So last night, my friends and I finally got together to watch Revenge of the Sith. We didn’t see it on opening night mostly because at this stage in our lives, we have other things getting in the way of immediate gratification of any desires we might have (fun stuff like jobs, girlfriends, appointments, and so forth.)
And was it worth the wait? I’m here to tell you that no, it wasn’t. No way, no by far
I’m not a fanboy of the series, but I did enjoy the original movies, and even saw Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as a kid when they were originally released in theatre. The two follow-up movies were big disappointments for me, but not because I was camping out at the theatre in a Wookie costume three weeks before the movies played for the first time; I was let down simply because they were lousy movies that didn’t appeal to me on any level; story, special effects, characters, dialogue. None of it was any good, I thought, and critics agreed with me for the most part.
However, I had reasons to believe Sith would be different. Most of the early indie reviews were positive
(“fawning” isn’t too strong a word to use here for some of them), and even when the name-brand critics posted their thoughts on the film, the consensus was clear: Sith was a very good movie, the best of the prequels by far, and possibly a contender for “best of the series” status. Was it true? Would Sith finally live up to all the hype? I decided to hope that for this movie, Lucy would finally hold the football in place for Charlie Brown.
As it turned out, I shouldn’t have bothered. But at least I was conditioned to expect disappointment based on the last two films. The movie was a drag. I think modern movie reviewers are slipping in rating their movies because the overall quality of modern films gets worse with each successive year, and they are forced to give something a good review even if it doesn’t deserve it.
I bet if you took Revenge of the Sith ten years into the past and released it without the majority of the gee-whiz special effects included, it would be justifiably roasted by the press.
Without summarizing all the plot structure of the film (that’s boring, just go read some reviews, plus I was so sedated that I'm sure I don't remember many of the details), I’ll lay out my reasons for why the movie sucked, in no particular order:
1.) The special effects. I read someplace that there were something like 2,000 special effects used in Sith, and I believe it. Every single scene was saturated with CGI “wizardry”, and I am something of an old-school movie fan who believes less is more. I also believe that the availability of cheap and effective special effects is used too often as a crutch by modern producers as a substitute for plot, and Lucas proved to be no exception. Never-ending battle scenes with thousands of blaster bolts flying back and forth, thousands of CGI monsters battling each other to the death, thousands of spaceships, droids, and people crowding each and every shot is just too fucking much to look at. (Even as the backdrop for the supposed dramatic scenes – for instance, why on Coruscant, the city-world, no matter what disaster or event was going on, there were always hundreds of ships flying past the windows like minnows in an aquarium? I was asking myself, “What the hell are those stupid little ships doing, anyway? Where are they going? Don't they know the Republic is falling?" More than anything, they looked like a crush of aliens in their air-cars, commuting to the office.) And I’m sick of it, George. All those effects, they bore me to death, and during any of the particularly CGI-loaded scenes, I was checking my watch to see how much time the movie had left.
Remember in the old days, when Han and Chewie were desperately trying to activate the hyperdrive, while simultaneously attempting to get away from maybe one or two Tie-fighters? That’s all I need. The drama of those moments always had me on the edge of my seat. Modern movies are so self-consciously overblown (“Look at me! Look at how amazing and skilled we are!”), that I just shut down at the sight of it. Why is it too much to ask that CGI technology be limited to background settings and other scene-filler instead put front-and-centre as the main attraction?
2.) The script was terrible. You know a movie has been written well when people joyfully quote cool lines from it in the restaurant afterwards. But there was nothing worth quoting from Sith. Even now, a day later, I’m having trouble remembering anything the actors might have said. The few scenes that involved speaking were mostly short, forgettable interludes connecting the action sequences. One exception to this was Palpatine – I enjoyed listening to him speak, and the lines he was given. But nobody else said anything worth remembering. (And what the hell is up with Yoda, anyway? This guy is a Master Jedi, the apparent leader of the Jedi council, something like 900 years old, can communicate with Wookies, but for some stupid reason, he can’t properly arrange a sentence in English. Sorry, it’s not a charming idiosyncrasy of his character, it's just irritating.)Jedi Master and lightsaber-toting midget hero?
Yeah, but he needs to go over his "Hooked on Phonics" book a few more times.
Anyway, here is an example of the clunker dialogue: there is a scene at the end, after Anakin has been mounted inside his Vader suit, when Vader asks the Emperor if Padme lived (I’m paraphrasing a bit here):
Vader: What about Padme? Did she live?
Emperor: Ah…uh, it seems that because of your anger, Padme was unable to survive through childbirth (struggling to contain a smirk behind Vader, like he’s waiting for him to sit on a whoopee-cushion).
