Sunday, April 27, 2014

Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith


I have the most exciting news for you all. Joseph, my manager, has finally found a theatrical project worthy of my talents. I have just signed to play the part of Galadriel in the new musical version of The Lord of the Rings which will open soon in Toronto. Normy and I are busy running around Chateau Maine packing up all the necessities for an extended stay in that city, which I'm told is just a bit north of New York. Perhaps it's a suburb of Fishkill or Mount Kisco. Anyway, we are due there early next week so we can help with the creative process. One of the points I insisted upon in the contract was input into the shape of the show and I'm eager to meet the rest of the artistic team. I've checked the books out of the library to make sure we're true to Tolkien's vision, but they're awfully long so I'm having Jerry, my housekeeper, prepare a one page précis on each which gives all the salient points and themes without getting too bogged down in narrative detail.

Normy will be going with me as he is to be the music arranger and will make sure that my numbers properly showcase my talents. He also has a certain knowledge of design and I'm expecting him to work closely with the costume designer on my wardrobe. I'm told the part is that of a queen of unparalleled beauty so the regalia better support that image and rely on more than just a few cheap rhinestones and tinfoil.

In between placing vital necessities, like hair care products, in the Louis Vuitton, Normy and I did sneak out to the local Cineplex this past weekend for the opening of the supposedly final installment in George Lucas's Star Wars saga, The Revenge of the Sith with Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. This film, the last of the prequel trilogy which began with 1999's The Phantom Menace and continues in 2002's Attack of the Clones brings the back-story of Darth Vader to an end and sets the pieces of the plot for the original Star Wars into motion. As the missing link in a pop culture phenomenon that has become deeply ingrained in the American psyche, it's bound to be a monstrous success no matter what reviewers like myself may have to say about it.

As the film opens to the familiar titles and text crawl with John William's famous fanfare resonating in THX surround sound, we are a little time further forward from the events of Attack of the Clones. Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and his sidekick Anakin Skywalker (Christensen), two of the heroic Jedi Knights are in the thick of the wars between the Republic and a separatist faction led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). A robot general, loyal to Dooku, named Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood) who has a bad case of the croup and the ability to reorganize his limbs, has kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) bringing Republic business to a halt; it's up to our intrepid Jedi heroes to save him. It becomes clear that Palpatine has his own agenda and that his rescue is a means to help bind young Skywalker more closely to him.

Meanwhile, Skywalker's secret wife, Padme Amidala (Portman), has discovered she is pregnant. Skywalker begins to have visions of her dying in childbirth. When Palpatine, revealing himself to be truly the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious, offers to teach Skywalker the secrets of life and death to save his wife, Skywalker rejects the Jedi and becomes Darth Vader, helping Palpatine engineer a coup which makes him emperor and which destroys the Jedi. The unleashing of this evil leaves Palpatine with a bad case of psoriasis and eventually physically destroys Vader enough to require his donning of his famous black suit and respirator. Obi-Wan and Yoda (voice by Frank Oz), who survive the coup, not only spend the second half of the film having to bring down their old friend, but also having to take charge of Padme and Anakin's new born twins so they can be delivered to the proper sets of adoptive parents on Alderaan and Tatooine. The film ends with a lovely visual echo of one of the most famous shots of the original Star Wars, bringing just the right emotional sense of closure to the cycle.

This film is better than its two predecessors in the prequel trilogy. Rather than a farrago of nonsense about trade wars or clone armies, it returns to the mythopoetic themes that infused the original film which made it work so well. Plot needs require Lucas to delve a bit more deeply into character as his protagonist hero must become a villain over the course of the film and the transition must make a certain amount of psychological and narrative sense. This is done against a political background of democracy crumbling into empire that has a certain resonance in modern day America. There has been some sniping in the right wing press that Hollywood is again attacking the Bush administration but this is plainly silly. Lucas wrote the basics of this back-story in the 1970s while making the original films and this film was scripted before the start of the Iraq War in 2003. The parallels are much closer to the Vietnam era (which would have been the major influence on someone of Lucas's generation) and on the historical precedents of Rome and Nazi Germany.

Rather than the historical parallels, I was actually much more struck by literary and religious parallels. Much of the imagery seems to have actually been guided by John Milton's Paradise Lost and his account of the fall of Lucifer from the exalted company of the angels to the depths of hell. I think it no accident that Lucas decided to set his climax on a world of fire and brimstone. The themes of hubris and the fall of the mighty, the conflict between public and private duties, and the corruption of power are old themes throughout world mythology and Lucas uses them for maximum effect. It's too bad that he still can't write more than the most stilted of dialogue. The plot is serviceable enough but line after line is clunky. The original trilogy benefitted by having real screenwriters come in and polish up Lucas's drafts.

The performances are a notch better than the previous films. Hayden Christensen has gained a little in gravitas from the pouty teenager he played in Attack of the Clones and makes a serviceable Anakin. Natalie Portman spends most of the film wringing her hands and having to deliver some of the worst lines ever put on screen. She's a reasonable actress who is wooden here as she's given nothing to play. Ewan McGregor enjoys himself as he morphs into Alec Guiness. Ian McDiarmid, as the evil Palpatine, gives the best performance of the film as he slyly seduces Skywalker and the rest of the galaxy into his personal madness. Most of the rest of the supporting cast aren't around long enough to register. Jimmy Smits comes and goes, Samuel L. Jackson develops some hokey lines and then falls out of a window, Jar-Jar Binks is here but, fortunately, never opens his mouth.

George Lucas obviously loves these films as he's able to put all of his toys at Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound to full use. There are digital vistas and spacecraft and creatures galore, almost too many for the brain to notice and absorb. Some shots are so busy, they're overwhelming and it's hard to decide what you should be paying attention to. Production designer Gavin Bocquet understands that it's his job to connect this film to the originals and there are clever visual references towards styles of uniform and spaceship evolving towards the looks used in Star Wars. John Williams's familiar music provides its usual panache.

The film is epic in scope and hops from planet to planet, each with its own unique environment. There are clever cameos from future players such as Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the Wookies, the Death Star and Governor Tarkin (Wayne Pygram made up to look like the young Peter Cushing). About the only character that doesn't get at least a passing mention is Han Solo. (I kept expecting an eight or ten year old boy named Han to turn up at some point - maybe it's just as well that Lucas refrained). It can be enjoyed as a Saturday matinee serial by those who have not seen the other films, but is obviously meant as a love letter from Lucas to the fans who have supported him for nearly three decades. It's rated PG-13 for violence and darker story elements and is clearly not for very young children.

Jedi decapitation. Flying R2-D2. Vertical elevator gone horizontal. Horizontal elevator gone vertical. Liquid opera. Jedi defenestration. Gratuitous Jango Fett clones. Evil blue and purple fingertip lightning. Implied child murders. Yoda back flips. Free fall into shallow pool. Molten lava balancing act. Senate chamber duel. Gratuitous Keisha Castle-Hughes.

No comments:

Post a Comment