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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Cosmic Dissonance of George Lucas

A friend of mine, Darren Eliker, who has an excellent way with words, offers his thoughts below on The Revenge of the Sith. I still have not seen the film, but once I do I will add my own reactions. I just thought Darren's observations were interesting and needed to be shared.

Last weekend my wife and I caught the final episode of the Star Wars sextology (yes that is a word and get your mind out of the gutter), the ‘Revenge of the Sith’.

George Lucas has left an impact upon the way we watch films in a way few others have. He may not be a prolific director like his friend Steven Spielberg, but it’s Lucas’ groundbreaking strides in the realm of special effects that have made way for all of the incredible CGI graphics and THX technology used in most films today. Watch the credits of major blockbusters and you’ll probably find Skywalker Sound or Lucasfilm Ltd listed.

Lucas is not a great director. He’s a good storyteller and a very good merchandiser. He’s created an indelible mythos that has captivated minds young and old around the world by a galaxy far, far away. But he’s at his best when he steps away from the work and lets someone else direct. That’s what made the second film ‘Empire Strikes Back’ arguably the best in the series. It’s also what makes ‘Revenge of the Sith’ a tedious and rather boring conclusion to the Star Wars saga.

The story of Star Wars is important and personal for Lucas, and this is what keeps him from getting out of his own way. While Spielberg churns out picture after picture, Lucas labors for years over each release. He’s too careful, too precious with it. It was the reason why the first Star Wars almost failed before it began. The stars of that movie know well the pressure Lucas brought to the set with almost catastrophic results.

There were things to admire about ‘Sith’. The effects are breathtaking. Especially at the beginning. But the problem with effects is that they can overwhelm a film to the point where they become monotonous. So much is going on that the eye focuses on nothing and everything at once.

I’m also convinced that much of what is likeable about this film is due mainly to the nostalgia of the characters created in the first and second movies. Sith is mainly a movie that ends with a beginning. Our delight is in watching the characters become who they are when we first saw them years and years ago.

Lucas is at his worst getting a performance out of an actor. A good director knows how to get a performance out of a bad actor…except perhaps Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) who is probably hopeless. But Lucas seems to excel at making good actors look bad. How can someone as talented as Samuel Jackson or even Jimmy Smits come off with as much personality as a cardboard cutout? You know it’s reached a new low when Yoda’s performance beats out the real live people.

Lucas lucked out with Ford, Fisher, and Hammill because they created a chemistry together that made Star Wars a success in spite of their director.

Where Lucas fails the most are in pivotal scenes such as Anakin’s final capitulation to the Dark Side of the Force. It’s all too easy. One might say George ‘gave into the dark side’ in creating those scenes. There is little to care about.

And as if the overweening effects, bad performances, and melodramatic turning points weren’t enough, Lucas adds a certain level of moralizing, which is out of place. It comes off as social commentary by the director rather than organic beliefs of the characters.

One such example film critic Michael Medved and I both noticed, is when Anakin (now Vader) is in a ferocious light-saber battle with Obi Wan and delivers the line, “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” To which Obi Wan responds, “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” Well aside from the petty political message it’s attempting to send, it is a totally incongruous point that is at odds with itself. Lucas is of the generation that is uncomfortable with hard and fast ideas of right and wrong, while at the same time his movies are all about right and wrong. But I guess the prerogative of preaching is reserved to those like the more enlightened Lucas.

The statement “Only the Sith deal in absolutes” is itself an absolute statement. The character goes on a few lines later to say that the Emperor who Vader has sold out to is ‘altogether evil’. Whoa! Sounds pretty absolutist to me. If you don’t believe in absolutes, Obi, what exactly are you planning on doing with that light saber? In fact, it’s a belief that is completely contrary to the whole world of good and evil that Star Wars represents.

In the end, ‘Sith’ is not the film it might have been. Weighed down by technology, low-level performances, and an ideology at odds with itself, ‘Revenge of the Sith’ only serves to create a cosmic dissonance of galactic proportions.

-- Darren Eliker

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Funky Dung said...

Have you read my review?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I have not, but I will. Thanks for the link.

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