It had to happen.
There had to come something in this world to contest Episode II’s mind-numbing thoughtlessness and ineffectualness – behold, George Lucas gives us Episode III. You might want to brave the queues and watch the movie BEFORE reading this article. (I went on a Tuesday afternoon and the theatre was only a quarter full with doinks, dorks, geeks and sith lords.) Although, viewing the film lends no further graces to your life-quality, nor will it augment your enjoyment of this article, if your proclivity is, in fact, the written word as opposed to a video game tarted up to look like a pretend movie.
May Your Sith Always Run Downhill…
The Sith Hits The Fans: A Cultural Calamity.
It can’t be denied that we all hold a special place in our bosoms for the original 1977 STAR WARS (now unfortunately called EPISODE IV) – PRE-digital insertions. (The creator of the series himself inserting digital upgrades into the Original Trilogy should have tipped us off that here was an unbalanced individual with enough capital to openly indulge his megalomania.) Who knew that it would become such a cultural phenomenon? And who could foretell that that phenomenon would transmogrify into such a cultural calamity?
20 years later, two prequel films by writer/director George Lucas – presumably “THE” STAR WARS authority – proved to be futile attempts at inserting cohesion into a mythos which needed no further extrapolation. (It warn’t broke, but here comes Oblivious George ta fix it.) Just like his mythological Alliance, fans and critics alike – rebelled.
Now here’s the calamity: both those films (PHANTOM MENACE and ATTACK OF THE CLONES) are still brazenly chalking up income – to date, over $400- and $300-million respectively in the U.S. alone. Over the cries of being ripped off by Lucas and being gyped story-wise and character-wise; over the scowls of derision aimed at Lucas’s directorial ineptitude, weak casting and putrid dialogue; over the pall of distaste that has shrouded these films in bantha-dropping – the public keeps endorsing them! Keeps buying the toys, the costumes, the lunchboxes, the DVD’s; keeps renting them and somehow revering them as product of their eccentric avatar, who provided them such magic in their childhood. Truly knee-jerk consumerism; not just the self-proclaimed “geeks,” but mature adults unwittingly refusing to relinquish their hold on memories like the corners of my mind, misty watercolor memories of the way we were.
And in 2005, with EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, the same people who trashed George’s last two films (justifiably) cannot seem to cast objectivity on what may be the last gasp of an unbalanced film-maker to his legion of involuntary fans. Witness these exonerative excerpts, rationalizing Lucas’s movie-making shortcomings, all for the sake of a film he released in 1977 which reminds us of our misspent youth and the dreams that died shortly thereafter. Such is the power of rose-colored memory. Faults which another director would be strung up by his thumbnails for, reviewers sidestep with palliation that “Sure the dialogue is occasionally corny…” or “Lucas does go overboard sometimes…” “There are those moments that make us cringe. Bad dialogue and High School drama class acting make for a few awkward moments,” “…there is wooden dialogue, there’s cheesy romance. Nevertheless, for most of the audience, this movie works,” “The acting was not Oscar worthy, but then again what Star Wars film has great acting?” “…acting was not terrible; I actually was not distracted by it this time…”
IS THIS ANY WAY TO RUN A BALLROOM?
What are these wishy-washy fence-sitters afraid of? Do they feel that if they trashed this film along with the others, they will have forever betrayed their childhood? If they could see through the distracting glam-slam of the other two films to the puerile content beneath, why couldn’t they discern the same method recycled for this film? Would we have allowed Tarantino to skate on vacuous dialogue in RESERVOIR DOGS, or tolerate Glenn Close delivering her lines in FATAL ATTRACTION in the same flat-plastic manner Natalie Portman reads her sides in any STAR WARS film? Would Tony Soprano be the undisputed king of television crime families were his acting “excusably” apathetic? This leniency towards Lucas is pure outrage. By comparing this film with two previous efforts from the same writer/director, many viewers have erroneously come to consider it a “good” movie – but one shining turd in a lineup of rank turds is STILL A TURD. Being “less bad” doesn’t mean it is “good.” Compare this movie to other film-makers’ efforts who are Lucas’s peers (Coppolla, Spielberg, Eastwood, Scorcese, et al) and if you’ve still got the nerve to call him a good filmmaker, you must be 13 years old.
