Revenge of the Sith — The Long Form Review

George Lucas is indisputably the most important filmmaker of the last 30 years because his influence is absolutely everywhere in film. With the possible exception of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which Francis Ford Coppola intentionally used in-camera special effects techniques dating back to the dawn of film, there’s hardly a special effects film since 1977 that can’t trace its lineage back to Lucas, either directly through ILM or its alumni, or esthetically, due to the standards he established.

And it’s not simply visual effects. Sound design? Lucas’ crews invented modern sound design and basically shoved THX sound certification down movie theaters’ throats in order to make sure his efforts were rewarded. Computer animation? Pixar got its start under Lucas’ wing. The Summer blockbuster? Jaws was the soft lob establishing the idea; Star Wars was the hard spike that drove it home. Let’s not even talk about the concept of movie merchandising. Name me any filmmaker anywhere in the last three decades whose technical and marketing influence on the medium is even close to Lucas. You can’t do it. The only one you could possibly argue is Steven Spielberg, but I don’t think even Spielberg would suggest that he is more influential in the critical, below-the-line filmmaking categories. In short: as a filmmaker, George Lucas has made the medium what it is today.

As a director, he’s not a patch on Michael Bay.

And you know what? As a writer and director, he’s always sucked, and with Sith in the can, we can just come right out and say it. His one geniunely good film — American Graffiti — is looking more and more like a fluke, and even Star Wars (which, screenwriting and directing Oscar nominations aside, is neither well-written nor more than basically directed) seems entirely unrepresentative, if for no other reason than because it’s fun, which this latter trilogy shows is not Lucas’ strong suit.

George Lucas should not have been allowed near the business end of a script or a camera for any of these last three films, nor any other film in the future until the end of time. In Entertainment Weekly, Lucas says that he asked both Spielberg and Ron Howard to pick up the directing chores for him, and both said that he needed to do it himself. The only reason I can think of that they would have said such a damn fool thing is that they both must have seen the script of The Phantom Menace and have gotten severe stomach contractions at the mere thought of trying to navigate that crappy prose. Rumor has it that Tom Stoppard, of all people, was called in for a script polish on Sith, but let’s be honest and note that not matter how much you polish a turd, at the end of the day, all you’re going to get is a highly polished turd. Scriptwise, Sith is a turd which positively gleams.

Yes: Sith is substantially better than Phantom or Clones, but think about what we’re saying here. Phantom was a knife in the gut of Star Wars fandom; the only Star Wars fans who like that film are the science fiction equivalent to the Michael Jackson fans who mill about outside the courtroom of his molestation trial. You literally can’t ignore how bad it is, which was a first for a Star Wars installment. Mill it down to the pod race (taking care to yank out jake Lloyd’s audio track) and the final Darth Maul saber battle, you’ll have seen everything worth seeing there. Clones was marginally better dreck, but it’s clear that even Lucas was bored with it. To say a movie is better than either of these films is to damn with faint praise; just about every major science fiction release since 2000 is better than these (except The Chronicles of Riddick, which was ridiculouly overstuffed and baroque. But even that had better dialogue).

Lucas wasn’t bored with Sith, that much is clear — the performances are livelier, the action is more coherently presented, and the story actually has a narrative drive, which is to say it gets from point A to point B without taking another damn side trip to Tatooine. It’s a perfectly good and exciting film, even allowing for the crappy script, but as I was watching it the thing I was thinking was that this was the first film in the new trilogy that achieved the same baseline level of interest and excitement as the films in the first series; in other words, it’s as good as Return of the Jedi, which is acknowledged to be the weakest of the first three, and not just because of the Ewoks. I understand people are falling over themselves to praise this film, but again, that’s the magic of tremendously lowered expectations, isn’t it? My problem is that I can’t see why we needed three films to get back to Jedi-level competence. That’s where we left off.

