The words don't thud across the screen. They are just there, written in an oversimplified typeface, hanging in mid-air minus any decoration.
Sitting in the wonderful coolness of a darkened theatre, even I, the entirely unschooled, felt myself perceptively stiffen with excitement.
For the splendor is not in the way the words were written, or how what they said was crafted; it was in the words themselves. Not to mention that all-important ellipsis at the end, the ellipsis that enables George Lucas to pile billion upon billion in franchised glory.
However, I get ahead of myself. The words say, simply: 'A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away '
And then there is applause. The crowd comes alive; they knew this was the experience they had been waiting for. This was Star Wars.
I, who had never seen a single of the films, and couldn't -- on one greatly embarrassing occasion -- tell a Skywalker from a Solo, felt their thrill infect me. Ignorant, yes, but while not knowing Star Wars, I knew of Star Wars. How could I, nay, anybody not?
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Special: Star Wars section
Lucas strikes back with Revenge
From Anakin to Yoda
All I knew before going into this film was the very basic -- it's the last in the saga, which means it's episode III of VI; Anakin Skywalker gives up his Jedi destiny and becomes Darth Vader; and he has a kid named Luke, which brings us to the unforgettable and much-mimicked line, 'I am your father!'
The film begins a la Top Gun in space, with Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi locked in interstellar combat with the conveniently named General Grievous. The special effects, as they breach the enemy craft and battle peculiar robots, are very much like a video game, something uncannily out of a fine piece of software like Halo. The visual effects get progressively smoother, and the future cities Lucas creates are awesome and fascinating. In its initial moments, R2D2 steals the show, and, even as we get to grips with the battle and it's combatants, the endearing little robot provides us with laughs, helping us settle into the action.
That is essential Lucas formulae, creating characters of an undeniably cuddly yet interesting texture to offset all the grandiose melodrama that his space epic holds. The main characters are etched woodenly and, going by what Obi-Wan Kenobi says, in absolutes, just the way a Sith thinks. So it's Obi-Wan the Good and Anakin the Confused, but the real characters are the ones doodled across the margins, like the compelling Count Dooku, played to excellence by Christopher Lee, in the film for a mere sabre-duel, but worthy of much more. What a great back-story he must have.
Revenge Of The Sith itself belongs to Yoda, the little green Jedi master. Voiced by the incomparable Frank Oz, the director best remembered for giving voice to the Muppets' Miss Piggy, the diminutive jade Jedi is incredibly engaging as sporadically rearranged speech pattern his is. Also, he wields a pretty nifty light-saber.
The film is about young Anakin, a dedicated Jedi frustrated because he craves more than the rewards and recognition coming his way. He wants power, which isn't quite Jedi cricket, since the Jedi's are an essentially selfless race. Also, with clichés piled up thick as treacle, his wife, Queen Padmé (an exhausted Natalie Portman) is pregnant -- something she tells her beloved 'Annie' just like women would reveal to Prem Chopra in seventies Bollywood films. Annie gets nightmares of his wife dying as she gives birth, and wants to know where he can acquire the power to save life itself.
'Not with a Jedi.' So pronounces Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, the smarmy commander of the Senate who happens to be the evil Sith lord. Played masterfully by Ian McDiarmid, Palpatine seethes seductively as he slithers his way into Anakin's imagination, holding forth the promise of power beyond his -- and any Jedi's -- wildest dreams. He speaks with a slight slur, making Annie, and all of us in the audience, hang on his every murmured word. Spine-chilling.
Ewan McGregor plays the straight man, the right and honourable Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Man Who Can Think No Wrong, McGregor plays the role with indubitable sincerity, without coming across as boring. Then again, that might be more due to his infallible sabreplay, rather than a chink in his exclusively Vanilla armour. Apparently, by the time the next installment rolls around in 1977, he's the old and weathered Jedi man, played by Alec Guinness, and this segue ought to be quite smooth.
Personally, I find Samuel L Jackson miscast as Mace Windu. Cool as a flashing light-sabre may be, it does feel particularly limiting in combat beyond the closest of quarters. Jackson is someone who deserves to have something that fires bullets of some kind, and -- like a close friend pointed out -- thanks to multiple viewings of Pulp Fiction, one keeps expecting him to say, 'hand me my light-sabre. It's the one that says 'Bad M***** F***er.'
Hayden Christensen has the film's starring role. Anakin Skywalker, who becomes the shudder-inducing Darth Vader. Since we know the film is about this pivotal character transformation, this metamorphosis strikes one as a bit of a damp squib. The initial pangs of confusion and coming of age Jedi angst are all very well, but turning bad is something Anakin does, even after he makes the fateful decision, without conviction.
He can't stand up to Padmé and tell her he wants to be bad, and when he does, he's already Darth. Vader the Coward, sniveling with insecurity, isn't quite the image of the dark lord we expect. While it might just be the back-story Lucas wanted his most-feared character to have, it's disappointing to not have the vile and ruthless Darth Vader be the ineffable creature crafted of nightmares as befits one of his cinematic repute. He does slaughter younglings, sure, but the pained expression on his face throughout his acceptance of the evil mantle doesn't quite gel.
The film plods through constant clichés, and the agonising dialogue panders to the tritely obvious. With the exception of a couple of great performances, the acting is often amateurish. The plot progressions are extremely convenient and ridiculously contrived, pieces of a jigsaw being broken to fit just about right. The film doesn't have any one classic action sequence, most of it's high points coming from the emotional conflicts -- the parts of the film that end up being the cheesiest. But then blares John Williams' magnificently over-the-top score, and you realise this is meant to be larger than life. Silly, perhaps, but surely a magical level of escapism.
In the end, I quivered as the adrenaline coursed through me, and I realised that everything else aside, I was standing smack-dab in the middle of a conclusion of a great saga, in the middle of an unparalleled arc in popular cinema history. I am now an acolyte, determined to catch up with the mythos.
And you can't help but feel awe for the visionary who made the world fall in love with the brightly coloured tubelights.