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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"Mad About Me"

**Edit 5/28/05 - If you'd rather not read this whole post, check out Joel's excellent two sentence one.

Well, I'm still not convinced this is any sort of a quality review, but I'm not sure reading over it more times will help anything, either, so here is my review of Star Wars, Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. I welcome your thoughts on the film. Particularly if you can talk me out of some of mine.

I came into Star Wars geekery fairly late in life. I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater and remember thinking it was sort of cool but a little hard to follow. Certainly it wasn't the life-changing experience a first Star Wars viewing apparently is for most people. John tried through high school to get me into the movies but, again, I guess I just wasn't yet ready to handle that level of advanced coolness. I was conversant with them; I knew the plots and the major plot twists and could tell Jabba the Hut from Wicket the Ewok on sight, but that was it.

When I finally did enter into life as a Star Wars geek, though, I did so with a vengeance. Sometime during my sophomore year of college it clicked, and now I'm one of those uber-nerds who's no fun to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with (as are most of my friends - makes for very boring games. "Who wants to go first? Okay, you win."). I've watched the movies a couple of zillion times, read the novels, played the role-playing game, bought a couple thousand of the CCG cards, etc., etc. I'm one of those people who knows the "stats" for the various ships and debates how actual dogfights would go. The kind of person who agonized with friends over Luke's direct attack with the Force on the Gamorrean guards at Jabba's Palace ("but that's a Dark Side point!"). The kind of person who gets why the title of this post is a Star Wars reference. It's a proud, if often poorly-dressed, club and I'm honored to name myself among its nerdly ranks.

I mention this by way of building up to (and providing a reference frame for) my thoughts about Revenge of the Sith. I've seen it twice now (both times on Opening Day) and I'm torn. I want to love this movie - it's the film that ties the new trilogy and old trilogy together, a fan's chance to see the battle that created Darth Vader in all his black-caped COPD-ish glory, the last Star Wars movie there'll ever be (unless Lucas decides to make more, but I'd be surprised if he does) - and there is certainly a great deal there to like, but there are many things wrong with this movie, too. I've tried a couple of times now to put together my thoughts in a coherent review-y fashion and I find the challenge a bit much for me, so I'll use the time-honored blogger's cheat of making a list of my thoughts on the movie. These are the things which I found noteworthy; some good, some bad. There are quite a few spoilers, too, so if you're hoping to see the movie sans expectations better to hold off on reading this post (and I apologize for already ruining the surprise that Vader becomes the Vader we know from episodes 4-6).

So what do I think overall? I think that there are enough significant flaws in the film that if it wasn't a Star Wars flick I'd probably dislike it quite a bit. But the fact that it is a Star Wars film, and that it tells a bunch of very significant story bits about characters I'm quite invested in, brings it back up quite a bit for me. It's a bad movie, but it's a bad movie with the Force and with lightsaber battles and with Anakin becoming Vader and scored by John Williams and that makes it a much less bad movie. Of the six Star Wars films, I'd say it's second from the bottom - not nearly as much Jar Jar as Phantom Menace saves it from last place. But I'll still buy it when the six movies finally all come out on DVD, and I'll sit down with my friends and we'll watch all 13 hours of the movies and we'll try to get lost again in the galaxy long ago and far, far away.

So before I comment, I have to out myself as "um, not much of a Stars Wars fan, really" (except for the one time I was forced at gunpoint to watch the whole (first) trilogy in Jason and Mark's room that one time, I have no recollection of ever really seeing the movies, and I am pretty sure I slept through half of the looooong production that time anyway; and I definitely haven't seen episdoes 1-3) so basically I have no right to comment on your comments whatsoever... but that has never stopped me from speaking my mind :-). I only wanted to say that I like that you are looking past the spectacle to hold the movie accountable for the development of the characters' emotional depth a bit, and for the portrayal of the human motivation behind the pivotal decision in the entire series. Seems like Mr. Lukas could have used you as a consultant. :-)
I don't think I'm as much of a hardcore fan as you are, Charlie. I don't own any trading cards or Kevin J. Anderson novels, etc. So perhaps this is an uninformed question. But it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as discussing the hell out of this movie, which I look forward to at some point. Anyway:

Does the dark side of the Force "possess" its users? For example, in RotJ, the Emperor tells Luke that Luke is becoming "[his] servant" because Luke is getting angry about all the awful stuff the Emperor is doing. Now, living for anger, letting it control you, yes, that probably means you're going to do some evil things, but Luke seems to have the definition of righteous anger going here. So, if he gives in to anger and murders someone while using the Force (rather than shooting stormtroopers by the boatload), is the danger that the dark side will just swallow him up and turn him evil? That might account for Vader's remorseless slaughter of children.

