Revenge Of The
Jedi… I mean Sith.
feature length Star Wars picture is finally out and the main trilogy is
complete, but the animated series, potential new live-action series, endless
comic books, novels, videogames, and other tie-ins (especially toys) will go on
for decades to come. Well, we’ve seen
it in advance and it is one of the best in the series, especially since The
Empire Strikes Back from 1980. Fans
who are sick of the multiple changes and alterations will be happy to hear that
this does complete, answer and finish what the original generation of fans had
unexpected controversy has occurred over Episode III: Revenge of The Sith
and it has to do with its political content.
Salon Magazine film critic Ed Gonzales has accused the film of
containing anti-George W. Bush diatribes which has been echoed by a few other
critics, while Mr. Gonzales has also made some other interesting accusations
about the trilogy, the whole series and Lucas’ intents. Our own Nicholas Sheffo, who saw it twice
before it opened, has decided to disagree with him, offers his thoughts on the
subject and how good he thinks the film is:
In the last
great golden age of cinema (1964 – 1976) in much of the world, Science Fiction
was on the rise and the original studio system was supplanted by more serious,
bold, innovative and daring fare. When
George Lucas’ original Star Wars arrived in 1977, he was laughed at by
people on the set in England, laughed at by the camera store owners when he
bought VistaVision equipment for the special visual effects that changed cinema
forever, laughed at by critics, laughed at by some in the movie theater
industry and also by those in Hollywood who thought they knew better. With Hollywood rebuilt and stronger than
ever in many respects, Star Wars made that possible before anyone really
knew who Lucas or Steven Spielberg were.
At their best,
they delivered some of the most significant commercial entertainment in the
cinema we have ever seen, initially coming out of a great love of film and
film’s past. Not every film after it
& like it could be as good, but knowing film and knowing how to apply it is
the secret of their success and career endurance. Now, we have dozens of big budget event films that do not have the
heart and soul of their best and have made fans and viewers expect junk from
most such films.
Also since the
1980s, a couple of myths arrived that should be shot down immediately. One, that a film can exist without any point
of view or ideology. They all have
them, no matter how you ignore it, deny it or leave your brain at the
door. Two, that the only two types of
films are serious pictures about something that cannot make money or shallow
popcorn fare designed to be blockbusters and money machines. Ignorant cinematic illiterates usually peddle
that one in particular when they pretend to be know-it-alls, which is the
absolute sure sign of a poser.
a darker vision with this final Star Wars to the point it has a PG-13,
versus the previous PG-only films. The
PG-13 was practically invented for Lucas and Spielberg when Indiana Jones
& The Temple Of Doom got a PG instead of an R, yet was not violent
enough for an R and too violent for a PG.
Later, it was reissued in the new PG-13 rating, which stuck. That system has been a wreck for other
reasons since. It is ironic that
Spielberg became a guest director for a battle sequence much the way Quentin
Tarantino had just stepped in with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller on the
also-digital Sin City.
first film’s phenomenal popularity, everyone has wanted to jump on the
bandwagon. When former actor Ronald
Reagan became president, he capitalized on every movie item he could, and Star
Wars was no exception. When he
called The Soviet Union/U.S.S.R. “the evil empire” with an obvious nod to Star
Wars, he was right and who could disagree?
The U.S.S.R. collapsed by 1990.
When he wanted to dub his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) “Star Wars”
to sell it, Lucas unsuccessfully sued to stop him, not wanting to have anything
about his franchise seem to endorse the project. This was also the opposite aesthetic in which technology was used
in his films. Because the SDI project
had a serious fundamental flaw, it was eventually shut down, until the current
George W. Bush revived with some promise of more accuracy. The problem is that accuracy is beside the
point. No matter where the nuclear
missiles are shot down, the spread of radiation would be so lethal, that it
would be Dr. Strangelove any way you cut it. Thus, when Reagan requested to visit the Lucas Ranch, Lucas
rightfully said no.
antagonism, to whatever extent it really exists does exist, the fact of the
matter is that this is a debate between two entrenched parties in the establishment. One is entertainment with its huge following
and the other is political with its huge following. Mr. Gonzales stated that the first five Star Wars features
were self-contained comic books, proving he missed the point of the entire
franchise. In both his trivialization
and marginalization of the franchise, he nearly falls into the mindless
entertainment trap noted, though has proven to be much more articulate than
though they came out of the counterculture, Lucas and Spielberg are the end of
that movement in Hollywood filmmaking.
