Sunday, 13 December 2015
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
The prequel series is marked by a conceptual dithering. George Lucas invokes certain themes and ideas but only in a superficial way, so you end up wondering if the insinuation was even intentional. Big, interesting topics exist only as suggestions, colouring the edges of incessantly bland, inhuman exchanges that defy any sense of personal identification. In The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones it's clear to the audience that the Jedi are not an infallible collective. Their robotic behaviour doesn't mark them as intergalactic samurai, it's an obvious, preventable flaw that is very clearly sowing the seeds of their eventual downfall.
In this respect Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is a marked improvement. It's an iterative instalment that at least attempts to address some of the phase's issues. Most immediately this means giving Anakin Skywalker someone to talk to who is sympathetic to his experience. Skywalker doesn't hold conversations, he bubbles over, spewing venom and invective at whoever is near, usually his mentor Obi-Wan or his wife Senator Amidala. Revenge gives him someone prepared to talk through his thinking rather than just pull a grim face and try and forget he's ever spoken at all.
Ian McDiarmid's Palpatine fills a crucial role for Skywalker. He offers guidance and understanding. He doesn't criticise Anakin for his feelings, he sympathises and congratulates him. Palpatine wins Skywalker's heart by positively reinforcing behaviour that will be useful come their insurrection. Anakin has never had a father figure in his life and none of the Jedi seem willing to take on the role. The late Qui-Gon came closest but the senior Jedi who've followed are either dogmatic and numb or openly contemptuous. On the rare occasion that any of them do attempt to engage with their messiah on a personal level, they assault him with infuriating rhetoric that condemns his feelings.
Palpatine is the opposite. He flatters and encourages Anakin's violence. He's a friend who claims to understand the dark, terrible humanity that lurks inside this young man. Not only is this what Anakin wants, it's exactly what the film needs. The coupling reinvigorates Revenge. Suddenly there's a foothold for emotional investment. The two conspire, Palpatine slowly seducing Anakin and taking an almost sexual delight in his apprentice's moral decay. He's Dracula basically, an impossibly old evil that feeds off youth and turmoil. All told, the Star Wars prequels are a peculiar set of films. George Lucas has built three-acts around a vapid, hollow monster desperate for love and direction. They'd be wonderful if they weren't so dull.