Whatever the case, I think…I think I’m letting go. Maybe I’ll grab hold again someday. For now, let this latest outrage drift right on by. I’ve got Star Wars friends, I’ve got Star Wars memories, and I don’t need anything else from George Lucas. Chances are, you don’t, either.
–Me, back in September 2011
So as it turns out, I may never “let go” of Star Wars.
In the grand scheme of my life, it’s miniscule and monumental at the same time, this frequently disappointing franchise that has been breaking my heart since 1999. My capacity for critical thought battles endlessly in my own brain against the Underoo-clad seven year old who squees every time he sees a Stormtrooper.
Star Wars attached itself to my subconscious decades ago and if I’m being totally honest, I’m okay with that. We all embrace whatever trash we need to wake up every morning and face a fucking hostile universe full of constant disappointment, tempered by occasional bliss. If pop culture is mostly comfort food, then for me, Star Wars is a neverending buffet of Pizza Hut pan pizza, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and Stephen Colbert’s Ameri-cone Dream.
And now we have J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan and Kathleen Kennedy, getting the band back together for what will either be an impossibly legendary last hurrah or a horribly ill-fated reunion tour. Or maybe, just maybe, somewhere in between. It’s not easy to find careful tempered opinions about Star Wars at this point, especially amongst geeks, meaning me.
Getting giddy about Star Wars again–because that’s what’s happening now, that evocative buzz from photos that suggest anything is possible even when most of it isn’t, as I watch Clone Wars on Netflix at six in the morning with my four-year-old son and put on his toy Darth Vader mask and chase him around the house breathing heavy–getting giddy makes me think back to the last time I had any excitement about Star Wars whatsoever. That was 2005, and the occasion was the release of Revenge of the Sith. After six years of prequel-era horseshit, it felt like a cold deep drink of blue milk.
For the most part, Revenge of the Sith made me think George Lucas finally woke up from his computer-generated mythmaker coma and just made a fucking action movie. The man still stumbled, as he is wont to do, but his mistakes were not those of a writer/director doing a shitty job because they don’t know any better. They were poor decisions made by someone making a lot of great decisions too, so you could actually judge the whole as opposed to tossing it all into the trash compactor.
With Revenge, Lucas really seemed as though he was trying to give his audience a movie they wanted, while also honoring own vision. And yet, because it’s Lucas, there’s a distance there too, a coldness of pronouncement, and a strange take on the typical popcorn tone associated with blockbuster cinema in general.
It’s got more and better action sequences than either of the other prequels, but also an extended scene where an old man basically seduces a young hunk with the promise of everlasting life. There’s a moment where a guy nearly chokes his wife to death because he’s corrupted by evil, even as two comic relief droids putter about helplessly in the background. Serious shit…but then totally campy and outlandish too.
If nothing else, Lucas 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, one slightly tempered by hope. He has the guts to fully depict Anakin Skywalker’s inevitable journey to the dark side of the Force. In the same way that The Empire Strikes Back dared to conclude with a big fat loss for the good guys, Revenge goes forth with a pitch-black finale that never panders or relents.
It’s black because it needs to be, but is there something else at play? He likes to play the role of the teflon artist, but did the constant harping on the first two prequels finally get to Lucas? Is this a pissed-off sixtysomething’s vision of Star Wars, just like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was a pissed-off divorcee’s version of an Indiana Jones movie?
Who can say? Lucas himself seems a bit lost in his own creation here, to overall positive effect. 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 and gets completely swept away. Everyone involved seems to 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 finally returns in Revenge.
Here’s one easy example: Ewan MacGregor. In The Phantom Menace, he was given little to do, and seemed bored. In Attack of the Clones, he had lots more to do, but since the script cast Obi-Wan as a starchy Jedi, Ewan held back.
Revenge finally offers an Obi-Wan that we can unabashedly love, thanks largely to MacGregor’s performance. He’s got some decidedly un-Jedi swagger, but also a deep and rich emotional center. Revenge gives MacGregor more emotional meat 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. Meanwhile, as Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious, Ian McDiarmid chews every piece of real-life scenery he can get his hands on; I’m pretty sure I saw a few tooth marks on even the CG backgrounds.
At that point in Lucas’ career, the bar was set pretty low. He just needed to make a good Star Wars movie with the right doses of swashbuckling and melodramatic space opera. There’s no pretension in Revenge, 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.
With Revenge of the Sith, everyone at long last seemed to actually GIVE A SHIT about Star Wars again, and the effect is noticeable in the film.
So thanks, George, for making one last good Star Wars episode for this 37-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 got it, at long last, and all I can say is that it was about fucking time.
J.J. Abrams…I’ll see you in 2015.