Sunday, May 22, 2005

Revenge of the Sith and the Nature of Vader's Evil

I caught the matinee yesterday, and it was nice not to be too crowded. I was a little worried about the large number of kids in the audience, but once the movie started they were too rapt to make excessive noise. There were no costumes at our show, but on the way out we did spot a Vader and an Obi-Wan, as well as one lonely Darth Maul.

As far as the movie goes, I was much more on the side of A. O. Scott from the Times, who claimed that this was better than Episode IV, than of the Instapundit, who didn't think much of it. The special effects were good, but what really struck me was Anakin's fall to the Dark Side. I thought Lucas did a good job in creating a convincing motivation for why Anakin would go over. After watching the first two prequels, I was really concerned whether Lucas would be able to pull this off. I liked how he did it. First, set it up so that Anakin has a terrible fear that his lover is going to die in childbirth. Then, let the Jedi, including Obi-Wan, be pretty much the last place Anakin can turn for guidance. Finally, enter Palpatine, who apparently has been waiting a long time to turn the powerful but unstable Jedi.

In relation to this, one thing that I haven't really seen commented on too much is how much of Anakin's turn to the Dark Side is based on a lie. Palpatine clearly implies that if Anakin studies the Dark Side, he will be able to save Padme's life, just like the wise Sith lord who gained the power of life and death. But once Anakin has killed Mace Windu and basically passed the point of no return, Palpatine tells him that only one man has had the power over life and death, but he is sure that if they work together they can discover it. This is a long way from what he implied to Anakin before, and not particularly comforting to someone who is worried about a childbirth that will occur relatively soon. But by then, Anakin has become Vader and has irrevocably thrown in his lot with the soon-to-be Emperor. Thus, the Vader we see in the original Star Wars movies is actually a more tragic character in his origin than you would necessarily assume, and his last act of saving Luke makes perfect sense.

The other thing that was fascinating was the cumulative nature of the evil that Anakin does. Palpatine manages to set the situation up with Mace Windu so that Anakin has to make a choice. When Anakin chooses to side with Palpatine and kills Windu, he has crossed, as I say above, the point of no return. After that, he is pretty much forced by his own decision farther down the path to evil, which progresses from slaughtering the Jedi in their temple to facing off against his own best friend and choking his pregnant wife. It is very easy to see how in each new situation his previous choices exert a great deal of pressure on him, and each new evil choice increases the weight on him to continue on his evil path.

To me, this is what made the movie so powerful. It wouldn't have been as tragic if Anakin had been a evil-natured person to begin with, or if he had been power hungry and exploited in that way. Instead, Palpatine takes advantage of Anakin's desire to do something that is fundamentally good -- to save his wife. By using this motivation, Lucas shows, whether intentionally or not, how good intentions uncoupled from moral choices can lead to monstrous results. I found the last half hour to forty-five minutes of the movie, as everything unraveled and all happiness was crushed under clone boots, to be some of the most riveting I have seen.

The movie did have its annoying moments of bad dialogue or characters, including the completely unimpressive General Grievous and every of dialogue from a droid. However, it didn't have any Jar Jar Binks or love scene on Naboo elements that were sufficient to derail the movie. The plot was solid, and the motivations of the characters came through pretty clearly, althought sometimes this was in spite of the acting. Overall, I really liked it, and I thought it was comparable in terms of plot and emotional power to the movies of the original trilogy.


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