Friday, May 20, 2005

Sith is goddamn amazing.

Tonight, I watched Revenge of the Sith.

As a Star Wars fan these days, you pretty much fall into one of two camps: Original Trilogy purists, and Prequel "apologists." The purists despise the new films. The apologists seem to range from having liked the new films, to having genuinely loved them.

I'm an apologist. I like the first two prequels just fine. I'm well aware they have flaws, and rather large ones. But I think I'm going to enjoy watching the Phantom Menace with my kids, should I ever spawn, and despite the truly awful "love" dialogue and Natalie Portman-as-block-of-wood, I really do dig Attack of the Clones.

So, naturally, I expected to enjoy Revenge of the Sith. At the very least, it'd be entertaining. What I didn't expect was to have been moved by it. And what I'm surprised and incredibly pleased by, is that I see the Original Triolgy and those characters (especially Vader) in a new, deeper, tragic light that turns what has always been a seminal-if-lightweight trilogy of films into something more affecting.

While the first two films were good enough to work for me, I can still admit that they lacked a certain spark. Having seen Sith, I realize that what the first two films lacked was real conflict.

The Phantom Menace only really comes alive in any sort of resonant sense when Darth Maul hits the scene. There's a good reason for that. Up until that point, the villians of the film have been cartoonish, distant, and largely unthreatening. The weirdly Asian-sounding green guys blockading Naboo are basically the Stooges in rubber masks, and their army of bizarre bird-faced robots are about as scary as a birthday cake. In Attack of the Clones, this improves, as Jango Fett makes for a somewhat-interesting fight, but again, the film only really comes alive once the more personal and defined threat of Christopher Lee's Count Dooku hits the screen. There's a palpable lack of urgency to any of the threats that rear up in the first two Prequels, and they feel episodic - like television shows.

In Sith, the menace is real, intimate, and interesting. It's apparent almost from frame one, and that fact makes all the difference in the world. I'm not sure if Lucas was sharpening up during the last two films, and really only hit his stride with the final one, or if Rick McCallum found the secret genius section of Lucas' brain in a closet somewhere and replaced it, but it feels as though another director shot the film. Its alive and kinetic where, for the majority of their running times, the previous two were static. The palette is noticably greyer, Lucas' galaxy appropriately grimmer, and yet the images seem more vibrant and more convincing than in the previous two.

There were so many things I genuinely, unabashedly enjoyed about the film, that to list them would needlessly waste nonexistent internet "space," so instead, I'm just going to make a list of some of the things I liked best:

-Hayden Christiansen's performance is light-years more assured, and the deeper grounding he has makes all the difference in the world. I bought everything that came out of his mouth here, and he brought gravity and conviction to the role.

-Ewan McGregor seems to be channeling Alec Guiness from somewhere in the great beyond, and the effect is both disconcerting and powerful. He disappears into his role in this one almost completely, to where I essentially forgot he was playing him.

-Ian McDiarmid gives good evil.

-I love the ambiguities. I love that Palpatine essentially hints at the fact that his former Sith master created Anakin, but that its never said, either that Palpatine was the younger Sith in the story, or that Anakin was the result of his master's manipulation. That's classy stuff in my opinion. And that ambiguity runs through everything. There's a line in the OT: " Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." That line is given a new twist when Palpatine tells Anakin that good and evil are points of view. And that seems to be one of Lucas' overarching thematic points. Yes, the lust for power and control is destructive, but so is the denial of emotion at the expense of human relationships. Neither the jedi, nor the sith are completely in the right, and that makes for interesting watching.

-Yoda...Several times, the animators got him to the point where he looked rubbery and truly three dimensional. And like gollum, I found myself relating to and feeling for a digital creature in a live action film. That's quite an accomplishment.

-The final duel was wrenching. Knowing that Anakin's fate was sealed did not stop me from wanting him to just sit down with old Obi Wan for a healthy and emotionally cleansing chat.

I want to write more, but good lord this is long. The film's got problems, but its a mark of its overall quality that I don't care enough about them to write about them. I'm seeing it again over the weekend with my girlfriend, and I can't wait. Damn good film, George.