Structural problems are all over this film. General Grevious is touted as a major nemesis without proper introduction and backstory (yes, I understand the character was introduced in the Clone Wars cartoon shorts. But unless one is a fanboy, one is outside that particular loop, and film viewers ought not be penalized for lack of fervor). The Wookiees are thrown in as an obvious fan sop rather than being an integral part of the story. Lucas wants to have slapstick and tragedy in his film but can’t handle the gradient between them, either as a director or a writer. The last several minutes of the film are all too obviously about going down a list and checking off details so Sith can conform to the continuity requirements of the original trilogy. None of this matters to the fans now, flushed as they are with gleeful relief that Sith doesn’t actively stink. But these problems are there, and they’re not going away.

Also not going away: Lucas’ basic and fundamental mishandling of humans in the writing and the directing. The Sith story is grand, operatic tragedy, and only Ian McDairmid, a theater-trained actor given an inherently ham-filled role, imbues his character with the sense of scale the story needs. Ewan McGregor comes close, but is underserved by his dialogue (which is sadly pocked with fan-pleasing throwaway lines rather than the meaty stuff he needs), and poor Hayden Christiansen, who can actually act, is saddled with a director whose idea of evil is wind-blown petulance. Hell, Lucas’ direction pounds flat Samuel L. Jackson — for the third time. It’s hard to imagine how that is even possible.

This film positively aches for Lawrence Kasdan and the magically exhumed Leigh Brackett to come on board and make the script what is so clearly wants to be; the film aches for even a competent journeyman director to connect the operatic dots. One of the cardinal rules of film criticism is that you don’t review the film as you want it to be, you review the film that is, but it’s hard to see how anyone with a sense of history of film — or even simply of Star Wars — can look at this preview trilogy and not see how much better they would have been with someone other than Lucas at the helm and at the keyboard. For Sith, two words for you: Ridley Scott. Yes, I know how cruel it is to put that in your mind. But now you see my point. Lucas is famously always going back into his films and changing fiddly details — one can only hope that his next revision he redoes all the writing and acting for the prequel trilogy (or perhaps hires Peter Jackson to do it for him). It’s amazing what they can do with computers these days.

But as I’ve said before, it’s George Lucas’ universe, we just get to buy the merchandise. The films are what they are. Do you know what I actually have high hopes for? The Star Wars TV series Lucas suggested is coming up. Lucas, who I think is well pleased to finally wash his hands of the Star Wars universe, is likely to have minimal involvement. That means there’s an excellent chance some good writers and decent directors will creep back into the Star Wars universe and make it finally live up to its potential. A new hope, indeed.

50 Comments on “Revenge of the Sith — The Long Form Review”

  1. Ridley Scott would have been interesting. I just think of what would have happened if Joss Whedon had been given control of all three movies. What he did in Firefly was the logical extention of the space opera from that Lucas made great in the original Star Wars. It’s the same mix of throwaway comedy, galactic drama, and personal tragedy. Ah well, what might have been . . .

  2. Ya see, this is why I never read reviews of Star Wars movies. I’m seeing Sith tonight, and I’m sure every word John wrote will prove to be 100% accurate.

    But here’s what I think everyone’s forgetting: these movies are comic books. They’re for kids. I was eight years old when Star Wars came out and I loved it. I suspect (and, in fact, have heard Lucas say) that the eight year olds of 2000 loved Phantom Menace too.

    The problem is you have the eight year olds of 1977 reviewing the movies of the 2000’s as 30+ year olds. Yes, I thought Jar Jar was awful, but I noted quickly that he wasn’t for me – he was for the kids. I’ll also note that my parents’ generation probably thought C3PO and R2D2 were stupid also.

    So tonight I’ll go see Sith and pretend I’m eight again. Eight year olds don’t care about the dialog, the directing, and connecting the dots of the operatic themes. They want to see spaceships shoot ray guns at each other until something blows up.

    And popcorn. Lots of popcorn.

  3. “But here’s what I think everyone’s forgetting: these movies are comic books. They’re for kids.”

    Bah. Sith is PG-13, which means it’s not for kids. I’d like to see the persuasive argument that suggests Empire is for kids as well. The whole thing of “Star Wars is for kids” kicked in to rationalize the Ewoks.

