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Star Wars: Tehelka

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.


About Samit Basu

Novelist. Best known for fantasy and science fiction work. Most recently, The City Inside (Tordotcom)/Chosen Spirits (Simon and Schuster)


6 thoughts on “Star Wars: Tehelka

  1. DoD,
    As you know I’m a big fan of your writing, and horribly jealous of your powers of imagination, but a couple of specific points about this piece:

    – First of all, a jibe, not at you but at Tehelka, for promoting your article as an anti-Star Wars piece (don’t remember the exact words, but wasn’t it something along the lines of “the whole world loves Star Wars but we, the fearless hidden camera brigade, will now dare to say negative things about it…” I know I exaggerate, but that was the gist.) Maybe they should read Anthony Lane in the New Yorker to learn what SW-bashing is really all about.

    – Christopher Lee has been ridiculously overrated for the length of his 60-year acting career. People still rave about his performances as Dracula in a series of B-grade Hammer films where Peter Cushing and numerous amply bosomed starlets acted circles around him. And I thought he was mediocre as both Saruman and Dooku.

    – Even assuming he was really good: you say “the only actor who could have made Revenge of the Sith better than Empire…” But where pray tell was the great human performance in Empire? I’m not sure performances have ever really been the key to Star Wars movies. Besides, when Lucas did get it right, he did so much with non-human characters like Jabba the Hutt that it more than compensated for his lack of success with human actors.

    – Haven’t stopped laughing yet at the thought of Mark “so wooden he wouldn’t be allowed into a dynamite factory” Hamill bemoaning Lucas’s inability to direct human actors. There’s great irony here, because Hamill himself was easily the least human thing about the original trilogy.

    – In the final analysis I was disappointed by the Lord of the Rings films – I certainly failed to see the “grand emotional sweep” in them that you did; but I guess that’s something to be argued about over 12 pegs of Old Monk, not here in the blogosphere. So invite me over sometime.


    Posted by Jabberwock | June 8, 2005, 3:48 pm
  2. Hello Jai…

    – about Tehelka, totally agree with the gist of what youre saying. They called in the afternoon, saying write a piece saying Star Wars is overrated by evening. I wrote about SW to the best of my ability in the given time; I hope youll agree that whatever bashing has taken place is reasonably fair, and the only really negative things said about the series is said in the blurb. Though have to say there was no coercion from Tehelkas side – they said that was the piece they wanted, and i did it completely voluntarily and reasonably enthusiastically. Think their wanting to not be on the ‘we love SW’ bandwagon is perfectly reasonable, and they didnt alter any of my copy, so there was no misrepresentation at all, though the header and blurb certainly moved in a different direction from what i was saying.

    – I like Christopher Lee! He was easily the best actor in Clones, and I thought he did a pretty good job as Saruman (except in the stupid old bearded men fight like Matrix scene

    – there werent any great human performances in Empire Strikes back, though I think Harrison Ford was as charismatic as ever. ‘The only actor who could have made the movie better’ still holds though. im talking about the overall movie, not in terms of any specific parameter.

    – not saying Mark Hamill was capable of acting even if Lucas allowed him to. Point was Lucas didnt, so we will never know.

    – I liked the LOTR films, though the 3rd one was certainly too long. and scarily like Kal Ho Na Ho in the end. Agree grand emotional sweep is debatable, but I was saying it to make a point about SFX films and audiences. Would have quite a few critical things to say about the LOTR films too

    – Come any time. Old Monk is easily procured, and I havent seen you in a while.

    Posted by samit | June 8, 2005, 4:45 pm
  3. Well….there are a few more memorable lines in SW than “I am your father”. This one has got “Only a Sith lord speaks in absolutes” (George takes a dig at George).

    I agree with the jabberwock that Lucas was best when not directing people. Jabba the hut and Chewbacca, R2 and C3PO all were handled better than the humans……..so Lucas just sticks to what he does best. The Sith was definitely one of the better movies of the lot though.

    As for Saruman……he gets an extended role in the LoTR extended edition DVDs. 🙂

    Posted by Sunil | June 8, 2005, 6:46 pm
  4. hey, whatever maybe the opinion about SW, check this out


    if for nothing else, for the writing… and the emotions that George Lucas obviously missed. You must have seen this…it is/was on the notable blog list. right?

    Posted by #3tiYo>B_shyo> | June 9, 2005, 5:23 pm
  5. Please. Star Wars is nothing but pure storytelling and yes sometimes adult sensibilities don’t conform and especially the acting in the larger sense of things suffers.
    Christopher Lee can be a good actor when directed well. I thought his performance in LOTR was good but his SW performance was lacking (sheerly because he didn’t have enough screen prescence due to editing).
    The Santa Clause gone apeshit fight in FOTR was a bit cheesy but come on it was a better fight than I imagined two old coots could give and I liked the fact that PJ didn’t go the old “Magician” route with flying sparks and technicolor lights.
    I think if you have to put yourself in a childlike mentality when watching Star Wars. Remember this is all inspired by Saturday morning B-films of Flash Gordon and for better or for worse Georgey boy is trying to exactly replicate those characters/scenes/that feeling of fantasy without the oscar level acting many of the actors could’ve given. He continually points it out to the fans saying its not for you its made specifically for the kids so stop whining. I mean what the hell would you expect from a title like Attack of the Clones or the Phantom Menace (again reminiscent of the Flash gordon serials/comic books).
    Shit I’d make one with Indians if I had money.
    or I could go the horror route with Vikram Betal rehashes. ………

    Posted by anangbhai | June 12, 2005, 11:34 am
  6. We are trying to find good celebrity movie archive to take the kids this weekend. Good celebrity movie archive reviews are hard to find

    I just stumbled onto your blog while looking. Seems to happen to me a lot since I am a knowledge mooch LOL


    Posted by jon | October 3, 2005, 1:11 am

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Copyright (c) Samit Basu. Images copyright respective holders.
June 2005


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