TCS Daily

No Star Wars for Oil

By Craig Winneker - May 11, 2005 12:00 AM

BRUSSELS -- I just saw a press screening of the new Star Wars movie, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and here's my capsule review: It's superb; the last 15 minutes are better than anything George Lucas has ever done; and as Yoda would say, "This film must you see; love it, you will."

However, I left the theater with something more than the feeling that after nearly 30 years as a Star Wars fan, a cinematic era of my life -- with plenty of ups and downs along the way -- had been closed on a thrilling and thoroughly satisfying note. I also wondered why George Lucas suddenly felt the need to add so much topicality into the story line.

Everyone knows what is going to happen in this movie -- where it starts and how it will end. Part of its brilliance is the way it turns a foregone conclusion into a kind of challenging plot puzzle. You know what the picture's going to look like at the end, but you want to see how all the pieces will fit together. And Lucas has fun with this game, throwing in a lot of cheeky references to other films -- from Frankenstein and Nosferatu to Commando Cody and Apocalypse Now and even, yes, to other Star Wars movies -- to lighten the otherwise darkening mood.

But something else is disturbingly -- and rather awkwardly - evident: a recurring anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war message. Forget about the merits of the argument in question. This stuff has no place in a Star Wars flick.

The dialogue in ROTS is rife with distinctly unsubtle references to the current political situation. "This war represents a failure to listen," Padme laments at one point, before declaring after a vote to give executive power to Chancellor Palpatine: "So this is how liberty dies -- to thunderous applause." The wicked Chancellor, played brilliantly by Ian McDiarmid, talks on and on about "security", giving it an evilly sibilant S, and about "peace". As he lures Anakin over to the dark side, telling him what to say in Jedi Council meetings, you wonder if he's supposed to be Karl Rove. He does, after all, appear to be the smartest man in the movie.

The ultimate reference comes in the climactic duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the planet of Mustafar, which seems to have long ago failed in its struggle against global warming. "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," Anakin shouts to Obi-Wan, who responds: "Only a Sith lord deals in absolutes." Yes, and so, it would seem, do neo-cons.

Meanwhile, at that very instant in the Senate chamber, there is a cool fight scene between Yoda and Darth Sidious that, as one reviewer has already pointed out, evokes Democrats and Republicans in violent deadlock. (I was just glad there weren't any more endless Congressional debates like the ones that bogged down the previous two Star Wars chapters. Episode I: The Phantom Menace had more talk of trade pacts and intergalactic confederations than an EU summit.)

The internet has been rife with rumors that Lucas had some script-doctoring help from noted playwright Tom Stoppard. Given the greatly improved quality of much of this film's dialogue over its predecessors (Lucas has a brilliant imagination but he is terrible at scripting a believable conversation between two or more humanoids), I'm apt to believe them. Could Stoppard have injected a dose of left-wing sentiment into our beloved film franchise? It's tough to say. The Czechoslovakian-born British writer has long been a foe of communism and once had nice things to say about Margaret Thatcher. But he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq war and recently wrote a dramatic trilogy idealizing the roots of socialism.

Again, all of this shouldn't matter. The film is exciting enough that I overlooked the few annoying instances when it veered away from its fantasy world and towards today's front pages. The rest of the time, thankfully, this movie took place right where it is supposed to: in a galaxy far, far away.


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