Ok, here’s the real Star Wars post…

I like Sarah Bunting’s writing, whether it’s in Tomato Nation or Television Without Pity, but boy did she miss the point of Revenge of the Sith.

For those of you who haven’t seen SW: Episode III yet (or haven’t read the script online months ago) and care about such things – WARNING: Here there be spoilers…

Sarah is all in a fuss about the conflicting motivations behind Anakin Skywalker’s decision to abandon his friends (and while he’s at it, chop up some children with his lightsaber) and turn to the dark side of the force. And based on her reading of the character of Anakin/Darth Vader she’s right. His decision to turn doesn’t make sense. But I think she’s reading the character wrong and vastly underestimating George Lucas.

If Lucas was trying to tell a conventional story, which is what Ms. Bunting is assuming, then conventional motivations would be required for his characters. And based upon the original three Star Wars movies you would be right to expect a conventional story. But Mr. Lucas stopped trying to tell a conventional story when he finish the original trilogy. At least that’s my humble opinion. Lucas puts the words “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” in the mouth of the fallen Anakin as he’s about to fight his former mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, to the death and doesn’t go for the more predictable cliche’ that Sarah would prefer of “If you’re not with me, you’re against me,” on purpose. It’s not clumsiness or a lack of familiarity with literary and filmic convention on the part of Mr. Lucas that leads him to this leaden construction, as Ms. Bunting suggests. George picked those words for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he’s trying to avoid accusations of using his film to beat up on George W. Bush, who memorably uttered the phrase Ms. Bunting prefers in the weeks following the 9/11/01 attacks. Secondly, Lucas is showing us how unhinged the newly fallen Anakin is.

The second bit is the more important here. One of the things I was struck with was the paranoia that Anakin Skywalker’s character exhibited throughout not only Revenge of the Sith, but in watching Attack of the Clones again over the weekend noted it there too. Anakin is a troubled lad. He lashes out verbally twice in AOTC that Obi Wan is holding him back and that he’s more powerful than Obi Wan or the Jedi Council realizes. Both may be true, but the way he frames it is not as an impatient adolescent chomping at the bit to be master of his own life but as someone who is consumed by arrogance, self-absorbed and very probably mentally unbalanced. We get more of the same in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin sees every obstacle the Council places in his path of advancement as a conspiracy and an act of fear on the part of the Council. This is why he was so easily played by Darth Siddious/Chancellor Palpatine and turned to the dark side – he was already halfway there on his own. Remember, even as a small child Yoda was troubled by Anakin and saw danger in training him. Likewise Mace Windu.

For me, Revenge of the Sith not only closes the loop on the Star Wars saga, it reframes the entire story. Episodes IV, V & VI are no longer about the hero’s journey of Luke Skywalker or the victory of the Rebellion, they are the story of the path of redemption of Anakin Skywalker. At the end of Return of the Jedi we see the Emperor say to Luke that he is now more powerful than his father, Darth Vader, and should he cut him down he could take his place at the Emperor’s side. When Luke refuses the Emperor lashes out to destroy him and Vader/Anakin suddenly sees the error of his ways and destroys the Emperor and redeems himself. That redemption seemed odd and off-balance the first time I saw it, but looking back on it now it makes perfect sense. It took that long for Anakin to see the deception of the Emperor. Having seen Palpatine/Siddious tell the tale of how he betrayed his own master and destroyed him to young Anakin I can practically see the older Darth Vader re-running that conversation in his mind, realizing that Obi Wan, Yoda and Mace Windu were right about the dark side and the Sith. The entire story arc of Star Wars has now been transformed.

Maybe that’s what’s bothering Sarah Bunting and others who’ve complained about the prequels. They don’t want the Star Wars saga to change. They want the wholly bad, relentlessly evil Darth Vader who first steps out of the smoke on Princess Leia’s ship in the opening battle of Episode III to be that dimestore villain they grew up with. That he might just be a sad and lonely boy who is not playing with a full deck of cards wrecks it for them. Personally, I like the bigger story. And I do agree with Sarah that the final 20 minutes of ROTS is pure gold. No one could paint a picture like that better than George Lucas.

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