    Leaving this rationalization aside, having a film aimed at kids doesn’t mean it gets a pass for being poorly written and directed — not any Pixar film for confirmation of this, particularly The Incredibles, which is as action-packed and “comic book”-y as any Star War film could hope to be.

  4. Brian, I think you’re wrong. I think there is clear difference between the original trilogy and the first two new movies. And claiming that children cannot recognize the difference between good and poor entertainment vastly sells short their intelligence. I’ve heard 8-year-olds hold forth at length as to why they love the original 3 movies and why they fast-forward to the lightsaber dual at the end of Phantom Menace.

    Using the excuse of ‘it’s for children’ as an excuse for crap is pretty old. Whenever adults criticize something aimed at a younger market, it is automatically assumed that they don’t get it because they’re ‘too old.’ It is never given serious consideration that a majority of material aimed at children is actually crap. Because it is. There are plenty of examples of ‘children’s media’ which succesfully attract adult audiences as well.

    The first two movies fall into the category of crap that pretends to not be crap by claiming it is for the children.

  5. Five words: “Sesame Street of the 80’s”

    Born in 1981, I was raised on Sesame Street, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Square One TV… quality PBS stuff. (Don’t get me wrong, my parents were very responsible and did a lot of stuff with me, I just really liked the shows.) I was thoroughly entertained by Sesame Street, and if (admittedly hazy) memory serves, I learned a fair bit from it too. The notable thing I found out after talking to my parents, though, was that a lot of the time they enjoyed it as much as I did. The writing was really clever, not only treating kids intelligently and imparting information but also making all sorts of inside jokes that only the parents watching would get.

    Most kids are pretty sharp… present them with something intelligent and they’ll respond in kind. But, just because something is ‘for kids’ doesn’t mean that it must automatically make all adults within earshot want to tickle their pituitary with a sharp stick. Broad age appeal has definitely been achieved before… even if the prequels were really “for the kids,” there’s no reason why they couldn’t have been made far more palatable to the rest of the population.

    Oh, and yeah… Incredibles is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. :-)

  6. George Lucas should not have been allowed near the business end of a script or a camera for any of these last three films, nor any other film in the future until the end of time.

    Amen, amen, amen, amen.

    I agree with every word of this review. thank you. As a way-too-long-time SW geek, all I can say about the movie was that it wasn’t bad. It could have been so much more, if only Lucas would have let someone else write and direct.

  7. I miss Leigh Brackett (well, her writing anyway … it’s not like I knew her personally). The one good thing about this film is that it has caused people to remember her fondly and help raise her a bit from obscurity.

  8. He did the story — the screenplay was William Hyuck. I thought the film was dreadful, personally, but it’s an interesting technical curiosity — many of the sets are computer-generated, which was a first for a full-length picture. It’s basically a technology demo.

  9. I’m pretty sure I’ll like this film, and I’m very sure it won’t have the impact on me the original film did, but that is fine.

    I’d like to hear some details on how some of the script could be better.

    Is it the dialogue? The pacing? What?

  10. I think I agree with everything in this blog post except that I think II is by far the worst of all 6 movies. I rate them from best to worst:

    V, IV, III, VI, I, II

    Jar-Jar wasn’t _that_ bad.
    Natalie is cute, but never really did it for me as Luke and Leia’s mom.
    Yoda and R2D2 kick ass.
    Best part of III? James Earl Jones’ voice.


  11. The dialogue in all the ‘personal’ scenes starts at laughable and desends to truly dreadful. The entire Ziegfield was simultaneously howling with laughter and groaning in pain last night. SLJ’s lines are just terrible. No meat there at all. HC, outside of the personal scenes, actually gets better lines this time around, although still nothing great. Natalie Portman’s lines are some of the worst in the movie: she basically just whines about the same thing for the entire movie. Ewan does a little better, but it’s lots of one-liners (not a bad thing, but he is capable of a lot more). The emperor’s rhetoric is actually pretty good.

