Thursday, May 19, 2005

Inept psychology, Interesting political economy, Incomparable worlds: Star Wars Ep. 3

So fulfilling my childhood cultural birth rite, I joined the throngs of costumed dorks and associated saber wielding geeks and attended the final Star Wars on opening night (as I had done for Episodes I and II and the re-releases of IV, V, and VI) and I must say that I am surprisingly satisfied.

I agree with Times reviewer AO Scott that it is at least as good as Episode IV, making it the best of the films that Lucas directed. That said, he should still have let someone else write and direct as he did for episodes V and VI. This was especially apparent in the descent of Anakin, done with a singular lack of style and grace that is Lucas’ trademark. Hayden Christenssen has demonstrated that he can play slow corruption,in Shattered Glass, but this film demonstrated none of the exquisite seduction of Luke present in the original trilogy. Episode 3 made Jedi look like a psychological masterpiece. Anakin here was simply petulant and deranged.

I also found fault with Lucas’ rather overt jab at Bush, “Only Sith think in absolutes” says Obi-Wan, in response to a parody of Bush’s “with us or against us” line, ironic in a movie that is iconic for its Manichaean portrayal of the forces of light against dark.

Yet the primary theme is a good one: what drives the fall of democracy; it falls as Padme observes to “thunderous applause.” Finally Lucas crafts a believable political system, highlighting how finely balanced democracy can be; how easy it is for an empowered executive or a militarized independent religious order to subvert the democratic process; how tenuous the beliefs, norms, institutions that sustain democracy truly are. As much as Star Wars is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, so too is it about the fall and redemption of democracy.

And that is the genius of Lucas, to create worlds, to tell compelling stories. The brains behind the most successful franchises in movie history (Indiana Jones, Star Wars) he had previously wisely let others fill in the details. Lucas more fundamental contribution still is in revolutionizing how movies are made, at Industrial Light and Magic and his small movie magic empire.

I nearly agree with AO Scott that Lucas has surpassed Peter Jackson to be the foremost creator of worlds alive today. Scarred by the ravages of war, we now see the classical Naboo civilizations as real civilizations, rather than Roman or Rastafarian caricatures. Lucas does bring magic to the cinema, creating epic space battles and alien worlds with as much razzle-dazzle as has ever been mustered in a film. However, I still have to give Lord of The Rings credit, whose technical prowess does not quite match that of Lucas, but Jackson more than compensates with passion. At times, Episode 3 felt like a video game, one with breathtaking, stunning visuals, but without the poetry of Jackson’s Middle Earth.

Despite it all, Lucas pulled it off. Perhaps Episodes One and Two had just set expectations sufficiently low, or perhaps it was all part of a master plan (I doubt it), as Lucas completes the cycle, I walk away sated and fully satisfied.
Final Grade: A

See also: my other opinion on Lucas:

George Lucas: horrendous writer, mediocre director, legend of filmmaking – A Star Wars II review

And my other movie reviews at:
Ben's Epinions Page

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