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December 25, 2005

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

George Lucas - 2005
20th Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

Even though I've seen all of the Star Wars films, I have not been a fan of the series. Of the six films, the only one I really liked was The Empire Strikes Back. I'm not sure what it says about me or the Star Wars series that the best film in my estimation was directed by one of the more interesting Hollywood directors of the Sixties, Irvin Kershner, from a screenplay originally written by a science fiction author best known for her screenplays for Howard Hawks, Leigh Brackett. One of my big problems with the Star Wars cult is that so many of the people who love the series so much refuse to acknowledge certain facts about the film that kicked off the series. For some fans I may as well be saying there is no Santa Claus when I ask them if they have seen Hidden Fortress, the film that even Lucas admitted provided much of the basic story. In Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Biskind notes that the screenplay for the first film was actually co-written with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who were paid off so Lucas would have solo writing credit. Lucas himself is quoted by Biskind in saying that after the battles making his first two films, he wanted to make a movie that was as commercial as possible. Or to put it another way, George Lucas went over to the "dark side".

One can only speculate on what Lucas' career would have been like. If one includes the first Star Wars film with Lucas' first two films, the films share the theme of language and societies. While much of THX 1138 is purely visual story-telling, it is telling that when the robot cops trap the escapees, they repeat the question, "Are you now or have you ever been?", a variation on the infamous question posed by the House of Un-American Committee in the Fifties. American Graffiti furthered the theme by positing the teenagers against all adults and authority figures, except for the mythical Wolfman Jack who spoke in a language and with messages specifically for the teens. Lucas also showed how teenage society had its own sub-groups, hierarchies and coded language. Star Wars also emphasised language and society, with the various hierarchies and specific languages given various creatures, particularly in the cantina scene.

The further Lucas got into telling the Star Wars story, the less interesting a filmmaker he became. The technology continued to overwhelm the story telling. I never cared for the too cute Ewoks and after the advent of Jar Jar Binks, I stopped seeing the rest of the second trilogy theatrically. One of the problems with the Star Wars films was that the computer generated special effects became both state of the art and simultaneously, less special. Even worse, after The Matrix, released just a few months previously, The Phantom Menace looked hopelessly old-fashioned. Less encouraging was that when I got around to seeing Attack of the Clones, I fell asleep during the light saber battle that closes that film.

I had trouble staying awake during Revenge of the Sith. For me, if you've seen one light saber fight you've seen them all. I recognize that a lot of effort was put into the film technically, but emotionally I was not engaged. More attention should have been given to the actual acting as was given to placement in front of the green screen. Christopher Lee gives a better, more vivid performance in his few minutes than either Samuel L. Jackson or Ewan McGregor.

Lucas has stated plans to return to more personal filmmaking. We can only wait to see if he returns to his rebel roots or feels forced to maintain his empire.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 25, 2005 07:35 PM


Nice writing ... My first time to your blog but I'll certainly be returning.

For me, this series has always been about choices made and the consequences therof ... Technology if not transparent, never serves my interests.

Posted by: Richard at December 26, 2005 10:21 AM