Just a thought.
Abject apologies for forcing you to watch the movies back in college, Jess. I don't recall you suffering in silence, though... Yeah, that's basically my take on the film (much more concisely put, too) - I object to the idea that a Star Wars movie can get away with being poor just because it's Star Wars.

John - yes, according to the roleplaying sourcebooks and rules for the CCG and the graphic novel Dark Empire, "possess" is a pretty apt word. I'm sure you're right - when Anakin became Vader he was basically just a dark side automaton and not himself anymore. Indeed, RotS makes Luke's battle with himself in RotJ that much more interesting, since we the viewers have seen how suddenly a Jedi can fall. Still, though, it happened way too fast on-screen. We never see Anakin struggling with his anger, really. The one time he lets go - in the Tusken Raider village in AotC - he doesn't go to the dark side, he just ends up feeling bad about himself.

According, again, to the various nerdly tomes I've read, anytime anyone (but especially Jedi, since they're more attuned to the Force anyway) attacks in anger it moves them towards the Dark Side. (Directly attacking someone with the Force - like the long-distance choking Vader does to Padme and Motti or Luke does to the Gamorreans - used to be an automatic step towards the Dark Side. Letting the Force guide one's lightsaber was one thing, but actually harming someone directly with the Force was bad bad bad. That rule seems to have gone out the window with the prequels.) When a Jedi fights stormtroopers or when Luke's running around Jabba's sail barge performing amputations there's no anger so it's not Dark Side-ish. The Emperor is playing on Luke's anger over losing his father, trying to get him to strike him down (or try to) and start on the slippery slope.
It says on IMDB that JEJ was the voice of Darth Vader, but that he was uncredited. I wondered about that, because it's pretty clear that JEJ is the voice of DV in the commercial where the guy scratches and wins a million bucks, and DV shows up saying "Brendan, I am your uncle! Brendan wait!" It didn't make sense that he would do voices for commercials but not for the movie.

I haven't seen the movie, yet, for the record.
John tells me that Jimmy-Boy was in fact doing voice work, but that they also had Hayden Christiansen say the same lines and then blended the two sounds so that even with James Earl Jones' voice on board Vader still didn't sound cool. Which, in my opinion, is even more infuriating.
Well, that IS pretty dumb. You don't blend JEJ's voice with ANYBODY else's, particularly someone with the wooden delivery of Hayden Christiansen. That's like mixing Barry White and Al Gore. They totally cancel each other out.
So how exactly is "Mad About Me" a Star Wars reference? I realize I'm giving up some geek cred by asking this, but I gotta know...
It's the title of the song Figran D'an and the Modal Nodes are playing in the Mos Eisley cantina in SW IV. The inside-the-storyline title of John Williams's "Cantina Song", in other words.
Wow. That is deeply dorky. There is no way for a normal human being to know the title of that instrumental piece or the name of the band that plays it. Congrats to you on reaching the pinnacle of geekdom. I take my winged hat off to you.

Also, just to clarify, I said I thought it might be a combination of Hayden and James Earl. Or it could be that Jones just imitated Christensen's adolescent speech pattern because he was playing a younger version of Vader.

And look, here I am, up on top of Geek Mountain with you.
Make a bad movie, shame on George Lucas. See it twice on opening day and then insist that it's bad, shame on you. I am convinced that you enjoyed watching this movie. You are apparently in denial because you fear having to surrender your Yoda ears if your similarly disturbed buddies discover your dark secret. You must embrace your shame. Here, watch me: I bought the Saturday Night Fever sound track, I listened to it, I danced to it and I liked it. This is your road to peace and mental health - follow it and live well.
:-D (these comment dealies need some smilies) - twice on opening day and once since. And I've read the novel thrice already. You're probably right; it's partially denial. I also think my negative reaction is partially a result of how big a fan I am - I'm having what I call a "Jesse Reaction", where my strong disappointment is a result of how badly I wanted the movie to really be amazing.
Amazing is overrated. Let's get back to simple pleasures. Ready, go! I ONE the sandbox. . .
I TWO the sandbox...
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