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5 Jun

Revenge of the Sith – Yesterday my wife and I finally saw Revenge of the Sith. To be perfectly honest, my wife was much more enthusiastic about seeing the film than I was. I remember that I had to practically drag her to the first film, and after that we pretty much switched opinions about the prequel. While I (along with many others of my generation) felt a tremendous sense of betrayal after the first film, my wife was not raised in a Star Wars culture, and she actually liked it. When Hayden Christensen entered the scene in the second film, her enthusiasm doubled. I wouldn’t mind so much if she picked real actors to adore, but Hayden Christensen? He’d be a shoe in for the role of Pinocchio.

“Did it succeed? Did it turn things around for me? Did it put a fitting end (or middle, as the case may be) to the Star Wars saga? In short, no, it did not.”

Infatuations with wooden marionettes aside, my wife was very impressed by the special effects. No matter what else you might say about Lucas, the man does know how to whip up some impressive special effects. I just wish that wasn’t all he knew how to do.

Like I said, I wasn’t overly anxious to see the third film. I was almost dreading it, fearing that the last shred of that childhood dream would be ripped apart and stomped on by the master of light and magic. After seeing the original trilogy some time ago, though, my wife wanted to know what was so special about it. I opened my mouth to unleash my reply but then quickly shut it again. Having had no direct exposure to American culture while growing up, my wife failed to understand the American fascination with space. She didn’t have Star Trek, she didn’t have Buck Rogers, and she didn’t have Battlestar Gallactica. She didn’t even have Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th century. Talk about being deprived.

At any rate, all this meant that she didn’t understand the American passion for space operas, and after we saw the original trilogy she wanted an explanation as to why those were films she absolutely had to see. I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a convincing answer to that question, and I don’t think I ever will. (Just for the record, I don’t buy any of that crap Campbell was trying to sell about Lucas tapping into mythic archetypes, blah, blah, blah. I study mythic archetypes, and everyone taps into them. Campbell was a popularizer, which ultimately I think is a good thing for the field, but popularizers tend not to be the most accurate or groundbreaking scholars. In short, he dressed up old theories in new clothes and pretended that he had discovered something new, when in fact most of what he was selling was already yesterday’s news. Sorry about the tangent. Anyway, the “mythic archetypes” were not what made Star Wars so popular. Maybe they were just the right movies at the right time.)

In retrospect, I think she does have a point. Mark Hamill wasn’t the greatest actor either, and his whining was legendary. There was a lot of cheese in the films as well, and the Ewoks gave us a glimpse into the dark recesses of Lucas’ mind that would ultimately produce horrors like Jar Jar Binks. In fact, I think the cantina scene from the first film (er, the fourth film, that is) gave us our first taste of that darkness. What was he thinking giving one of those creatures a major speaking part in a film?

Still, I prefer the original trilogy to the new trilogy. The new trilogy is definitely more advanced in terms of special effects, and I can’t deny that it has some good moments and fine actors, but it doesn’t have the same vitality.

I suppose I should get to what I thought about the film. There aren’t too many specific spoilers—I’m mostly going to speak in generalities—but I will obviously be talking about the film, so who knows what I might let slip. You have been warned.

I’m going to start off with something rather minor that just happened to get under my skin: what exactly is Grievous (and why can’t Lucas be more creative with his names)? They call him a droid general, but he seems to have (lizard?) eyes under his head mask and a beating heart of some sort in his chest. He also coughs, which strikes me as a bit odd for a droid. But if he’s a mixture of animal and machine, doesn’t that make him a cyborg and not a droid? I don’t know. Again, I know it’s minor, but it bugged me. It also bugged me that the character of Grievous just kind of came out of nowhere. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the second film, so maybe he was in it—he probably was and I just don’t remember. Anyway, he bugged me, and not within the story but without (i.e., his character was jarring enough for me to constantly be asking meta-story questions about him).

Christopher Lee as Count Dooku was cool as a cucumber, of course, and he died way too soon. I also thought Ian McDiarmid did an excellent job as Palpatine. In fact, I think he was probably one of the best actors throughout the trilogy. Ewan McGregor was decent as Obi-Wan—he’s definitely been better in other roles, I think. And then, of course, we have our two lovebirds, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen. I honestly think they did a better job here than in Episode 2 (and Episode 1, in Portman’s case), but the dialogue—especially the “loves scenes”—was horrible. Any improvement aside, I think the casting of Hayden Christensen as Anakin was a mistake. I just don’t think he has what it takes as an actor to play such a demanding part.

It wasn’t a bad movie, though. It wasn’t a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better than the previous two. Despite everything I had read about the film, despite all my fears and forebodings, when the Star Wars logotype appeared on the screen and the theme began to play, I felt something leap in my heart. It wasn’t quite like watching The Phantom Menace—I remember being so psyched I could barely sit still. No, I was much calmer and much wiser, but I was still moved. I still hoped that somehow this one would turn things around.