The terrifying fact is that Lucas’s filmic mythology has inveigled itself so deeply into the bloodstream of world consciousness that no amount of lackluster quality exhibited by any of its offspring can shake its stranglehold.
force-ing a point:
how george lucas fooled all of the people all of the time
REVENGE OF THE SITH is the latest child begotten from the loins of the mythology, and is darker than other Star Wars episodes in the sense that Scooby Doo Meets Dracula is darker than Scooby Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters.
George Lucas, helming this project once more as writer/director, still has not learned that “more” is not “better,” just “more annoying.” He is still throwing everything he possibly can at viewers, in the hopes that we won’t notice his inadequacies. Ultimately, his ploy is working, for he has fooled a lot of the people a lot of the time. It’s his world – we’re just buying the merchandise.
Lucas is not so much interested in creating an admirable movie experience, as he is in cross-marketing his CGI product for video games, action figures, ring-tones and theme-park thrill-rides; whilst simultaneously publicizing his remarkable suite of top-range outboard computer tools, via the worldwide distribution of this deplorable excuse for a “finished” film. As to its “unfinished” aspects: plotline, character arc, motivation, dialogue – none of which is rendered with any clarity. It is HALF a movie – the computer parts have been finished – they look great, thanks! – but did someone lose the rushes with the cogent elements of Anakin (Hayden Christensen) Skywalker’s “descent into darkness” that all the press releases harp on about? One minute he’s doing his usual unconvincing whining – this time about a “vision” of his wife’s death, not even her REAL death – the next, he’s bowing down before Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and being called Darth Vader. I laughed out loud as my mind attempted to yoke the mantle of THAT NAME on this STRAWBERRY-BLOND CRYBABY. (By the way, for the sake of anyone who has been misled by the press releases or blinded by the startling special effects: Christensen’s acting still stinks!)
The storyline for this movie seems to have been written in the press releases and studio teasers, rather than into the movie. Anyone can pitch a movie with loglines and synopses – the art of directing a movie is in translating that rhetoric coherently to the screen, not simply releasing the talking points to the press so that people will “join the dots” for all the missing elements that you, in your unschooled avidity, omitted ignorantly.
There is no legitimate concatenation of dire circumstances pervasive enough to elicit Anakin’s bodyswerve to the Dark Side. That’s point one. Space, and consideration that my readers all have Real Lives to get back to, prohibits me from outlining the thousands of faux pas and inconsistencies in this visually-overwrought and ultimately soul-less excursion.
But I’ll try.
George took a leaf from Mel Gibson’s holier-than-thou book: In PASSION OF THE CHRIST, the bulk of the earth’s population is in on the gag, so filmmaker Mel did not need to burden his movie with silly facets like exposition, character development, or motivation, for the mythology of Jesus and his blood-mongering, son-sacrificing, christian god is embedded in humanity’s consciousness. So too, George, arrogantly and somewhat correctly, believes that enough of humanity has been inculcated with his mythology to allow EPISODE III to also stand alone without any of the above facets. We’ve walked into this movie after being thoroughly drenched in press junkets and fan gossip, which “joins the dots” for us, so instead of giving us real motivation for Anakin’s fall from grace, the void of exposition and development is land-filled with searing eye-candy.
“It’s a trap!”
In EPISODE I, Darth Maul had a double-sided lightsaber, so in EPISODE III, in deference to George’s credo (More Is Better), General Grievous must necessarily joust with four lightsabers – eliminating any chance that the human eye could possibly track the action onscreen. The dogfights and ground battles have become so detailed and overloaded with imagery they have become meaningless, eliciting no tension, or even enjoyment, as your pupils are exerted to the point of exhaustion just trying to discern exactly which way is up, let alone who just blasted what.
It’s a trap which the videogame-wielding generation have fallen for, joystick, wire and screen-pixel.
vader, there’s a fly in my soup:
serving up steaming piles of bullsith
And amidst all these glorious city-hives and computer-woven dreamscapes, Lucas has lost the plot of who the story of STAR WARS is really about: first, it was about Luke, the girl-boy hero awaiting his transition into manhood; turn our backs for one movie and suddenly the rogue Han Solo has all the best lines and is looking ruggedly more do-able than that forgotten farmboy from the last film; a couple more years and we’re suddenly witnessing a character arc of – D’Artagnan Thaddeus Vader?… whilst that farmboy and princess-pussy-whipped rogue are frolicking an emerald forest getting it on with mounds of sentient carpet called Ewoks.
