Episode Drei

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
As previously mentioned, I acquired a ticket to attend a screening of Episode III yesterday morning. I had to hoof it out to King of Prussia in order to see it, but my efforts were rewarded with a continental breakfast, coffee, complimentary popcorn and soda, a brief and boring product rundown by the vendor responsible for the whole affair, a blue “Jedi Knight light saber” flashlight/glow stick and lastly, the movie itself.
On to the impressions of said movie! To paraphrase James Lileks’ review of Episode II: It didn’t suck.
First off, the high points. The print that I saw was absolutely flawless, with vibrant colors and a crispness that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen on a non-IMAX presentation before (Lucas’ choice of the newest in digital moviemaking technology probably has a lot to do with it). The visual effects department at Lucasfilms is obviously at the top of their game – the sweeping vistas, busy Coruscant skies, intense battles on Kashyyk and flawless lightsaber duels all serve admirably to transport you, the viewers, into the Star Wars universe. Yoda was done right this time, by which I mean he actually looked like a puppet. Except for the fluidity with which he moved, he very well could have been a Henson’s Creature Shop creation. I was quite impressed. Frank Oz’s voicework as Yoda was, as always, excellent and he and Ian MacDiarmid (as Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine) put in wonderfully campy performances.
It also became apparent to me why Lucas picked Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman to play Anakin and Padme Skywalker. Several times I found myself thinking “Boy, Christiansen actually does look like a young Mark Hamill. I could see him being Luke’s father.” and “In the right light, Portman does have a Fisher-esque air about her. She pulls of the whole ‘Leia’s mom’ thing.” Heaven knows it wasn’t because he could motivate them to act.
Lastly, Lucas apparently decided to constrain Jar Jar Binks to a single three second non-speaking appearance, and the movie is better off for it.
Next, the low points. The dialog is atrocious; it’s every bit as bad as you’ve heard. The performances were all (Oz and MacDiarmid excepted) wooden, stilted and thoroughly unengaging. During close-up dialog scenes, relentlessly busy backgrounds distract from what the characters are actually saying (David Edelstein calls this compunction of Lucas’ “digititis” – “the compulsion to sprinkle every frame, every pixel with cyber-MSG, so that the simplest conversation is upstaged by a backdrop of shuttle-crafts darting up and down, side to side, and diagonally. It’s like competing for attention with hundreds of goldfish on speed.”), which, come to think of it, could actually be considered a blessing when you realize just how lousy the actual dialog is.
There are also several large continuity problems, at least when you attempt to reconcile the events and timelines of this prequel trilogy with those in the original three. I’ll lay out a few more of my nit-picky issues in the spoilers section below.
In total, though, Episode III was eminently worth seeing. I’d place it after Episode IV/”Star Wars”/”A New Hope” on my Star Wars Enjoyment Scale (it’s V,IV,III,VI,II,I, in case you were wondering). Like a joke whose punchline one already knows, it’s all about the delivery. Fortunately, Lucas’ delivery of Ep. III exceeds his mediocre efforts in the first two prequels. This is one movie he shouldn’t be ashamed of.

Now, to the nits:

  • In Return of the Jedi, Leia clearly tells Luke that she remembers her mother, which is an impossibility seeing as Padme dies in childbirth.
  • Jimmy Smits: super legislator. I didn’t buy it on The West Wing, I ain’t buyin’ it here. Clearly he’s the Billy Dee Williams of the prequels.
  • “If you’re not with me… you’re my enemy!”? Egah.
  • For a bunch of mystical martial artists with supposed “Spidey Sense”-esque precognition abilities, Jedi sure are easy to shoot in the back.
  • Samuel L. Jackson is a bad, bad mamma jamma. Why’d he have to go down screaming? Dooku didn’t.
  • Speaking of Jackson, did you know the characters he plays die in over 90% of his film rolls he takes? Dig the top 10 according to Entertainment Weekly.
  • The CGI’d babies were among some of the worst digital effects I’ve seen in ages. Did they just run out of SFX money towards the end?
  • I’m not buying the fact that a healthy and hale Macgregor turns into Alec Guiness after only twenty years. Unless those twin suns really did a number on him…
  • I remain unconvinced at the reason Anakin becomes Vader and the ease with which Palpatine-Sidious “lures” him in. “Become evil!” “No!” “It’s the only thing that can save your wife! You have to believe me, because, errrm, I’m like totally powerful in addition to being evil.” “Okay.” “Kill children!” “Yes, my master, as long as she doesn’t die.”
  • Dying of a broken heart? Give me a break, Lucas. Looked more like a broken trachea, thanks to Darth Soon-To-Be-Limbless.
  • Is there any reason any of the Jedi Council ever needed to actually wear the hoods on their cloaks? I mean, with their heads so far up their posteriors, I’d figure they’d have ample protection for their craniums.
  • Mary Shelley’s estate has a pretty good copyright infringment case against Lucas for that cringe-worthy Frankenstein’s Monster-esque “Noooooooooooo!”. I don’t think I was supposed to laugh, but I joined my fellow theatergoers in doing so.


Other reviews:
Glenn Reynolds collects reviews, both good and bad. Will Collier reviews it (make sure to read the insightful comments that follow his review too). Vin-Dawg loved it as did Photo Matt. Tyler Cowen offers a Straussian reading of the entire Star Wars universe, to humorous effect. Arthur Chrenkoff takes Lucas to task for being stuck in a Vietnam-era mindset, while PunditGuy offers a striking comparison for the Catholic faithful. Ed Driscoll didn’t see the supposed anti-Bush message but didn’t enjoy the movie any more for the lack of it. Seth over at Say Anything dug it, although his placing of Return of the Jedi as his former favorite SW movie (supplanted by Episode III, no less!) does cast suspicion on his opinion. John Podhoretz excoriated it.
But don’t let me or any of these reviews stunt your interest. Go see it at least once and come to your own conclusions. Just don’t say it’s better than Empire, or we’ll have to have speaks, one-on-one, you and I.

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