Monday, June 06, 2005

. . . Nothing But Star Wars

Finally, finally (finally) saw Revenge of the Sith on Friday. The short version? Loved it. Better than Episodes I, II, and VI and damn close to IV and V. The long (spoiler-iffic) version follows. This is pretty much just flash-impressions, an almost-laundry list of what I liked, more than any real, coherent review. Be warned.

The opening space battle was great. That opening, seemingly never-ending tracking shot was amazing. And I love that today's technology allows Lucas to do something like this, to open not just with a long shot of two spaceships entering a massive battle, but to eventually zoom in, in the same shot, right into the cockpit, where we can see the actors. You can't do that with models, and for all of the moaning about what's been "lost" with CGI versus flesh and blood models, I'd never want to trade.

The rescue of the Chancellor was some much-needed traditional Star Wars action escapades. Even the R2 stuff, which I mildly object to on the grounds that he never proves this versatile 20 years later, served to bring in more of that light, space opera, Flash Gordon feel. And the reason I loved it so much is that it was so wickedly ironic. I mean, at the end of it all, after this dashing, almost good-humored adventurous rescue, Anakin, in cold blood, beheads Dooku. It's a great moment, and very important for the turn later on--we need to be reminded that he likes losing control like this already. Christenson is wonderful in this movie, much better than in the second, and he really nails these kinds of moments, these internal struggles Anakin faces throughout the film.

The much-ballyhooed opera scene pretty much delivered as expected. McDermid is as terrific as reported, hammy without being too so. The interaction between the two is a large part of what makes the film work--their relationship is a large part of why we believe in Anakin's turn.

I liked the Wookie material a lot, precisely because it was so minor. This is a point I keep returning to, but Lucas is clearly making these three prequel films with a firm eye towards how they'll play chronologically. So while we Star Wars fanatics may have been looking forward to more Wookie action, within the context of this story, a story in which a Wookie is just one more alien race and Kashyyk one more alien planet, the very brief shots we got were enough to establish that Yoda is helping out in yet another Clone Wars battle. We really didn't even need Chewbacca named--that was a sop to the fans.

The much talked-about turning scene, the death-of-Windu scene, did initially leave me cold. I had some trouble with the notion that Anakin, the same Anakin who maybe an hour earlier had run to Windu would betray him like that. But upon reflection it's starting to make sense. I think a big part of understanding his character is realizing that the power, the sheer, unadulterated thrill of having power, is a big part of who Anakin is. Lucas gave us all of the signposts early on--even from the pod races. Anakin loved racing not just for the thrill of speed, but because he was so damn good at it. He loved being special, being better than others. "I'm the only human who can do it." That pride and eagerness for more is a large part of why he turns. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the wanting to save Padme bit is really more of a justification--for Anakin, not Lucas--than anything else. Not that Anakin doesn't care for her and desperately want to be able to save her, he does, but even more than that, I think, is that he wants the power he believes Palpatine can give him. He embraces the Sith way (call it that and the turn makes more sense--"Dark side" being tainted with such pre-judged sentiment) more for that power than for what it supposedly can do.

I loved how we really got a feel for how good Obi-Wan is. The adventures on whatever planet he goes to to hunt down Grievous were, again, good Star Wars fun. The lizard-horse, the fights with Grievous. Absolutely adored the call-ahead to A New Hope, when he cals blasters "uncivilized."

The Order 66 montage was gut-wrenching stuff, and Lucas actually answered for me the questions that's been bugging me for 20 some odd years now--how do you exterminate the Jedi? Answer--allow them to do what they do best for three years, leading armies into battle and fighting for peace, let them have three years to develop trust in these armies they lead, and then ambush them with those armies with absolutely no warning. I had no problem with the notion that they could be taken down like this. And, while I've always held fast to the notion that all the Jedi, save Yoda and Obi-Wan were killed, I love the seed that's been planted here, that there may be straggler Jedi who weren't killed. The main problem I had with the live-action TV series Lucas has announced, to take place during the twenty years between Episodes III and IV, was precisely that--that there would be no Jedi. Now, it seems that there might. And that one piece of that series' puzzle might be the further extermination of them.

Yoda sensing the attack of his troopers at the last possible moment and decapitating them in one swoop was one of the most bad-ass moments from all six films.

Anakin and the younglings--again, the seed was planted with the Sandpeople. "I killed them all. The women and children too." Go back to your trusty DVD and watch that sequence again. Is Anakin upset because of what he did or because of how much he enjoyed it?

The Padme and Anakin scene on Mustafar was wonderful. You could see the horror dawn on her face as she realized what Anakin had become, and when he sees Obi-Wan and assumes that she brought his teacher to Mustafar to kill him, and he reacts in rage by trying to kill his wife--that's when it all clicked for me. The reason the turn didn't work for me at first was because he hadn't turned. There is no "turning moment," and in fact "turn" is hardly the proper term. It's a slow process, probably started as soon as he meets the Jedi council and is cruelly rebuffed as a child. And it is only completed in that moment, when he's so comfortable just giving in to his rage that he can go after Padme.

The climactic duel was maybe the best sequence of all six films, just so emotional. Williams' judiciously holding back the new theme until then was a masterstroke, the music did so much to heighten the emotion. And I loved how closely Lucas ties things together, when Anakin is finally defeated, it's because of his arrogance, he attacks when he shouldn't. It's his giving in to the rage that's his undoing. If he had waited for a better vantage point he most likely would have defeated Obi-Wan. But he rushes in anger and is destroyed. Also, that move is the same one Obi-Wan used on Darth Maul--flipping over a higher opponent and slashing on the way down. And that's why he knew to take Anakin's legs out while he was in mid-air, and why he wasn't surprised by it, as Maul was.

Anakin igniting and burning was just brutal--I have a niece whom I've shown Episodes I and II to, and I'll definitely have to wait before showing her this one (she's 6).

Darth Vader's rise was handled well, even if the "NOOOO!!" was a bit off, tonally.

Loved the tying up bits, the Captain Antilles being given the droids, the Beru and Owen being given Luke, the Organas taking Leia. The brief mention of Qui-Gon was too brief, though. This was obviously meant to clear up the whole Jedi-ghost thing, but was done so quickly that I'm not sure what was going on.

That's all I got for now. I dearly hope to see the movie again, obviously, and will report on any new impressions if I do.

Until Whenever

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