Stars: ***1/2 out of 4
Summary: Big darn space tragedy. It’s a been a long wait, and I’m satisfied. Thanks, George.
Review: By the time the esteemed Mr. Lucas got around to unleashing the final produced installment in ‘Star Wars’, the Prequels already had a pretty mixed reputation among hardcore fans, for varying reasons. It’s safe to say you can’t please everyone, and the expectations were so high that it was all too easy for Lucas & Co to let the audience down. The biggest complaint I remember ringing in my ears, as a young ‘Star Wars’ nut, was not in regards to plot or character or even Jar Jar Binks; it was the lack of Darth Vader, arguably one of the greatest bad guys ever put to celluloid. After ‘The Phantom Menace’, I think people understood that George was going back and telling the origins of Vader specifically, and that would be the dominant story arc over the Prequels. In Episode II, when Hayden Christensen — who is not a bad actor — showed us an Anakin Skywalker that was less cool than we had expected, I think folks were just ticked and wanted their favorite helmeted villain back.
Unfortunately for the large population of the movie audience that wanted all the Vader they could get, Lucas had other things in mind, and we were just going to have to live with it. To the satisfaction of many, however, Episode III proved to be the best of the Prequels, making up for our disappointment pretty well. ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is much better conceived and executed than its Prequel predecessors. It’s the most fun, the most emotional, and the most like the Original Trilogy. It also provided me with an Eureka moment about Lucas, the Prequels, and really the entire saga.
Lucas is actually a whole lot more clever then people give him credit for. The melodramatic hammy dialog of the Prequels is apparently by design. I don’t have this confirmed exactly when it comes to the screenplay, but I do have a yes in regards to how the dialog is delivered on screen. Considering that he had a major hand in writing all of the Original trilogy — especially Episode IV — I think it’s safe to say he does know the difference between good and bad dialog. The huge effort creative effort he put into realizing the Prequels is indicative of his lack of laziness when it comes to ‘Star Wars’. It appears to be that the melodrama is intentionally operatic and expresses a different kind of story than the Original trilogy did with its witty banter and frontier mentality. Sometime during the production, didn’t any one of the very competent actors turn to George and give him the classic “You can write this shit, George, but you can’t say it”? My impression is, they didn’t. Lucas probably clued them in on what they were doing. The Prequels are truly space opera; the Originals are space adventures enriched by space opera.
Episode III is very good. It shows how well Lucas’ intentional “mistakes” work. The exaggeration prevents the intense tragedy from punching us in the heart, but the tragedy still works phenomenally well, and reminds us that yes, Lucas does know how to write an effective, emotional story. Even with a sad lack of suited Darth Vader, it feels like a fitting bridge to end the saga, and it has become my second favorite ‘Star Wars’ movie after Episode VI.
Philosophically, this is one of the richest of the saga. Anakin’s metamorphosis into Darth Vader is predicated by the fear of loss. We already know that “Fear is the path to the dark side!” According to Master Yoda, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate… leads to suffering.” Yoda adds in Episode III, “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side… Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.” This is closely related to Buddhist and Orthodox Christian philosophy. In Orthodoxy, the triumph of Christ over death is paramount, and says that death itself is dead. It’s unable to truly destroy any longer. The fear of death and loss, then, is a perversion of the truth and is a path to suffering and evil. To let go and trust God in the face of death is essential. The next major theme is Darth Sidious’ rise to power and the creation of the evil Empire. Lucas based its evolution on the creation of real dictatorships. When a person is given power in time of crisis, what guarantees that they will let it go when the crisis has abated? What happens when the leader created the crisis as a power grab? History and the Prequels both testify that it is terrifyingly easy for a corrupt leader to engage in a Xanatos Gambit and twist their organization to their own ends. Other themes also exist in the film, but I covered them in my review for Episode II.
I’m very glad the Prequels were made. They’re highly imaginative and they really do feed into and enhance the awesomeness of the Originals.