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Star Wars Episode Three:

Revenge of the Sith

Ah, now that’s more like it! This is the film we were foolishly hoping the trilogy would be; an exploration of how and why Darth Vader and the Rebellion are at odds with each other, and especially why he’s prepared to capture and fight with his children, and how they managed to grow into early adulthood without a) accidentally stumbling upon their abilities as the offspring of a Jedi and b) that strange sense of being apart from each other, as evidenced by twins separated at birth who later reunite on programmes hosted by Cilla Black, c) when someone told Leia that Obi-Wan Kenobi was her ‘only hope’, which inspired her to send the original message via R2D2 in the first place.

Except, of course, it isn’t. Nevertheless, the pace is good, the cgi action extraordinarily good and development of Obi-Wan’s character is at last attempted.

Oh look, acting
Natalie Portman has certainly grown up into a fine looking woman, and although she is only called upon to smile twice, when she does so the entire cinema is brightened.

Sadly, she’s called upon to model the Danish-pastry earmuff hairdo, to weep a lot, and to stand there looking pensive, and to say some truly, deeply awful plot-device lines; ‘Oh, Anniken, you’re breaking my heart!’ Show, George, don’t tell. And then she dies in childbirth, not due to birth complications, but because she has given up the will to live. Somehow I feel this bit was written by a man who hasn’t considered how a woman feels when her twin babies are presented to her – perhaps she would do a little more than declare their names and immediately peg out.

Samuel L Jackson at last gets acting to do as he is the only true goodie who has tough action scenes as well as deep and meaningful ones. Hayden Christensen as Anniken/Vader does his best work after he’s in the black suit, breathing heavily and borrowing the James Earl Jones voice.

One point for subtlety: the almost-final shot where the Death Star is under construction (do I really believe it’s take another 20 years to complete?), but at least no-one says ‘Vader, this is the Death Star. It’s not finished yet, but please make sure no-one ever pops a bomb down any of the exhaust vents, won’t you?’ Probably only because they spend so little of the budget on the script that the writer’s biro had run out and he couldn’t afford another.

I have a little problem with the beheading of Christopher Lee. Anniken says this is ‘not the way of the Jedi’, but does it anyway. Later, Kenobi walks away from the maimed and burned Anniken, but refrains from killing him. Presumably the ‘way of the Jedi’ is to leave villains alive, in readiness for sequels, vast wickedness and even Planetocide, as with the Death Star… I’d say that was a weakness which lacked the judgement of righteousness. It’s a softness of will, lacking any expression of true holiness. This is another way in which the Good side of the Force is very unlike God.

Annikin becomes Vader
Episode IV (the first of the franchise) was so clearly an epic tale of darkness and light, good vs evil, sympathetic characters with nasty adversaries. But now, Revenue of the Sixth seems to have forgotten that truly dark baddies are thoroughly evil. Okay, we can cope with a bad guy who does lots of bad things, has a funny five minutes when we see one catastrophic moment that turned him or motivates him, and then gets back to the slaughter of millions. We don’t really want to sympathise with him, or understand him, or, worse still, consider that we might have gone down the same road.

But Annikin’s a slightly irritating boy who turns into a block of wood who gets the girl and loses his mother and then so loves the girl he’s prepared to bend a couple of galactic alliance rules; and then due to his petulant annoyance that he isn’t immediately promoted to Jedi Master as soon as he thinks he’s ready, and a premonition about Padmé’s death, turns over to the dark side to try to save her on the say-so of a duplicitous, sly, conniving slug who has previously sent his apprentice Darth Maul to kill the Jedi. It’s a poor explanation because it leaves you thinking ‘there but for the grace of the Force go you and I’, but is that really why DV spends the rest of his celluloid existence destroying whole worlds at once?

Of course it would be sad to lose the two women you love, especially when the only other friends you have are a) a Jedi who throws his cloak to the ground dramatically at each and every opportunity, and b) a thoroughly despicable, honest-to-goodness one-dimensional bad guy who has demonstrated great wickedness throughout all half-dozen movies. Several times over, we are told this is a film about power and it’s corrupting appeal, leading to covetous attitudes and, ultimately, great wickedness. Palpatine is in charge, and is manipulating circumstances in his favour.

The Resolve
One of the great aspects of a film like Apollo 13 was that although we all knew that the astronauts survived, the script and style managed to make a suspenseful story. We remembered the happy ending, but we were interested to see the process of how they arrived at it.

Here, we have a rather different effect. We know the outcome (DV is bad, Luke & Leia are born, Obi-Wan and Yoda decide to do nothing about the most evil nastiness that has ever arisen within the Dark Side for some 20 years) and when these elements are delivered, we forgive vast flaws. Is that really what great filmmaking is about?

The director relies heavily on the film-goers’ inside knowledge with the final shot of the couple to whom Kenobi hands the boy child; we’ve not seen them before, but we all know who they are, and the lies they perpetuate, and how they die.

By the way, it’s hard to have seen Obi and Yoda doing their stuff and then believe that they will melt away like morning dew for two decades, while the dark side’s power grows exponentially until that explosive moment when the Green Cross Code man walks though some theatrical smoke, framed in a doorway. Kenobi senses millions of voices crying out when DV does his target practice with the death star on their planet, and Yoda calls Luke over the vast reaches of space when he wants to train him to be a Jedi master; yet neither of them is active in what we might unwisely term the inter-testamental period? Credulity is over-stretched.

It would have been nice in among all the forward-referencing images (ranks of Imperial Stormtroopers, the twin suns setting and Obi-Wan’s hoodie) to have seen Padmé in Leia’s brass bikini.

After all, the younger generation needs icons, too.

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