    The pacing is just terrible as well. Lucas just doesn’t have a good idea of how to put shots together to form a coherent scene. There are plenty of times when his cuts take scene which are building momentum and go somewhere that brings it down.

  12. Geez, I wasn’t gonna get serious about Star Wars and here I go.

    One thing I remember about the original “Star Wars” was how it was very much the right movie for it’s time.

    Times were dreary in 77, and Star Wars picked people up. It showed them a shiny, magical place where the lowly could achieve greatness.

    I think, to some degree, we are coming back to that dreary time. We don’t need movie 3 of 9, we need 4 again.

    If I were a writer, which I’m not, I think I’d be trying to write something which would inspire people and give them hope.

  13. Link: Scalzi on Sith

    Since I have no idea when I’m actually going to get to see Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, I’m directing you now to John Scalzi’s review. Not only is Scalzi’s review as well-written and entertaining as the rest of his posts on The Whateve…

  14. Whew, get to the party a few hours late and you get 15 posts behind. Pressing on, regarding children’s entertainment…

    I think the issue of children’s entertainment can easily be handled with a metaphor. A metaphor of ice cream. Picture your favorite flavor of ice cream, from your favorite store. Mine is Amaretto Chocolate Chip from a small gelato store I know. So creamy, so good. Just perfect. Now, picture a pint of the driest, stalest, most bland ice cream from some gas station. The difference between the two is staggering.

    Now, I propose that kids can tell this difference too. Although the child’s favorite flavor may be bubble gum, or somesuch nonsense, they do prefer it much to the aforementioned gas station crap.

    In the end, yes, a child’s movie will be different from an adult flick in flavor, but the quality is always an issue; something that adult critique is always relevant about.

  15. Daniel,

    I used to think that way, too, but lately I’ve seen way too much SpongeBob Squarepants and, I dunno, I’m thinking maybe kids can’t tell poop from Shinola.

    And don’t even get me started on Ed, Edd, and Eddie.

  16. Anyone who thinks comic books are just for kids clearly hasn’t been in a comic book store lately.

  17. This sometimes comic book artist agrees with you, Mark Ensley. :)

    I saw Sith last night, and yes, this review is 100% correct, from my perspective. However, I enjoyed the movie and was satisfied by it – because although I knew there would be story problems and “cheese” in it, and probably a heavy-handed set of “wrap-ups” toward the end, I just turned off the more critical parts of my brain and let the whole thing just brush the surface neurochemical receptors, wafting across them the same way a Twinkie wafts across my taste buds.

    I.E., not a lot there, and not really good to be there, but by golly it’s damn tasty anyway!

    I just can’t take it seriously enough to get offended at its flaws too much. It’s a fun Star Wars movie in most of the ways that counted to my inner child (which I try to keep as alive as possible), and that’s good enough for me. It’s just a film.

    I liked it enough to go see it again, and I will, later next week.

    Now, as far as Lucas being one of the most important people in film, ever, that’s definitely true. The nifty chart from Wired available here (which most readers here have probably already seen anyway) lists it out nicely.

    George’s influence has in fact enabled me to make a nice living for years and to recently get my “dream job,” concept designer at a game studio. Joe Johnston’s drawings for the original movies transformed my art style and led directly to me deciding that would be my chosen career. And if that wasn’t enough, in my present work and in every job I’ve had for the past 15 years, I’ve used Photoshop as a main tool – and Photoshop was written by John Knoll, the effects supervisor of Episode III and I think most of the other Star Wars films as well. So without Lucas… No Adobe, no Photoshop, no Illustrator, no way for me to house, feed and clothe myself.

    I owe the guy much gratitude for indirect benefits of his work, and I suspect most who read this do too. ;)

  18. Great review John – I knew I could count on you to cut to the chase. But I have to disagree with you about Sith being as good as Return of the Jedi. In terms of the story and the quality of writing (I’m no judge of direction), you’re probably right, but I cared about the characters in Jedi. Luke, Leia and Han had Empire and Star Wars to build them up into people whose fates mattered to me, whereas Anakin, Padme and Obi-Wan, even portrayed by much better actors, simply don’t have that kind of resonance for me.

