SITH IN REVIEW

Sorry it’s been a while, but once more life has speeded well past my ability to fit everything in on a schedule I totally control.

REVENGE OF THE SITH

In the spring of 1981, a number of us left the Starlog offices to be shown a new Steven Spielberg movie we knew very little about. We adored it and walked out of the theatre, adrenaline pumping, and thrilled to have a good major summer movie we could tell our friends about.

I spent the weeks leading up to the debut of the movie talking it up and Deb heard most of it. We finally go to a matinee and she walks out of Raiders of the Lost Ark entertained but not blown away. I had over-hyped it for her so she went in expecting…more.

Last night, the local theatre manager called and invited us to see a staff screening of Revenge of the Sith. Deb stayed behind because her healing foot was still sore but the rest of us went, filled with anticipation. When the lights went up around 11:45, I was entertained but not blown away.

The media reviews, especially A.O. Scott’s piece in Monday’s New York Times, made me think this was going to blow me away. Even the incredibly negative New Yorker review didn’t stop me from thinking this was going to be great.

It was very entertaining, extremely well made and certainly several magnitudes of better than episodes one and two. But in making the first trilogy so slick and so chockfull of…stuff…he diminished the impact of episodes four-six, which are inherently more interesting stories. The opening 20 minutes or so, as Obi-Wan and Anakin try to rescue Chancellor Palpatine, was a visual treat but we’ve seen fights in the sky, we’ve seen droids attack, we’ve seen the stars cluttered with vessels battle every which way. This time, it just felt drawn out.

And that was the general feeling I had throughout the entire film. Moments I wanted were gone. Characters I wanted to see do something did nothing. Padme, for example, is a former Queen, now-Senator but does nothing the movie but watch Anakin slowly be seduced by the Dark Side and doesn’t notice. Nor does she speak out against the Senate conceding more of its power to the Chancellor. She frets, she cries, she gives birth and has been rendered the maguffin in the film. (The maguffin being the Hitchcock term for the item or plot device to propel the film but is itself inconsequential.)

Bail Organa shows up with more screen time, and he too says nothing against the crumbling of democracy. Instead, he’s suddenly a trusted friend to Yoda there to be a convenient person to move things from point A to point B. Jimmy Smits is given nothing to work with and his acting suffers greatly for it.

I’m told there’s a scene missing when Padme, Bail and other senators privately meet with Palpatine to plead their case but is dismissed by the oily politician. Would have been nice to have. Similarly, after the Republic crumbles, two scenes where Bail helps form the Rebel Alliance are also missing which hurts the movie’s end from properly setting up episode four.

Anyway, I remember sitting and watching the Sarlac scene in Return of the Jedi and the camaraderie between the characters, affection and humor they have for one another, made Luke’s gang plank walk filled with tension. Then, he salutes, leaps into the air and catches the lightsaber ejected by R2-D2, and the fight begins and we’re cheering.

I don’t feel the same about any of the characters in episode three. When Obi-Wan has to fight Dookoo or later, Anakin, I just don’t care. The best characterization in the film is either Palpatine or Yoda so when they fight, it’s the highlight of the film.

Speaking of Yoda, he seems to be the only Jedi Master really plugged into the Force. The montage as the Jedi Masters and their followers are cut down is too heavily influenced by George Lucas’ pal Francis Ford Coppola and the similar sequence from The Godfather. He feels them being cut down, one by one, but each one seems too easily ambushed and neutralized.

There remain some thrilling moments, especially the birth of the black-helmeted Darth Vader, but overall, we’re not surprised or overwhelmed with new cool planets, aliens, droids or, well, pretty much anything else.

It’s a fine film, very slickly made and entertaining but sadly missing the heart and soul when it needed it the most.

5 comments

  • Who cares! This series of films should have begun and ended with STAR WARS (“A New Hope”). I was bored by REVENGE OF THE JEDI and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (I don’t remember which one came first; I know the last one took place on the teddy bear planet, but I couldn’t tell you anything that happened in the middle one… maybe that was where first showed up Yoda, perhaps?). STAR WARS: JAR JAR BINKS (or whatever #4/#1 was called) was so hideous I had no interest in seeing #5/#2 other than my completist’s need to do so. I’ll probably see REVENGE OF THE SITH, too. (BTW, did you see the great headline in today’s NEW YORK NEWSDAY? “SITH hits the fans.” Brilliant!) They’re all very nicely produced films, but I just don’t care about anybody in them.

    Maybe Lucas should do the third trilogy that he seems to have backed off of. Maybe with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker as new Jedi knights, and Paris Hilton as… well, does it matter, as long as she’s scantily clad?

    I’m much more interested in the upcoming FANTASTIC FOUR movie… just to see if it revives or destroys the recent Marvel movie magic. (A 21-year-old Sue Storm? What were they thinking?)

  • darrik

    1. It’s RETURN of the Jedi. Not REVENGE.
    2. Marvel has done young Sue before. It’s called Ultimate Fantastic Four.

  • rarmstrong

    Actually, darrik, the original title WAS “revenge of the jedi” (if memory serves me, Lucas changed it to “return” b/c he felt “revenge” was too strong or something to that effect).

    I can’t say I’m all that excited about FF (I just get a bad feeling about it– hope I’m wrong, though). However, I am looking forward to “Batman Begins.” Between the cast and the apparent tone of the flick, it looks like the franchise is back on track…

  • Scavenger

    Smits was my favorite of the human actors. He’s the only one who seemed like he was happy to be in the movie (though to be fair, McGreggor might have just been channeling Guiness’s atitude to get the role right). He still had nothing to work with, but I’m hoping he gets the White House this fall.

    Totaly agree with you on Padme’. How much more effective would it have been had she actually turned her back and left Anakin, instead of just crying, hugging him, and getting choked.

    Actually I liked the montage of Jedi’s getting killed. The Obi Wan scene was awful, but the nameless Jedi worked well.

    (And yeah, the Jedi are worthless. They go to arrest the Sith Master, and they just stand there and get stabbed…rather than you know, fighting…)

    My problem with the Obi Wan scene–apparantly the Clone trooper–Clone Commander Cody (oy) had served with him and distinguised himself, so Obi Wan befriended him and gave him a name. Would have been nice to see him struggle against his programing to kill his friend…see Obi Wan have a feeling of betrayal…Some kind of emotional impact of some kind. (Same problem with Padme).

    As you point out…there’s no emotional conection between anyone in this movie….Everyone is just there reading lines….

  • Lance Woods

    (The maguffin being the Hitchcock term …)

    ***

    Bob, you know I would never presume to correct you on any subject, but you’ve stumbled into my one area of (ha ha) expertise: Hitchcock. I must speak!

    It’s spelled “MacGuffin.”

    Took 20+ years, but score one for me.