Summer of ‘Sith’

Kyle Smith

A few things while I’m on my way out:

“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” All right. So the consensus is the prequel is terrible, though it is agreed “Sith” is at least a passable film. This does very little to explain the combined $740 million the first two films made domestically or the generally positive reaction they both garnered upon release. It’s chic to slam “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” as infantile, emotionless spectacles, much in the same vein as the popular backlash of “Titanic.”

While this is a valid point worthy of bitching, there are plenty of flaws with writing the films off as such. Does the prequel trilogy represent the unevenness of digital technology and human emotion? Certainly. The original trilogy was so memorable for the remarkable technical feats using miniatures and primitive effects. Each of the new films has been (decreasingly so) about wow ’em panoramas of armies, space battles and imaginative sets.

On some level, the details in these films could be considered avant garde. Sure, some people might get off on the surprise appearance of the Millennium Falcon in one scene, but what does that mean?

Honestly. Every article on the series has said something along the lines of, “George Lucas has made an entire ‘Star Wars’ universe,” but the implications of that are these ridiculously personal flourishes that are wholly inconsequential to the film.

It’s this grander vision that plagues the trilogy. The first three films had Luke, Leia and Han trying to get out of trash compactors and asteroids; they had Luke trying to knock over some big walking robots or killing Darth Vader. Tatooine, Hoth — these places were gorgeous and clearly defined. With “Sith,” we get a universe a minute — fiery volcano-land, squid-people-land, bad-teeth-land. It’s “Star Wars” as “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” with Obi-Wan constantly dealing with quirky, otherworldly villains, like the sickly General Grievous.

“Sith” works best with these simple video game tasks. It suffers under the weight of intergalactic politicking and vague goals. There’s also the lack of any character with personality — only a minor difference from the original trilogy, which had only Han Solo (though I always had a thing for Lando Calrissian).

“Sith” creates moments of Shakespearean patriarchal tension that dwarf anything in any “Star Wars” film, save the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.” The transformation of Anakin is believable, and the moment he goes to the dark side is as wonderfully smarmy and simple as one could hope for. The subsequent slaying of all the Jedi, however, should go down as one of the more moving sequences in digital filmmaking. Though Lucas’s editing rhythm is terrible, the message is still the same — all Jedi get jacked. The ease with which the powers of good are destroyed is impossible to ignore.

Equally powerful is the intercutting during the film’s climactic lightsaber duels. Granted, it’s impossible to fuck up Yoda fighting the Emperor while Obi-Wan combats Anakin, but the battles are exciting, believable and emotional. Of Lucas’s countless faults as a filmmaker, the one that bothered me most in “Sith” was his fear of close-ups. When he finally does get tight with a character — as he does in these scenes — the power is immeasurable.

The actors in the “Star Wars” films are all very talented, though some fans complain they’re burdened by Lucas’s clunky dialogue. He’s never been known for his eloquence; how else can we explain the simple beauty of lines like, “If you strike me down now, I will become more powerful than you can ever imagine?” “Sith” already has its battle cry: “You were the chosen one!,” the perfect, simple, powerful summation to six films worth of tit-for-tat exchanges and vague prophecies. The feeling in Ewan McGregor’s Alec Guinness impersonation is unmistakable; it’s as if he finally made the green studio walls surrounding him breathe with something other than fire.

“Sith,” of course, is the official dawn of the summer movie preview. I am appalled by my own anticipation this year. I can’t wait for “The Longest Yard” remake. If Richard Linklater has any scene akin to Kelly swinging at the intentional walk in his “Bad News Bears” remake, he’ll have a winner. That “Red-Eye” preview is the best thing that has happened in the “” era. Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm” will be a Terry Gilliam film. And the latest Rob Cohen B-movie, “Stealth,” looks fun.

I’ve resigned myself to exceptionally poor taste, but then again, that’s what summer is about. Just know that if I cry at “Cinderella Man,” I’ll give up on life.

Communication junior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]