Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sith Happens: Thoughts on Episode III

(Caution: spoilers ahead.)

This past weekend I finally saw Revenge of the Sith. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have all of the "Star Wars" movies (even the hapless Episode I — Jar Jar reminds me of a dog I used to have). Amy didn't; she had problems with the script. The Lad went with us; it was his third viewing, although the first one experienced with full sentience, since his first two were late-night outings.

I said just now that I enjoyed it, and I'll stand by that. It was a visual feast, with the full complement of space battles (with physically impossible sounds in the vacuum of space), gloriously impractical machines (tanks with legs?), and the spectacularly creepy General Grievous — a character that ignites all our subconscious fears of spiders, skeletons, sharp objects, and physical deformity in one wonderful design.

(Speaking of design, the Jedi archives look exactly like the Long Room in Trinity College, Dublin, as this site shows. Apparently Lucasfilm has denied any borrowing.)

Not only that, there were some scenes of great mythical power, especially when the Emperor descends to the banks of the lava rivers of Hell (also known as Mustafar) and retrieves the battered husk that is Anakin, to restore him to a tortured existence as Darth Vader. It is a hideous parody of the Resurrection, with a little Frankenstein thrown in.

However, the mythic power is often undermined by intrusions into the script from the Zeitgeist. At some point, Obi-Wan says, "Only the Sith deal in absolutes." Huh? So that would make the Jedi ... relativists? Post-modernists? Obviously the whole story falls to the ground unless the Emperor and the Dark Side are evil and the Jedi good, and those, folks, are absolutes. Seems to me like the line should have been, "Only the Sith believe in situation ethics"; or, "Only the Sith try to make evil seem like good." Especially given this exchange:
OBI-WAN: Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil.

ANAKIN: From the Jedi point of view! From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.
But in the 21st-century USA, believing in absolutes is Bad, and suddenly we are not in a galaxy far, far away anymore. Boo, George Lucas!

There is also a scene of toe-curling badness, where Yoda is counseling Anakin; it needs only Anakin on a couch and Yoda with a notepad to make it a complete parallel to psychotherapy. Anakin is afraid Padme will die in childbirth:
YODA: Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.

ANAKIN: What must I do, Master Yoda?

YODA: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

Eww. No, Master Yoda, that won't work, especially when it is Anakin's re-awakened love for his son (in "Return of the Jedi") that leads to his redemption.

So: Revenge of the Sith is not a deep movie, although it tries to be; the best things in it, as in its five predecessors, are the scenes that use, and revitalize, the most basic components of a half-century of pulp sci-fi and fantasy: spaceships, robots, desert planets, weird creatures, good guys and bad, true love triumphant, swords, sorcery, princesses, emperors, magic, treachery, loss, recovery, hidden saviors, secret identities, and ray-guns. When Lucas sticks close to these things, he can't be beat. His fanboy subconscious is mightier than his all-too-modern conscious. Use the Force, George! Thankfully, he did. Most of the time.


Justin D said...

Great observations. Thank you very much.

Brandon said...

I'm sure Lucas wasn't thinking clearly about the absolutes thing. But it seems to me that, within the logic of the story itself, there's some reason for thinking that one of Obi-Wan's weaknesses is a tendency to relativism -- he is, after all, the one who later decides that his claim that Anakin Skywalker was killed by Darth Vader was true "from a certain point of view". One wonders if perhaps something of Obi-Wan's relativistic tendencies may have made it easier for Anakin to regard Palpatine's "point of view" arguments as plausible.

I think actually that the one place where the movie tries to be deep and is fairly successful is in the temptation of Anakin. While it's not flawless even there, Palpatine is surprisingly well-written.

EMC said...

Well, I agree about Palpatine; he is almost the best thing in the movie. It might be the script, but I attribute it also to Ian McDiarmid's great performance. And yes -- a study of the expression "point of view" in the trilogies might reveal something about Lucas's mindset. But I don't think the value of these films is in their ideas, even if Lucas himself feels differently.

elf said...

I've been wishing that someone would make these points. Thank you.

Incidentally, I think the business about letting go of emotional attachments comes from Taoism (can anyone confirm/ correct?). Obviously, Lucus isn't entirely consistent in his portrayals of Jedi philosophy.

EMC said...

I think the detachment thing comes from Buddhism, but I'm no authority.

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Yeah--there's quite a bit of inconsistency. The line that jumped out at me was Palpatine's line that "Good is just a point of view." That holds much truer to the over all portrayal of the sith than the oft-quoted absolute line.

I recommend Yoda for another unit of CPE...

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