Teddy Adorno, would thou wert alive at this hour! – to see last week’s lines of pale and spotty thirty-somethings emerging from their parents’ basements to stand in midnight movie lines; to hear the familiar sub-Shostakovich music blared into one’s ears from loudspeakers around the Muvico parking lot; to squirm through a two-and-a-half hour film in which the single most human gesture is the intermittent smoker’s cough of a nine-foot tall assemblage of spare Karmann Ghia parts. (That’s “General Grievous,” by the way – whose name is remarkably appropriate to the entire experience of the movie.) Yes, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: my reactions to Revenge of the Sith.
Part of me just wants to quote the whole “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment, with some sharp remarks from the “Regression of Listening” essay thrown in. And I’ll admit to my experience of the film being colored by reading last week’s review in The New Yorker; they gave the movie to the always waspish Anthony Lane, who’s positively acid: “The general opinion of ‘Revenge of the Sith’ seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack of the Clones.’ True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.” On Yoda: “Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. ‘I hope right you are.’ Break me a fucking give.”
A friend of mine with far more knowledge of and investment in the cinema opined earlier this week that he’d enjoyed the movie – “It’s just a comic book.” True enough, I suppose, but only if you’re using early-sixties Superman comics as your generic model; the comic books moved into far more complex and psychologically interesting territory sometime back in the 1980s. To call these characters “pasteboard” is too generous; “onionskin” is more like it. The bad guys are bad all the way, and the good guys are stalwart and unchanging journeymen in the service of order and tradition and representative government (though the whole Jedi order is one of the most noxiously aristocratic outfits in recent memory). To make sure we know who’s who, there’s the ever-present color-coding – white and earth tones for our heroes, black for the servants of evil; I think one of the main reason Anakin Skywalker goes over to the dark side is the influence of his black wardrobe, eminently suitable for nightclubbing in the Village. Shprockets, anyone?
Lucas is constrained by the necessity of tying together his “saga” at the end, and probably the most gratifying scenes in Revenge of the Sith – certainly for those folks who’ve worn out multiple VHS copies of the original trilogy – are the final moments in which the visuals of the first Star Wars are evoked: Darth Vader, in full Rolls Royce grillwork, rising from the surgery bed like Frankenstein’s monster, the desert landscape of Tatooine, where Ewan McGregor drops off the infant Luke with his relatives and goes into eremite isolation. (McGregor, a fine actor whom many of us will remember shoving opium suppositories up his ass in Trainspotting, is here reduced, as in the two previous films, to doing a pretty good Alec Guinness imitation. I’d rather lick a bottle of Guinness in front of me than have an Alec Guinness frontal lobotomy… or something like that.)
But we’re told you can’t judge this film by its dialogue (more wooden than a hotelfull of retirees at a Viagra convention), its psychological depth (my cat’s hacked up deeper pools than this), or its acting (and that may be one of the wonders of the movie, that Lucas has coached so many dreadful performances out of so many pretty good actors): instead, we need to take it on the basis of its visuals. They are indeed stunning. Perhaps too stunning – I will admit to being lamentably short-sighted without my glasses, but my vision’s somewhat better than 20/20 with ‘em, and frankly both of my eyes were aching by the end of this thing. In short, there’s too much happening, all the time. Personal spaceships buzz through the air in the cityscapes like gnats on a warm summer’s evening, astonishingly never hitting on another. The battles are nonstop widescreen chaos. It’s all too lush, too lively, like being condemned to sit in a traffic island on Broadway and read Euphues, Swinburne, and the collected works of C. K. Williams. At least the Florida traffic, when we emerged from the chilly matinee into the baking sun, seemed rather tame by comparison.
(Afterwards, taking the girls to Toys “R” Us to look at bicycles, I was reminded of the real motor behind the Star Wars phenomenon: the selling of action figures. When the first movie came out, I had a friend who rapidly collected the entire line, maybe some ten or fifteen different figures; he had money left over to buy a whole squad of stormtroopers. I imagine no-one can collect all the figures now. Not merely is every character, speaking or not, represented [anybody know the name of the nice-looking blue Jedi knight who gets shot in the back? – well, she’s there], but the major figures seem to be represented in every conceivable combination of costumes and accessories. You want Anakin in brown? You want him in black, with that droid arm of his? You want him dismembered and fried? The great advantage of the action figures, to my thinking, is that they’re somewhat more alive than their large avatars on the screen – less plastic, as it were.)