    Case in point: some lip-service is paid in Sith to the notion that Anakin suspects Padme of having an affair with Obi-Wan. It comes out of nowhere and makes no sense, but wouldn’t the film have been better if there really had been a love triangle? Sure, it’s trite, but trite is a step up for these films, and it might have given the characters a much-needed second dimension.

    As a whole, I found Sith boring, and my main reaction to it is relief that, at long last, the terrible nightmare is over.

  19. Here’s an insight into George Lucas’ character that I have drawn from seeing Chewbacca in Revenge.

    If you notice Chewbacca he is decidedly heavier in Revenge than he was in Starwars IV, V & VI. I am waiting for the fanboy speculation on why Chewbacca had to go on a diet between III & IV. The reason why Chewbacca would be heavier is that, presumably Peter Mayhew has put on a few pounds in the last 20 years; it happens to most men as they age.

    George Lucas didn’t have to cast Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca in III; after all, you would just need an extremely tall guy to fit in a wookie suit. He chose to cast him. There are few other examples of this kind of casting; kenny baker as R2D2 and my personal favourite, Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks. None of these guys needed to be cast as those characters as they were guys in suits (or in Ahmed’s case a computer generated guy); George chose to cast them. I think this shows an admirable bit of loyalty on the part of Mr. Lucas.

    However, I do agree that in the hands of a competent scriptwriter and a competent director that Revenge of the Sith would have been a great film. In the hands of George Lucas it is merely good.


    My favourite bad line is James Earl Jones 2nd line. The first line was “Yes Master”; it was geniunely thrilling to here James Earl Jones’ voice after the transformation of Darth Vader and the line was perfect. His second line was something banal like “How’s Padme”. You can’t actually imagine James Earl Jones delivering a line so bad, and even his magnificant delivery can’t rescue it.


  20. I was just commenting on the things I thought that the whole slew of prequels got wrong (and why they feel vastly different than the originals) with some SW geek friends of mine, and I realized that I dont’ think it’s the writing. Or the directing. Okay, yes, there’s bad writing, and admittedly, George isn’t the best director. I have a hard time even admitting he’s an okay one.

    It’s the digital film-making.

    Bad acting from decent actors? I chalk it up to the lack of sets. “What’s my motivation” becomes the least of your problem when you’re standing on a perfectly blue-gray stage and you’re told “okay, you’re standing on this beautiful hill overlooking a lush tranquil village, and your surroundings are adding to the romance you’re feeling for the love of your life.” I’ve done this for a living (motion capture actor/director), and I can say that even the best of actors have the hardest time making this situation work. Yes, I know, it’s called “acting,” but even Theater people have a stage and a set. It’s tough acting to a ball on a stick.

    Then add to this factor the ability to mess with every shot. “Fix it in post” is now a thing of the past, as the entire film is “post,” even from shot one. The idea that you can “easily” (man, I’m on a quote abuse roll here) go in and twiddle with any given shot starts leading into “forest through for the trees” issues, and you lose your pacing, focus, etc. because you’re obsessed with details no one cares about or will even see in the shot. His lack of ability to leave a film finished is legendary. Now imagine creating a film from the start with limitless possibility for real-time editing, and you have a nightmare project. There is no longer any committment to shots, to directorial style, editing pacing, etc., and I think it shows.

    It’s quite the what-if scenario, but I wonder what these would have been like if he had been forced to use more traditional celluloid means wherever possible.

    Caveat: I know he DID force the CG guys to model the Wookie tree village on Kasshyk as a real tree in a warehouse. Having seen the movie, I have to say, I don’t think it made a bit of difference.

  21. I used to think that way, too, but lately I’ve seen way too much SpongeBob Squarepants and, I dunno, I’m thinking maybe kids can’t tell poop from Shinola.

    And don’t even get me started on Ed, Edd, and Eddie.