Twenty years later, George even reneges on his own created dogma and springs us with the specious assertion that “The Force” itself has NOTHING to do with “mysticism” or “spirituality,” but is a mathematically-calculable physical manifestation in the bloodstream called “midi-chlorians” – Christ, George! We waited 20 years for THIS malarky? And though there was an annoying, precocious kid overacting in Episode I, the character who plundered the spotlight was a long-eared flibble-de-gooble-de-what that needed subtitles and a clip of ammunition drilled into its flibble-de-gooble-de-what ass. (Liam Neeson died in EPISODE I – from the first frame onwards – but he phoned-in a couple of scenes that we’ve all tried successfully to forget.) EPISODE II saw Yoda go medieval, and the two supposedly lead characters (Obi-Wan Kenobi and his padawan, Anakin Skywalker) were relegated to transparent bodyguard roles. (I have it on good authority that the word “padawan” is from an Old Jedi translation meaning “whining bee-atch.”)
Now here comes EPISODE III and George, with a completely straight face, has the gall to tell the world that the story of STAR WARS Compleat is, and always was, the tale of how Darth Vader came to wear such tight black trousers.
And I’m not buying it.
George’s storytelling is like that scene in Monty Python’s LIFE OF BRIAN, when Brian is trying to evade Roman centurions by masquerading as a streetside philosopher:
Brian: “Look, there was this man and he had two servants-”
Onlooker: “What were their names?”
B: “I don’t know – and he gave them some talents-”
O: “You don’t know!”
B: “Well, it doesn’t matter!”
O: “He doesn’t know what they were called!”
B: “Alright – they were called Simon and Adrian. Now-”
O: “Oooh – you said you didn’t know!”
B: “It really doesn’t matter! The point is there were these two-”
O: “Oooh – he’s makin’ it up as ‘e goes along!”
B: “No, I’m not! -and he gave them some – wait a minute, was that three?-”
Crowd: “Ohh- ‘e’s terrible!- Get off!-”
B: “-alright, three – there were three servants-”
If you haven’t yet figured it out, George is “Making It Up As He Goes Along” (I will provide two jaw-gaping examples of MIUAHGA-filmmaking in a moment). To this end, he feels he needs the small screen to expand on the story between EPISODES III and IV; to add Even More Explanatory Flummery to an already-bloated and overwritten, un-thought-out tale…
M.I.U.A.H.G.A. Example 1: How can even the most hardened fanboy accept plot contrivances like Padme dying in childbirth because “she lost the will to live”? You must be kidding us, right? What does the coroner’s report say? “Cause of Death: lost will to live” – ? Are you COMPLETELY MENTAL? More like George lost the will to devote two more minutes to the script to give her a plausible ailment. I’m sure that Lucas made the decision to have a medical robot deliver these lines because he couldn’t find a human actor who could KEEP HIS FACE THAT STRAIGHT whilst voicing this sheer bullshit.
M.I.U.A.H.G.A. Example 2: So it was decided to hide the weak-willed Padme’s twins (Luke and Leia Skywalker) from the Empire. And thus do we address the greatest strategic blunder encompassing this entire saga: in order to keep Luke’s identity secret from the Dark Side, and to avoid spies getting a handle on his location, and to discourage anyone using the intergalactic phone book to look him up; in order to keep him unequivocally, gungaliciously incognito, to cloud his presence from the eeevil Emperor and The Jedi Formerly Known As Skywalker, let’s call the boy – hmm, how about “SKYWALKER”?
