The saga is complete


I suppose I could just leave it at that, since I don't seem to be wired in such a way as to say much critical about any of the Star Wars films; the critical capacities I deploy against just about everything else seem to fail when the subject shifts to George Lucas' epic space fantasy. [And it is a space fantasy rather than a work of science fiction, I'd posit; being set "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away" takes it out of the futural orientation that science fiction as a genre (IMHO) requires, and although there are technological differences, Lucas isn't interested in exploring their impact and implications in quite the same way as in works that I would consider more classically "science fiction"; and there's certainly no plausible connection to the/our present. Star Wars is a technologically enabled fairy tale, and should be treated as such.] The first film I ever remember seeing in a theatre -- actually, it was a drive-in -- was the original Star Wars, and in many ways I feel like I never quite left the Star Wars universe after that, since I have wrapped myself so tightly in the mythology of the thing that it is more than a comfortable second skin -- it's a constitutive part of who I am.

So I really can't bring myself to say seriously bad things about any of the six films; I'll even speak up for Jar Jar if it comes to that, which it sometimes does (especially since I have a life-sized cutout of the bumbling Gungun behind the door of my office. Really.). Yes, Lucas doesn't really have much of a feel for directing human beings, and his sense of what makes for good dialogue is quite painful at times, especially during the more intimate scenes between Anakin and Padme. And Lucas is impatient, cutting scenes (especially dialogue scenes) short to get on with the sweep of the story; in RotS I think this is most noticeable during the sequence where Obi-Wan is viewing the security holograms to determine who perpetrated the massacre at the Jedi temple, which should have been a bit longer so that we could see Obi-Wan's distress develop a little more deliberately. (Similarly, in TPM Lucas rushes through the scene between Anakin and Padme on the Queen's ship after they blast off from Tatooine, the scene where he gives her the carved jabor snippet necklace that figures rather prominently in RotS; Lucas should have let the scene unfold as it was in the original script and as it is preserved in the novelization, with Anakin crying and Padme giving him a comforting hug, cementing the "your mother's gone, but I'll look after you" transference that cements Anakin's obsession with Padme over the next two films.) Lucas is also not above cheap laughs, although he has minimized them in RotS; we still get a bit of droid humor with R2's shenanigans in the landing bay on Grevious' flagship, but I rather liked those. (Contrast the poop and fart jokes in TPM, which I felt were a bit too crass.)

But these are serious nit-picks. Overall I think that RotS was an excellent end to the cycle: visually stunning, technically impressive, driven by the story rather than by the special effects (a trap Lucas fell into a bit in TPM, which was to my mind clearly remains the weakest film of the six), and suitably epic in its decision to portray Anakin's fall not as the result of a single cataclysmic event, but instead as the unintentional consequence of pure goals (love, loyalty, duty) as they are corrupted by the process of acquiring enough power to realize them. I could defend the film against the various silly and petulant complaints that have been leveled at it by critics who don't seem to get what Lucas' cycle is about, and who criticize RotS for being "talky and abstract" (as though the other films weren't? Please. if you want subtle characterizations and deep psychological dissections of motive, look elsewhere.) This is a fairy tale, folks; what we see on screen are not people, but archetypes, and like in any good fairy tale they simply have to express the primal forces and orientations that they represent. Just because we've spent the last thirty years developing a psychological account of Luke and Han Solo and the rest of them doesn't mean that the first trilogy was a more character-driven sequence; it wasn't. That's the funny thing about myths and fairy tales: the reader/audience has the option of reading in a lot of stuff, because all that is explicitly presented are the essential components of a plot sequence and some broad-brush characterizations. Which is why there can be many different renditions of a myth, each of which develops the basic story in a slightly different way; consider the different versions of the "Superman" mythology, for example, or the various different ways that the tragedies of Faust or the Ring cycle have been cast and interpreted and concretized. Lucas is trying to present an archetype on screen, deliberately leaving openings for people to latch on in different ways, and thus retell the story to themselves and for themselves almost endlessly.

This is why in my science fiction course we don't tackle Star Wars: both because it's not sci-fi, and because getting into epic myth would take us in a very different direction. (One might envision a course on twentieth century epics, featuring The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Asimov's Foundation novels…but that would be a very different kind of semester.)

Anyway, I though the film marvelous, and well worth seeing if you have any taste for mythological allegory and amazingly cool lightsaber duels. Plus the fact that Obi-Wan's retort to Anakin's division of the universe into those that are with him and those who are his enemies -- "only the Sith deal in absolutes" -- is a priceless indictment of those who would try to convert politics into the implementation of transcendent goals rather than the (Weberian) slow boring of hard boards. Once again, Star Wars proves itself to be a myth with implications for the present.


[Posted with ecto]

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