It’s official—there’s no turning back. I am a permanent member of the International Brotherhood of Geeks. I went to see the new Star Wars movie on its opening day. In my defense, I was not among the legion of über-fans who were lined up at the Cinerama Dome and movie theatres around the country for the very first screening of “Revenge of the Sith” at 12:01 am on Wednesday night. The film has been showing continuously since then and the ticket taker at the Dome told me that all showings have been sold out, even the 3:00 and 6:00 am screenings. Leah said that several boys in her class were dropped off at the theatre at midnight (!) and picked up by their parents at 4 in the morning. And they were still in school by 8:30.
I was able to score a single ticket on Thursday and I have to admit it was thrilling to see such an enthusiastic sold-out crowd at the cavernous Cinerama Dome, a magnificent theatre that was built in 1963 for the premiere of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” It was a classic Star Wars crowd. We had plenty of freakazoids dressed in full Jedi robes, two Imperial Storm Troopers, one Princess Leia complete with Crispy Creme donuts affixed to either side of her head, and several Darth Vaders shvitzing under their black masks. These were not youngsters—I think most were about my age (may I please be exiled to the desert planet of Tatooine if I ever appear at a movie theatre in costume?). There were also dozens of fans wearing Star Wars T-shirts: “May the force be with you,” “Kiss Me, I’m a Wookie,” “Jar Jar Binks for President,” Show Me Your Light Saber,” and, my favorite, over a picture of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, “My father destroyed the galaxy and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!”
I’m definitely not one of those people who live and breathe George Lucas’s Joseph Campbellesque take on Good and Evil but I loved the first movie so much when I saw it at the Esquire Theatre in Chicago on May 25, 1977 that I’ve felt compelled to see the five others as soon as they came out. I was there on opening day at the Esquire in 1980 and 1983, in 1999 and 2002 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and yesterday at the Cinerama Dome. Of course the big Star Wars story here was about the lunatics who, as always, started lining up in front of Grauman’s Chinese weeks ago so they could be first in line to see the film. When the theatre employees told them that the film was not opening at Grauman’s this time but at the Dome a few blocks away, the folks camped out on Hollywood Boulevard didn’t believe them and refused to leave—they thought it was a ruse to make them lose their place in line. Oy, these poor schmucks forgot that since 1977 we have something called the Internet that allows people to reserve seats for all the shows on opening day.
The movie? Oh yeah. Much, much better than the first two prequels but still not up to par with the original three films (now called Episodes 4-6). I think Natalie Portman is one of the best young actresses that we have. I’ve been impressed with her work since I saw her riveting performance as the 13-year-old girl in “Beautiful Girls” who has a crush on next-door-neighbor Timothy Hutton. When I first heard that she was going to be in the Star Wars prequels I was thrilled, but, oh, what a waste! In “The Phantom Menace” she could barely be recognized in her over-the-top Queen Amidala drag. In “Attack of the Clones” her love affair with Anakin Skywalker was such a snooze I longed for the comic relief of the justifiably reviled Jar Jar Binks. Natalie fares better in this last film but not by much. She looks gorgeous, as always, but her part is written so poorly that you can’t believe she is the birth mother of Carrie Fisher’s feisty Princess Leia. Oh, Mr. Lucas, why couldn’t you give Natalie some of Leia’s trademark spunk? In one key scene the pregnant Padme rambles on and on to her increasingly unstable husband about how she wants to go back to Naboo (her home planet) and set up the baby’s room. **SNORE** No wonder Anakin goes over the Dark Side, who could live with that? On the other hand, I will say that the best line in the film is given to Portman and she delivers it beautifully. Chancellor Palpatine (played by Ian McDarmid in what is by far the best performance in the film despite the fact that he gobbles up every bit of scenery and spits it back into the faces of his wooden co-stars) is speaking in front of the Senate declaring that he needs increased powers and authority because of the endless Clone Wars. The representatives keep interrupting Palpatine's faux patriotic speech with mindless cheering, causing Natalie to remark to the other delegates from Naboo, “So this is how democracy dies—to thunderous applause.” Paging George W. Bush! The whole scene is chillingly reminiscent of Bush’s machinations in front of Congress just prior to getting authorization for the war in Iraq. Coincidence? I think not.
Poor Hayden Christensen. He’s getting eviscerated in the press—again—as not being up to the challenge of the all-important role of Anakin/Darth Vader. And true, his teenaged angst routine is a bore, not to mention his alleged love scenes with Natalie Portman. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt since we’ve seen what happened to Natalie Portman in these films and we know she has the acting chops! Memo to Christensen’s agent—hurry up and get your boy cast in a series of low-budget independent features where he can show us what he can do without the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders! Maybe Lucas specifically wanted a dull Anakin. It does make his descent to the Dark Side all the more pronounced as we hear Anakin’s irritating whine morph into James Earl Jones as soon as he dons the famous black mask. Cheers broke out in the theatre at that moment, I think from relief that we wouldn’t have to hear Hayden Christensen’s voice again.
The special effects are extraordinary but, in my opinion, too much. Is it really necessary to see hundreds of spaceships in every battle shot instead of twenty that we could focus on? Thousands of droid warriors instead of a hundred? And I will happily live out the rest of my life never seeing another battle of light sabers. The main thing missing for me in all of these prequels is HUMOR. The original three films did not take themselves so seriously, and the relationships between Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford were swimming in humor, fun, and sexual tension. Those qualities are non-existent in these films. Instead of Tom Stoppard, they should have brought in Princess Leia herself for some emergency rewrites since brilliant Carrie Fisher is already known in this town as a sought-after script doctor. The only wisp of humor in “Revenge of the Sith” is provided by the delicious overacting of Chancellor Palpatine. Even old stand-bys C3PO and R2D2, the only performers to appear in all six of the films, do not provide a single laugh.
After Palpatine, Yoda gets my vote as best actor, which says something about the human cast since Yoda is an animated character voiced by the man who played Miss Piggy. In fairness, I will say that this is Ewan McGregor’s best work in the series. I also like how as they prepare for the jump to Episode Four, the original Star Wars movie, McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi starts looking more and more like Alec Guinness. This works better than the similar gesture of slapping donut-shaped hairpieces on Portman’s character to try to make her look more like her future daughter. That hairstyle looked ridiculous on Carrie Fisher and it looks ridiculous on Natalie Portman! But, hey, what do I know about the latest coiffures on Coruscant?
I thought including the scenes on the Wookie planet of Kashyyk were fairly gratuitous. I liked having the link to Chewbacca, who actually appears in this film (for a second), but the Wookies lacked any identifying character traits. (Uh-oh, I think this last criticism has firmly rooted me in the nerd camp. Next I’ll be arguing some obscure point about the Battle of Endor or the Dagobah Planetary System.)
Am I giving too much away? Do I sound overcritical? I actually enjoyed the film very much and I won’t reveal the great shots at the end that will gladden the hearts of all us Baby Boomer geeks who were there in 1977. This seems to be the end of the line for the Jedi and the Sith. Although originally conceived as nine films, George Lucas swears he has no intention of making the final three. Lucas’s original synopses for the final trilogy have been leaked, however, so if you’re curious what happens in Episodes Seven, Eight, and Nine, you can have a look. Reading those outlines, I’m content to stop the insanity here and now. I hear some scary diehards have started an actual religion based on their interpretation of the Star Wars philosophy. Oh well, I guess following George Lucas is no worse than worshipping L. Ron Hubbard.
One line in “Revenge of the Sith” really got to me. Yoda, deeply concerned about what was happening to Jedi Knight Skywalker, gravely states, “The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.”
Oy. I’m doomed.