Lucas would not need to explore the TV option if he had simply edited out the irrelevant content in EPISODE III. To wit: did we really need to see deconstructive droids eating Obi-Wan’s fighter during the opening battle?; did we even need to see the opening battle? – couldn’t it have been expositioned in ten words or less in the characteristic text crawl?; how did Yoda’s trip to Wookiee-World advance the plot?; why did Obi-Wan spend so much time on a computer lizard battling a droid which had a minimal strategic influence to the main storyline?; Yoda’s interminable battles with Palpatine were a case of “yeh, it was cute the first time…”; and despite what George might think, the scenes between Anakin and Padme did NOT serve to illustrate their mighty love, it simply dragged the meandering plot to a dead stop. These few points alone, with strategic editing and insertion of relevant material, could have saved us from a lifetime of STAR WARS spinoffs and TV mini-series.
Hold tight, my brethren, the next ten television years are going to be rough. Jesus was right: truly, the geek shall inherit the earth.
saving the beginning for the end:
why star wars makes more sense bass-ackwards
Creating the prequel “trilogy” was a Grand Gaffe for two reasons. (Oh, how we sycophant ourselves to George’s will: it was HE who dubbed this set a “trilogy,” when in fact, the Star Wars saga is now quite obviously a “hexology.”)
Firstly, every movie has a backstory – but that doesn’t mean we have to actually see the bacskstory as a movie unto itself! As Lucas is no doubt aware, from his Screenwriting 101 classes, in order to write a movie, one creates interesting backstories for each character involved in the story and then the movie virtually writes itself. Lucas obviously wrote an incredible backstory treatment for STAR WARS (1977), which is why that movie still holds up, despite its many flaws, but his unhelmeted megalomania led him to believe that everyone wanted to see that treatment as not just one, but three (!) movies, constituting the worst error in judgment since O.J. was acquitted.
Secondly, in creating the “prequel trilogy” EPISODES IV, V and VI have been robbed of all their inherent suspense, surprise and wonder. The grand irony is that the hexology should be viewed in the order it was created (it actually makes more dramatic sense that way), for if one were to view it in chronological order, when Luke hears Vader thoom, “I…am your father!”, every viewer born after 2005, is going to say, “So?” When Ben Kenobi tells Luke that Vader killed his father, those same viewers will know that he is lying. And when Leia lip-locks Luke, well – now it’s just plain incest! Colonel Sanders has given out his Secret Recipe; Bruce Willis is a ghost; Rosebud is a sled; Forest Whitaker’s girlfriend is a MAN, man! And nevermore will the visage of Darth Vader create chills or mystery; the curtain was pulled aside and his tight black trousers were around his ankles. (Well, actually, they’re still stuck to his smoldering flesh – would it not have been more medically sound to remove the shreds of carbonized clothing from his body before Darth-ing him up? Forget the rebellion – the constant stench of fried flesh-polyester inside his suit alone would be enough to keep him so monumentally pissed all the time.)
Speaking of being suited up, for two movies now, Christensen’s enunciation has been somewhere between gayboy and lisping teenage girl – it seems dismemberment and third degree burns suddenly allows him to enunciate like a Shakespearean veteran. The “breath-mask” is irrelevant. Both Ewan McGregor (as Obiwan) and Christensen are playing characters which have already been fleshed out for them; McGregor, in embodying his “young Kenobi” character, obviously worked hard to precisely match Alec Guinness’s intonation, enunciation and wry delivery, whereas Christensen’s research on James Earl Jones’s articulate delivery is illustrated by continuing to enunciate like a lisping teenage girl and growing his hair three inches since the last movie.
EPISODE III is proud to claim title to the Goofiest Inconsolable B-Movie Yawp – even goofier than Captain Kirk’s vengeful, “Khaaaaaaan!” – it belongs to Boy Darth, when told of his wife’s death, emitting THE stock B-movie cliché, “Noooooooo!” as camera pans backwards and audience laughs.
virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied:
why the writer of star wars is not qualified to write star wars
Having more reverence for the mythology than Lucas, a coterie of Fanboys probably should have written the screenplays for the prequel trilogy. And that’s the quandary: George Lucas is not a “fan” of his own creation anymore – he’s the head of the corporation – and like any corporate head, he pays no attention whatsoever to his corporation’s product – he’s just concerned with the bottom-line profits. He’s paid no attention for the last 20 years, why should he start now, if it’s still raking in billions worldwide?