Vader: NOOOOO!!! (raising his fists in the air)
3.) The characters stunk. Either as a result of the script writing, the fact that they were filmed in front of a green screen, or the fact that they seemed to exist mostly as a break between the action sequences, none of them engaged me emotionally in any significant way. General Grievous was supposed to be the cool bad guy in this movie (other than Vader and Palpatine, of course) and his character was absurd. Utterly, completely absurd. For example, he’s a droid who coughs. What for? I don’t know. He also couldn’t stand up straight, hunching his way around battle cruisers even though we’re shown later on that he has the ability to wield four light sabers at once. And during that frantically-cut action sequence, the big showdown between him and Obi-Wan, (oh, as an aside, that's another thing I hated about the movie – the fast action cuts ensure you never get a good look at anything), Obi-Wan yanks off a piece of Grievous’ metal chest to reveal a living heart grafted to his metal frame. Bang, he’s dead. “How uncivilized!” Obi-Wan sniffs, tossing the blaster. Why the hell would something so critical to Grievous’ survival be placed in such an unprotected place? Ridiculous! It reminds me of Spider Man 2, when Octavious points out that the only thing keeping his brain from being taken over by his set of robotic arms is a fragile, glowing microchip stuck on the back of his neck. There had to be a better place for it.
4.) The acting was lousy. All of the characters delivered their lines with the intensity of a guy making a pizza order. Literally anybody at all could have played Padme, Anakin, Mace Windu, or any of the other characters with identical, forgettable effect. Natalie Portman was wasted. (And, inexplicably, looked eye-poppingly bizarre at various points in the movie, as though her head had suddenly gained twenty pounds - at one point, Anakin tells her she's beautiful. Some kid sitting behind me whispered, "But...she looks so ugly
!" No shit kid, I thought.) The exceptions were Obi-Wan and Palpatine. Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid were fun to watch for the most part, but even McGregor wasn’t immune to moments of woodenness, mostly during his interactions with Anakin. Perhaps Hayden Christenson's terrible acting was contagious, infecting McGregor anytime they were onscreen together. I read a lot in the reviews about the friendly "bantering" onscreen they were supposed to have, and none of it appeared natural to me. Did the critics see the same movie I did? Honestly, I'm not exaggerating, I've seen better acting in films made by students. How could Lucas have messed this part up so badly?
For me, there was almost nothing to like in this movie. I did enjoy watching Anakin turn into Vader, but I was expecting his seduction to the Dark Side to be more subtle than it was (Silly me). As it happened, Palpatine killed Mace Windu in front of Anakin with a blast of Dark Side energy that desiccated his face (and this is just classic too – Windu was brandishing his light saber, yelling, “you are under arrest!” at Palpatine – Palpatine responds by zapping him with lightning, and his face begins to melt. “Help me Anakin, I can’t stop him!” cries Palpatine, as his face gets worse and worse…but gee, here’s a thought – why not stop shooting Mace with the lightning? He wasn’t trying to kill you at this point, and maybe you’d still have a face…but anyway…), and after Mace was dispatched, Anakin immediately agreed to be Palpatine’s apprentice: “I hereby swear my allegiance to you, and your ways.” And Palpatine was staring at him with his ruined face and yellow eyeballs, hissing, “Good! Gooooood! Ha ha ha ha!” How could there be any conflict in Anakin about who to trust and follow at this point? It would be obvious to a preschooler that Palpatine was a guy you don’t fuck around with, so Anakin’s sudden conversion to the Dark Side seemed improbable, clumsily handled, and far too quick to be realistic.
But maybe it was this expected succumbing to the Dark Side that managed to win over the reviewers? Or maybe it was the admittedly gripping visuals of Vader being airlifted from the lava pits back to the Emperor, accompanied by soaring, tragic, dirge-like orchestral music. I did enjoy this part of the story, but from start to finish, it only made up about 20 minutes of the movie, and the depiction of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side accounted for perhaps 40 minutes of the length, all told. Perhaps this was what redeemed the movie for most critics. I think it must be, because this was the only part of the movie I liked, personally. And it struck me that it was also the only part that of the film that, at last, had a different feel than the 8 hours or so of mediocre prequel material that preceded it: other than the depiction of Anakin's descent to the Dark Side, any scene from Episode I-III is completely interchangeable, as far as I'm concerned.
So did the ending save the movie for me?
Nah. I should have waited for the rental, but some movies have to be seen in the theatre, for better or for worse. I feel about it the same way Anakin did, after he beheaded an armless man: “Hum…I should not have done that. It is not the Jedi way.”
For sure. Save your beans and wait for the rental.