They make films that are a throwback to America, for better and worse,
before Civil Rights and Vietnam, though Lucas had developed Apocalypse Now
with Francis Ford Coppola (who went into a different direction) and his American
Graffiti occurs before The Beatles arrive.
This is why Reagan and both Bush administrations wanted to jump on this
bandwagon, no matter how welcome they were or were not. The very essence of Lucas and Spielberg’s
work has been the best of the past reprojected into the present. Even “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far
away” implies that all the technology in all of Star Wars came and
went. With Return Of the Jedi in
particular, Lucas has always pointed out with some consideration how an all
powerful, technically advanced country (like the U.S.) could loose a war to a
totally unadvanced/unwealthy/low-technology one, as represented by The
Ewoks. In his recent Cannes Film
Festival press conference, Lucas stated that the films were all about Vietnam,
not the current administration.
commercial films, the Lucas/Spielberg works are to be reassuring, no matter how
dark. Even their darkest works are this
way, though some cannot simply deny or write off some of what has
occurred. In that respect, it is then
coincidence to have Anakin Skywalker say something that may somewhat echo what
George W. Bush said after the events of 9/11/01. To be honest, what could have Bush or anyone have said after
3,000+ people were needlessly massacred?
There is an extent to which drawing the parallel comes close to actually
trivializing those lives lost, though Mr. Gonzalez is not intending that and
neither are the other critics from what we can gather. As Lucas pointed out at Cannes, we are
making the same mistakes all over we made in Vietnam, no matter how the media
and Bush people think they have an anti-Vietnam Syndrome formula.
The quote “If
you are not with me, you’re my enemy” by a misguided and misled Anakin being
manipulated into something that will make him miserable, lonely, dark and evil
the rest of his life is another sticking point. I doubt President Bush is this naïve and though I am no fan of
his, his administration, politics or policies, he is NOT the chosen one (Fortunate
Son references notwithstanding) in any mystical way or otherwise. Even his ideas of faith have little parallel
with anything in the Star Wars universe, especially since Lucas draws on
Eastern mythologies and other great stories of the past. As a matter of fact, when Mr. Bush said what
he said, it was a matter of foreign policy more that any individual crisis, so
the similarities are not as dead-on as Mr. Gonzales might think. Furthermore, even if this was some jab at
Mr. Bush, a jab does not a diatribe make.
Yoda would tell him that.
As for the
other line “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” anything in any time, especially a
time with so much anger and trouble that says to think through all
possibilities before you act or make serious decisions should always be
applauded. Again, Mr. Bush was not
necessarily dealing in absolutes.
Instead, the U.S. has had countries that have always spewed hate against
it and though that is no excuse for this country not to be the best citizen in
the world it could be, whoever was in power (even if it was Fred Rogers
or Captain Kangaroo) had to assert a zero-tolerance policy against a
massacre. Of course, there are those
who think more people in government knew of 9/11/01 before it happened and Sith
deals with that ugly possibility, but Lucas would not do anything stupid to
date or trivialize his franchise. As a
matter of fact, his drive (which has driven fans crazy) to keep altering,
changing, and refining each film over and over proves it.
II: Attack Of The Clones (2002), Yoda discusses that if there is no
Democracy, then there is no hope. This
is one of the many lines Yoda has had since Empire that proves this was
never some prefabricated, comic book world.
What has separated Star Wars at its best from all of its
imitators and just about all the other commercial schlock that has given fun,
smart films a bad name is that it has a heart and soul that allows it to exceed
a mere B-movie. That is the reason it
has the biggest selling toy line of all time, why it is often the holy grail of
the best in film like James Bond still is, an evergreen franchise everyone can
appreciate or at least take as formidable.
I am in that minority who really got the first film and believes it is
the best, followed by Empire and now Sith. As a matter of fact, Sith was being
made while the election was going on, so was this also to apply to John Kerry
or George Soros? (Our good friend
Dominick Battaglia offers the banality of this “counter-possibility” in his
essay with a particularly amusing title at:
first film arrived in 1977, it was not merely “A New Hope” but a promise of
bigger and better things people who like fun films had always hoped for. It was not the intelligent Science Fiction
of 2001 or Star Trek, nor was it reactionary, evil, populist, or
a fraud. Instead, it was one of the
greatest demonstrations of The American Dream come true, up there on a giant
Panavision scope (and even 70mm if you were that lucky, or three-strip
dye-transfer Technicolor 35mm prints in England if you were that lucky) screen,
a film that knew how to “get on with it” and be interesting, that a film with a
moderate budget could come out of nowhere and shock the world was
stunning. The film gave the people what
it wanted and its attitude is what was so captivating and healthy.
