We went out to see Star Wars: Episode III last night. And for once, we weren’t disappointed. This is the kind of movie the last two should have been. There was a feeling of urgency throughout this movie that wasn’t present until the first battle of the clone army in Attack of the Clones. A lot of it does depend on having seen the original trilogy, particularly where Anakin/Luke parallels appear… but I have to say, the final shot was absolutely perfect.
We re-watched the previous two movies and the Clone Wars cartoon over the last few weeks, and having seen the entire trilogy, I look at it this way: Lucas gave us 4 hours and 20 minutes of prologue to Revenge of the Sith. That’s all Episodes I and II are: Palpatine setting up his dominoes and getting everything ready to trigger his ascension to Emperor and elimination of the Jedi.
We had already planned to pick up the original trilogy this week or next, and finish the entire series by the end of the month. On the way home I remarked, “You know, I’m not completely insane, so I won’t suggest watching Episode IV now.” Katie replied, “Actually, I was thinking about it.” We ended up watching Star Wars: A New Hope (second-worst title in the series, but it gets a pass since it was tacked on in re-release) starting at 11:00.
It’s strange. The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones didn’t really change my perspective on Darth Vader much, aside from wanting to add “Now this is pod racing!” to the Death Star trench. Having actually seen the transformation, I really do see Vader differently. Probably closer to the way Luke sees him in Return of the Jedi. Especially in the first movie, where Tarkin is pulling all the strings and Vader is more of an enforcer than a leader, he really seems like someone who is doing what he has to do, like Londo in Babylon 5. Katie said that he’s gotten used to power, and is unwilling to give it up.
One of the great things about the prequel trilogies is seeing the Jedi in their prime, at least as far as their martial arts are concerned. The climactic duel between Obi-Wan and Vader above the volcanoes of Mustafar is no exception. Unfortunately, going from this movie to the original makes the rematch on the Death Star look pathetic by comparison.
Oh, yes: Ewan McGregor is seriously channeling Alec Guinness in this movie.
On to spoilers. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Did you know Anakin and Padme are Luke and Leia’s parents? And Anakin turns evil and kills all the Jedi and he’s really Darth Vader! OMG! And Palpatine was Darth Sidious all along! OMG!!!!!11111ONE
Yes, we knew the generalities 20 years ago, but on to the details.
The only things that knocked me out of the movie were Palpatine’s transformation during the struggle with Mace Windu, and Vader’s “Noooooooooo!” scream. The first was in part because it didn’t seem to make much sense (and didn’t seem necessary, since it’s supposed to be about 20 years from now until we next see the Emperor) and in part because the makeup really looked bad. Once he put on a hood it worked. The second… was just plain cheesy. Screams like that rarely work, and when they do, it’s because the actor’s face makes us believe it…and that just wasn’t possible inside that helmet.
Actually, the lightsaber battles with Yoda and Sidious did bother me, because I’m still used to thinking of both of them as leaders, not warriors. Not to say that the battle wasn’t impressive—and I loved the symbolism of Palpatine gleefully trashing the Senate hall.
I had also expected more from the wookiee subplot. It mainly existed to keep Yoda alive during the initial Jedi purge. The clone troopers there were reinforcements, not the main army, so there were only two nearby when the order came, and his sensitivity to the other deaths forewarned him. The Chewbacca cameo was unnecessary, but didn’t bother me much.
Hayden Christensen does a much better job in this movie—or maybe the way he played Anakin in Episode II really was what George Lucas was going for. The central themes seemed to be duality and destiny. Anakin’s duel with Dooku at the beginning very closely mirrors his later battle with Luke. In ROTS it’s subtext, in ROTJ it’s text, but the audience, having seen the later duel, brings an understanding that wouldn’t be present if someone were watching this film on its own, or watching the entire series for the first time in story order.
As for destiny, the catalyst that Palpatine uses to tempt Anakin to the dark side is his fear of losing Padme. Yet Anakin’s turn to the dark side is what causes him to lose her, first by breaking her heart, and next by nearly killing her himself. No wonder in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi he believes he has no choice. He’s had the classic Greek lesson in fate: You can’t avoid it, and your efforts to change it will bring it about.
I do have to say I was very disappointed in Mace Windu, who proved to be far more interesting in the Clone Wars cartoon than in the actual movies. That, and refusing to let Palpatine stand trial. I wanted to scream “You idiot, he’s set you up!”
I mentioned that Episodes I and II seem like a really long prologue, and they are necessary, in a way. They show the Republic in decay, and they show the Jedi calcifying in their ivory towers. And of course they show Palpatine’s skills as a master manipulator. But for all the action and wars, they’re just walking through it all until the battle on Geonosis when you realize the Jedi are inadvertently helping set up the Empire.
One thing that did surprise me was Padme’s death. I figured Anakin would have reason to believe she was dead, or he would have gone looking for her, even after being encased in armor. But the scene in ROTJ where Luke tells Leia he’s her brother strongly implies that Leia remembers her, because it strongly implies Luke is asking her about his mother. “Do you remember your mother? Your real mother?” … “I have no memory of my mother.” The implication is that Leia knows she’s adopted, and that Luke is specifically asking about her birth mother, since simply asking “Do you remember your mother?” would have made her think of Mrs. Organa. And I doubt even a potential Jedi has memories, even just of “feelings” from the first 5 minutes out of the womb. The leading theory I liked was that one of Padme’s decoys would be seen killed, and that Padme herself would flee to Alderaan with Leia, letting the Organas raise her, and living maybe another two or three years—just long enough for Leia to have memories of her. Of course, for all I know George has changed the scene in the ultra-special DVD edition of Jedi, which I haven’t seen yet. Sometime in the next two weeks. (OK, it didn’t totally surprise me… I’d been reading The Darth Side, after all, and the writer either knew or guessed that she would die… but I wasn’t sure how much was conjecture, how much was rumor, and how much was the fact that the novelization came out a month ago.)
Back to duality, it really hit home that the Jedi and Sith are now equal in number: Yoda and Obi-Wan, Sidious and Vader. Anakin has brought balance to the force, in a way, and in 20 years he will destroy the Sith. But he’ll destroy them from within, by breaking the master-apprentice chain. Sidious himself went through three apprentices and was ready to take on a fourth, and Vader fulfilled his destiny through the standard Sith practice of killing his master… but he did so as he himself was dying, without taking on an apprentice of his own.
So, in summary:
The Good: Dawn of the Rebellion (the moment Bail Organa sees the troops battling a 10-year-old Jedi). Unorthodox battle tactics (General Grievous breaking open the ship’s window and swinging outside). Impressive lightsaber duels. Finally getting to see Alderaan.
The Bad: Palpatine. Evil, evil, evil. Anakin’s slide into darkness (well-portrayed, though).
The Ugly: Names (General Grievous? Count Dooku?). Sidious’ makeup. Vader burnt to a crisp. For that matter, Grievous burnt to a crisp.
Did anyone else find it odd that the final battle of the Clone Wars was won by a Jedi, not with a lightsaber, but with a blaster?