Right off the bat, this
definitely makes up for the previous two crappy movies.
In fact, the previous two crappy movies could well
have been distilled into twenty or thirty minutes of
backstory, and a bit of the politics could have been
trimmed out of this, for one wall-to-wall amazing prequel.
But we're talking about Lucas here, so...
They're not kidding when they call this
a "dark" film. Anakin's seduction by power
and fear is (with a few false notes) very believable.
The capitulation of the Republic to the politically
bloodless rise of the Empire is equally saddening and
sickening. Yes, those parallels to modern life are
quite deliberate. There is a lot of violence, and many
innocents die (not just robots and expendable baddies).
The horror which requires Anakin to wear the big black
suit was so gruesome that I had to turn my face away
from the screen for a full minute until the scene was
over. Yet the film manages not to end on a wrenchingly
depressing note, as the twins are placed with their
respective families and Yoda and Obi-Wan go into temporary
exile to wait and plan, not to die. And there are so
many throwaway laugh-out-loud lines that I really felt
I was watching Star Wars again, not a political
screed with way cool CGI.
The acting varies, with the Dark Side
chewing the scenery and the Light Side (is it the Light?
or the Good Side? I've forgotten) mostly wooden. Ian
McDiarmid gives Palpatine a credible and shaded evil.
He's power-hungry, but not yet so power-crazed that
it's overwhelmed his tactical sense. Christopher Lee's
brief scene as the expendable Count Dooku is clearly
a personal outtake from Saruman's cameo in Return
of the King. General Grievously Ill must be a technological
first: a cyborg with severe osteoporosis and a smoker's
hack. The Yellow Peril Viceroy is still a dumb piece
of cardboard. Ewan McGregor and an entirely (and improved)
CGI Yoda are the best actors on the Jedi team; Samuel
Jackson was channeling Robert Beltran, Jimmy Smits's
Senator Organa didn't have enough screen time to come
to life, and most of the other good guys barely had
lines. (And these people are not bad actors.
Only the Scots and the 'bots were allowed to ignore
the lousy directing?) C3PO was a grace note mostly
for continuity. R2D2 had some amazing James Bond upgrade
-- spewing gasoline and lighting it on fire, popping
out of the fighter like a piece of toast, and bristling
with more weapons and gadgetry than a Swiss Army Borg.
(No idea what happened to all that in later
films. Maybe he got half-wiped when C3PO was erased?)
Padmé, still lovely, is sadly reduced to a helpless,
sobbing, fashionable idiot by her pregnancy. She goes
through an astonishing number of outfits, hairdos,
and hair ornaments, but her one session in Congress
is spent quietly watching Palpatine froth at the mouth.
You'd never know that she had once been a Senator,
let alone a Queen who risked herself in a shootout
or sought out the Gungans for help against an army
of droids. (Speaking of whom, Jar-Jar shows up twice,
but mercifully never speaks. Ahmed Best still got an
early-end-credits mention, strangely enough.) Hayden
Christensen doesn't show a lot of range, but
when he breaks out of his tired sulk, you can easily
see his fury catapulting him into darkness.
The opening twenty minutes are a video
game come to dizzying, cheering, stomach-lurching life.
The two Jedi and their ship droids wheeling through
the fighting and Anakin scraping the fleabots off Obi-Wan's
fighter. R4 losing his head, literally. Not one but
two elevator rise-and-plummets, which came up to but
never quite crossed the line into ridiculous. The bigass
ship plunging straight down to Coruscant, threatening
to smear everyone inside into chunky salsa and parts
The political and emotional thickets
in which Anakin has snagged himself are mostly straightforward
and easy to empathize with. He's a young adult chafing
at the bit to prove himself, not an irritating teenager
who needs to dig ditches to break his bad attitude
or a precocious nine-year-old who's just irritating
altogether. But he is young, and with the arrogance
and blind surety typical of a twentysomething with
the capacity for reason and action but without the
experience to mature him. When Yoda tries to explain
to him that the only way to overcome his fear is to
let go of that which he fears to lose, he doesn't get
it. It's a Zen kind of concept -- if you don't have
anything or anyone, by definition you don't fear any
loss because you have nothing which you can lose --
but a lonely one. Little wonder that passionate confused
Anakin, already struggling with divided loyalties,
is loathe to give up any of them!
Palpatine plays on that skillfully.
His seduction of Anakin to the Dark Side is almost
perfect, with two weak spots. The moment when he reveals
his hand is two scenes too soon, and too much all at
once -- he should have drawn Anakin along more, let
him have more time to think about the power over death
which he was offering with the power of the Dark Side.
Similarly, when Anakin distracts Mace Windu enough
to enable Palpatine to kill him, Palpatine immediately
demands Anakin declare his allegiance. That could have
waited one more scene also, for Anakin to realize on
his own that he had nowhere to turn and that he needed
Palpatine's help and power. But those scenes were only rushed --
I never felt like we were making leaps and being asked
to accept some transformation which we didn't see.
It was a fine mythological piece of storytelling.
Perhaps because the Jedi are accustomed
to a quasi-Vulcan way of life, where emotions are controlled
and personal attachments discouraged, they couldn't
see that Anakin needed parenting as well as mentoring
and scolding. That's why Anakin held to Obi-Wan as
long as he did, and why Palpatine was able to win him
in the end: the Emperor offered individual attention
and praise, corrupt and twisted as it was, while Obi-Wan
eventually had to take the side of the Council over
his much-loved little brother.
