Saw Episode III the other night, so now I strap on my geek hat to expound on a few of its finer and lesser points. Actually it's more of a helmet than a hat, made of a mixing bowl, some old egg cartons, bailing wire, model paint, and sparklers. And, if we're being completely honest, it's been quite securely fastened to my head since the first Episode III trailer came out.
First, the bad. Leaving aside all the usual complaints about script and performances which have been extensively catalogued by others and which are as true for this film as the others, I think the failure of the prequels to capture the essence of the original trilogy comes down to this: No Han Solo. I don't just mean literally, though certainly the films lack for an actor able to deliver the leaden dialogue with just the right amount of bemused, grandiosity-puncturing playfullness that Harrison Ford was, but I mean there is no Han Solo-type figure on hand to humanize or contemporize the story. Han was a working man, a smuggler, a pan-galactic truck driver. In the midst of a massive galactic civil war, Han's got two things on his mind: In Ep IV, getting paid. In EP V, bedding Leia. We can all relate. There's no device like that in the prequels.
Along with this or any really humanizing character in the films, Lucas also seems to have jettisoned the "used future" aspect that I think went so far in selling the original films' stories. Almost everything in the prequels is shiny and new, every surface recently buffed, every starship just driven off the lot, every item of clothing freshly pressed. I know that Lucas wanted in the prequels to evoke the glory of the Republic at its apex, but really it just makes things seem fake. When you first see the inside of the Millenium Falcon in Ep IV, dingy and worn, you buy it immediately. You can almost smell the engine grease and beer. You know that there are probably corn chips and loose change in the cockpit seat cushions, and tattered issues of Playwookiee on the floor of the head. Every starship interior in the prequels looks like a great looking movie set.
Now, the good. First and most importantly: Lightsabers. They kick ass. The lightsaber combat in this film is by far the best in any of the films. The pace and intensity of the fighting seems to ramp up over the course of the film, and by the time we get to Anakin and Obi Wan's duel they're going at each other with such a frenzy that it gets a bit hard to follow, though it was for me the most emotionally resonant scene of the prequels.
I know that Lucas has said that the saga is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, but I've always been interested in Obi Wan's story. In a way, the saga has very much to do with his own failure and redemption as well as that of Vader. Had Obi Wan been a better mentor, Anakin may have had the strength to resist Palpatine. As penance, Obi Wan gets to spend the remainder of his life living in a freaking hovel in the desert, doing lightsaber tai-chi, scaring Tusken Raiders for fun, and reading all seven volumes of the notoriously dry How to Become a Jedi Ghost, while waiting and watching over Luke from afar.
What I enjoyed about Anakin and Obi Wan's duel, though, is that I got the sense that Obi Wan, over their many years and adventures together, had always wondered to himself: could I take him? Answer: Yes. This adds some more depth to Vader's reaction in Ep IV when he senses his old master's presence on the Death Star. His defeat on Mustafar has rankled for twenty years, and he's super-pumped for a rematch.
And then guess what happens? Kenobi takes a dive. Shit.
I should say that, upon leaving the theater, I was disappointed, but as I've thought about the film I've appreciated it more and I'm looking forward to seeing it again. I had the opposite reaction to the other two prequels.
So, did Lucas abuse me once again? Well, yeah, as I knew he would. There really wasn't much he could do to redeem the stunning badness of Episodes I and II, but this film is a lot better than those. I'm still packing my bags and leaving, though. I'm sorry George. It could've been so beautiful, but now I'm gone. You don't own me. I don't need your...what? A TV series? Okay, but only if you promise to change.