Movie Review: Star Wars III – Return of the Exhaustion

Diehard Star Wars fans hate the new trilogy. It's important to realize why this has come to be. It's not the normal revulsion that comes with the release of the next blockbluster hitting movie theaters – the hate is deeper than the normal cultural laments that go with a "Independence Day" or "I, Robot" debuting to 3,000 screens. It's also not the mild betrayal one feels when a childhood icon is cashed out a second time through – be it Your Favorite Alternative Band Going Back Out on Tour or Your Favorite Childhood Cartoon Characters on Ice. For us, Star Wars has been all about action figures and soundtracks that the cashing out part of it doesn't even register – and besides, didn't Lucas already cash out by re-releasing the first three with 'new footage', and didn't we line up to see it?

Why is it then? Speaking as someone who fits the category (I adore the first three, and hate the first two parts of the new trilogy with a deep, deep passion), all I can compare it to is when you see a person you used to date and care about from a long time ago again and wonder "were you always this crappy? Were you this crappy when I was with you?" For people in their mid-to-late 20s, Star Wars was our childhood, and we care about it deeply. It wasn't mindless entertainment for us, nor was it another semi-good transitional object – we believed that there is something Excellent about the original trilogy; in fact it defines a lot of what we think of as movies.

I've always found theories about the popularity of Star Wars as a 'nostalgic film' for the mode of Buck Rogers and Boomer movie serials lacking, as people my age have no idea about the latter but adore the former. To us, for the original Star Wars to actually have been cheap, corny sci-fi mixed with some serial westerns made for a quick buck would completely knock out a supporting beam of our lives. Hence, the fact that the new movie has some good moments in it is a cause for a cultural celebration.

Less is more.

A surefire sign that either I'm getting old or movies are really starting to suck is the noise factor. It's what I couldn't stand about the endings of the past new Star Wars and the end of the third Matrix Рthere's a point with which past it's nothing but loud explosions and clich̩. Something important needs to get blown up, there are fireballs, some underdog dies heroically saving someone else, there's a showdown, nobody is the audience is really sure what is happening, and then all the characters get medals.

This is nothing new; the problem with these movies is how digital heavy they are. When working with models and puppets, it takes time to set up, and there is an imperative for restraint. When working with computer special effects programs, all you have to do is click on a mouse-button to draw another ship. As such, there is nothing stopping Lucas and company from filling out the screen with as much complexly moving and acting junk and noise as possible. As they are all created independent of the narrative, it doesn't advance any kind of thematic element. It's not a cinema aesthetic, it's a video-game one.

A good part of the first hour and a half of the movie is spent in this mode. Why have 5 ships shooting at each other when you can have 500? Why 10 robots? Why not 1,000, all doing their own thing? Though it sounds awe-inspiring, it is in practice mind-numbing. Watch the space battle – there's isn't a part of the screen with nothing on it. It's like watching 12 television sets all tuned to different channels side by side. Awful stuff.

But of course we didn't come here to see Christopher Lee doing backflips or to hear the strategy behind deciding that, my favorite line in the movie, "Master Yoda will take an army of clones to reinforce the Wookies." (!) We want to see Anakin turn into Darth Vader, the fall of the Jedi, and the (second-to-)last battle between Obi-Wan and Vader. That, I'm surprised to say, works pretty well.

Wait, more bad news

There are some more down points. Rumor has it that playwright Tom Stoppard was brought in to touch up the dialogue. I doubt he had anything to do with the cringe-inducing love scenes, but as a friend pointed out, but he may have made the final Obi-Wan / Anakin scene work. It's seems obvious to me that several people touched the script as the corruption of Anakin makes more or less sense depending on whom he is speaking with.

< (spoiler! spoiler!) >
And, getting back to the original problem of "was I duped as a kid?" was Darth Vader always that lame? That was sad, after watching the perfect surgery scene, to have him come out all frakenstein-y and speaking the same lame lines as Anakin was forced to read.
< / (spoiler! spoiler!) >

A good movie hidden in there somewhere towards the end.

There's an old Hollywood rule: Your movie can be awful as long as the last 15 minutes are excellent. Case in point: You'll forget how awful the the previous time was spent once Lucas gets the ball rolling. He appears to want to tell a story this time around that is independent of how much rendering and teraflopping his computers are capable of crunching. Though this may just be me, Ewan McGreggor takes over the Obi-Wan part perfectly, and watching him handle Anakin at the end is worth the price of admission alone. The feelings of dread and trying to find dignity in defeat are actually there.

I actually liked this movie more than I'm letting on, but it's one of those movies where you want to list off your compliants as you are walking out the door. It may age better than I'd expect it to, and with dvd chapter marks to skip over the cringe, could be a worthwhile experience. If this movie was the first to come out, nobody would notice it – as it is the last to come out, it's a nice farewell to old friends.

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21 Responses to “Movie Review: Star Wars III – Return of the Exhaustion”

  1. Ed Says:

    I like how they refuse to give up on the idea of trying to put romantic subplots on screen. The Portman-Christensen stuff in the second movie was just horrendous; glad to her they brought back a second helping. It's a good thing the movies take place in space, because no character Lucas has written bears any resemblance to one that might exist on Earth.

    Overall, I think we were duped as kids. Episode IV has some of the worst acting you'll ever see – Buck Rogers would be a kind comparison. Episode VI is 35% dancing Ewoks. I think the key was that the parts of the first trilogy that were good managed to be SO good that they make you overlook how George Lucas has never been able to write a script that doesn't resemble bad english translations from another language.

  2. erik Says:

    I honestly believe that the dialog in the romantic scene on the hill in episode two can only indicate that George Lucas had never spoken to a woman before in his life.

