2:45 PM, Southdale AMC theater #4, center row, unobstructed view. Star Wars.

If you’re my age, you probably saw the first one in theater. If you share my infantile interests, you probably saw it five times. (Saw it 12 times myself.) So the blue words, the invocation if you will, bring many strange and fleeting emotion. You can’t help thinking who you were then, where you were, what it was like, how little has changed, how much. It wipes the slate clean, those words. Then the CRASH of the brass - that famous chord you could play for a hundred people and they’d never remember the top note that really makes it work - and you’re back where you have been five times before: listening to the stirring theme, reading bad prose. WAR! The crawl begins, helpfully noting that “Evil is everywhere.” Yes, well, that’ll happen. The movie begins with drums beating the rhythm of a galley-slave master, setting the tempo for the men chained to the oars. The camera sweeps over a ship; two little fighters buzz alongside . . . then we see the battle below.

Uh – wow. How Episode one start? Right, trade negotiations. Episode two started out with that Naboo transport pulling a Pinto. This, however – this is good. There was no way the eye could take it all in; you’re just stunned by overkill. Sets the tone for most of the film, which contains so many astonishing scenes of beauty and detail that all you can do is revert to drooling gratitude, and wait for the DVD so you can hit pause. Overall impression: I didn’t love half of it. Didn’t hate any of it. The manifold deficiencies were expected and easily borne. The payoffs paid off. Disconnected observations follow.

When you switch to the Dark Side, do you have to go to Sith HR to fill a bunch of forms? If the Jedi Council finds out you’re looking to switch sides, they send guards to make you empty out your desk and escort you out – or at least they used to. Apparently the fired guy always did a backflip once they were outside and decapitated the guards.

If you’re going to be using a lot of Force Lightning, you’re going to want a good moisturizer. It’s hell on the gums too, apparently. Forget about brushing and flossing, pal – they don’t call it the Dark side for nothing.

Only in a George Lucas movie can a 55-year old Senator kick Samuel L. Jackson’s ass.

Didn’t see all the political overtones, perhaps because I wasn’t in a mood to look for them. Expecting pithy pointy political insight from Lucas is like reading transcripts of Spongebob episodes to learn about perils and stresses on the marine ecosystem. But before the fight on the Molten Lava Planet – where any metal object exposed 24/7 can nevertheless be firmly grasped without incident – Darth says to Obi:

“You’re either with me or you’re my enemy.”

Obi sighs. The sun is behind him, so we know he’s in the right here. “Only Siths deal in absolutes,” he says.

Well, Obster, you’re not with him, right? And you’ve come to kill him, right? So Darth has a point. One might say that the Jedi failure to deal in absolutes, such as make absolutely sure Vader is absolutely dead instead of leaving him to bake like a tater tot left overnight in the broiler machine, might have served everyone well.

What, it took 18 years to build the Death Star? The thing’s already framed up by the time Annakin gets fitted for his murder suit. Apparently not even Force Pull can get the contractors to show up when they say they will.

Re: Naboo Senator gestation periods. Apparently they don’t show for six months, then swell up like infected tonsils in the last week. They’re also able to give birth with their legs clamped together, to judge from the device they clamped over Padme in the sickbay.

Re: Coruscant apartment codes. The architecture of the city is one of those giddy treats for city geeks. All those sleek Moderne towers and endless urban canyons. One of the best sequences consisted of Vader and Padme looking into the city, considering their fates; the camera moved slowly between the towers, for no particular reason; what, do the astral project when troubled? But any excuse for a flythrough. It’s just a cool place. But. BUT. For God’s sake, why aren’t there any railings anywhere? You build a docking pad so people can visit your 127th floor apartment, but you don’t build a railing? It’s windy up there. I’d get out of my car and crawl on my belly to the porch, and I wouldn’t stand up until I saw something I could grab. Like the hostess.

Re: the Clone Army tactics. Let’s review: the enemy lives in a pit. A hole – in - the- ground. Do you a) MOAB the joint from space, followed up by gigantic shrapnel-dispersing bombs that shred the robot army, followed by a few big EMP bursts just to be sure nothing works, or B) send the troops into the hole to engage in firefights with the robots – who are fighting on their home turf and dug into a strategically superior defensive position. Added note: YOU’RE EVIL. So it’s A. Ah, you say, they weren’t evil yet. This was before the army turned, so they had to act like they gave a crap about the white-faced woody-headed people with the sideways teeth.