Did it succeed? Did it turn things around for me? Did it put a fitting end (or middle, as the case may be) to the Star Wars saga? In short, no, it did not. Yes, the special effects were great and the fight scenes were very cool (um, except when all the Jedi got slaughtered like sheep, which was pretty unrealistic), but when the credits rolled at the end and the lights came up I felt empty. Not excited, not angry, not disappointed, not betrayed. Just empty. This was it. It was over, and it was not what it could have been. In all fairness, I think it would have been very hard for anyone to meet all the expectations there were for this movie, but I think Lucas could have done a much better job than he did.

For me, it all comes down to one thing: was Anakin’s turn to the dark side convincing? Again, for me, the answer is no. I found myself thinking about it as I watched the movie (that in itself is a sure sign that the movie is not doing its job in making me suspend disbelief). Is his killing of the “younglings” in the Jedi temple justified? Wait, no... it’s not about justification, is it? No, the real question is can I understand why he does it? Lucas gives us all the cue cards throughout the three movies, but in the end it feels like—well, it feels like we’re reading off of cue cards.

In the car on the way home, my wife said to me, “I don’t think the story was plausible.” “It was plausible,” I replied. “It just wasn’t believable.” Indeed, the justification for his actions is entirely plausible. As I sat in the cinema and watched Anakin move closer to the dark side, I asked myself what I would do in that situation. I glanced over at my wife. What if I had lost my mother and I knew my wife was going to die, but I also knew that it was within my power to save her—yet saving her would mean abandoning everything I had ever believed in. What would I do? There in the darkness, with the film flashing on the screen in front of me, I knew that I could not answer that question. I would like to think I would be strong enough to do the right thing, but I understood and sympathized with Anakin’s dilemma.

But the plausibility of the story is not the problem. It’s the believability—while I could fully understand how such a dilemma might affect a man, I just wasn’t convinced that the characters on the screen were going through such a dilemma. No doubt the stilted love scenes between Anakin and Padme had a lot to do with it. There was absolutely zero chemistry between the two, and I cringed every time a scene opened with just the two of them on screen. It’s like when you’re playing dodgeball in grade school, you’re the last kid on your team, and the strongest kid on the other side has the ball. You just stand there, knowing you’re going to get nailed, and you pray, “Dear God, not the nads.” And then—wham!—right in the nads. Every time. That’s what the love scenes were like in Star Wars. Wham! Lucas just nailed me in the nads. Again.

But it wasn’t just the nad-busting love scenes. Christensen failed to convince me in any way that he was Anakin and that he was going through what Lucas and his cue cards said he was going through. I haven’t seen any of Christensen’s other films, but I’ve heard that he’s really not that bad an actor (as in Keanu Reeves bad). Still, Lucas’s mind-searingly painful dialogue and epileptic directing cannot be entirely at fault. After all, most of the other actors did a lot better. True, they had less on their shoulders, but I still hold Christensen responsible for turning the ultimate bad guy into an angst-ridden teen with Eyebrows of Doom. (You know what I mean—when he lowers his head, puts on a severely constipated expression, and then glares up through his eyebrows.) Unable to buy the premise, I was thus unable to accept his actions in a story sense.

My wife put the closing note to our conversation with this comment about Lucas: “He spent too much effort on special effects and not enough on characterization.” And that’s what it really boils down to. Maybe Lucas is incapable of writing good dialogue. Maybe he’s incapable of breathing real emotions into his characters. I’m sure there’s a lot that goes into it, but in the end, it was Lucas that sank the ship.

Like I said above, it wasn’t necessarily a bad movie. I am capable of enjoying it for what it is, but I can’t help feeling just a little bit empty at the way things turned out. Will I see it again? Yeah, I’ll most likely see it again. Probably not in the cinema, but I think it’s pretty much a given that we’re getting the DVD when it comes out. So I didn’t hate it, and I wouldn’t warn anyone away from it (this applies only to the five people who still haven’t seen it, of course). In fact, if someone asked me I would say yes, go see it. There was a lot that was good in the movie. I was just hoping for a little more.

I think this is the first time I have ever reviewed a movie on Liminality, if this can actually be called a review. Star Wars was a very important part of my childhood, and I guess I’m just giving voice to my feelings at the ending of this saga. If nothing else, it’s made me want to watch the original trilogy again—even my wife, who wasn’t all that impressed with the original trilogy her first time around, wants to see it again. I suppose I’ll see it with different eyes now, knowing what the characters went through. I don’t think it will be as smooth a transition as Lucas obviously tried to make it (my memory of Yoda on Dagobah is very different from the way he appears here, for example), but it should be interesting nonetheless.

So ends the first Liminality movie review. I doubt I’ll do many more, especially since I usually see movies long after everyone else has already forgotten about them. But who knows? Maybe inspiration will strike again the next we go to the cinema.

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