  3. RC Says:

    Umm… I can't say I'm surprised about the dialogue in the love scenes. However, the rest of the film does pretty well in providing a lead-in to episode 4. Good flick.

  4. Ambrosini Says:

    I liked this the best out of the new trilogy (not hard to say). I don't seem to understand everyone's complaints about the use of CGI though. If Lucas had access to the tools he has now back during the original trilogy it would look just like the new one. I just read an interview with Lucas and he went on saying how he is really disapointed with episode IV, V, and VI more than the new ones because he was so limited back then with what he could do.

    But in the end does it really matter what we think about the movies? They are his and he has made enough money off of them to buy all of our souls.

  5. Schneider Says:

    As I've been saying since the first episode came out, the worst thing that has ever happened to George Lucas is making so much money that he no longer needs anyone else. Normally, I don't agree that artists should have their vision compromised but if this was Lucas' vision from Episode IV on, then I think we just have to thank the heavens that he wasn't unfettered back then and move past these movies as quickly as possible.

  6. Ed Says:

    George Lucas = Jerry Lewis.

    Episode II = The Day the Clown Cried

  7. mike Says:

    Ambrosini – if he had made the originals now they'd stink. And not just because of the timing. quick example (putting on my geek helmet) – First Star Wars, Han Solo runs around the corner charging stormtroopers to find 6 actors playing stormtroopers rallied and shooting back. For the 'special edition' it's like 100, computer generated. The new edition looks awful, and feels awful to watch. cringe worthy. There's something about having actual actors playing parts instead of computer generation. (off helmet).

  8. mike Says:

    Ed – I just rewatched Episode I on TV this past weekend and thought it was possibly worse than II. Not just Jar-Jar, but that all "we must form an alliance with the Gugan people" and that fish Prime Minister, to the Gungan army battle, to a speedracer chase, to Anakin's mother giving birth to him as a virgin, The Force being the father (!!!). Lame.

  9. Ed Says:

    I don't know, there's just something about Episode II that is completely and utterly pointless, making it nearly impossible for me to watch the movie without turning it off. And the introduction of the romantic subplots is an extra strike against it. And the whole Clone Army thing is just so stupid. These Jedi can read fucking minds across a million miles of space, yet somehow they're clueless about everything that goes on around them in Episode II.

    Episode I at least had the pod racing scene, which gives it the advantage of having had at least 5 entertaining minutes in it. I like the way that scene looked.

  10. erik Says:

    Just to point out. Episode 3 just beat all existing opening day box office records. I would like to know if historically there has ever been a movie that so many people have said "I don't care if its terrible, I am going to see it anyway."

  11. Dave Says:

    Episode 1 came out when I was still quite young, and I thought it was OK. The bits where people talked weren't that great, but you can't have everything.

    Episode 2 was so bad it made my liver fail. If I ever need to work myself into some sort of towering frenzy, and I do, I just think of that film. I haven't been to see the new one yet. I will, I just don't really feel that desperate too. As a man that owns a plush Yoda, that's a strange and sad feeling.

  12. Ed Says:

    I wonder to what degree our perceptions are altered by having the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a point of reference. I mean, George Lucas should look at those 3 films, compare them to his own work, and feel deeply ashamed.

  13. K Says:

    That's a good point, Ed (directly above), and one I hadn't thought of. As someone who read the Tolkiens in jr high and then forgot all about them (but conversely, loved Episodes IV-VI so much that I actually read Star Wars novels), I instinctively recoil from comparing the two. Nonetheless it's instructive: the Rings trilogy makes great effort to use humans for lots of non-human parts, and works hard to disguise its use of technology, appropriately for a story that's often read as critical of Britain's industrial coming of age. Obviously the SW universe was created with a love for and belief in the power of technology, whether that's a CGI Jabba the Hut or the very idea of a Clone War, but it still references fairy-tale archetypes that are all about community vs. individuality and require real human interaction (which is exactly *not* what Lucas accomplishes through his romantic dialogue). In the first trilogy, acting and interpretation, as bad as they were sometimes, were still paramount, and the sheer eagerness is a kind of authenticity that wins me over to this day. Without them, Lucas betrays his ostensible themes.

  14. mike Says:

    erik – Movie sales are down 10% this year, and there is no savior in sight with the exception of this Star Wars. I was actually tempted the past two weeks to go and see any old crappy mass market movie; and there is nothing to see.

    I think people want to see movies, but there is just nothing to see. even with the lowest of expectations.

  15. erik Says:

    that is definately the truth. I can think of a number of times that I have wanted to see a move with nothing out there. Several times Valerie and I have actually driven to the theater only to get depressed and not actually go.

    However, I was impressed with Hitchhikers Guide.

  16. RC Says:

    I'll disagree with the "Star Wars" as the only saviour this summer for the movie industry.

    "Batman Begins," "War of the Worlds," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," and in the fall the new installment in the Harry Potter saga. "Fantastic Four" doesn't look bad, either, and "Sin City" carried its share of the load, considering its content.

    No pity from me the movie industry will get.

  17. no milk Says:

    oh no! you just ruined the whole movie for me!!!!

    no you didn't :)

  18. jon Says:

    Honestly I was never too fond of the star wars trilogy and, I dare say the older ones were better. When I saw this movie(having rented it) I found myself falling asleep for the first hour of the movie. I found the battle scenes with 100s of ships shooting(sorry Im star wars retarded) chaotic. Overall, I think it was a flop.

  19. Tyler Kulik Says:

    Can't wait to obtain the latest star wars theme on my Tom Tom GPS. Looks like It is fantastic!

  20. Silas Bolding Says:

    I really like the new star wars adidas video. It really made me laugh.

  21. Damien Durkins Says:

    Did you read about the thief in NY dressed up as Darth Vader who held up a bank? Seems like the opening of a gag but it was genuine!