I love Yoda. I really do. Especially when he gets that mean look. Even though he reminds me of a cranky old man who finds his favorite stool at Denny’s is occupied by some high schoolers. People forget what a crappy death he had in Episode 6 – essentially, Luke went back to the Swampy Planet to check up on him, and he expires in a scene that had all the emotional impact of a wet shoe drying in the hot sun. Why? Because bucket kicking in the trilogy part of the last had someone to, I guess. There was a scene in Ep3 where Yoda crawled through a Jeffries Tube, and you could feel all the nerd antennae in the room twitch a little; this is what we want, after all. The big huge great spaces are nice, but we also dig the infrastructure. The utility closets. The junction boxes. The places that seem real and ordinary. (Except for the CGI troll scampering along the ductwork, that is.) I’m not the first to note this, but Yoda did more acting than the real people.

I know I shouldn’t blame the performers for any acting done under the Lucas baton, but Jimmy Smits just gives off the air of someone playing a nobleman in “Zorro in the 24th Century.”

Didn’t completely buy the transition to the dark side for Annakin, and that’s because Hayden didn’t really fit the role for me this time. His boasting and anger still had that sullen petulant edge. Petulance leads to whininess. Whininess leads to slammed doors. Slammed doors lead to cursing. Cursing leads to grounding. By the time Ep 3 rolled around, he should have had more swagger, more dead-eyed grins, more signs of the black sea of pain and fear raging in his heart. As it was, it seemed like he joined the Sith because they had a better medical plan.

Not enough Wookies. And I don’t see them as the kind of guys who’d use a bowcaster, frankly; they seem more like shotgun types. You would not want to fight an army of a pissed off Wookies with shotguns. I bet they drink, too. They’re probably always drunk all the time, which is why their language seems so incoherent; for all we know they’re not saying anything at all, just yelling. Because they’re all hammered.

As with Episode 5, the last third redeemed the entire movie. The execution of the Jedi had an emotional quality absent in the rest of the series – it seemed to borrow from any number of other, better movies, although I couldn’t quite tell you which. Credit Williams for his score here, and credit the direction and editing. Star Wars works best when it’s a silent movie with orchestral accompaniment, and this was one of those moments. Especially the scene with the kids. Aw, he’s not gonna, is he? Well, it’s not like he didn’t polish his tot-cleaving skills when he went up against Team Tuscan. The battle on the Planet of Theatrically Erupting Lava was peerless, and a marvel to see. It was all a marvel to see, and hear – the sound design was peerless again – and this kept you from disengaging entirely when it got talky. Lucas writes in storyboard chunks; no one talks, they just stand still and intone plot points. You become so accustomed to this that when something actually works, it really works. Like Darth’s screaming hatred towards Obi-Wan as he laid burning on the shore. Like Obi-Wan’s venting in the same scene: dammit, kid, you were supposed to be the Messiah, and you end up as Pontius Judas, and not only is everything truly screwed, with my clubhouse on fire and all my friends dead and a mad bastard whose face looks like Jabba’s back in charge of all the fun stuff. It was the emotional high point of the entire series – or so you thought, because you knew it would end soon. How, you couldn’t guess.

Well, it ends in sadness and doom. Padme’s funeral cortege had an august gloomy beauty so great you didn’t even mind Jar-Jar appearing for 3.9 seconds. Organa takes back Little Carrie Fisher to his wife, and as you look at their planet you know it’s all going to be rubble in a few decades. All of it. Vader strides the bridge of the Exectutor in a scene that brings back the pleasures of “Empire Strikes Back” – you see the officers in their grey uniforms and you know they all speak in British accents. He looks out at the Death Star with Darth “In” Sidious, unaware both with perish on v. 2. Finally, Luke is left with his aunt and uncle, both of whom will end up crisped to perfection by xeroxed Bobas many years down the line. But. They stand on the berm – a hillock which manages to be unchanged throughout the decades on a windy sand planet– and cradle the child as they face the setting suns. It’s where Luke stood and dreamed of a life as thrilling as the music that accompanied the scene; it’s where Annakin stood before he scooter off to find Mom and carve some Tuskan Chunks. The entire destiny of the galaxy comes down to this place, more or less. With grief explicit and promise implied, the movie ends.

And I coughed and wiped my cheeks and stood up and left. We’re finished with that now. It’s done and it’s over.

At least until the extended DVD comes out.

Perm link: here.

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