As important a businessman as he is, as a movie director, George has not done much else except STAR WARS over the last 30 years. One would think that in immersing himself in his own mythos, living the insular life of a recluse on that Skywalker Ranch, surrounded by yes-men, toadies and übergeeks, he would have a stronger grasp on the finer details of his own saga – but it’s this very insularity and sycophantism that is detrimental to George’s creativity – no one tells him “no,” so his skewed visions become reality.
Much like one can imagine George W. Bush sitting on his bedroom floor in full military regalia, playing with an array of toy tanks and soldiers, oblivious to the real ramifications of wars and presidential protocol, one can also visualize how Lucas writes his scripts – cross-legged on the floor, in full stormtrooper armor, surrounded by his own mini-empire of toy merchandise, making “zhheeee”-ing sounds as he makes spaceships fly through noise-less space and makes his action-figure denizens of strange worlds punch each other and voices all their dialogue, “I’ll get you Boomba-tomby!” [pitch voice higher] “No you won’t, Slut-bum-Walla!” [pitch voice lower] “I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Boofta Shirtlifter.” [make unique squealing noise with lips] “But what about the Separatists, Inglebert Humperdink?” all the while harboring the most rudimentary apprehension of concepts like Senate, Republic, Empire and Democracy.
Lucas has created a society in which a religious order are the mandated peace-keepers (no extra marks for seeing an analog in Dubya’s presidency), supposedly fighting to uphold democracy, yet at the first sign of dissidence, out with the lightsabers and off with your arms. Anakin has turned to The Dark Side, so what do we do? Well – obviously we have to KILL him. Democracy in action.
Ironically, Anakin’s last act before turning unconvincingly to the Dark Side is to uphold democracy (!) as he entreats Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) to bring Palpatine to trial, rather than go Pulp Fiction on his ass. The very order which George has established to embody rational behavior (The Jedi) are ultimately more vigilante than the Sith when circumstances slip out of their control. And Obi-Wan has the audacity to state to Anakin during their final duel: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” These two instances alone illustrate Lucas’s dubious grasp of semantics and consequently on the storyline as a whole, for when characters speak of “the republic” or “the senate” or “the empire,” we can never be absolutely sure that Lucas himself knows what ideology his characters are referring to.
And if we are to believe George when he says that this whole shebang is about Vader, then he has talked himself into a misdemeanor, for in retrospect we now see EPISODES I and II for what they really are – padding. He’s gyped us either way. Most of this film didn’t need to exist either, as the thread of Anakin’s descent was sidetracked constantly in this glorified advertisement for Industrial Light & Magic, in order to inject non sequitur characters into the fray simply to extend the range of toys that George could hawk.
That’s not to say that the marketing is helping the street-cred of the franchise – seeing Darth Vader psychically choke a talking M&M or having the Cheetos feline in a Darth helmet kinda puts the kibosh on the gravitas of the Dark Side. And the Darth bobble-head can only symbolize true hatred of the Republic in a way that the Darth Slurpee could never hope to convey.
it can talk, it can walk, anakin act better than hayden:
the bright men behind the dark lord
But let’s give credit where it’s due: Credit should go to Lucas only for helming such ingenious craftsmen, not for being a craftsman himself. When it comes to exhibiting HIS side of the film-making process, he’s demonstrated he can write a good Treatment (EMPIRE, JEDI), but he can’t write a good movie; we’re also well aware that he shuns having to actually “direct” human actors.
The real makers of this movie’s many enjoyable aspects are the special effects geniuses at ILM. Lucas contributes no technical prowess to putting the Computer Graphic Imagery together and, like all directors of CGI-laden films, has no clue how the finished product will look, trusting to the instincts, talent and creativity of his staff – his only input is the initial description, consultation during creation and the final-cut approval – a task which ANY ONE OF US could do as well as he. Anyone can write an outline that describes two fighters whizzing through fleets of star-destroyers and vulture droids firing missiles at them – then it’s up to the forward-thinkers at ILM to put it together in three virtual dimensions onscreen.