Sure, in order
to succeed, it had to do a unique take on Vietnam Syndrome and the
Lucas/Spielberg cannon even did more harm than good to more serious, realistic,
mature, adult-themed films. That was
not directly their fault, but was/is just Hollywood trying to repeat success,
which is Hollywood all over since its silent era, typical of one of American’s
Though some of
the good and evil was as simple (or oversimplified) as black and white, unlike
most such films, Star Wars went out of its way to draw out why and then
added the moral dimensions of how and why.
It is also no secret Lucas borrowed tons of items from old Saturday
Movie Serials and because of their disuse, made them his own. Now, they stand for this franchise for those
not in the know. That is a metaphor for
all of Star Wars, as in the old becoming new again, the result of King
Features Syndicates’ rejection of Lucas wanting to remake Flash Gordon. In a franchise where Snowtroopers look like
The Klu Klux Klan from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 propaganda classic Birth Of A
Nation in Empire and thousands of other film references permeate the
six features, this has always been a clever, advanced use of cinematic literacy
for commercial purposes and thus, when Mr. Gonzales argues that it is suddenly
going after any political figure ignores what Star Wars and the arc of
its story is about.
So maybe the
final script was only finalized recently, but Mr. Gonzales is no Star Wars
scholar, as proved by his dismissal of its substance. Again, it was being shot during the election, and I am not making
the mistake of using the realism of the narrative to miss, loose or ignore any
of the actual intent of the content.
Even though he says he liked Sith, that comes with a price. In his essay See No Evil, Hear No Evil:
The Revenge Of George’s Minions, he says the strong audience reactions to
the lines sighted had to do with their hatred of Bush. To assume they are all anti-Bush is a big
stretch, or that they are getting together to stop Neo-Conservatism. The comment about being happy with the
character’s light sabers is also a poor choice of words and revealing in a
sense of condescending he may have more than he wants to admit. It misses the point which is that true fans,
like those who made the first film the phenomenon it became, are the ones who
want the better tomorrow, happy (happier?) ending and solution where there are
manmade problems men (i.e., politicians and corporate elites in general) claim
they cannot fix because “that’s reality” or “that’s the way it is” to get us to
agree with such misery. Star Wars
at its best is about rejecting that misery, that people, a little technology
and a lot of heart can build a better world, if not universe. As a matter of fact, it is the healthy
reaction of people who grew up in a first world country that claims to stand
for freedom, progress, equality and the best possible future. The magic and fantasy elements are
incidental to this.
arguments and claims, Mr. Gonzales and similarly disposed critics may
ultimately find that his anti-Bush assumption is a Freudian slip that reflects
either his own opinion, realization of other’s that is growing (outside of his
interpretation of the moviegoers) or that cinema has powers he has
underestimated. It would be convenient
to tell him “if the shoe fits…” as far as Bush goes, so be it, but that is very
unfair to what Lucas has achieved, what is really there for the audience and is
just too tangential to work as a connective thesis.
films and performers in general are not court jesters here to amuse others with
out having a point of view. Anyone who
thinks that is the oddest kind of elitist.
Star Wars stated where it was coming from back in 1977 and
nothing has changed since then. Maybe
the darkness was just too much for Mr. Gonzales, and though it is not any masterpiece,
Sith finally fulfills what needed to be said. It does go far enough to cross the good/evil line the series has
been accused of and is some of Lucas’ best work ever. The only George to be concerned about here is Lucas and if he
does not seem to have been all there in the first two prequels for older fans,
Lucas says it is because the over-25 viewers just do not like the expanded
version of the franchise as if the under 25s will embrace all six features
equally. That is not a problem here, as
we can at least say that even with all the problematic tampering, the six
features and the world they create do hold together better than one might
imagine. Now that the film is out, it
is your turn to decide.
[This is the
homepage letter/essay featured on the site for late May to mid-June 2005.}