STAR WARS 3: AN AMAZINGLY BAD MOVIE
(This blog entry on Star Wars 3 contains some spoilers).
Ann and I went to see Stars Wars 3: The Revenge of the Sith this weekend, spurred by a few astonishingly positive reviews and the morbid curiosity of seeing the death throes of an already-dead corpse. Also, let’s face it—we enjoy a good bad movie. Mediocre movies hold no attraction for us, but a really bad movie can be extremely entertaining.
I’m thinking of movies where the director gave up or the actors gave up half-way through, or even movies where everybody went into it knowing they couldn’t do a good movie but might be able to create an entertaining campy movie.
The remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau is a good example, with its insane piano duet between a corpulent and dazed Marlon Brando and the “little gobbet” of bioneered flesh he’s created. Even better, half way through the movie Val Kilmer gives up and starts doing Brando imitations in his scenes with Brando.
And yet even a movie like Dr. Moreau can have a redeeming quality—in this case, Ron Perlman as a hyena man. While the whole movie is falling to pieces around him, Perlman plays it straight and gives an affecting, complex portrayal. So you have the dual pleasure of campy insanity and a genuinely good performance. (Another good example of this, to an opposite extreme, is Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, in which Alan Rickman clearly decides that as the Sheriff of Nottingham in a movie that is a slow agony of mediocre dialogue, he’s going to do an over-the-top acting job. It’s one of the great wacked-out performances ever given in a mediocre film.
Stars Wars 3 has some of these same qualities: it is a genuinely horrible movie (unlike the last two, which were just mediocre) with at least two acting choices that I admire. The first is by Samuel Jackson, who is clearly so disgusted by the inane dialogue he has to utter that he says his lines with all the modulation of a dead man. Some have called his performance stoic. I call it inspired “dullery.” It makes you realize just how bad the dialogue in Star Wars 3 is.
The other performance is by Ewan McGregor who, as the young Obi Wan, plays it straight and delivers a portrayal that, in its earnest quality, despite having to use Lucas’ inane dialogue, ranks with the great acting jobs of the year. McGregor almost convinces us that we’re watching a decent movie, he’s that good.
But we’re not watching a good movie. We’re watching a terrible movie. Can we fault Jackson for not giving a shit as he has to mouth words like “wookie,” “Dooku,” and General Grievous”? “Where is Grievous?” “Where is Dooku?” I’ve got some Dooku for you, right here.
But the problem extends beyond the stilted dialogue. Much of the movie looks like it was shot in somebody’s dimly lit basement. The blocking on action scenes is only adequate. The battle droids make cute little sounds as they expire. The Jedi and others destroy so many robots so quickly that you realize that the “separatist” robot armies are a joke. (Why is it that the Jedi preternaturally dispose of hundreds, if not thousands of hapless robot soldiers but are slaughtered almost to extinction across the galaxy, in every case, by just a handful of ordinary traitorous soldiers?)
In fact, any pretense of this being the future was jettisoned a long time ago. As you watch cute-looking droids attack Obi Wan’s little spaceship, you soon come to realize that you’re watching the final Attack of the Tie-Ins. You’re watching a future extrapolated from the action figures sold in MacDonald’s. You’re watching a future infiltrated and shaped by commercial images from the past. Read this way, Star Wars 3 becomes a time travel story. It isn’t the evil Sith who are taking over the galaxy—it’s George Lucas’ product placement drones. Attack of the Clones.
Because, frankly, we’ve got stuff today that would, if the movie is any indication, serve as a powerful deterrent to any ‘droid army. Bring on that droid army—and them Jedi. We’ll kick all of their butts. Just send ‘em into the past. We’ll take care of your Empire for you.
But this applies to more than just the military technology. When a burned Darth Vader is carried off a volcanic planet, it’s on a gurney that could be something modern-day with a levitation feature added. And as for that volcanic planet—there are droids scooping lava into buckets and bringing it to a factory. Gee, that’s really advanced. Not to mention, there’s a fight scene on said planet in which the characters are standing in areas of extreme heat for long periods of time. (Apparently Jedi are so magical that they don’t get burned to a crisp. It’s a wonder they even need air to breathe while traveling through space.)
Basically, Star Wars is still stuck in 1976, and limited by the myopic imaginations of its creators. Everything in the Star Wars universe is dated and cumbersome and unconvincing—a bunch of random stage props. Yes, you can call it a fantasy that happens to be set in space, but to do so just allows Lucas to get away with the rampant stupidity of the whole enterprise.
There are almost too many stupid moments to be able to catalogue them all. From the awful scenes between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen (“Remember when we kissed by Lake Lackofchemistry?”) to the pathetic and inexplicable characterization of General Grievous (and his retarded organic heart, which proves his downfall) to the chase scene between Obi Wan on a huge Iguana (that looks like it came right out of Sinbad and the Seven Seas) and General Grievous on a flaming wheel of gyroscopic retardation, to ANY scene with a flying green booger (I mean, Yoda) engaged in light saber duels or Yoda scrunching through an airduct, to the gratuitous wookie planet scenes, which serve no purpose other than to try to erase our memory of ewoks…this movie implodes under the weight of illogic, poor planning, and poorly imagined sequences and ideas.
But the defining moment of stupidity in the movie is the rise of Darth Vader. Anakin Skywalker, badly burned, is encased in his Darth Vader suit, and then the gurney he’s strapped into is brought upright. At that point, the evil Sith Emperor tells Darth that he killed his own wife (not strictly true). He pulls away from his restraints and cries out “Nooooo!” with the same vehemence as the shouted “Stellllaaaaaa!” in another movie of similar melodramatic quality. It’s almost a scene out of Frankenstein, a parallel Lucas probably wants.
It’s possibly the most ridiculous and vainglorious scene in all of the movies. And it doesn’t work at all. Not even a little bit. The sight of Darth Vader stumbling from his restraints isn’t human or inhuman. It’s just sad and pathetic.
The original Star Wars had a simplicity, innocence, and good humor about it that allowed it to work. Despite the mystical mumbo-jumbo, it didn’t take itself too seriously. Since then, Lucas has encased the series in a dual seriousness and commercialism that have made it lifeless and unlivable.
All of this may seem a bit like reviewing a graveyard and complaining that it’s full of dead people, but I’ve been dismayed by the number of reviewers who have given this movie decent-to-good reviews based on the spectacle of (not very good) special effects and the supposed gravitas of the storyline, while dismissing their own concerns about the acting and dialogue.
Science fiction (and fantasy) deserves better than this serving of bullshit mixed with a gruel composed of equal parts sparse imagination and badly translated visions of glory.