Lucas’s chief role in the creation of this movie is to pull all the human elements together, replete with their motivations, backstory, blocking, camera angles, emotional politics, etc. – all of which he has done merely adequately; there is nothing “creative” or “inspiring,” or even “interesting” in what he’s done with the cast and camera in REVENGE OF THE SITH. But don’t be misled; indeed, over half the contingent of “actors” onscreen are CGI, and owing to their acting prowess (provided by those menial techs), they raise the bar for some of their three-dimensional counterparts and give the erroneous impression that Lucas is a worthy director.
Instead of praising Lucas for “directing” the “CGI action,” consider that anyone can talk up a storm to a technician about the camera whooshing through the towers of a cliff city whilst a pterodactyloid comes in for a landing – that’s not “directing,” that’s “delegation,” or “leaving it in the hands of the hundreds of design artists and CGI freaks on staff.” Calling yourself a “director” simply because you put the “Stamp Of Approval” on the CGI work is outrageously megalomaniacal. Anyone would put the “Stamp Of Approval” on such work – look at it! It’s indescribably fantastic! In essence, the elements which make this “a good STAR WARS film” were not rendered by George’s hand… If Roger Corman had this kind of technical expertise at his disposal, we wouldn’t have MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 today.
As the co-screenwriter and director, Lucas also has the final say on what gets said onscreen in the final cut – and the dialogue in this film is, as usual, laughably asinine. Either that, or the measured deliverance of political machinations makes your eyes glaze over quicker than Natalie Portman can change into another ludicrous hairstyle.
John Williams’s majestic, heavily-choral score actually connotes that something with a lot more import is happening onscreen. For the first time, it actually overshadows the visuals appreciably. With all the movie’s conceptual and directorial flaws, I couldn’t be sold on the fact that anything really grandiose was taking place, worthy of having this stirring music as a soundtrack – even when Vader rose all black and James Earl Jones-y.
The movie can easily be split into two presentational modes: CGI-mode and human-mode: consider how the action grinds to a standstill whenever there are only humans onscreen; dead air, embarrassment for the actors and their children’s children, nothing going on except the background sky-traffic and some bad line reads and Ewan McGregor beatifically channeling Sir Alec Guinness like The Force really IS with him…. And when the action does start again, you’re praying that by the time the DVD is released you will have lost the urge to buy it in order to watch it in slow motion to see just what the hell was going on.
the emperor’s new clothes:
still naked under all those robes
A long time ago, in a movie far, far away, Lucas once envisioned himself as the innocent farmboy, Luke Skywalker, gazing longingly into the twin sunsets of Tatooine [that scene still brings a tear to my eye, but – discounting the impossibility of human life flourishing in the erratic environs of a twin-sun system, and without even considering the implausible orbital mechanics of this planetary system for Tatooine to be experiencing a double-sunset – how come Luke (and everything else out in the daylight) only has ONE shadow?].
Adhering to the only work-ethic he knows (i.e. “Making It Up As He Goes Along”), Lucas then transferred his id to Darth Vader, leaving Luke as his ego. His superego was always Han Solo. If all this is too much Freudian slippage for you, don’t worry – it’s moot. Though Lucas would like to believe his soul was embodied in the trinity of the farmboy, the villain and the rogue, what he himself could not even fathom is that he was always, in reality, THE EMPEROR. Once a young, idealistic senator with only the good of the people in mind (STAR WARS 1977), his lust for conquest grew as the people bequeathed him more power (EMPIRE STRIKES BACK 1980 – Oscars and Grammys under the belt), until he created his own moral standard (RETURN OF THE JEDI 1983 – ILM entrenched as THE special effects studio in Hollywood), minions of followers under his spell through sheer Force (PHANTOM MENACE 1999 – they came in droves, in answer to the ubiquitous marketing), oblivious to his evil intent (ATTACK OF THE CLONES 2002 – they came back for more, like zombies to a higher calling), forgiving him for the lies he tells and the snake oil he sells (REVENGE OF THE SITH 2005 – ’nuff said!); his stormtroopers were second directors, FX supervisors, marketers and production managers and his Darth Lords reside in their sith palace called 20th Century Fox. And from his Death Star homebase at Skywalker Ranch, shielded from the vicissitudes of reality, Emperor George Lucas RULES THE GALAXY.
In 2005, the Emperor is wearing new clothes. An invisible coat of iridescent colors called EPISODE III…