In another act of slavery to my early adolescence, I defied every better instinct I had and went to see Revenge of the Sith last weekend. I knew it was going to be bad. You knew it was going to be bad. We all knew it was going to be bad. Why the fuck do we keep giving George Lucas our money for these ham-fisted space operas?
The only good thing I can say about Sith is that it was not as spectacularly bad as Send in the Clones or whatever it was called. A certain amount of restraint was observed in the introduction of new species of ambulatory plush-toys (however, the robot-general who affects both a cough and a stoop for no apparent reason is almost as great a sin as Jar Jar). And Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan is to be applauded for managing to keep his dignity in the midst of this mess. That's it.
Otherwise the movie is a disaster. If I were feeling generous, I might take into account the fact that maintaining plot continuity with Episodes II and IV doesn't leave a lot of room for either creativity or suspense. Even then, Sith is so obvious in its contortions to mate with its pre- and sequels that it's almost painful to watch. It has all the narrative subtlety of a porn film: there's a hurried and sloppy exposition segment the only purpose of which is to get Anakin into bed with the evil Emperor as quickly as possible; then there's about an hour-long orgy of action and special effects; finally, we get the money shot of Anakin transformed into Darth Vader and some post-coital ticking off of continuity points for the original Star Wars (apparently, they pulled a bunch of the old models, sets, and costumes out of storage and then threw in an in-construction Death Star for good measure).
Along the way, there's a fair amount of patent absurdity, crowned by the oh-so-clever plan of hiding babies Luke and Leia in Darth Vader's old neighborhood and in the home of a prominent opposition politician, respectively; no wonder it takes the Emperor the better part of two decades to find them again! But really, much of this could be overlooked if not for the utter lack of sympathy generated by the central storyline: the parallel falls of Anakin Skywalker and the Republic. This should be the stuff of epic tragedy: a noble but flawed hero tempted into betraying all that he loves and cherishes and the social wreckage that accompanies his failure.
But not here. Anakin never rises to the level of nobility, so his "fall" is never very convincing. Hayden Christiansen's wooden acting certainly doesn't help, but really the character as written is consistently selfish, petulant, and juvenile. We never see any great evidence of his superior powers or his deep devotion to Padmé. We just see him sulking aroun and whining about not being trusted by the Jedi council. As for the fall of the Republic, again, there's nothing to indicate that it represented any great idealism or vision. Except for the Jedi council, we never really see the "good" side of the Republic. And the Jedi themselves are not very good exemplars: they are bureaucratic, elitist, and self-important, just as the Emperor charges. They fall into his trap because they are all too happy to command a manufactured army of human cannon-fodder to quash dissent from one end of the galaxy to another. In short, if they represent the best the Republic has to offer, I don't see why it really needs to be preserved.
I suppose one has to mention the supposed anti-Bush content of the film. Yeah, OK, there were some token lines about "preserving democracy" and "destroying the ideals you were supposed to protect." If these trite and poorly-delivered platitudes are the most cutting critique of the Politics of Terror that the "liberal elite" can come up with, I'm embarrassed to be a member.
The first Star Wars was a landmark film in its way, and the original trilogy was a formative influence on my (pre)adolescence, so I guess I take it personally that the franchise has become such a debacle. It's also somehow offensive that Lucas, who has become richer (and for some fans, more beloved) than God off of these films, either doesn't respect his material, his audience, or himself enough to make these films live up to their promise. The whole prequel business has been little more than a cash-in on a reputation established "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."
Update (6/13): Anja Rau reviewed Sith before I did, but I only noticed it today. Anyway, we agree that it's a loser:
Star Wars III only exists to fill a narrative gap (not the Iser-kind, though). It's a movie for the anal lot, for those who cannot bear to live with an incomplete series and cringe at a gap in their stamp collection or a fingerprint on their newly-washed window.