Why Star Wars Episode III Is Actually A Good Film


This is not a review. If you want a review of the Star Wars prequel movies, Google it. You’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of a googol of reviews. (See what I did there?) The new movies have been reviewed, dissected, disemboweled, villified, trumpeted, defended, and defecated on more than just about any movie franchise extension I can remember. And rightly so. The original Star Wars trilogy took about two days in 1977 to completely and totally embed itself like a deer tick in the American (and worldwide, really) pop culture psyche.

Naturally, then, when Lucas announced in the mid 90’s that he was embarking on the holy crusade of geekdom and making three new Star Wars movies, the world lost its collective shit. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I can safely say, so did I.

I wanted to like the new Star Wars movies. I desperately wanted to like them. Someone asked me (I can’t remember who now, since it’s been fifteen years) what if the movies weren’t that good. And all I can remember thinking was “What are you, nuts? How could they possibily be bad?” How indeed.

My primary gripe with Lucas is that he forgot his own motto, by which he lived back in the time of the first three movies. Specifically, he stated that a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing. I wish he’d remembered that, and modified it a little. A special effect with TOO much story is also a boring thing. The first of the new moveis, The Phantom Menace, had all kinds of stuff going on in it. A dispute centering on a trade dispute, which causes the aggressors to invade a largely peaceful planet. The political machinations of a dark shadowy figure pushing the aggressor to act first. The discovery of a messianic child and his extraction from his slave existence. The peaceful planet’s not so peaceful coexistence between two species that, while not at war, are certainly not at peace. A noble knight so blinded by his belief in the potential of the messianic child that he’s willing to defy the orders of his elders and train the boy.

I mean, way too much.

The Phantom Menace, while it made a bundle and a half of money, received a lukewarm response from critics. Viewers and devotees of the franchise flocked and reflocked, and flocked a third time, to see the young Obi-Wan, the younger Anakin, the insanely awesomely designed and underused villain Darth Maul, and to lose themselves in new depths of a galaxy they had not visited in sixteen years.

Guilt as charged.

I actually didn’t despise the first movie the way many fans did. I was four when I first visited the barren wastes of Tattooine. Returning to the desert planet was like a homecoming of sorts for me. Despite the inadvertent cultural insults, the hit and miss speed sequence of the pod race, and lackluster acting and dialogue that can only be summarized as being written with a “tin ear”, I enjoyed the first movie.

The second movie was so-so for me. Lucas continued to push forward, continued to direct, folding odd storylines in on themselves, and introducing even more special effects that were, honestly, boring.

While the third movie seemed to showcase Lucas finding his directorial stride, it was still beset with issues ranging from crappy dialogue to continuity holes so big, they could only be filled by the small cadre of party-line devotees that refuse to see the movies’ flaws for what they are, and endlessly debate the ways the continuity holes were “probably” filled.

And yet…

And yet, as I watched the third movie, I realized that, as we came to a point that every Star Wars geek had been waiting for, the visualization of the betrayal of the Jedi order at the hands of Anakin, as I watched him arrive at the Seperatist stronghold on Mustafar and proceed to, um, despense Sith justice to the Seperatist leaders, I realized the Lucas may be a stroytelling genius. These Seperatists–who had been among the primary antagonists of the first two movies, and the first half of the third, who the audience was meant to root against and whom the Jedi struggled to defeat–these individuals were being slaughtered at the hands of the newly annointed Darth Vader, showing ruthless effeciency. As he cut down the Seperatists, I realized that these villains/victims had been the progeneters of the Rebel Alliance, a group that we will ultimately root FOR in Episodes IV through VI.

It was a kind of stark moment for me, and I sat in the theater wondering how I should feel about that. And as I watched the phenominal final lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, a duel made fantastic by the involvement and advise provided to Lucas by his good friend Steve on how to craft a great action sequence, I realized that the characters I thought I knew had changed, as did my feelings toward them. As this realization came to me, I accepted the fact that Episode III was actually a good film.

Through all of the machinations and somersaults Lucas took in his films to set up a political war, a power grab by an evil villain, and the subsequent betrayal of the Jedi order, Lucas created a helluva story arc. What’s unfortunate is that his execution on the movies was feeble, causing his Machievellian like plotting to be overshadowed by mediocre filmmaking.

Maybe these would have been better as books…

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