Hokey space opera or brilliant cliffhanger?

By M.V. Moorhead

It startled me to realize, a few days ago, that I was 15 years old when the original Star Wars came out, in 1977.

Just shy of three decades later, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the movie which completes the six-chapter saga, finds me more than 20 pounds heavier, balding, graying and generally, alas, resembling Yoda a good deal more than I do Luke Skywalker.

It’s hard for me to avoid this personal take. For many people (especially boys) of my generation, the advent of the original Star Wars was a sort of benign version of the Kennedy-assassination moment: We not only remember the first time we saw it, we even remember where we were the first time we heard of it.

Two sequels followed—The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983—and then George Lucas, the mastermind of the series, took a long break, ostensibly to allow special-effects technology to catch up with the sort of spectacle that he had in mind.

This interregnum wasn’t idle, however—through various video releases and theatrical re-releases throughout the ‘90s, the films were tweaked and revised and refurbished, both to update the special effects and to make the series more consistent from chapter to chapter.

Then, of course, came the prequels—The Phantom Menace in 1999 and Attack of the Clones in 2003, and now Revenge of the Sith.

What’s easy to lose sight of is that this amazing 28-year enterprise has not been in service of a pyramid or a cathedral or a bridge to the moon, but rather of the most lavish, and most gradual, cliffhanger serial in the history of cinema.

And strictly in terms of dramatic content, the Star Wars pictures, with their insipid dialogue, obvious plotting, cornball humor and highly variable acting, are no more sophisticated than Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

The object of all that obsessive artistry and technology, all that staggering expense and marketing and merchandising, all that fan fixation and speculation unprecedented in the history of pop culture is, in the end, six hokey space operas.

I’ve seen the new film—it was, indeed, after the screening that these uncomfortable reflections came upon me. But the Code of the Movie Critic, almost as strict as that of the Jedi Knights, forbids me from fully reviewing it until it has opened, which unfortunately happens in the middle of this issue’s publication week.

What I can do is suggest that those who, like me, were underwhelmed by Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, with their dry, ponderous exposition and their needlessly overcomplicated plots, should not despair of Revenge of the Sith.

The new film, which depicts the founding of the Empire, the thwarting of the Jedi Knights, and the final transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, offers the satisfactions of artful dovetailing—of seeing the pieces of a potent myth fall into place.

It’s a triumph of backstory, and its Wagnerian finale might just make you feel, if for only a few minutes, like the person you were back in 1977, or the person you hoped you’d be in 2005.