Thursday, May 19, 2005

Lower Your Expectations

Just got back from Star Wars III -- Revenge of the Sith.  Here's the thing.  It's good.  Maybe it's even really good.  But don't listen to the critics who are falling over themselves to heap praise on this movie.  I think they're just so damn relieved that Lucas finally stepped up to the plate and delivered an adequate motion picture.  He had to "thread the needle" as it were -- to get everything from Point A to Point B -- both of which were already established.  And he did that beautifully.  Watching Revenge of the Sith is pretty much two and half hours of pieces clicking into place.  (Lucas even explained one thing I hadn't realized needed explaining.)  Revenge of the Sith is the prequel we've been wanting for twenty years.  Indeed, Lucas probably should've just ditched Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and gone straight to this one.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  It's still problematic.  I mean, really, when the second best performance in your movie comes from a puppet, you might want to reconsider your leads.  Hayden Christensen gives a performance light years ahead of his work in the last movie -- which means he's actually watchable now, but only has rare moments of being genuinely good.  It's not all his fault.  Lucas still can't write a love scene to save his life, and every time Christensen is on the screen with Natalie Portman, they're both so lost with this corny dialogue, it just sucks all the life out of the movie.  And it isn't just them.  Ewan McGregor does OK with most of this stuff, but he trips over himself every time he has to refer to children as "younglings."  When McGregor and Christensen pace around each other, in preparation for their long-awaited duel, they're throwing around all sorts of bull about the Force and the Jedi Code, and you just want to see Christensen crank up his light saber and say, "Bring it on, old man."  Only Ian McDiarmid can successfully navigate his way through this dialogue -- perhaps it takes a certain level of Shakespearean experience to be able to threaten a puppet with genuine sincerity.

So... if it isn't the acting and it isn't the dialogue, it must be the action sequences, right?  Wrong.  With each successive movie, Lucas has attempted to make the light saber duels more and more impressive -- the result being that each one is faster and harder to follow.  By now, we're just watching a lot of tight shots of streaks of light flying across the screen.  Impossible to tell who has the lead in any battle -- worse when the two fighters have the same color saber -- and the brightness of the fast-moving sabres very nearly makes your eyes water.

Why do I recommend it at all, then?  Because it gives us what we needed.  It is true to the universe of Star Wars; the effects do have a few "wow" moments; and although the acting doesn't always connect, it does exactly when we need it to.  Every character in this movie has to go on some sort of journey to get from the end of Attack of the Clones to the place where everything is lined up in preparation for Star Wars, and each and every journey is completely believable.  Lucas really did thread the needle with this one.

And he had to.  Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were so ... not good, they threatened the integrity of the whole series -- fans were at the point where they thought Lucas should have left well enough alone.  Revenge of the Sith restores the dignity of the franchise.  We finally have a worthy prequel to the original trilogy. 

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