… and boy, am I glad that the Star Wars franchise is finally over. (Don’t worry, I’ll be good; I’ll avoid giving away any spoilers.)
I would be proud to have been a member of the special effects crew on just about any shot. And I am pleased to see that Ewan McGregor and especially Hayden Christensen turn in better-modulated performances than they did in Episode II.
But there isn’t much else to praise here. Natalie Portman has little to do, and she seems to be waiting for her commitment to this series to end as soon as possible, so that she can go on to more Cold Mountains and Garden States and Closers. And some scenes are so ripe for parody, they practically satirize themselves; indeed, amidst my scribblings, I made a point of noting every scene that provoked unintended laughter in the audience.
Once again, George Lucas has proved that he has no sense of how either politics or romance works, even though his prequels revolve around these things. This flaw is especially problematic here, since, as Obi-Wan told us in Episode IV, “Vader was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.” Alas, Lucas is as tin-eared and ham-fisted with spiritual seduction as he is with the romantic kind. Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment of this film is that it takes what ought to be the most operatic, significant moments of Star Wars history and trundles through them in as bland and perfunctory (yet often noisy) a manner as possible. When Anakin finally becomes Darth Vader, the moment just kind of happens, without quite the degree of ceremony that you expect — and the moment is undermined even further by the fact that you just don’t buy Anakin’s sudden conversion. (Peter Jackson handled this sort of thing so much better in his Lord of the Rings films.)
This is the first film that Lucas has written and produced since the “war on terror” began (Episode II came out eight months after the September 11 attacks, but it was already well into post-production by then), so of course he tucks in some subtext here and there. The opening crawl equivocates in an interesting way; it refuses to take sides in the Sith-engineered war between the Republic and the Separatists, telling us instead, “There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.” Meanwhile, Amidala blathers on, once again, about the need for “diplomacy” instead of war. And yet, at one pivotal point, a character insists on the need for due process and sending an evil tyrant to the courts instead of making a unilateral assassination attempt — and this gives the tyrant just the leverage he needs to win the day. A sign of clever dramatic conflict, or just self-contradiction on Lucas’s part? You be the judge.
The film may also have stumbled into the Terri Schiavo debate, since Yoda has a few lines about how death is “natural”, and it turns out that one of the key ways Palpatine, the secret Sith lord and future Emperor, tempts Anakin is by promising him the power to prolong life, which the Jedi consider “unnatural”. It is ironic, thus, that both men are wounded so badly and physically marked for life by the events of this particular film. (And yet, there is also a strange bit of dialogue near the end about how someone — I won’t say who — has discovered a form of “immortality”.)
It is interesting to hear Palpatine tell Anakin that what is “good” depends on one’s “point of view”. Relativistic “point of view” thinking was advocated by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode VI, when he tried to justify his lies to Luke as a form of truth-telling. Has Lucas realized the error of that approach? Or is this just more muddled self-contradiction? Or did Lucas want us to see Obi-Wan as part of the problem all along? (After all, as I point out in my review of Episode II, if Luke had continued to believe Obi-Wan’s lies, Anakin would never have been redeemed.)
FWIW, I have been wondering for years how Lucas would resolve a potential major problem in his films’ continuity. It is fairly well-known that Lucas did not decide Luke and Leia would be twins until some time between Episodes V and VI — and you can’t make a major change like that to your back-story without seriously twisting it into knots. What’s more, in Episode VI itself, Luke asks Leia what she remembers of her mother, who died when Leia was very young; we are clearly supposed to believe that Luke is asking this because he believes Leia will be describing his mother to him. The problem is, if a high-ranking politician like Amidala was raising a girl who grew up to become yet another high-ranking politician on Alderaan, then who did Anakin think that girl’s father was? And once Anakin discovered that he had a son named Luke, he surely must have known that Amidala was Luke’s mother … which would presumably have made Leia Anakin’s daughter, too. See the problem? Well, I won’t say how the film resolves this, except to say that I was pretty disappointed. And the fact that Jimmy Smits delivers one of the film’s dumbest lines at this point in the film just rankles that much more.
Or it would, if I cared all that much. But the prequels may have cured me of that.
And now to write the actual review …