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Culture Reviews
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
Directed by: George Lucas. Written by: George Lucas. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson. 140 min. USA.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: a high-intensity arcade game marinated in gallons of medievalesque, futuristic swashbuckle. Less of a film and more of a self-referencing cyberthon fest for confirmed fans.

I’ll tell you now, the only Star Wars film I liked was the first one. I liked it a lot. But I was ten at the time.

I was afraid that the intervening twenty-odd years had affected my ability to get the most out of loud and shiny hi-tech heroics draped over a completely moronic plot so I took my as-yet-unjaded seven-year old son along as a control. His verdict: somewhere between good and really good.

There you have it. If you’re a full-on Star Wars fan, you need read no further.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you are, what for me is a completely alien creature: a Startrekkie, Deep-Space-Ninie, Starwarsian cyber junkie. It all makes sense to you and you care what happens
No, if: on your way from reading comics to dealing with work-related emails you made any kind of detour into the realm of books without pictures written by people who have been dead for a while
Maybe, if: you’re a computer graphics artist and want to see some genuine masters of the craft at work

Comments: the film follows on from the last one and features the same basic ingredients: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) with his unconvincing British officer’s accent and Nikolai II beard, Padme (Natalie Portman) more hopelessly in love than seems decent beyond the bounds of a chewing-gum advertisement, and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) looking way too toy-boyish and pampered to cut it as any sort of warrior-caste knight committed to a life of rigorous self-discipline.

Yoda is wise, reflective, green and unbelievably supple for a semi-omniscient being of his age. And the android sidekicks bring up the rear with R2-D2 blipping forth a stream of withering diode-driven pessimism and C-3PO hopping about with the jittery servility of a heavily caffeinated butler.

In short, there’s something for everyone.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: **
• Dialogue: *
• Substance: *
• Film craft: *****

Story comments: the lazy way to write new stuff, it seems, is just wait till everyone has forgotten all the good writers, then dumb it down and serve it up again with a straight face.

The story here is a hybrid creation formed from an asset-stripped Greek tragedy (complete with prophecy, premonition and seemingly endless deus ex machina), and a viral culture of Faust, Frankenstein, and Paradise Lost grown under fluorescent lights after some jiggery-pokery with the DNA signatures of the originals. But then, the reviewers of Goethe, Mary Shelley and John Milton probably said something similar about them. Since there’s not much new under the sun, fluorescent lights will have to suffice.

Where the story really comes into its own is in connecting the dots of the Starwarsian meta-story – that is, of the total Star Wars myth – to achieve a genuine sense of closure. It’s cleverly done and makes the second half of the film worth watching (at any rate, I stopped yawning and closing my eyes during protracted lightsabre sessions which give me a headache).

The story’s ability to self reference successfully is an indication of the critical mass this contemporary myth franchise has accumulated. But I’m still in the dark as to what, for me, is the key mystery of the whole saga: how does R2-D2 get up and down stairs?

Dialogue comments: on the comedy side, there is a series of android quips and antics which borders on slapstick, and the whole thing gets dangerously close to a lightsabre-witheringly expensive pantomime more than once.

The rest is an arcade game with characters you can choose to be or not be through an unlimited number of levels. The personalities are made of cardboard and any emotions they evince come from a palate with a limited range of options and have a block-like, pixel quality (which may be more or less convincing depending on the kind of processor you have and the amount of RAM you can afford).

My problem with a lot of it – and here I am returning the question of deus ex machina – is that the outcome is entirely spurious. It’s just a matter of Player One having more powers (suddenly, and for no comprehensible reason) than Player Two. But even within this very subjective framework there is no consistency. Yoda, for example, for all his semi-omniscient powers can’t seem to learn to form basic sentences properly. Does that make sense? No, it doesn’t. And don’t expect it to, either. This is the province of fantasy. Things just are for no reason and they change for no reason. Life is a computer game and you just have to learn each level as you go and accept the programmer as your god.

If you can’t get into it on that level then I suppose you have no business going to see a film designed to entertain seven-year olds.

Substance comments: the story deals with loyalty, ambition and the dangers of siding with evil in the interests of a seeming greater good. But again, you have to close off large portions of your mind (something which literature professors refer to as suspending disbelief) and understand that you are not going to find anything on this level (or on any other) which a programmer did not put there on purpose and want you to find.

However, on the political side, there were some interesting moments. The point, it turns out, of the core struggle was to save Democracy. I laughed out loud. But on reflection it seemed that in the context of a story which revolves round elite-caste in-fighting, there is something refreshingly realpolitik and subversive about the situation as presented here. A story featuring a genocidal, neo-fascist oligarchy invoking Freedom and Democracy to achieve its nefarious ends invites comparisons and conclusions which are inescapable to even the most indoctrinated CNN or Fox News devotee.

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) lays it on the line: If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy. Yeah, we’ve heard similar noises in recent times from George Bush who was quoting (unwittingly, obviously) a man with whom he has much in common: Joseph Stalin. Perhaps the same person is writing their speeches.

And again: So this is how liberty dies – with thunderous applause, says Padme. This sort of statement is more politically unfettered than anything any mainstream news outlet in the United States today can say.

Let’s hope the audience still has the tools to grasp it.

Film craft: this computer-generated culturally-synthesised world woven out of strands of ancient Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Rome, medieval Europe, a top-secret NASA project and a business park in Milton Keynes is brilliantly executed and – within the terms of the genre – among the best I have seen.

A taste of the story: after three years of fighting in the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker begins his journey towards the Dark Side of the Force, putting his friendship with Obi Wan Kenobi and his marriage at risk.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

20.05.05
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