Sunday, May 22, 2005

Wookie Talk

Years from now, Sociologists may be able to explain why my wife and I spent a perfectly good Saturday afternoon standing in line to see Revenge of the Sith.

Going into the theater, I was expecting to be disappointed. After all, no one in their right mind would expect Lucas to pull himself out of the pool of money he's been wallowing in for the last twenty five years and actually make a decent film, rather than another self indulgent special effects vehicle. I had a glimmer of hope that the movie would at least be watchable. Most of the reviews I had read before hand had said it wasn't as bad as the previous two episodes. Perhaps that was just the nostalgia of those particular reviewers clouding their judgement. Or maybe Lucas got to them with his Jedi mindfuck. But these people have genuinely misinformed the public and should apologise.

Sith is a bloated, twenty-three car pile up on the side of the motion picture superhighway. It's cinema carnage, like someone ran over a bus full of Wookies. Special effects litter the side of the road for miles. Luckily, Natalie Portman, Ewan Mcgregor and Samuel Jackson walked away from the crash with just a few cuts and bruises, but Hayden Christianson wasn't so lucky. It'll take years of traction, and probably acting lessons to salvage his career.

Not one moment of this film makes a lick of sense. The story is little more than a kludge designed to superglue lightsaber battles onto explosions. We've grown accustomed to Lucas inability to write dialogue that passes as genuine human speech, but he seams to have had the last shred of his ability to write convincing characters surgically removed. Not that you'll realise it until about thirty minutes after you leave the theater. It takes about that long for the buzz of spectacle to wear off. Your mind is bombarded from the first frame by impressive imagry, all of which means little. Interspersed between explosions are minute and a half scenes of actors explaining what they just did or what they will do next. Or awkwardly professing their love, in the manner of Vulcan preteens who are putting on a show illustrating this thing humans call love. You'll spend the rest of the night trying to figure out what just happened durring the last two and half hours, which can be fun, if you've just seen a film by David Lynch, or any director and writer who is smart enough and trusts their audience enough to let nnuance and ambiguity play their part. Half the fun of going to movies is having some intangible subtext to chew on for a while, even if it's just the drive home. And for Sci-fi movies, it's a prerequisite.

But there is no nnuance in RotS. It's like he saw the Passion and said, "Mel Gibson's a genius! I'll just beat my aaudience senseless with the point, pound every moment I want to emphasize roughly into their skulls and then blink some lights! They'll walk out of the theater dazed, and with a headache! I'll make millions!"

This is the movie that all those skeptics were talking about a few years ago when the first wave of digital movies came about. They were concerned that story, characterization and ambiguity would be thrown out in favor of whizbang and cartoon nonsense. Now, if Lucas had made this movie circa 1995, he might have been hailed, once again, as a technical innovator and we would have overlooked the fact that the story is garbled nonsense because at least he was pushing the boundary of what the medium of film could be. But instead, he made this movie in 2005. After Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, there's no excuse for digital sets that look flat and restrict the actors to a small space in which to move. After Lord of the Rings, there's no excuse for digital characters to be hollow. Golum has not just weight but gravitas. You feel for him as a character because Andy Serkis and WETA went the extra mile to make him not just look cool, but to emote like a human actor. Yoda never feels like he's really there. Frankly, I would have preferred the puppet. In fact, I would have loved to have seen puppets-as-aliens all over the place. Jim Henson'sCo. did it for Hichhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, George, why can't you? You have Frank Oz, possibly the world's greatest living puppeteer sitting in a sound booth, talking like Grover instead of crawling around under the set like a madman. The technology and know how is there, Lucas simply refused to use it. Instead of building on what other people had done, he reinvented the wheel, only he made his square, so it'd be different than everyone else's

In the end, that's all this movie, and all the Star Wars movies are about: techno-cool stuff. George Lucas should have made a video game and let other people make the movies. Instead, in his attempt to tell, "The rest of the story", he strangled all the drama out of the existing films.

Do you remember where we first see the Death Star, in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, when Han Solo mistakes it for a moon? It's a wild and disorienting moment, filled with awe and surprise. And it's mmeaningless now, because we see the Death Star being built outside the window of a star destroyer at the end of Sith.

Jabba the Hutt used to be this mysterious name dropped once or twice in the first two movies. Who was this gangster that was so bad, Han had to abandon the rebellion, just to pay him back? Then, in Jedi when the curtain opens and we discover that he's a giant slug! Well, in the special Editions, Jaba slithers into a scene in the first movie, to haggle with Han like a common criminal. And Greedo shoots first? What?

Then there's the moment. I don't even have to describe it, because it's one of the most startling revelations in all of film: when Vader tells Luke who his father is. Except, if you watch the movies in numerical order, the moment is deflated. You already know Luke's father is the whiney, spoiled Jedi kid who pisses all over three films.

With the ccompletion of this movie, Lucas has revealed the final shocking piece of the picture, and chronicled the rise and fall of the spoiled little Jedi who got everything he wanted and it still wasn't enough to make him happy. Not exactly Joseph Campbell material, more like B-list Mother Goose.

And of course, it's our fault. The fans made him what he is today: a geek with too much money and not enough friends to tell him when he's wasting his time. We were too busy dreaming in the good parts of the story to realise Yoda wasn't a sage, but a puppet selling us sci-fi fetish with no soul.

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