Dig that crazy Sith action! - Part I


OK, so I had time to digest Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and I have to say I really liked it. This is gonna get ten kinds of nerdy, many of you will be embarrassed to know me. Hey it's in my blood. I built an Imperial Star Destroyer model once, and that was after I lost my virginity.

It's not perfect, George Lucas is, as it turns out, is completely horrible with dialogue, and especially bad at personal dialogue. And, well, he's not so hot directing actors either. But first the good: First of all, if you like lightsabers, this movie is for you, and I like lightsabers. There's some hot laser-on-laser action.* The fights are fast and complicated and numerous. Some (D) have quibbled over them, but I enjoyed them all, and totally disagree with the criticism that there were too many of them. There's no more Star Wars movies, and pretty much no one in the Star Wars universe is going to light one up until Obi-Wan gives Luke his father's lightsaber some eighteen years later. So, you really can't have too many in my opinion.

However, the direction of the fights isn't quite as good as it was in The Phantom Menace. There were two shots in the fight between Darth Maul and Kenobi (from TPM) that were just about perfect. Perfect angle, perfect distance from the actors to see the action, perfect length to appreciate the movements. American movies rarely have extremely well directed fights. Hong Kong movies do it right. but American movies do things like getting too close to the action, cutting on the hits to increase their impact, etc., etc. American movies shoot and edit fights to increase their sensory impact at the expense of the poetry, if that word applies, of the fight. Hong Kong directors tend to direct fights the same way American directors used to direct musical numbers: With an appreciation of the movement.

At any rate, the lightsaber battles here are very entertaining, but none of them get that "perfect shot" that happened twice in The Phantom Menace. And there ends the ways The Phantom Menace has a leg up on Revenge of the Sith.

Certainly in the story department, it's Sith by a mile. A bunch of very interesting things happen in Episode III that, while anticipated, manage to come as a surprise in their execution. There's the business of "Order 66" and the precise moment Anakin becomes Darth Vader. It's neat shit.

Now, we do have to talk about the acting. When you have a good cast all turning in less than stellar performances, you can usually safely blame the director. This is the same problem I had with "Sin City". Both movies also share a largely blue-screen set, which on the surface really does seem to detract from the performances, although I question how much is attributable to that. After all, the play "Our Town" is usually just a couple of benches and a lamppost or something, and that doesn't seem to stop actors from giving their all there, right? I think it comes down to reharsal, and probably Lucas not doing any. I think he thinks you can just have actors show up, stick them in front of the camera, and they'll go. But actors aren't wind up toys, they need time to work on the character, to experiment and make choices. I've said it before, and this is a lesson I think I've learned the hard way: Actors build character before you start rolling the cameras. After that, they lock in what they have and go with it. There's no experimentation after you start shooting so you better have it done before.

Now, the writing doesn't help. The best actor in the world can't do much with crap dialogue, and Lucas knows how to write some serious crap. There's two problems here. The first is that his dialogue just kinda sucks. I mean, it's clunky ("Hold my like you did by the beach on Naboo" ... ugh!). But there's a deeper problem and that's the lack of subtext. In these prequels, most characters just say what's on their minds. It seems counter-intuitive, but that's not good writing.