    Yeah, but then you’ve got them balanced by Grim and Evil and Johnny Bravo (I’m pretty!), which even I get sucked into despite my near pathological revulsion of all things rug-rattish. Especially G&E. I watch that cartoon, then watch my too-much-like-me-for-comfort niece absorbed in it, and shudder for the future. :-D

  22. Tripp, think about some of the crap grownups watch and you get the idea that bad taste is not age-related.

    Mill it down to the pod race (taking care to yank out jake Lloyd’s audio track) and the final Darth Maul saber battle, you’ll have seen everything worth seeing there.

    Reminds me of the PvP cartoon where Cole and Francis are watching Episode I and flipping back and forth between the pod racer and and final battle. “This,” Cole tells Brent, “will restore our faith in Lucas.”



    “NANANANANANA we can’t hear you!”

  23. “Bad acting from decent actors? I chalk it up to the lack of sets.”
    Sin City was done on blue screen…

  24. I have held fast to the idea that the best thing Lucas can do for the Star Wars universe is die.

    Being married to an artist, I usually take the role of artist-wrangler. Far too often, I have had to nearly tackle her before she ‘just touches up’ a finished peice. These things quickly take on sysyphean proportions: The peice will never be finished to the artists liking. Each time the artist changes the painting/book/film, it alienates admiriers of the previous version(s).

    Not every change is for the worse, but nothing Lucas-related springs to mind just now.

  25. The second hardest thing for any creative person to do is START. Whatever the project may be – book, painting, film… you have to START doing it, and that’s hard to do.

    The hardest thing to do is to FINISH, and move on to the next START.

    If you can get those two down, you can do well as a creative person. Most creative people have trouble with these things. :)

  26. I don’t ever have trouble stopping. Most times, I can’t wait to do that. But I’ve long suspected I lack the perfectionist gene.

  27. “”Bad acting from decent actors? I chalk it up to the lack of sets.”
    Sin City was done on blue screen…”

    And I thought Sin City was pretty awful. Call me crazy, but the original comics were 100 times better. Didn’t need to see the comic on the big screen. Sin City to me was a failure because it didn’t do anything better or different than the comics. In fact, it did everything worse, and cut material. If you’re going to make a movie, make a movie, not a comic book with moving pictures. But this is an argument for a different day/thread.

    (I was the original Anonymous poster. Don’t know why the name didn’t post).

  28. Now here’s one thing I love about the Whatever: insight through juxtaposition.

    So, take John’s poor esteem for Revenge of the Sith, and cast it under the looming understanding of his adoption of his oh-so-groovy Apple computer. Does that make you think that perhaps Revenge of the Sith is kind of like Star Wars XP?

    No seriously. We all know that the real bedrock of Star Wars enduring cultural power is because it’s such a useful and broad set of metaphors. Even if you have always hated Star Wars and avoided it at all costs, you understand metaphors like “the Dark Side”, the “Force”, “I am your father”, and “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. And, what’s more, speak it you can. Mmmmm, yess. Just like wanting to interface with most companies I work with you must be able to use Windows. Sure, you can have an Apple at home or whatever, but you need Windows too. And XP is the latest and greatest, and without it in your arsenal you’re missing out.

    So, take a bunch of elements that are “good enough” for most people, throw in a killer app or two (James Earl Jone’s voice, and more fight scenes than you can shake a lightsaber at), et viola. In our keep-up-or-die culture, that makes Sith a must-see.

  29. It’s too bad you grew up into a sophisticated adult, John. Ask a bunch of kids or even teenagers today how they’ve liked the latest movies. All the ones I’ve asked are at least as geeked up about the latest trilogy as my generation was 20-25 yrs ago.

  30. I’m sure they are, Lycan. I’m sorry for them they don’t have a better level of mindless SF entertainment.

    Now, to be fair, the kids today definitely have a better class of action film than we did in the 80s. Aside from the occasional Michael Bay film, you almost never see anything as bad as “Cobra” or “Tango and Cash” anymore.

