18 December 2017

And you thought they said Revenge should be sweet

A number of my friends saw either The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones (or both), and one result of the tedium and/or vexation of the experience is, they will never, under any circumstances, spend time watching Revenge of the Sith.  I shall never suggest that they are “wrong,” that they “must” watch Episode III.  (And, think about it:  a movie titled “Attack of the Clones.”  Search your feelings, and you will know it must be drivel.)

I have not watched (nor ever will) either Episode I or II;  with that qualification, Revenge of the Sith was easily the weakest Geo. Lucas screenplay I have ever endured.  (I might have written “easily the weakest Star Wars screenplay,” but why pretend that it is anything other than Lucas’s artistic weakness?)

Let it possibly sound silly, but I’ll go ahead and write that I am sure Lucas is not a bad chap.  There is a winning transparency as he tells us that when he set out writing the first Star Wars script, his research largely included Joseph Campbell’s writings on mythology.  So insofar as the Star Wars writing relies on tried-&-true mythic archetypes, it kind of works;  but that research does not go any real distance towards making the researcher a playwright.  Witness Harrison Ford’s famous rebuke of Lucas-cum-screenwriter:  “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t speak it.”

It may be worth drawing something of a parallel:  even as Bob Dylan made himself an enormous success as a singer, despite (shall we say) shortcomings in his singing technique, Geo. Lucas’s deficit as a writer has in no way interfered with his stratospheric success.

That said, what are some of the egregious deficits in evidence in Revenge of the Sith?

At many turns, the dialogue does not rest on a firm framework of prior artistic decisions, but is just “Something which it sounds good for this character to say, at this point in the script.”  Examples:

Obi-Wan Kenobi chides Anakin, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” (which, one observes, sounds rather like an absolute).  Later, when Obi-Wan – I don’t mean for Obi-Wan to sound like a nag here – charges him with having turned to evil, Darth Vader (the nascent Sith) volleys back, “In my view the Jedi are evil.” I defy you to find a more self-servingly relativistic riposte in cinema.

When the Chancellor wishes Anakin to be his eyes and ears at the Jedi Council, he’s just asking Anakin to spy, and Anakin raises no objection in the least.  But when the Jedi tell Anakin that they need to know the Chancellor’s intentions, the Skywalker dudgeon rises to a high point:  that request that he spy on the Chancellor is a betrayal of all his Jedi principles!

The characters cannot be expected to make up their minds, if the writer of their dialogue has not.

A topic which is no doubt treated in greater depth by others, elsewhere, must receive passing remark here:  the cardboard-cutout “romance” between Padme and Anakin cannot be taken seriously.  Not as it is written.  Of course, given the “mythic arc” of the story – they are the parents of the hero & heroine of Episodes IV–VI! – there has to be a “romance,” or else Luke & Leia are the progeny of mechanical sex. (“R2-D2, you are needed in the Naboo Strip Club, stat.”)  There is the odd element which (be fair) rings true within the story, e.g.:  Anakin is immature, which is why he is such low-hanging fruit for the Chancellor (but then, don’t expect us to feel much of anything when the Padme-Anakin relationship withers on the vine).  I want to say that Anakin here is not much more than a cartoon character, but Jessica Rabbit reveals greater emotional depth.  “Honey, you’re carrying my unborn child, but I’m going to use the power of the Force to throttle you, and afterwards I’m going to rage that I knew you were still alive when I left your body limp on the landing pad. Love oodles, your devoted Ani.”

(I do wish that Obi-Wan sounded less passively whiney.  Clearly, he’s going to need that 20-year isolated hermitage on Tatooine.)

If Revenge of the Sith, were a stand-alone, I should think rather less of it than I do.  Since (by design, though not all even of these decisions were artistically sound) it points us to the 1977 movie, I pretty much enjoyed it, the numerous flaws notwithstanding.

At times, the mission of “Setting Up A New Hope” gets a little excessive:  we see Vader and the Emperor admiring the Death Star as a work-in-progress.  Which means, we are invited to believe that its completion will take another 20 years, right?  “Never tell me the odds….”

If ever I report, Gentle Reader, that I have been watching ep. I or II, call Agent Hellboy:  an alien presence will have taken control.

PS/ This is the first I have seen the movie in toto.  A few years ago I checked out the DVD from the BPL, but it was such a heavily used item, it is the most badly scratched disc – whether 45, LP, CD or DVD – I have ever laid eyes on.  At three or four points, the disc hung up on a scene, and I had to cherry-pick a later scene to try again.  All in all, far from the circumstances most advantageous to the movie.

PPS/ In actual Henningmusick news, let’s go to the Magic Mailbox:

Notwithstanding [N.’s] determination to make my musical contributions odious trainwrecks, I think the two concerts came off well, had an agreeable spirit, and were good fun.  If only [N.] were a composer, that I might perform her music as ill prepared as she did mine—not out of any spite, but only so that she should know what it feels like. Speaking purely artistically, I hate her loathsome guts.  I apologize for leaving the scene of rehearsal mid-Torches, but I had to withdraw to a remote part of the building so that I could shout “Why didn’t you just practice the damn music?!” without loss of time or composure for the group. I’m afraid I stood very much in need of that little bit of catharsis.

Even if she had been James Galway himself, I would not have endured such lousy preparation.

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