At almost exactly 12:15 this morning, I suddenly became incredibly sad.
No, it wasn't because I was sitting in a movie theater, surrounded by folks dressed up like Jedis, Sith Lords, Imperial Guards, Galactic Princesses, Rebel Fighters and (bizarrely) one dude dressed like Julius Caesar. It wasn't because, moments before, a half dozen teenagers and full-grown adults were staging mock battles (some painstakingly choreographed) with fancy toy lightsabers at the front of the theater, and it wasn't because Shannon's camera phone couldn't capture any of it 'cause the light was too low.
It was because at 12:15, after previews for Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Cinderella Man, I heard this:
"Dum dum duh daaaah daah, da do de daaaah daah, da do de daaaah daah, da do de duuummmm..."
for the last time.
Okay, so I'm being a bit melodramatic. I'll hear John Williams' soaring Star Wars Main Title another several hundred times before I die, no doubt. I own all the DVDs, and I'm certain these movies will be re-released every decade or so (with updated special effects and cheesy added scenes, no doubt) until I die. But, for the last time, that theme brought me into a new chapter in the Star Wars saga, which, as everyone who knows me is aware, was the driving force of my formative years.
I sat back in my chair, clasped my wife's hand (my lovely, accommodating wife who, though a Star Wars fan herself, would never be at the midnight show of her own volition and was there only to support my geeky obsession), and, with slightly watery eyes, let the power of the Force wash over me.
I wish I could say Revenge of the Sith was a fantastic movie. But, somehow, knowing this was the last one ever, my body didn't become as foolishly drunk with the Force as it has during previous films. Somehow, for the first hour of the movie at least, I remained detached, almost (shudder) objective.
The bad news first: Lucas is still a terrible dialogue writer, and a ham-fisted director. Even in a theater packed with rabid fans, two or three lines in the film drew groans from a large part of the audience. And despite a cast of actors whose skills range from capable to extraordinary (Hayden Christiansen and Sam Jackson on one end and Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman on the other), two-thirds of the exposition is delivered so woodenly that it might as well have just been part of the scrolling text at the beginning. Particularly offensive, for the second time, are the "tender" moments between Portman's Padme and Christiansen's Anakin. And, in a new twist, Lucas goes gangbusters over digital actors, even in places where real-live people in suits (clone troopers, anyone?) would have been not only acceptable, but far more logical. And General Grievous, the alien/machine hybrid who was so scary in the Clone Wars cartoons? A wheezing, almost laughable disappointment. And I could really, really have done without the Vader/Frankenstein/Kahn moment (you'll know it when you see it). There are other minor quibbles as well, but nothing that, based upon the last two films, is unexpected.
Still, for all Lucas's fumbling, despite all the niggling problems which keep it from being a truly great film, I still loved this movie. Ah, the saga of the Jedi, and the politics of empire (and a hefty dose of pseudo-liberal propaganda -- music to my ears, but maybe not to everyone's). The movie opens with a spectacularly dizzying space battle unlike anything we've seen in the previous five movies -- beautifully rendered and choreographed -- really, beyond description. (All the effects in the film look absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, I'm not a special effects for the sake of special effects guy, but this stuff is absolutely breathtaking.) Moments later, a frantic three-way lightsaber battle between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Darth Tyrannus, and a spectacular crash-landing. Then, after a wooden (but important) half-hour of exposition, more Jedis, space battles, clone troopers, wookiees (!) and, finally, Anakin's dramatic turn to the Dark Side.
The high points in this film were dizzying, for me. When Mace Windu, Kit Fisto and pals arrived to arrest Chancellor Palpatine, the tension in the theater was thick and heavy. (Sadly, Sam Jackson and Ian McDarmid seem to be acting in different movies, but oh, the lightsabers!) Anakin's slaughter of the Jedis in the temple (even the little "younglings") is brutal and surprising, even though you know it is coming. The betrayal of the Jedi by their clone troopers, simple and brief, is heart-wrenching. And the desperation in Yoda and Obi-Wan when they realize they are likely the last remaining Jedi, and must confront the emperor and his new pupil -- we just haven't seen anything like that in a Star Wars movie before.
But there are four real pinnacles in this movie for me. The first isn't anything that happens in the fim, it's just Yoda himself. Yoda in this film is amazing. ILM has finally caught up to Weta's work with Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films. I'm a huge Yoda fan anyway, but he was so ... real ... in this film that somehow just watching him breaks your heart. The second is the battle between Yoda and Palpatine on the Senate floor. Yoda in action always brings a lump in my throat (like i said, I'm a Yoda kid, through and through), but watching him get brutally beaten by Palpatine and flee ("I have failed. Go into hiding I must.") -- I don't think I blinked the entire time. The third is the infamous battle on Mustafaar between Obi-Wan and Anakin -- the battle we kids have been waiting for for decades. The fight is dizzying, long, and exquisitely choreographed, and Vader's traumatic ending/beginning is surely what won the film it's much-talked-about PG13 rating. When Anakin, flesh burning and flaking off what is left of his body, screams "I hate you!," for the first time I believed that Hayden Christiansen's awkward character could become the Darth Vader which haunted my childhood. This final lightsaber battle in the Star Wars saga is exactly what all of us sweaty fan boys needed it to be.
It was the fourth moment, the final in the film, which affected me most, though. In that last scene, Obi-Wan steps down from his alien camel thing onto the sands of Tatooine, and hands a newborn baby Luke to a young Beru. She carries it to young Owen Lars, dressed almost exactly as we remember from the original film, who is standing next to his home, on the same rock outcropping where we first met Luke, staring at the heavens with his binoculars, in 1977. They stand for a moment, the sun setting behind them as Obi-Wan walks away, and they both turn their heads to the stars.
And there it ends. Back where we started. That's where I actually cried, just a little. That's where I wished I could go back to 1977, to myself as a four-year-old, and watch it all again, with wide-eyed wonder. For 28 years I've held the Star Wars universe in my heart, in a little locked place filled with childhood delight. I will keep it there, always. But never again will I bring it out in anticipation of the next chapter in the story which ruled my childhood. Something important ended for me last night. That it was still important, after all these years, after the Jar Jars and Dookus and Ewoks and Midichlorians is a testament to the lasting power of Lucas's story. However angry I've been at him over these last few years, over the Podraces and Greedo shooting first and the friggin' Gungans, however much I wish he'd have turned the writing and directing over to another, as he did for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, this saga is a large part of who I am, and I am forever grateful to him for creating it and finishing it, to my parents for taking me to see it (again and again and again), and that I was born at the right time, in the right place, to grow up a Star Wars kid.