Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sithing Ducks

I went to see "Revenge of the Sith" on Friday. As much as it pains me to deviate from Anthony Lane's opinion, he got it wrong here, and for a most unusual reason for him: He missed the emotional core of the movie, the dark bind that twists Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. And most surprisingly for George Lucas, who thus far has seemed to be interested only in the coldly soulless and mechanical, that bind is love. Anakin loves Padme; he has visions of her dying in childbirth; the Dark Side promises to teach him to protect her and their unborn child(ren) from death -- and a little moral wrestling and many lightsaber battles later, the saturnine Darth Vader rises and takes that first sucking, ominous breath.

While this may sound obvious and programmatic on the page, it went a long way toward redeeming the first two prequels for me: I finally understood why George Lucas included all that godawful emotionally telling dialogue in "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" -- he had to set up Anakin's love for his mother and Padme and obsession with loss, and the only way he knew how to do that was by having Anakin say it right out in some of the worst dialogue ever typed. (No matter how good Lucas's ideas are, he still has no excuse for not getting an intelligent scriptwriter to convert the ideas into speakable English.) Still, here at last was the emotional and moral complication that has been missing from the enterprise thus far, and I was surprised and impressed.

There are other pleasures in "Revenge of the Sith" beyond this sudden growth of complexity: the lightsaber battles (especially any involving Yoda); some breathtakingly gorgeous land- and starscapes on the various planets of the Republic; the John Williams score; watching Sidious/Palpatine, Vader, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Luke, Leia, and R2-D2 and C-3PO move into their assigned positions on the stage for Episode IV, feeling them click into place with what we already know will happen. I was surprised again by how immediately Anakin and Obi-Wan darting among the Sith ships in their star cruisers took me back to the excitement I felt when I was six years old watching similar scenes in the original trilogy. And the editing was terrific, particularly in the climactic sequence where Luke and Leia's birth is contrasted with Vader's.

There are other annoyances, too, beyond the dialogue: Natalie Portman is given nothing to do but literally sit around and look pretty as she swells with child; Anakin's final capitulation to the Dark Side happens a little too quickly for all the agonizing that has come before it; the acting seems to be almost deliberately wooden, as if Lucas wanted to mute Ewan McGregor's natural charisma and deny Hayden Christiansen any expression besides "brood"; and the Jedis, the Sith, the clones, the Republic, the Empire, the Senate, the proto-Storm Troopers, the Wookiees, the droids -- I found it impossible to sort out their aims, leaders, or alliances, or to care. But on the whole, I recommend "Revenge of the Sith." May the Force be with you.

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