There was a time - not so long ago and not so far far away - when cinema was king. Art cinema that is. There was a time - the sixties and seventies (although I was but a babe then) - when you could easily find restaurants and coffeehouses full of cinephiles espousing the latest films from auteurs such as Fellini, Bergman, Godard, Truffaut and Antonioni. People were passionate about film. It was a time of cinematic amour. It was a time of artistic respectibility. It was a time of directer driven films, and damn the profits. It was a time that ended in May of 1977, when a little film called Star Wars made its first appearence on screen - a film, by the way, that no one thought would ever succeed. With the onset of George Lucas' eventual hextalogy, studios found out just how much money could be had with their newly coined "popcorn flicks". It then became a time of box office bonanzas and the heyday of the big budget megaproductions of the eighties and onward. So, for all intents and purposes, George Lucas - along with his creations, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, R2D2 and Chewbacca - was the man responsible for killing the grand age of cinephilia. I am of course being tongue-in-cheek here - I'm sure I am glorifying the times, and I am sure that cinephilia did not die. We film fanatics are still around - and there are still those passion-filled moments when we first set eyes upon a new Haneke or Tsai Ming-liang, a new Kiarostami or Lars Von Trier. Unfortunately, though, with our passion still intact, we cinephiles have mostly been exiled to the East Village, Dagobah or Tatooine, and with the über success of Star Wars (and its two sequels and three prequals), we have surely crossed over to the dark side.
And speaking of the dark side - how's that for a segue - after 28 long long years, we finally get to see how young Anakin Skywalker crosses over to the dark side of the force and becomes Darth Vader. We also get to see all the other pivot points in Star Wars lexiconography. Why are twins Luke and Leia split up at birth. Why doesn't C-3PO remember Obi-wan or the name Skywalker. What is a Wookie's favourite breakfast cereal. It all comes full circle (or at least full semi-circle) in Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of Lucas' grandiose space opera - a beautifully filmed ode to all those luridly trashy pulp sci-fi paperbacks of lore.
From a purely visceral viewpoint, Sith is probably the most elaborately constructed segment of the saga since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, and even though it tends to drag in certain places - my god, how excruciating is it to watch the never-elvolving Hayden Christenson try to play sensitive in his "quiet" scenes with the seemingly lackluster-by-association Natalie Portman - and completely misses the chance to show any depth whatsoever in the transformation of Anakin from idealistic Jedi to dark overlord (this may be due to Lucas knowing Christenson could never pull off something that deep), Sith is a much needed explosive respit from the kiddie-talk insipidity of those atrocities known as Episodes one and two. Yes, the dialogue may still be somewhat stilted - but that's the genre as much as anything - but the passion that filled the eyes of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill back in the summer of '77 seems to be here as well. Laden with the sidestepped humour that permeated even the darkest hours of the Star Wars legacy (even when Han was about to be frozen in carbonite at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, he had a smartass comment for his lover, Princess Leia). Even the CGI strokes have been rendered nearly seamless, in a world that blends reality with computer animation more near-perfectly than in any film I have ever seen - Lucas, after two debacles, finally comes through in the clutch. Well, sort of. Maybe not quite to the levels of the original (itself a remake of the "original" Japanese samurai flick from Kurosawa, Hidden Fortress), it still plays far better than the last two outings, and from the standpoint of a boy who was merely nine when the original entered pop culture, one can't help but get goosebumps when we see that iconoclastic ebony armour attach itself to the face of the deluded Anakin Skywalker - a moment that got the biggest round of applause in the midnight showing I attended.
All-in-all, with its inevitable comparisons to the current geo-political landscape (Portman's Senator Amadala is heard saying, "So this is how Democracy ends, with thunderous applause.") and all the Palpatine W. Bush jokes that will ensue, Revenge of the Sith is a much stronger film than it should be, but still a much weaker film than it could be. [05/18/05]