Sunday, May 22, 2005

If you strip away the myth from the man

Star Wars and I aren't exactly on what could be called intimate terms. I never really cared for the series until the original trilogy was given the 1997 theatrical re-release in Special Editions, which I did enjoy. I was entirely caught up in the hype of Episode I, only to be incredibly disappointed, though I didn't acknowledge it until 2001 or so. I even defended the existence of Jar Jar Binks, for a time. Thus, I come to the final prequel with fairly low expectations. Star Wars hasn't defined my life, as it has for so many geeks, and in that regard I have to admit I fail spectacularly to fulfill the stereotype. I'll grand it's good space opera - at times exceeding its limitations, becoming something truly mythic - but I look askance at the hard-core fanboys in much the same way as non-genre fans. It was with a healthy dose of skepticism I went to see Revenge of the Sith last night. That's not to say I don't fully understand what's going on, or have nitpicky issues with it. The fall of Anakin Skywalker isn't so much about the corruption of a good man - as we were promised, way back when - as the manipulation of an utter tool. Anakin is never a likable character, and always seems more a shallow and selfish egotist than a loving husband wracked with fear and self-doubt. The neat: Minor cameos galore. Jar Jar, Captain Panaka, Owen and Beru Lars, Nute Gunray, and what I have to assume was a young, pre-Grand Moff-status Tarkin. (I have to say, I'm disappointed by the way Palpatine ultimately seized power, in that regard. The Moffs were clearly modeled, as political/military gubernatorial appointees loyal only to the Emperor, after the gauleiters of Nazi Germany; I'd expected a similar pattern of gradual encroachment by Palpatine's appointees on the civic offices of the Republic, not a sudden, high-speed coup largely orchestrated directly from the Senate floor.) I enjoy minor cameos from minor characters in the respect that they are minor; they're not heroes or villains whose ultimate fates are important, or even known. Thus, I'm a bit confused why Chewbacca had to be worked into the story, exactly; it's in aid of nothing for Yoda to have known him prior to the original trilogy. Still, Owen Lars pitching one foot up on an embankment to gaze at the binary sunset of Tatooine makes up for an awful lot. The unexplained: Why does General Grievous, a droid, need a flowing grogram cloak, or to apparently be in possession of organic parts, in the form of reptilian eyes and a mammalian heart? If Anakin is living with Padme in her Senatorial penthouse, how does it take a dim Obi-Wan (and only he) two-thirds of the movie to notice, what with that being forbidden, and all? The less-endearing-than-Lucas-thinks: Sassy Droid Comments, mostly in the inappropriate comic relief scenes on Dooku's ship. There are very few sassy robots written well enough to be allowed to perform sitcom-quality burlesque: R2-D2, C-3PO, Bender, Crow, Tom Servo, K-9, Twiki, Rosie, and Hymie. The "Roger Roger"-droning droidtroopers don't get to have such moments. At least, they shouldn't. What I kept being distracted by, interestingly, were the meta-implications. I couldn't help but think, while Palpatine was fighting Mace Windu, about how the game mechanics of force lightning in the various LucasArts titles-to-be (anything future in the Jedi Knight or Knights of the Old Republic series, anyway) will have to be changed, to reflect the retconning that now establishes its use (even momentary) to visibly age the user. More than anything, it seems like an unnecessary cheat, to immediately rush Palpatine to the pancaked-zombie-look of later on. On that same note, was there a jump cut I missed somewhere at the end, covering several years' gap? The proto-Star Destroyers seemed to shed their Republic maroon-and-gunmetal livery for Imperial white awfully quickly; ditto the officers onboard, immediately seeming to be in the same uniforms as first seen in A New Hope. We never saw Republic Starfleet officers in the prequel era, I think, so I guess it's not a stretch for them to have gone through the imperial transition without change (unlike the Clonetroopers, whose armour and behaviour has visibly become closer to that of original trilogy Stormtroopers over the courses of Episodes II and III). Still; it seems awfully rushed, for Vader and the Emperor (already aged to the appearance he'll have by ROTJ) to stand on the bridge of their flagship and see the Death Star already under construction. I appreciate that construction of a space station the size of a small moon would logically take a while - 18 years or so, say, even in an exceptionally high-tech universe - but to show that in the penultimate scene is too obvious by half. We already know what comes next. Finally, on the matter of the supposed Powerful Anti-Bush Message of the film: Who are the Jedi, anyway, to be spouting platitudes about good government? They're poor spokesmen for the defense of democracy. They're elitist genetic supremacists, choosing their members (and ruling class thereof) by what was depressingly revealed in Episode I to be a mere biological trait, the presence of "midichlorians" in the bloodstream. Skill in the Force is latent and inherited, like eye colour; it can't be otherwise learned. The Jedi aren't the meritocratic ideal of a classical republic. They're an oligarchical and unaccountable priesthood, demanding what seems to be a central (constitutional?) role in the Republic's governing, without any kind of accompanying check on their power, or even mere oversight. George Lucas' inane politicization rings truer than he'd like in that respect, I think; you couldn't ask for a better analogue (they even come with their own ivory towers, in the heart of downtown Coruscant) for our real full-time political (slash-academic-slash-literary-slash-journalistic) class, so possessed of their vital importance to democracy, and so at the same time willing to excuse their own brand of self-righteous, well-meaning authoritarianism for the sake of supplanting less subtle tyrants. Beyond that, I just tuned out Padme's embarrassing faux-profundities. (Which led me to take more notice of her silly costuming. Wouldn't a nightgown with multiple strings of pearls for straps be kind of uncomfortable to sleep in? Wouldn't most of her costumes be reasonably uncomfortable, for that matter? They certainly seem to clash with the plush - if dehumanizing - ultramodernism of Coruscant architecture.) It's not as though I'm not already in the habit of tuning out idiotic and unsubtle allegory; The West Wing, say, would be unwatchable otherwise. I'd really hoped I wouldn't have to start doing it for Star Wars, though. All in all, Revenge of the Sith is much better than Episodes I and II. Loose ends are tied up not too glibly, and it's a joy to have the entire story complete. So, yes, it exceeded my expectations - but I wasn't expecting much.

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