Sunday, May 22, 2005

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

The Cardinals sleepwalked through a sloppy loss in Kansas City today, I don't care about the NBA playoffs, hockey may never return in our lifetime, and it's another six weeks at least until NFL training camp starts, so instead of a sports post, I'm going to talk about why I was disappointed with Star Wars Episode 3.

A word of warning: if you plan to see the movie and don't want to read any spoilers, leave now and don't come back until you've seen the movie. If you've seen it, I welcome any and all comments either in agreement or dissent (as usual, of course).

I was enormously disappointed with this movie. I enjoyed it far less than the two previous episodes. I know that "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" have taken their fair (and deserved) share of hits from both critics and fans, but I felt like both movies served their purpose: to set up the fall of Anakin Skywalker. So why was I disappointed with this last movie?

Simple: I never believed his turn to the Dark side. I didn't believe that, given the information that he had, Anakin Skywalker would kill Mace Windu and swear allegience to Palpatine. I'm a writer, and I deal in characters and motivation, and he did not yet have sufficient motivation to take the action that he did, in my opinion.

Here are the facts: 1) Anakin had dreams that Padme would die in childbirth; 2) Palpatine had given him vague promises about the possibility that Sith powers could prevent death; 3) Once Anakin realized Palpatine was the Sith Lord, he turned that news over to the Jedi Council; 4) Anakin was devoted to Jedi principles and was not shown learning anything different about the Dark side; 5) Just because he killed Windu, he didn't have to swear allegience at that time; he could have turned Palpatine over to the Senate or the Jedi; 6) the Jedi had not shown sufficient cause that they were trying to take over control of the Republic from the Senate.

I did not think that this collection of evidence would motivate Anakin to take part in the slaughter of the Jedi. I did not believe that he would so easily turn against Obi-Wan Kenobi. And I don't think the problem was with Hayden Christenson's acting. I thought he did the best he could with what he had to work with, in terms of the script (which was bad). Anakin was smart; he should have considered that perhaps Padme's death would be a result of his turning to the Sith (which, in part, it was).

What would have been proper motivation? First of all, Lucas should have taken Padme out of the equation entirely. Make Anakin's seduction all about political power, about his ability to rule over the Republic. Make the Jedi more anti-democratic in the name of "law and order." Make the turn more gradual, more little-by-little as Anakin takes one more step over the line. And keep Palpatine from revealing himself until Anakin has already gone too far over to the Dark side. That would have been more believable and less stupidly melodramatic (and avoided the laughably bad "NOOOOO!!" scene at the end of the movie).

A more gradual fall would have also given Obi-Wan the chance to turn Anakin back to the Jedi, something that was discussed at length in the original trilogy but that wasn't even present here. Also, the original trilogy established that Leia remembered her mother; Padme dying in childbirth was a major league plot hole. It would have been more believable if Padme had run into hiding out of fear of her husband's ever-growing power. The climactic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin could have been Kenobi defending Padme and the twins from being kidnapped by a fully-turned Darth Vader.

Of course, at this point, I'm rewriting George Lucas' movie, which any of us who were disappointed by the movie could do; but my point is that someone should have pointed out to Lucas at the beginning of the prequel trilogies that he had to remain true to his original story and the plot points that had already been established. This could have been so much better if Lucas had had the patience to tell the story that had already been told in the first three movies instead of concocting an adolescent soap opera of secret, lost love. "Romeo and Juliet" may be one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, but serious scholars will also tell you that its one of his earliest and most amateurish attempts at tragedy. Lucas' mistake was following this path of lost love. Sorry, it just wasn't compelling in the Star Wars universe.

Having said all this, how stupid are the Jedi Knights? Anakin Skywalker is believed by many on the Jedi Council, including his Master, Obi-Wan, to be The Chosen One. So why do they all treat him like the bastard at the family reunion? He's only established himself to be incredibly skilled, powerful in the Force, courageous, heroic, etc. How about a little love, people? That part of Anakin's turn to Sith was believable because the Jedi Council treated him like dirt, but the fact that they did in the first place was so jaw-droppingly stupid that they all deserved to die in the end for their, as the Emperor would say, "lack of vision." His fall would be even more believable had the Jedi acknowledged his power and put him into a position of political power and influence.

I am a professor of literature, and if I've learned anything about tragedy, a hero's fall always has more to do with pride than love. Anakin Skywalker would not have turned to the dark side for love, but power and pride would have done the trick. I wish someone would have mentioned that to George Lucas a few years ago. Looks like his pride in his own flawed romantic vision has led to this most disappointing failure:

Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader—Dark Lord of the Sith, the scourge of the Empire, feared throughout the galaxy, destroyer of planets and civilizations—because he was scared something bad might happen to his wife.

Yeah, right.


TUCK! said...

Haven't seen it yet (this weekend!) so I couldn't read your spoilers (much less comment on them). Instead, I will offer you this: Would you like to back off your bold pro-Reds prediction?


TUCK! said...

Okay, I saw it. And damn if it isn't close (I mean, real close) to Empire in my cold hearted, uh, heart. I thought the whole thing was just plain fun (as you figured I would). Even the volcano fight. Especially the volcano fight.

True, Lucas was trying to stuff 50 lbs of (stuff) in a 5lb. bag. Yes, I agree, Star Wars is eight movies crammed into six. And the packing, er, pacing (yeah, that's it) reflects that.

But. Still.

Lucas gave me what Peter Jackson did in Lord of the Rings: Brought to life stuff I've imagined since I was 12 (Did I mention the volcano fight?).


If you watch Episode I and II (just like we did)(to catch up Mrs. Tuck b/4 we went out to watch III), Lucas sets out the entire deal. Anakin believes the dreams about Amadalaramalamadingdong BECAUSE:
* In Episode I Qui-Gon asks the little runt, excuse me, Jake Lloyd about "dreams that predict the future" (or somesuch. ask a pocket protector for the direct quote. I'm busy making a point). The runt answers affimatively.
* In Episode II the whiney twerp, I mean, Anakin (Annie? The sun doesn't come up tomorrow, you ninny) accurately predicts his mom's passing.
In short, the snot-nosed little punk should be worried, cause now he's dreaming of Natalie Portman, and not in the way you'd expect.

So as far as motivation, I'm okay with it. From there, it's not that long a fall to excuse all the other stuff you take issue with.

(Or to put a finer point on it, at least it was Lucas and not James Cameron handling it. I mean, can you imagine it? Sidious, leaning over the carnage that used to be Palpatine's office, staring out into Couriscant: "I'm the king, er, Emperor of the wor, uh, Galaxy!"

Which brings me to the only real weakness/issue I had: Could they have made Amadalalamlam any weaker? All she did was sit around the apartment and long for Annie?? This coming from the only one who had the initiative to go rescue Kenobi in EpiII and picklock her way out of trouble in the same and (really, here) take no feces in EpiI?? Suddenly we're so pale and wan from...what? Politics? She's a freakin senator/former Queen!)(er, maybe Cameron -did- get his grubby little mitts on the script.)


Then. There's. Chewbacca. Freakin Chewbacca.

Not to mention exhibits C and D why you don't (expletive deleted) with Yoda.

WAY, way better than Episodes 1 and 6 (brass bikini and all). Markedly better than 2 (which I like). Up there with Episodes 4 and 5 (tho the 7 and 9 year old in me wants to fight about that last one, he knows he'd likely lose. Or at least tie.) Episode 5 would have to get this one in a steel cage, and, Texas death match style, they both beat each other senseless (but for different reasons).

Give Episode III an A- (B+, maybe). The series as a whole gets the same. Ewoks be damned.