Friday, May 20, 2005

Decision '08 At the Movies - Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

First, the basics. There were God knows how many screens in Austin showing the movie, but we had the only digital projection system in town, and thus, when I arrived forty-five minutes early, there were already about 150 people ahead of me. The general manager of the theater came out and said a few words about how pleased he was with the reception and how great the digital projection was compared to a 35mm print. Then Darth Vader himself came out (a very convincing costume, too), walked down the aisle, with his famous respirator breath, and stood before the curtain. Vader lit up his light saber, waved his hand, and the curtain parted.

The digital projection is indeed phenomenal, and has a very convincing depth to it that borders on the three-dimensional. The opening sequence was absolutely breathtaking, and easily the best Star Wars action sequence since the run on the Death Star in Episode IV (yes, that's right, I said that. I don't know how it plays on regular film, but on digital, it's a thrill). Lucas has clearly reached a comfort level with digital technology that is unsurpassed, and that makes me believe that Roger Ebert may be on to something when he says there may yet be that final trilogy. Curiously, some of the scenes from the final battle on the volcanic planet seem 'fakey'; I'm surprised Lucas let them go; perhaps he simply ran out of time.

I've said little about the movie. The movie is a colossal failure if one judges it on a literary or a philosophical plane. The dialogue, as usual, is horrible (though not as bad as some would lead you to believe), the plot has holes big enough to send an Imperial Battle Cruiser through, and worst of all, Anakin's descent into the Dark Side is unconvincing. Whether Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are good actors trapped by bad material or simply bad actors, I do not know; I do know that to carry all the mythological freight now invested in Darth Vader, it would have taken a great actor indeed.

Having said all that, the movie is a spectacular triumph by the standards of old B-movies, westerns, space operas (of which Star Wars is the progenitor), and all the other pure popcorn entertainment genres; indeed, on that level, the movie may be the best of its kind ever made. One has always had the feeling that the whole six-movie double trilogy has been a bit of a con game; Lucas plays coy with what he did or didn't know, plotwise, but I submit he knew next to nothing. The movies were always about adventure; everything else was secondary. And if he had to pretend to have some epic story arc to get his movies made and try out all his wonderful technological toys (not to mention all of the green stuff he's made), then so be it, here's your epic story.

So, in the end, the story has failed us; we invested too much in it for it to ever meet our expectations. Lucas is not Dostoevsky; he's not Tolkien; he's not even C.S. Lewis. The Star Wars plot has no life, and had precious little to begin with. It's been a grand adventure, though, and to all the critics I ask: aren't you glad you at least took the ride?

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