This is long. Long, long, long. The movie has been in my head chewing up my brain’s clock cycles since I saw it on Friday and if I don’t write about it I may well have an embolism. So, at the risk of passing an embolism on to our readership, here we go…
This movie should’ve been titled: Star Wars: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the (What in the Name of God’s Green Earth Were You Thinking When You Wrote/Shot That) Worst of Times. I’ve never wanted to both kiss and strangle Lucas at the same time quite as much as I did when walking out of the theater on Friday. The man is at the same time both brilliant and unforgivably inept. He’s a wonderful story guy. A visionary. And the limits of his imagination appear to know few bounds. But there’s a difference between coming up with a good story and actually writing it. And George Lucas couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag. His ability to craft dialog and direct actors is surprisingly amateurish for a guy with his resume.
The thing is, I don’t fault him for being a lousy writer. Writing good dialogue is as much a gift as it is a learned skill. What I fault him for is being too stubborn to know his own limitations and get help where it is so clearly needed. He should not be writing the scripts for these movies (at least not the final versions) and he absolutely should not be in the director’s chair (as evidenced by any scene in which Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman share a camera). And he -of all people- should know it. I can only assume its pride that puts such blinders on the man, but god help him, he can’t be saved from himself.
And with that, we introduce as exhibit A: Revenge of the Sith. It’s at once both breathtaking and nauseating. And it swings so wildly back and forth in both directions it would take pages and pages of comments just to outline every example of each. So that’s what I’ve done. Lucky you.
***There are SPOILERS here. If you read on, don’t complain to me.***
– Any scene between Anakin and Palpatine. I don’t know if Palpatine, as played by Ian McDiarmid, just got the best dialog to use or if his acting chops just made it work, but this film fails miserably if he doesn’t pull off his part. And I think he absolutely brings out the best in Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin. Christensen is never better than when he’s playing off McDiarmid.
– Mace Windu’s duel with Palpatine and Anakin’s intervention. I have no trouble whatsoever with that scene or how quickly Anakin turns after choosing a side. He was forced to pick a side and given the circumstances, I have no trouble believing his choice. At that point I think he knows he has tied his fate to Palpatine and to so quickly take a knee and follow any order -no matter how heinous- is believable.
– The mask being put on Vader and the first few breaths. Simply the best Star Wars moment ever. And it’s ruined shortly thereafter (as noted in the Bad section.)
– Anakin vs. Dooku. It starts awkward, but once Anakin goes one-on-one with Dooku the scene smoothes out and plays out as a terrific parallel to Luke’s final duel with Vader in RotJ.
– Obi-wan’s “good bye” to Anakin. Ewan McGregor got very little to work with in the first half of the movie, but he works well with what he was given and he really shines once Anakin falls. The final scene between him and Anakin is just a perfect character moment. Should he have left Anakin “alive”? No, but I have no trouble believing that he would do just that. Anakin should have had no hope of surviving anyway.
– Anakin’s hate of Obi-wan at the end. When Anakin looks up and screams of his hatred for Obi-wan you see how consumed by his fear and anger he has become. He is Darth Vader in that moment and the material that gets him to this point makes it work. It is tragic in the most wonderful kind of way. (Okay, he was burned up by lava and should not have been in the dialog-speaking world, but I can get past that.)
– Everything Anakin after the scenes at the Jedi Temple (wow). This has to be why Hayden Christensen got cast as Anakin. In Clones he was just a petulant whiny bitch. Though I always thought it was poor scripting and direction, I still hated him in Attack of the Clones. Hated him. But here… He plays anger and hate note perfect. Long before he gets the mask, he becomes Darth Vader, something I would not have believed possible going in.
– Yoda vs. Palpatine (except for the unexplained retreat). A great battle that gets a little sidetracked in the senate chamber and ends far too abruptly. I’ve since read the scene was cut back and it clearly shows (and hurts).
– Obi-Wan goes to Tatooine. The last scene where Obi-wan hands over Luke to Owen and Baru and heads out into the desert is absolutley perfect. Thanks to the Vader scream, it becomes the best moment in the movie. There’s also no dialogue. Just the John Williams musical score. Go figure.
