Tuesday, June 21, 2005


The Circle is Completed

I saw Star Wars: Episode III last night (at last!). My reactions were mixed.

Yes, it's everything George Lucas led us to expect: the fight scenes were spectacular (and, if memory serves, far more plentiful than in his last two movies); the special effects were dazzling. On a trivial note, we thankfully only saw Jar-Jar Binks twice, for a few seconds each time, and he didn't say a word either time. (THANK YOU, Mr. Lucas!!) And, finally, we get to watch the transformation of good into evil, of young idealistic Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader (complete with James Earl Jones Cheyne-Stokes breathing).

As usual, the dialogue was wooden at best, and the politics were laughable. (What can you say about a series in which Queen Amidala must say: "I was not elected to watch my people suffer!" -- as she did in Episode I.) It was less obvious in this one, but we again saw a Senate willing to applaud just about anything said to them. (I had to wonder: do they ever vote on anything?)

It also occurred to me that, in addition to his tin ear for dialogue (and character names -- General Grievous indeed!), George Lucas seems to be weak on backstory. (Any decent science-fiction writer can tell you of the necessity of building up the backstory -- all the myriad details that influence the story, but aren't part of the story itself.) It's the little details, you see, that just seem to fit together, than help convince an audience -- or a reader -- that the whole environment is believable.

For example, on the planet where the Jedi Council meets (and where Padme waits eternally for Anakin to come say hello), the skies are forever filled with flowing traffic, in neat three-dimensional grid patterns at ninety-degree angles. (How do they do that? Do they use white and yellow dotted lines in the air? It would have been interesting to see some details of that.) But when Anakin or Obi-Wan Kenobi need to get somewhere, they just cut across all that traffic... causing no accidents, no disruption, nothing. (Has the Star Wars universe eliminated the need for traffic cops?) The traffic is there for backdrop, nothing more; the people getting to and from work aren't real.

And that's the case with too much in this story, and in each of the Star Wars stories -- things happen to advance the story that make no sense without context, and no context is provided. The battles, spectacular though they are, show no tactics, no strategy; it's action for the sake of action. Padme was queen in Episode I, and a senator in Episode II; in this movie she stays home and broods, all the time. Why does she put up with this? Anakin makes it clear that he must not reveal his marriage to Padme; but why?

Most importantly, perhaps: Anakin begins the movie as a deferential young Jedi -- more deferential, in fact, than in Episode II. But he switches to the Dark Side in moments, and never looks back. Why? This is the central idea of the first three movies; can it not be made more believable? Could Palpatine not have blackmailed Anakin, for example, given that the two had just collaborated in killing a Jedi elder? That would have been much more believable, at least to me, than what we did see.

(The Greeks knew how to do this, with their concept of a Fatal Character Flaw: the hero contains within himself the seeds of his own undoing. That wasn't just a plot device; it's one that resonates strongly with audiences, then and now. Lucas could have benefited greatly from using that technique. But he didn't.)

I'm glad to have seen the circle closed; many of us have been waiting for this ever since Star Wars came out, twenty-eight years ago. But I don't think I'll need to see it again.


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