The Gray Side of the Force

A review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. (It’s good.)

Revenge of the Sick, Dude.  It’s pretty sweet.When George Lucas first sat down and wrote the script for Star Wars: A New Hope, he had in mind some of his favorite childhood science fiction serials. The idea was to use modern technology to create a new space opera like the classic Buck Rogers episodes he loved as a kid. So he set about creating the most complex web of characters, weirdest alien species, the most extreme plot twists and religious overtones he could possibly think of. By the time he finished there was enough story to fit 3 films.

And he never had too many ideas again.

And he never had too many ideas again.

After the success of Star Wars, the utter pop culture sensation it became, he tried it again. This time he traded science fiction for adventure and the Indiana Jones trilogy was soon born.

These series were successful, not because they targeted children, the appeal seemed universal at the time, but because they contained children’s sensibilities. The naïve beliefs cherished by the young — good is good and bad is bad — were the laws of Lucas’ mythical universes. When children watch these films, they find a world that makes sense to them. When adults watch these films they are transfixed by powerful nostalgia. Like a child, Lucas saw the universe in black and white; the dark side and the light. This simplicity was his greatest strength. Complexity, “the gray side of the force,” has become his greatest weakness.

During the making of Episodes I and II Lucas was courted by the gray side. In these films, Lucas revealed a world where the cosmic heroes known as the Jedi Knights worked for a largely corrupt and ineffective bureaucracy; where mothers had to make complicated decisions and give up their children; where planetary wars were fought based on financial interests; where a vast conspiracy controlled both sides of every conflict. Without the easy drama of pure right and wrong, George Lucas inept. The gray side, though mature, was too complicated for any sensationalist “universe-in-the-balance” light saber duels. And aside from its cartoonish special effects these films offered little in the way of actual entertainment.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker/Darth VaderIn Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Lucas returns from the gray side. In the new film, Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker is transformed by the Evil Chancellor Palpatine into a snarling, baby-killing enforcer. Though his skills as an actor (the critical death of Episode II) have not improved, Skywalker is no longer the hero — he’s the villain. The good news is it’s very easy to hate a villain, even one played poorly. This time around, Ewan McGregor assumes the hero’s mantle and has the necessary acting chops to match. Even Lucas’ direction seems invigorated by the return to form, delivering his most visceral film to date. Decapitation, mutilation and general excessive violence spell good action sequences where, yes, the universe again hangs in the balance.

In short, Episode III is so good it reminds you why you liked Star Wars in the first place. Movie goers turned off by the last two installments can return with confidence.

Originally written under the name Bob Genghis Khan for The Outlet.

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