The Fair (but should’ve been much better):
– General Grievous; the dude is hard-core in Clone Wars (where the coughing thing is explained; god Lucas needs a script editor), but is turned into an action figure vehicle in this movie. Sometimes he works, but for the most part he’s completely wasted. And why does Lucas not explain he was injured in the Clone Wars and that’s why he’s hacking and coughing. How hard is adding a line in the opening text-crawl?
– The Jedi being fortune cookie spouting pricks. God help me, but at times even I was routing against these guys. In some ways, it’s a key point that makes the movie work, but I simply cannot accept the notion that the Jedi are such compassionless stooges. But at least they’re consistent. They’ve been pricks throughout the new trilogy and it’s a huge weakness. Case in point: Anakin has visions of Padme dying and goes to Yoda. Granted he doesn’t tell Yoda its Padme, just someone close to him, but all-wise Yoda basically just says tough break, deal with it. Anakin goes to Palpatine and the guy not only listens to him, but offers hope. Yeah, he plays bait and switch, but compared to the Jedi he’s a f-ing Santa Clause. Why wouldn’t Anakin side with him? I swear, if any of the Jedi showed the slightest bit of compassion or concern for Anakin’s well-being, Anakin would never have turned. Story-wise is a tough issue for me. It’s unbelievable the Jedi would be so callous, but if they weren’t, it would be impossible to buy into Anakin’s fall. Very catch-22, which is why this beef is in the “Fair” section.
– Obi-wan vs. Dooku: I’m sorry, but Dooku owns Obi-wan far too easily (and it’s the second time it happened in the last two flicks). Obi’s not some punk. Would’ve been better if he’d been given something else to do within the framework of the story while Anakin confronted Dooku alone.
– Obi-wan vs. Grievous: This should’ve been kick-ass. It kind of was for a short while when they were actually dueling. But you couldn’t see the action well and it soon degenerated into a chase scene that you know is there to cross-sell the video game. Ugh.
– The lava planet Mustafar. I swear, this whole planet exists to cross-sell the video game. I mean, what was with the platform jumping in the final duel? Visually, it was tres cool, and it’s a nice backdrop to the heated rage in Vader. But at the same time, a planet of Volcanoes? Am I the only one who thinks such a world would be too hot (never mind where the oxygen comes from) for even a couple of Jedi to just be running around dueling?
– The opening space battle. Starts out way, way cool, but got too hung up on the Anakin/Obi-wan interplay and those stoopid “chopper” droids or whatever they were called. If they’d kept it a little larger scope, like the second Death Star battle in RotJ, it would’ve been a killer opening.
– The end of the Yoda/Palpatine duel. They’re fighting. It’s cool. And then Yoda falls off a platform, gets up (with no hint of injury), grunts, and the next we see of him he’s crawling through an exhaust port. The idea of Yoda, defeated, running in such a manner is great. But he’s holding his own and then he just buggers off. Completely ruins the moment. I’ve read they cut a scene where Palpatine brings in clone troops against Yoda. Certainly, that would’ve helped explain his retreat better. But Lucas didn’t even need that. The guy just fell like sixty feet. It would’ve been totally believable for him to have been injured and forced to retreat. I mean how hard is it?
The Unforgivably Bad:
– Any scene between Anakin and Padme. Just like in Attack of the Clones, Lucas cannot write or direct a romantic scene. He can’t do it. He sucks at it. He’s so bad at it there is just no way he shouldn’t realize it and get help. His handling of the Anaking/Padme romance makes me nostalgic for the love story in Titanic. Yes, the actors are wooden as hell, but both have proven in other roles they have acting chops. It’s Lucas, pure and simple. The guy is his own worst enemy.
– Turning Padme into a weak-willed, wait at home for your man and cry about it wimp. I’ll get to her end in the next bullet, but Padme -who wasn’t exactly the best-implemented character to begin with- is completely ruined in this film. At least in the others she had some gusto, badly written as it was. In this one she’s just the jilted, crying chick waiting for her man. She was a f-ing Queen two movies ago. Now she’s June f-ing Cleaver after Ward slaps her in the face for burning the brownies. What the hell?
