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Jason Pontin

A View from Jason Pontin

It's a Load of Sith

Actually, Star Wars III: the Revenge of Sith wasn’t bad at all. I saw it this afternoon, and I was even moved. After the hand-wringingly awful Jar-jar Binks, and the nearly incomprehensible Attack of the Clowns (it may have been…

  • May 29, 2005

Actually, Star Wars III: the Revenge of Sith wasn’t bad at all. I saw it this afternoon, and I was even moved. After the hand-wringingly awful Jar-jar Binks, and the nearly incomprehensible Attack of the Clowns (it may have been “clones”), I wasn’t holding out much hope for the final installment of the Star Wars series. But I was wrong. Now, after a quarter of a century, we understand that the protoganist of the movies was never Luke Skywalker. The dark heart of the series is the story of how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader - how he is attracted to evil, is tempted, falls, overthrows the polity, and in the end, with what remains of his shriveled soul (at the conclusion of the first trilogy, now Parts IV - VI), plays his part in the redemption of the galaxy. I, at least, dug this mean reversal of the faery tale.

The dialogue, as has been much reported, is God-awful. One feels for the poor actors. It’s rumored that the British playwright Sir Tom Stoppard helped George Lucas out, but if he did, I couldn’t see it. (A sample from the small, green, master of Zen-lite: “Train yourself you must to let go of everything you fear to lose.”) Hayden Chistensen, the glowering youth who plays young Anakin, cannot act at all. And yet, and yet…

In the end, the movie has all the tragic inevitability of Paradise Lost. The movie is Miltonic in this sense, too: like Adam, who ate the fruit for Eve, Anakin Skywalker falls for essentially noble reasons. He falls for love. He knows, or senses, that his wife Padme will die in childbirth. The evil Chancellor Palpatine tempts him with the promise that the Dark Side of the Force will allow him to cheat this predeterminted death. The scenes where Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid) seduces Anakin are the best things in the movie. I may even have wiped a tear or two from my haggard cheeks.

There is a nice political current to the movie, too - one that has annoyed conservative Republicans. Movie-goers may recognize the accents of Darth Dubya some of Vader’s pronouncements. “You are either with me or against me,” Darth Vader snarls at one point. And when Palptatine declares himself Emperor, and the Senate cheers, Padme (Natalie Portman) notes, “So this is how liberty dies: with applause.”

It should also be said that even to eyes jaded by a decade of computer graphics, Star Wars III is visually stunning. The final, climactic scene where Anakin and Obi-Wan fight a light-saber duel over the hellish furnace of a world is a wonderful spectacle. Also, it is a fitting end for a movie whose real hero, it turns out, was the Bad Guy.

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