Friday, May 20, 2005

The End of the Prequels...

I saw Revenge of the Sith last night. And I can tell you, that despite various criticisms which one may have of it, it was a gripping film, containing artistry that if contained in the other two films, would have made them excellent.

My friend Jonathan Last posts this rather heavy-handed review of the pre-logy, calling it a failure. I agree with a number of his observations. The prequels were nowhere near the phenomenon that was the original trilogy. But then again, Star Wars is nothing new today. It was unheard of in 1977. By 1999, when Episode I hit the screen, it was an established part of our culture. And and we knew roughly what to expect from the prequels. Anakin was going to be discovered and he was going to turn bad. We were preparing to watch a tragedy unfold. And the prequels for sure unveiled a tragedy.

But this misses the point of many of the criticisms of the prequels. I think that if you came to them with a laundry list of questions, you were setting yourself up for disappointment. Yes, there was reason to expect various explanations, but expecting certain character details, like Anakin being a pill from childhood or Jedi that were able to keep up with Palpatine is a bit naive. Remember, the point Lucas was making was that innocence can be corrupted, and that ambition can be the road to evil if not carefully watched. Having said that, I think the same message with nearly the same storyline could have been better effected with a different director.

Lucas can tell a good story. But, like surgeons who should never operate on family members, Lucas was too emotionally involved in his prequels. Turning over the director's chair for Empire and Jedi was wise, and allowed another to deepen Lucas's vision. Lucas did a great job with A New Hope, but the prequels needed more depth to them. They were potentially excellent stories that could have been a little less kid-friendly for their own good.

Yes, Jar-Jar and the Gungans were unnecessary. Phantom could have been immensely improved, and almost completely unaffected by deleting all of those scenes. It would have taken some work to re-write the diversion of the battle droid army, but Lucas is a more than capable writer. And Jonathan Last's suggestion that the role of Darth Maul be expanded would have raised the tension just that much more, perhaps by directly stalking young Anakin rather than harassing Qui-Gon and Obi Wan, which really got Palpatine nowhere. Conversely, Attack of the Clones could have been written and re-written in just about any configuration to bridge the gap between Episode I and III. The best configuration would have been to have Palpatine somehow arranging for the death of Shmi Skywalker, while simultaneously having us see his hand on Anakin's nightmares about her. And if Lucas's goal was to create a marvelously annoying and jerky character in Count Dooku, he succeeded. Rather than having Anakin kill him, he should have punched him. Because that's all a complete loser like Dooku was worth. Uniquely uncompelling. Political intrigue isn't scary. A hunter like Maul is. Another Sith who generated fear would have done the trick of Episode II.

But Revenge of the Sith actually worked for the most part. Of course, there's the whole thing about Leia remembering her mother who died just after her birth, but be that as it may, it was a story of final corruption and doom. I think Lucas did an excellent job with the final battle between Obi Wan and Anakin, with Obi Wan constantly warning Anakin to stop, right up until Anakin makes his final attack and is defeated, and then suffers serious burns and nears death. The idea that Anakin Skywalker died, as Obi Wan told Luke, is marvelously portrayed by his rescue by the Emperor and unholy birth juxtaposed with the bittersweet birth of Luke & Leia to Padme who appears to be dying of nothing more than a broken heart caused by Anakin's choices, making Obi-Wan's "certain point of view" comment in Jedi all the more valid. It was heartbreaking. But what was most disturbing was the new Vader's first moments.

After being fitted with his prostheses and mask, he asks in the all to familiar voice where Padme is, only to be told that it was his action that killed her. And then we see a wretched and tortured Vader broken by his own failure, and all the more steeled towards personal power, which is all he was left with.

A tragedy, but a tragedy well-told, considering.

And then it led us directly to Episode IV, A New Hope. A Death Star under construction. Two children given to adoptive parents.

I'm going to watch A New Hope this weekend to get something to cleanse myself. Because while Sith was all in all a decent movie, it left that hollow feeling of defeat and sadness...more than anything for Luke & Leia.

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