In The Empire Strikes Back, the most memorable of the six Star Wars films, Darth Vader, cinema’s most famous metalhead, utters the series’ only memorable line – ‘I am your father.’ After Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith broke all US box office records – again – by collecting $158.5 million in its first four days, it’s easy to imagine Emperor George (Lucas, not Bush – Lucas is the one with the beard) sitting with a globe in his hand going ‘Who’s your daddy?’
Six movies, billions of dollars, billions of fans, dozens of box-office records blasted into outer space. All to study one burning question: Is George Lucas a Jedi Master or a Sith Lord? Is he a living embodiment of the Force, or a mere peddler of Industrial Light and Magic?
Most film critics would give Lucas a permanent seat in the Dark Side’s evil assembly. He’s the big daddy of Hollywood masala, the man who’s shown the world that with the double-sided lightsaber of marketing and merchandising, its possible to create one super-hit film after another with special effects alone. Who else could have created a mammoth franchise where all the interesting characters are mechanical, computer graphics or humans in full-body costumes? Who else could make three huge film just to reach a plot twist the whole world knew about two decades ago? Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or just sick to death of the whole thing, there’s no denying that the Force is strong within George Lucas.
Revenge of the Sith is, without doubt, the best film of the new trilogy.– in other words, its better than its two completely terrible predecessors, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. What’s the secret of its success? Lowered expectations. At the end of Sith, we’re just so grateful that the humans actually do some acting, that there is actually the semblance of a story, that Jar-Jar Binks doesn’t have anything much to do, and that Lucas, having finally realized he’s hopeless at romantic dialogue, chose to let the film’s key romantic moment happen in silence, that we end up actually liking the movie. To give it its due, its not a bad film at all – even in terms of the entire series, it comes a close second to The Empire Strikes Back. Like that film, there is actually a degree of tension and drama running through Sith, and in between the spectacular special-effects sequences, the humans actually end up talking to one another.
Ian McDarmid, as the soft-spoken and utterly evil Senator Palpatine delivers another convincing performance, Ewan MacGregor should prove popular with the kids as Obi-wan Kenobi, particularly since he now sports a long and unintentionally funny beard. Hayden Christensen, as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader acts a lot better than he did in attack of the Clones, and not just in the scenes where his face is covered – he’s discovered a new depth and range as an actor, and his face in some scenes is now at least as mobile as Sonia Gandhi’s. Natalie Portman as Padme disappoints through no fault of her own – her stomach acted brilliantly in Clones, but she’s pregnant through most of this film. The only actor who could have made Revenge of the Sith better than Empire Strikes Back – Christopher Lee, who infused his character, Count Dooku, with some real menace in Attack of the Clones – is beheaded early in the film by Anakin, no doubt because he flouted Lucas’ ban on humans out-acting the computer graphics. What is it about Christopher Lee’s epic villains? First his brilliant turn as Saruman got cut from the third Lord of the Rings movie and now Dooku’s head gets cut off in Sith, thus ensuring that the special effects, the most expensive ingredient in the movie, are once again the real star. Which is not a characteristic of the second trilogy alone – the stars of the original trilogy have been vocal in expressing their feelings on their roles – Harrison Ford (Han Solo) once said (about his lines) ‘You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.’ Alec Guiness (the original Obi-Wan)once gave a child his autograph on the condition ‘That you never watch that awful film again,’ and Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill once famously said, ‘I have a sneaking suspicion that if there were a way of making films without actors, George would do it.’
But in the end (or in the middle, which is where Revenge of the Sith leaves us) the Star Wars franchise is a pop-culture megalith that you have to experience because, well, like Everest, it’s there. However flawed this great Wookie-haired beast is, it’s one of the defining characteristics of our age. It marks the beginning and the end of the special-effects-for-special-effects’-sake film era. Movie fanatics in the 70s might have been swept away by the grand Star Wars spectacle, but today’s audiences are no longer impressed by sound and fury alone – post-Star-Wars special-effects film franchises have to have, in addition to mind-boggling graphics, a grand emotional sweep (the Lord of the Rings) a tight plot and engaging characters (Harry Potter, Shrek) or superstar actors (Terminator) to achieve both critical acclaim and box-office success. On the strength of nostalgia, marketing and sheer history the Star Wars saga has managed to pull it off, but other high-budget films with light and sound but no story (Van Helsing is a prime example) have disappeared without a trace.
In the 21st century, we know that the bespectacled wizards sitting in animation studios all over the world are capable of showing us things we would find hard to imagine, and so we turn, once again, to the things that drove us to films, in the first place – human stories starring human characters. These are what drive all epics, however fantastical, and these are what machine-master Darth Lucas had to turn to in the final chapter of his great saga, to steer his lumbering spaceship towards a spectacularly successful ending.