First impressions of Revenge Of The Sith

There are certain things that figure heavily in the psyche of any self-respecting geek: a history of role-playing games, the ability to channel Monty Python, an encyclopedic knowledge of Tolkien and, of course, Star Wars.

Every time I get together with my fellow members of the Brit Pack, the conversation inevitably turns to the prequels. I think they do it just to goad me on. Y’see, I’m seen as something of a Lucas apologist. The truth is that I happen to think that the prequels are good fun.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me also state that I really liked the Matrix sequels. I also happen to think that The Village is a damn fine film. With that in mind, you may wish to take everything I say with a large pinch of salt.

Still, I’m glad that I can get so much enjoyment where others find only frustration and disappointment. I think many people, especially die-hard Star Wars fans, bring a lot of baggage with them into the cinema. You’ve got to meet these films half-way.

Sure, The Phantom Menace is unforgivably slow and unengaging. But it’s not the turkey that most people now say it is. It’s a flawed kid’s movie.

As for Attack Of The Clones, I think it’s downright good. Yes, the love story is heavy handed but that’s just one part of the bigger picture. I found the overall story to be a real humdinger.

So, for me, Revenge Of The Sith didn’t have to do much to win me over. If it’s as good as Attack Of The Clones, I’m happy. As it turns it, it surpasses that film in just about every respect.

The overall impression I got from watching Revenge Of The Sith was just how frenetic it seemed. There’s barely a pause for breath. Wham, bam, thank you Obi-Wan. In that sense, it’s a return in spirit to the original Star Wars.

When A New Hope was released, its overall effect was quite overwhelming. The story never stopped to explain any of the technology. Every spectacle was simply taken for granted. Looking at the film today, it almost seems sedate in its pacing. That’s because the locations and technologies are now so familiar to us.

Watching Revenge Of The Sith, I had the same feeling of being clobbered over the head that I received from the first film. My first thought once the film was over was also a familiar one: "I can’t wait to see that again".

It’s always weird seeing a new Star Wars movie for the first time. For the past three years I’ve been following the filming on the website. Every Star Wars fan has a film in their head of how they imagine things should be. I think a lot of the disappointment that people feel results from comparing this internal idea to the celluloid reality.

This feeling is similar to watching a Lord Of The Rings film for the first time. If you’re a fan, you’re going to spend the whole time comparing the movie to the book. It’s not until the second viewing that you get to enjoy the film on its own merits.

Watching Revenge Of The Sith for the first time, I felt like I should have had a clipboard. I could have ticked off all the things I knew had to be crammed into this movie. Wookies: check, the purge of the Jedi: check, Anakin becomes Darth Vader: check, Yoda goes into exile: check, the birth of the twins: check.I really need to see this film again without the button-counting mentality.

There’s another reason why I want to see it again: it’s really good fun. That may seem like an odd thing to say about an overwhelmingly dark plot but it’s true. The galaxy goes to hell in a hand-basket and just everybody loses either their lives, their limbs or their liberty. But it’s still a rip-roaring ride.

Revenge Of The Sith is exactly the kind of over-the-top space opera that made the original Star Wars so great. People may find issue with the dialogue and the acting. Those same people should take a long hard look at the original trilogy. The Star Wars films have never been noted for their prose. They work like silent movies. Actions (and music) speak louder than words.

It’s true that if you quote the dialogue in print, it sounds ridiculous. Reviewers relish in quoting Harrison Ford’s infamous, "you can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it". But in the context of the film’s over-the-top action, the script works just fine.

That’s not to say that the performances aren’t good. I think everyone rises to occasion. But this isn’t the kind of film that rests on any one person’s acting abilities. These figures are larger than life.

As well as a sense of fun, there’s a delicious feeling of frustration to the film. The fall of Anakin is handled in a believable way that allows plenty of moral ambiguity.

As Obi-Wan and Anakin prepared for their final duel - a fight I had been anticipating since I was a child - I found myself willing them to stop. I thought I would be rearing to go, excited by the promise of the mother of all lightsaber battles. In truth, I felt more like crying than cheering. I didn’t want it to happen. I knew how it would end. We’ve all known how it’s going to end for decades now. But when the time finally came, I just wanted these people to stop. "Don’t do it!", I wanted to shout, "Have a nice cup of tea and a sit down".

Perhaps that’s the greatest testament to this film. I knew it would be enjoyable. I knew it would be a great spectacle. I didn’t know it would make me care so much.

I hope you can get as much enjoyment out of this film as I did. But if you didn’t like the other prequels, if you think the ewoks are an abomination on par with Al-Qaeda and if you think phrases like "George Lucas raped my childhood" qualify as reasonable discourse, then you may not like Revenge Of The Sith very much.

Of course, if you’re one of those people, you’ll have to decide pretty quickly whether you absolutely love it or completely hate it. There doesn’t seem to be room for nuanced opinions these days. Either something "completely sucks" (see the aforementioned Matrix sequels) or "totally rocks" (see the aforementioned Lord Of The Rings films). It’s interesting to go back and read reviews of The Phantom Menace from six years ago. Opinion was divided but certainly not extreme. It’s only in the intervening time that the consensus emerged that the film’s a stinker.

Every magazine and television channel sports "best one hundred this" and "worst one hundred that". It’s rare to see lists of "pretty darn good" and "not half bad". Maybe that’s why we feel the need to place everything in categories of "best ever" and "worst ever".

Revenge Of The Sith isn’t the best film ever. Revenge Of The Sith isn’t the worst film ever. It’s flawed but it’s fun. It’s hectic but it’s touching. Most of all, it’s just a movie.

I have a feeling that sentence may come back to haunt me at the next Brit Pack gathering.

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Previously on this day

18 years ago I wrote WordRidden

In case you haven’t seen, I’ve been making some changes over at Jessica’s site. In fact, I’ve rebuilt it completely.