The final fight on the lava planet,
or whatever that was, started impressively but wore
a bit thin near the end. I was practically getting
tired for the characters! There's one moment about
mid-way through the indoor scenes where both men stop
their saber-bashing to waggle their hands at one another.
Their forces (heh) are equally matched. In that moment,
I was really hoping that Obi-Wan would lunge forward
and grab Anakin's hand, as a literal reaching-out to
try to save his student one last time. By the time
they got outside into the seventh level of hell, it
was beginning to strain my suspension of disbelief
that these two could keep leaping about like ants on
a hot brick but continue to stick the landings. Near
the end, Obi-Wan jumps onto a large chunk of debris
and then Anakin finds a convenient probe droid to step
on, and the two of them surf through the lava. That
pretty much lost me until Anakin got baked on the hillside.
(yecch!) From that scene, Moogie's complaint is that
while a lightsaber slice would instantly cauterize
a wound, it should still smoke from the liquids in
the body boiling away, and that wasn't shown. (I think
there was plenty enough mayhem going on without adding
that nasty li'l detail.)
The parallels between Anakin being wired
into the black suit and Padmé being prepped
for surgery and delivery were visually quite nice.
(She got anesthetic, he didn't.) The horror on Anakin's
face as the mask descends on him, and then the camera
shot through that familiar silhouette, were a big emotional
wallop. John Williams scored the moment perfectly.
The Emperor's theme starts at half-tempo as the iron
lung kicks in, and the table rises to present Darth
Vader for the first time. (Kudos to James Earl Jones
for matching Christensen's style of delivery of his
few lines.) I couldn't buy that Padmé had lost
the will to live -- okay, I should say I couldn't buy
that Queen Amidala or Senator Amidala would have lost
the will to live, but the Barbie doll in this film
was fairly fragile. (Granted, she slept in a nightgown
trimmed with pointy brooches and ropes of beads and
wearing a hair dingbat, but that's being a fashion
victim.) However, in Return of the Jedi, Leia
says she remembers her mother a little. Is she referring
to Senator Organa's wife? Padmé doesn't even
hold either sprog before she sails into the West.
They must pay Senators some astonishing
salary for Padmé to be able to afford that apartment,
complete with marble terrace and landing strip. And
not for anything, but if she didn't want anyone to
know she and Anakin were married, maybe he shouldn't
be living with her and coming and going from her home
so often? A little sneaking, or attempt at sneaking,
would have sufficed.
It took me a little while to understand
-- to remember, actually, since Episode II was such
a snoozefest -- that the stormtroopers were all clones,
quite possibly programmed with General Order 66. Palpatine
didn't need to convert or convince his legions; he
already owned them.
More awesome critters and creatures
from the ILM workshop: the mosquito-things the Wookies
were flying, the lizard-horse Obi-Wan saddled, another
woman from the same species as the doomed dancer in
Jabba's den, more bizarre aliens in non-speaking background
roles than I can remember. The bots were also cool,
although sometimes a bit too convenient. (The banana-headed
Roger-Roger droids walking around Grievous muttering
comebacks were hilarious. That alone will be worth
DVD just rewind and hear all that.) CGI and background
and planets and ships were all amazing. They'd filmed
a much larger battle on Kashyyk, the Wookie planet,
but it was seriously cut. I suppose we'll see it in
the Director's Edition.
At times the only way to track the movements
of various Jedi was the spinning and parrying of the
glowing lightsabers in the misty murk. I'm sure some
of that was necessary because the saber fight was being
rendered out of whole cloth, so to speak, rather than
a choreographed fight between actors or stunt folks,
but it made the characters oddly anonymous. (Except
for Mace Windu. He gets the special purple lightsaber.
That was allegedly at Jackson's request, because he
wanted to be able to pick himself out in one of the
aforementioned dimly-lit fights.) And why do they shut
the lightsabers off the moment they're done
fighting? Saving battery life?
You know, given the high incidence of
precipice-dangling, you'd think they'd start building
lower, wider cities.
I guess Jedi insurance carriers consider "getting
one's hand(s) chopped off" as a standard occupational
hazard. Or maybe amputation is like comp-and-collision.
(I'm sorry, even though I had to look away, poor Anakin
is lying there with both legs and an arm gone still
clawing his way up the hill, and I'm thinking "It's
just a flesh
wound!") Count Dooku's double amputation and then double
decapitation was a little overkill, but I guess the
point had to be made that Anakin was capable of some
My brother was saying that using the
Dark Side of the Force was apparently destructive to
the wielder. Anyone on the Dark Side was disintegrating
a little every time they did something. Palpatine got
a huge blast of bad vibes feedbacking on him with Mace
Windu's saber, which is why he went the whole hag all
at once. Grievous, who had organic parts under all
the shiny plates, sounded like a plague victim. But
when Yoda fights, he collects all the energy and then
lets it go in a blast, sort of restoring the balance.
Yoda! Boy, he's a spry one! He's always
reminded me of my beloved grandfather Papá,
especially where he sort of totters around with the
cane on Dagobah. But Papá never stopped moving
even though he slowed down in later years (to the store
and back, to the club and back, to the salumeria and
back...), and Yoda proves that he can fence with the
best of them. It's still ridiculously funny to see
a Muppet trading full-strength blows with a full-size
You know a prequel has succeeded when
it makes you want to go back and see the original material,
looking for the connections which have now been established.
And that's exactly what I want to do now. :)