  31. “And I thought Sin City was pretty awful. Call me crazy, but the original comics were 100 times better. Didn’t need to see the comic on the big screen. Sin City to me was a failure because it didn’t do anything better or different than the comics. In fact, it did everything worse, and cut material. If you’re going to make a movie, make a movie, not a comic book with moving pictures. But this is an argument for a different day/thread.”

    I’ll wait for that thread, except to note that Rodrigeuz filmed each story in its entirety, then cut the movie to a reasonable length. The complete movies will be on the DVD.

  32. John, if you’re contending that all 6 Star Wars movies are approximately the same level of mindless (sic) SF entertainment, there’s no debate. Some people love sushi, others don’t; that’s a matter of taste.

    I am alternatively amused & annoyed by those who “loved” the first 3 movies (or maybe just the very first) but hate the following episodes for their long list of artistic grievances.

    When I watch those very first movies today, I spot any number of bad acting flubs, poor directing, campy dialogue etc. etc. ad nauseum. Today I am amazed that those earlier flicks so absolutely captured my young attention.

    Yet they were so damn fun to watch, over & over; then & now. Taken as a whole, every gaffe seems to dissolve away.

    I remember Silicon Pirates where a young Steve Jobs confronts Bill Gates about the MS ripoff of GUI O/S on cheap japanese PC’s. Steve insists over and over that his (Apple’s) stuff is better, Apple is going to win. “Our stuff is better!” he insists over & over.

    Gates: “It just doesn’t matter” and love him or hate him (I choose Hate on Gates) Gates was right.

  33. Bowler, Babylon 5 featured a lot of CG backgrounds (AIUI they often couldn’t afford to build real sets, at least to the specs JMS demanded), and yet it doesn’t seem to have affected the acting — there’s some great work in the series, and any bad acting seems to be the actors’ own.

  34. Good review, John, and pretty much right on.

    There’s a couple of things I’ll add: there’s a scene in which Portman and MacGregor are having a conversation that should be deeply moving, but it just falls flat. It’s leaden. Jackson is leaden. Christenson is leaden. How is it possible that Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson all suck? It isn’t. It’s the directing.

    In the scene where this is most obvious, Padme and Obi-Wan are talking about Anakin. It should be a strong scene, but both of them have terrible trouble with their lines because they’re so oddly paced, with big gaps between them. It just ruins the scene.

    The other thing is that Lucas has no idea how to photograph women. Natalie Portman, properly shot, will make the breath leave your body. Here, the best anyone can say is that she’s ‘cute’.

  35. “Bowler, Babylon 5 featured a lot of CG backgrounds (AIUI they often couldn’t afford to build real sets, at least to the specs JMS demanded), and yet it doesn’t seem to have affected the acting — there’s some great work in the series, and any bad acting seems to be the actors’ own.”

    Hey, I’m not saying no one can act against a blue screen, hell, Patrick Stewart can stand on a nearly blank stage and play every part of A Christmas Carol by himself, and do it with conviction.

    All I’m saying is that not everyone can. Add bad direction icing to the blue-screen acting cake, and you have a recipe for disaster.

  36. “I’ll wait for that [Sin City] thread…”

    John? Can you start a new blog entry about Sin City? Pretty please? ;)

  37. Lycan,

    When I watch those very first movies today,

    I watched the original this weekend. While I think I had heard that Lucas was aiming to copy the old time serials, I never really noticed how obvious that was until now.

    The music and the cuts were classic Saturday morning serial material, and people in the late 70s ate them up.

    The dialogue seemed better, though, and the pace never dragged.

  38. This film positively aches for Lawrence Kasdan and the magically exhumed Leigh Brackett to come on board and make the script what is so clearly wants to be;

    If you’re going to the graveyard, you might as well resurect LB’s husband Edmond Hamilton, too.
    Can you imagine the script those two would come up with?
    Crashing galaxies and great dialog too!

