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Category:    Home > Essays > Film Studies > Film Theory > Politics > Revenge Of The Jedi... I Mean Sith

Revenge Of The Jedi… I mean Sith.



The final 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 hoped for.


However, an 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.


Lucas promised 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.


Since the 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.


Through this 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 said posers.


In fact, 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.


Like many 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.


In Episode 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:



When that 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 greatest industries.


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.


Despite his 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.


Commercial 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.}


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