Since it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that there were going to be a ton of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith reviews, I struggled with whether or not to bother writing one. But, hey, why not add another voice to the chorus? One of the great things about the reviews on Hollywood Jesus is that no two reviewers quite see things the same way on any given movie.
Previous entries into the most recent Star Wars trilogy, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, were Exhibits A and B in making the case that George Lucas was more master craftsman that effortless storyteller. The power of his productions have been in him submerging the viewer in his fully imagined galaxy. In Revenge of the Sith, the detail of his vision gave his dizzying city vistas and space battles an urgency in and of themselves. Ultimately, for all of the technical wizardry, it is the story, the space opera, that draws us into the movie. And this is the story that we all have been wanting to see: the tragic finale to how a good man finally gives in to the dark side.
This time around, the movie’s plot kept more to the things that made the original trilogy great. In Episodes I and II, the epic story of the hero, or in this case the descent of a hero, didn’t mesh well with the less than epic story of political drama and intrigue. Politics had plagued this most recent trilogy of movies, bogging the stories down to the point where an hour of C-SPAN held more drama. Not even serious politics since they are of the “don’t think too hard because they don’t make a lot of sense” varietyBthey seemed like exercises in pontification while waiting for the third movie to come out.
One certainly doesn’t stay up until 12:01 a.m. for the opening day in order to see the great acting or scintillating dialogue. Unfortunately, Hayden Christensen (as Anakin) lacks the gravitas needed to show the torment of his slow descent to the dark side (especially noticed when compared side-by-side to even one line reading by James Earl Jones). Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi) seems in tune with the spirit of his character, bringing a sense of whimsey to his character. Only Ian McDiarmid (as Emperor Palpatine) matches his performance, probably because he’s given some lively dialogue to work with. Even the best actors and actresses can only do so much with the stilted, joyless dialogue to deliver. Everyone else was nearly upstaged by R2D2 threatening to steal the show. Since everything about the movie had a knowing sense of consequence to it, the cast didn’t deliver dialogue, they made pronouncements.
All of which points back to the fact that it was the story, the visually stunning story, that counted. A story that abounds in spiritual implications.
“A prophecy misread could have been.” –Yoda.
One of the primary overarching themes of the movie could be described as a misunderstanding of religion. In a lot of ways, this is a journey of faith. Faith can be abused, misdirected, mistaught, even mis-believed; the faithful always fear the possibility that somehow they might depart (or be led astray) from sound doctrine. To paraphrase one sentiment in the movie, to understand mystery, you must understand all aspects of the force; not just the narrow dogmatic view of the Jedi. This makes the Jedi sound like some brand of spiritual fundamentalist. It is not bad to question your faith, some questioning is healthy; however, this critique is given by someone who sees themself as the polar opposite of the Jedi.
“This is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause.” –Padmee
This idea of faith gets further complicated once it gets in bed with politics. The question that gets to crux of the matter is what if the Democracy they had been fighting for, the Republic, becomes the thing that they are fighting against? There are enough pointed parallels between the Empire and the state of the American government to choke Jar-Jar, but this does open the door for some valid examination. Religion and politics have two different raisons d’etre. When the two blur the lines between one another, it leads to a kind of imperial religion. Spirituality, one’s faith, should inform one’s politics, not the other way around. Politics is about power and power always lusts for more power, leading to Machiavellian (or his intergalactic counterpart) level scheming. When the two conjoin, the danger rests in keeping politics from co-opting the spirituality.
This story also touches on the reality that the characters live in a state of “spoiled creation”. In Anakin’s case, he was deceived by a lie. The Sith’s passions focused inward, thinking of the self; the Jedi were selfless, always thinking of others. However, good became a matter of point of view (the Jedi were liars and power-grubbers; the Sith possessors of secret knowledge) and truth was allowed to be misunderstood (read: ignored).
The path of darkness was paved with good intentions as a good end was attempted through evil means. “Fear is a path to the dark side.” Throw in hate and anger leading down toward an inevitable path of death and destruction and you have the symptoms that diagnose the dark side being the fallen state of man. Said another way, living in a state of broken creation means that we are being untrue to what we were created to be.
Hope for finding our way through this broken creation could be found in the power of discipleship. In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, you see what amounts to a tale of two masters. On the one hand, you have Darth Sidious, the dark master dangling temptations of power and salvation. On the other hand, you have Ben Kenobi, lifelong friend and mentor. And one cannot escape the powerful image of this being a story of a master betrayed by his disciple.
What we can’t escape is the power of learning in community. We’ve lost the idea of journeying with our teachers, that teaching and knowing have a relational component. The master-student relationship is an important one when it comes to the idea of “making disciples”. In a lot of ways, people have gotten away from what the picture of making a disciple looked like. Anakin made becoming a master a reward, a power position to be obtained, rather than the act of humbly serving others. It called for a teacher to walk alongside their disciples, live life with them. The master/teacher embodies, incarnates if you will, the teachings and faith is lived out in the context of a community. No, this is not a perfect way to do it: Jesus walked alongside his for three years and most of the time they didn=t seem to get the point.
“I feel lost … I’m not the Jedi I should be.” –Anakin Skywalker
Which leads to the last element of story that this movie is about, this being a telling of the story of a Judas, one who walks in discipleship then betrays his master and his teachings. A good man, for all intents and purposes, led down a dark path because of so
me internal discontent. Most of us have this feeling that something is missing, but we don’t know how to fix it. Also, whether we admit it or not, there is this longing to be more, to live lives of significance. We have this sense of lost-ness. This sense of incompleteness is necessary, as it hints of there being some greater story and purpose about life that we might be missing, one that should drive us to the Author of that Story. In our rush to plug that hole, we run the risk of filling it with the wrong thing. Anakin was lost, but he was found by Darth Sidious, then dubbed Darth Vader by him. And to be named is to be owned and defined. This led to a series of tragedies that eventuated in a wholesale slaughter of Jedi knights that echoed the persecution of the saints of the early church.
There is a lot to be explored in the themes of this movie. In short, this was the movie that everyone wanted to see, the one that took three tries to get right. A high action cinematic experience tinged with a sense of tragic grandeur, Revenge of the Sith brings the sprawling saga we’ve come to love full circle.
Like you really needed a reason to see it.