the very obvious transformation begins, the movie picks up considerably. Before this transition, I ate my popcorn and stared at the extras, who seemed to be having more fun than the principal actors. At one point, Christensen is shown shirtless in bed, and I sat up with glee, wiping the sleep-induced drool off my chin. But he only sits up so he can brood some more, which is a total mood breaker. Anakin's weak protestations and apparent lack of good judgment when it comes to the Dark Force seem like a half-hearted attempt to keep us riveted. (Much like what ended up being The Apprentice's season finale.) And, you know, it makes me suspect that Anakin would make an easy cult recruit.
Anakin has the best intentions when he begins to question what this Dark Force is all about. And without spoiling it for the ten people who haven't seen the film yet because they were vacationing on Papa New Guinea, I will mention that it partly has to do with his Love for Padmé (Natalie Portman). I have to capitalize "love" here because it is apparent that these young, crazy newlyweds are in love. Except that Christensen and Portman don't exactly have the best chemistry. (I have held this opinion since Attack of the Clones, which made it all the more painful to sit through.) It might have to do with the stilted dialogue ("Oh, Anakin, hold me like you did back in Naboo, when all we had was our love!" Padmé, ever the drama queen, exclaims at one point), the obsessed-boyfriend vibe, or the fact that these characters probably have nothing in common, and are regretting their marriage much like Britney Spears and Jason Alexander did. Christensen spends most of his scenes with Portman brooding about something or other, and she tries to stay supportive while sporting the worst poodle-perm I have ever seen on a film with a budget of a padzillion dollars. Seriously, when I concentrate more on the actor's hair than the scene at hand, you can tell my attention isn't where it should be. I was rooting for better hair more than I was rooting for The Force, to be honest. And also: the moral implications of machinery taking over humanity. At least, that's what I would like to say I thought about.
Christensen and Portman are both fine actors by my books, but acting is obviously not what Revenge of the Sith is all about. Which is fine - but trying to follow a story that, while being an unapologetically science-fiction action adventure, also holds great emotional and ethical conflict, it's a little disappointing. Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is almost a caricature; he tries too hard to be the epitome of the Dark Force that I almost expect him to take out a shotgun and chase a cartoon rabbit around the room. The other big names - Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Christopher Lee - also befall the same fate. The one who escapes unscathed is McGregor, who sports the grizzly beard but also brings it with the acting. He readily conveys betrayal, disappointment, and anger with a face fall, all the while executing his lightsaber choreography. It's almost excruciating to watch him act his scenes with wooden Christensen, who barely reacts to anything that's going on in the room. Maybe he thought McGregor was going to be blue-screened in?
Of course, a Star Wars chapter is nothing without the lightsabers. And they're great and exciting, much like the fight scenes they appear in. Lucas' fetish with hand castrations by lightsabers continues as well, much to the chagrin of the numerous characters who lose their hand as a result.
The end of the film is a little surprising, even for someone like me, who knows nothing about the Star Wars franchise and yet will comment on it. It's no, "Luke, (breathe breathe), I am your father!" but it does answer the age-old questions: how come Darth Vader is so bitter? And what happened to his face? (This should placate those who are offended at the allegations that this film is grossly inconsistent, which it kind of is.) McGregor again brings it, although it is temporarily lost as JarJar Binks makes his contractual cameo. Even Christensen ups the ante as his fate is effectively sealed. And Yoda. Well, Yoda has always kicked ass in my books, and he still does, even when he's dealing with brats like Anakin or showing some clones a little street justice or talking so long to make his point that I have time to go to the bathroom and refill my Coke.
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith pulled in more money than I will ever see, and that's including money that I might see on television, in a magazine, and in a bank's vault. Was it worth it? For most, it was. Revenge of the Sith was the last of a long line of great films (or passable, depending on which one we're discussing) that have kept fans captivated since 1977. They're exciting, they've taken special effects technology to exponential levels, and they've given us some of the greatest characters and heroes of all time. Star Wars has deserved all its boatfuls of money and devoted fans, and Lucas has proven to be more business savvy than his plaid shirts might lead us to believe. Yes, I lay on the praise, but I also lay on the criticisms. And Revenge of the Sith, the last we will ever see of our beloved characters on the big screen, was an acceptable "resolution" to an ageless story, but a forgettable ending to a franchise that is admittedly worth more than its weight in gold. ¤ C.Ho.
STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH: (out of 5)