– Killing Padme. I’m a-okay, with letting Anakin think she died, but to actually kill her? I’m not a continuity whore, but it creates a continuity SNAFU that Lucas could easily have avoided. Have her go to Alderran and raise Leaia (sp?) under a new identity. It would’ve preserved the accuracy and meaning in Leaia’s line in RotJ when she tells Luke what she can remember of “her real mother.” I mean, the only way you can justify that line now is to say she didn’t know she was adopted, but even then casting kills you. In no galaxy is Jimmy Smits Carrie Fisher’s dad. All Lucas had to do was have her fake her death and go to Alderran. That’s it. She was a strong enough character to recognize the wisdom in splitting up the twins. It would’ve been far better than having a droid say, “There’s nothing wrong her medically. She just died of a broken heart.” What the *fuck* is that about? She just gave birth to two healthy children and tells Obi-wan that there is still good in Anakin. Does this sound like a woman so defeated that she’s just going to die because she lacks the will to live? ARGH!
– The Jedi Genocide. Here’s the thing. I loved the animated Clone Wars stuff. There are shortcomings, but you have to take it for what it is and given the limitations of the format (a series of shorts) both seasons were awesome (season 2 in particular). Between that and the fact that it leads directly into Revenge of the Sith, I treat it as canon. All well and good, but the Jedi in Clone Wars and the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith clearly have never met. In Clone Wars a single Jedi lays waste to armies of droids. They’re bad ass in all the ways I was hoping to see from the movies. In Sith there’s Yoda, Anakin, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan. The rest are pathetic. They’re the storm trooper equivalent of Jedi. I can stand a couple of them getting gunned down in the back w/o warning, but for the most part it’s shot like they forgot how to use a lightsaber. It’s pathetic. And every time one of them eats it, we see Yoda clutching his chest. That begs the question, is Yoda the only Jedi in the galaxy that can feel something is up? And if so, he sure as hell wasted his time training these dopes. In the Clone Wars they’re all kick-ass. In Sith they’re all punks with light-up swords and it hurts an otherwise gripping moment in the film as they’re eradicated.
– Vader screaming “Noooooo” like a B-rate Austin Powers villain. The best moment of the movie, Vader getting his mask is completely ruined here. He gets the mask, takes his first breaths, is stood on his feet and told that Padme has died. He gargles a bit and force crushes half the stuff in the room in his rage. That’s fine. Then he takes a step and stumbles. Hokey, but hey, he’s got two new legs. I’ll buy into it. But then he raises his fists and shouts “No” for like ten seconds. This crap was hokey on the GI Joe cartoons in the 80s. It’s the kind of thing that should get you thrown out of the screenwriter’s guild when done in this kind of movie.
– Any dialogue involving a droid. In fact the droids drag down this entire trilogy. Even R2D2. How the f-ck do you f-ck up R2D2? I mean his little bleeps and bloops aren’t even the same as the original trilogy. WHY? And what’s with giving him all these new abilities? It’s just stupid. Thank god he can’t speak. God, if there’s a line of dialog in the movie delivered by a droid, you can bet it’s bad.
As Tony Kornheiser is fond of saying, that’s it, that’s the list. The thing is, this is a great movie. Or at least there’s a great movie in there. It’s just dragged down by the kind of garbage I’ve listed above. I came out of the theater for the first time really hating Lucas. And it’s precisely because he comes so close to the precipice of greatness so many times in this movie, only to turn around and jump back in the narrative kiddie-pool with shocking regularity.
I’ve gotta see the movie again before I can make a final opinion, but obviously this is way, way better than Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. Based on my first impression it’s also still far behind A New Hope and Empire. There is a lot of material that is better than anything in those movies, but those movies don’t have anywhere near the pitfalls of Sith.
Right now, I do think Sith is better than Return of the Jedi by a nose. It’s close, and I may change my mind after repeat viewings, but Sith is just so intense. As a whole these films are very similar in that they have a lot of great stuff, but are horribly fumbled far too frequently. In Jedi it’s the Jabba scenes and the Ewoks that almost derail the entire flick. In Sith it’s the droids and anything to do with the love story. But as good as the Vader vs. Luke and Death Star battle are in Jedi, only Vader’s final end and funeral pyre in that movie really grab me emotionally every time I see it. Sith is rife with moments where I was genuinely choked up over the tragedy that is Anakin’s fall and the last scene on Tatooine… I just ate that up.
In any case, Lucas does manage to deliver a quality flick here that’s a far more fitting end to the Star Wars movie franchise (presumably) than I expected after the waste of film that was the last two movies. For all the schlock, though, Revenge of the Sith has made enduring it all worthwhile for me. And for that, I am happy… and mad. But mostly happy.