  39. Spoiler Alert:

    What ticked me off most about this movie was just how royally Portman’s character got ripped off in this movie. Lucas spends the first two movies building up Padme’s chracter as a take-charge kind of gal who’s not afraid to face life barrels blazing. Someone who could conceivably give birth to Leia, who’s the same sort of woman. And yet, as someone else mentioned, she spends most of Sith whining and crying her way through the film. Only to end up dying because “she loses the will to live” even though there’s nothing medically wrong with her…Um, WTF??? I’m sorry, but only a man could have written this. If a woman is giving birth to her child(ren) and there is nothing medically wrong with her (thanks to modern-day technology), once she hears those first cries of her baby NOTHING is going to prevent her from hanging on as long as she can to be a part of that child’s life. I could MAYBE have bought this if Padme were portrayed as a weak-willed sissy girl who only lived through her husband…but come ON. Not the Padme that was presented in the first two movies. Sheesh. I would have been much happier if they had just left it at Anakin’s attack injured her beyond saving…This way just seemed like one big contrived plot device to me…

    Er, okay…rant over now.

  40. Er…I just re-read what I wrote and I hope that my “only a man could have wrote this” comment doesn’t offend anyone…I honestly didn’t mean that to come out as sexist as it did…Perhaps I should have changed that to read “only someone who has never given birth to children or witnessed their own child being born could have written this.” That’s more along the lines of what I meant. Anyway…please don’t think I’m man-bashing! (At least, not in this particular instance.)

  41. As a confirmed Ginormous Star Wars Geek… I enjopyed this one a lot. I have lots of issues with the prequels in general though. Lucas really screwed himself on consistency and continuity among many other problems… but the biggest single issue I have with the prequels?

    If, taken as a “complete story”, all 6 films are view in proper chronological order (by someone who has never seen them before) the prequels actually make the original trilogy far worse movies than they are. Think about it. We meet Luke on Tatooine in Episode 4, and we go… Oh, hey thats Vader’s kid all grown up. Luke meets Yoda on Dagobah in Ep 5 and we go “Yay! Yoda!” Not… “Whats this little green thing?” followed soon by “THAT’s YODA?!?! Whoa!” All the myterious twists of the original trilogy are laid bare… I know it was for the most part unavoidable just by virtue of making prequels, but come on… he coulda done it far differently and preserved some of the magic.

  42. Return of the Jedi could be slightly redeemed if some of the dialogue were redubbed or re-recorded. This is easy as most of the offending dialogue comes from Vader (whose mouth is never seen) and Palpatine (who is already dressed for the part).

    Also, if Lucas must step on Sebastian Shaw in the final ghost scene, why not instead “morph” the three ghosts into their younger forms? Wouldn’t that have a bigger “tie-it-all-together” impact than just showing Hayden?

  43. Revenge of The Low Expectations

    Though I haven’t seen it yet, I’m injesting all manner of discussions about Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. John Scalzi offers a great subjective-objective review followed by great duscussion while Kevin Smith might have some fiscal/caree…

  44. I know this is a year later but I am really liking the first film dso far and becomming a big fan. I know your all haters but the dialog between the Jedi’s is very good. He’s actually a genius writer I think. :-) Jar Jar Binks!

    The reason I came back to this thread is I wanted to shore up some of the more articulate review sites on the subject. If I was Lucas I would be laughing muy ass off.

  45. And a year later.. I have just watched Sith for the first time since I saw it in the theatre. I tended to let the little gaffs and niggling things pass by and tried to enjoy the movie. What I really found difficult to swallow though was Anakins seduction by the dark side. I found the whole process of the Emperors seduction to be hamfisted and just not very convincing. Mr Lucas sure knows how to put on a good laserfight or adventure but when it comes to political intrigue and human nature when it comes to power, greed and motivation he should have brought someone else in to help. I understand Anakin wanted to save his Padme from the death in his dreams, but I dont think it would be enough to enthrall someone into usurping absolute power and destroying the Jedi Council. I would think the desire for absolute power would have been the driver for that in itself, I would have found more convincing the age-old desire for power rather than a sort of last ditch effort to potentially one-day learn the power of healing. In any event Padme dies, why doesnt Anakin then revert, yes it is rather too late to return things to how they were, but if the main reason for him moving to the Dark Side no longer exists anyway, whats the point in continuing.

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