Sith lords are our speciality.
By Matt Springer
May 19, 2005
I have had seven hours of sleep over the last two days. I flew from LA to Chicago for a visit of about 24 hours, just to see Revenge of the Sith with my dad, my college pals, and the good nerds of Chicago Force. I am staring down six hours of wasting time pretending to “work” when all I want to do is curl up in a fetalesque ball and sleep.
For all those reasons, it feels strange to write a “review” of Sith right now. Given my mental state, I’m not sure you should really read it. I cannot say for certain how much my feelings are influenced by my exhaustion, my warm fuzzies for my extended geek family, and my desperate desire (still unabated after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. STILL!) to see one more new great Star Wars movie before the end of the world.
I’m in that most perilous of mindsets regarding Sith: I am both uncertain of how I feel and uncertain of how I feel about how I feel.
I also am legitimately unsure about Sith, if only because I went in with such high fears and low expectations that my good feelings about it are suspicious to me. I keep thinking I must be crazy, tired, or both, because it just doesn’t seem possible.
Could this really be a GOOD Star Wars prequel? Can it really be that George Lucas, the diabolical recipient of my bile-infected disgust over the past six years of horseshit bullplop, may have made a film that does not largely suck the proverbial donkey balls?
Yes…I think it can.
After my first viewing, at least, Revenge of the Sith feels like Lucas finally got it right. It may very well be what the prequels always should have been: Not a retread of the original trilogy, but films with their own brand of energy and life that still feel in some way like Star Wars. The man stumbles, as he is wont to do, but there is also artistry, craftsmanship, and forethought evident in Sith. His mistakes and flaws are not those of a writer/director who you come to believe is just doing a shitty job because they don’t know any better; they’re poor decisions by someone who’s making a lot of great decisions alongside the shitty ones, so you can actually judge the whole as opposed to tossing it all into the trash compactor.
In that sense, Sith engages the audience, actually touches them, by trying to give them a movie that delivers what they want in a way that also honors Lucas’ own vision. It’s true popular art of a kind Lucas has not made since the last Indiana Jones movie.
Until now, there was always the sense that the prequels were delivered from on high by a man who has completely bought the hype (his own hype!) that made him equal parts creative genius, technological visionary, and pop prophet. It wasn’t like we were getting fun movies; it was more like we were getting the Ten Commandments. They were pronouncements of “story” that were nigh impossible to connect with, not just because they were bad, but because they were offered with such a smug certainty of success and acceptance. “This is Star Wars,” Lucas seemed to be saying, “and you will like it, because I have made it, and it is Star Wars. As it is written, so it shall be. Amen.”
Sith doesn’t feel that way. Instead, it feels like George Lucas just went out and made a fucking movie. It rarely comes off as things we need to know because Lucas said so. Instead, it feels like a yarn he wants to tell us because he thinks we might like it.
Based solely on that feeling, on the warmth and dynamic energy that seemed to go into making Sith, I tend to like it lots. That shit doesn’t even have anything to do with the film itself; I just feel so relieved that I’m not being talked down to by Lucas that a great deal is forgiven. Which of course gets back to my desperate fanboy desire for this film to be good, even after I have been shat upon by Lucas twice already, and how that desire may or may not grant this review a complete lack of legitimacy.
If the above lacks weight, consider this, then: Many of the fuck-ups in the first two prequels are NOT present in Sith. The movie actually improves on its predecessors in some areas. For one thing, everyone involved on the acting end really chomps into their roles this time around, which helps a LOT in selling clunky dialogue, meaning I noticed far less of it because it wasn’t rendered in a wooden, lifeless style, thus calling attention to itself.
The writing is sometimes shitty, and sometimes not; the rumored polish by Tom Stoppard seems like not at all a rumor, although clunkers sneak by frequently. But like the best moments of the original trilogy, the entire enterprise buys into its own significance, meaning that the actors and direction and FX and cinematography and probably even the dude from craft services all perform with the conviction that the story is worth telling, the characters are worth caring about, and the worlds are worth seeing. That conviction was completely absent from episodes one and two, but it was the foundation upon which the original trilogy became legendary, and it’s back at last in Sith.
It’s tough for me to articulate, and I’m not sure I’ve gotten it right, but here’s one easy example: Ewan MacGregor. In The Phantom Menace, he was given little to do, and seemed largely wooden and bored. In Attack of the Clones, he had lots more to do, but since the story required Obi-Wan to be a starchy Jedi, Ewan held back.
Sith finally gives us an Obi-Wan that we can unabashedly love, and that’s thanks totally to MacGregor’s performance. We get a glimpse of what this character could have been for all three prequels: A cross between Qui-Gon Jinn and Han Solo. He’s got confidence and a bit of a decidedly un-Jedi swagger, but there’s also a deep and rich emotional center. It’s exactly the kind of character you’d have expected the Obi-Wan of A New Hope to be in his youth.
Obviously Sith gives MacGregor more to chew on than the previous films, and he responds to that, but it’s also a leap of faith for the actor. He gives this performance all the gusto and charm he can summon, something he didn’t do in the previous prequels. That same leap on the part of everyone involved in Sith is evident in nearly every frame of this film.
Is it perfect, akin to The Empire Strikes Back? No freaking way. Let’s face it: This is Star Wars. Did anyone actually believe Lucas would reinvent the filmmaking wheel? I sure didn’t. All he needed to do is to make a good movie of the kind that Star Wars is, which to me is swashbuckling and melodramatic space opera. With Revenge of the Sith, he’s done that. There’s no pretension here, no snooze-inducing scenes of characters talking endlessly in a stilted and archaic style. Scenes don’t just end out of nowhere and dialogue rarely clatters to the ground with a thud. Big FX set pieces seem to represent something more than just a glorified show reel for the wizards at ILM.
Basically, everyone at long fucking last seems to GIVE A SHIT about Star Wars again, from Lucas on down, and the effect is noticeable in this film.
Lucas also pays off on his own ballsy prequel premise without a flinch, and that’s to end this trilogy of films on a massive down note, although it’s one tempered by hope. He has the guts to make things bleak, to offer no real release, to fulfill the full promise of Anakin Skywalker’s inevitable journey to the dark side of the Force. In the same way that The Empire Strikes Back showed huge cajones by actually daring to conclude with one hero in carbonite and another one with a robotic arm and a scary new daddy, Sith goes forth with a pitch-black finale that never panders or relents.
There’s more. There will always be more. It’s Star Wars. But I keep coming back to one particular moment in the Anakin/Obi-Wan duel, not a particularly spectacular or ass-kicking moment, just a moment.
In this unremarkable moment, I nearly cried. I almost lost my shit because it struck me that after decades of an obsession bordering on insanity, after a movie that broke my heart and one that just tromped on it a little, and after pretty much giving up on ever seeing anything good from George Lucas ever again, I was really watching a new STAR WARS movie. It was not just a piece of shit with the Star Wars name on it. It had many of the flaws and weaknesses that are part and parcel of Star Wars when it is not perfect, which is all the time, except for Empire. Yet in spite of the problems, Sith felt like goddamned fucking kick-ass good STAR WARS.
I shit you not. I mean it. It did, and it does.
So thanks, George, for making one last Star Wars episode for me, a 28-year-old manchild who just wanted to go into a movie theater and feel like you knew why I liked your movies so much in the first place. I think you get it now, at long last, and all I can say is that it’s about fucking time.