Sith Satisfies My Inner Star Wars Child
you’ve probably read most of the reviews for “Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge
Of The Sith.” This film, supposedly the final one in the Star Wars saga
created by George Lucas, shattered box office records. And for the most
part, the critics have been favorable to Lucas’ swan song for Jedi Knights
and Sith Lords. George redeemed himself on this prequel, and Star Wars fans,
it seems, are grateful, including this fan.
It’s been 28 years since I saw “Star Wars” at the now-demolished Plitt City
Center Theatre in Orange, California. I was nine years-old at the time of
its release, and I had heard about this weird, wonderful film from my
schoolmates. They said there was a girl with a snail-like hairdo, a walking
bear-like creature called Chewbacca, and this dude named Darth Vader who was
very mean to everybody in outer space. I had to see this film. And once I
did, like so many people in the summer of ’77, I was captivated and
entertained. I cheered for Luke, Leia & Han. I jumped out of my seat when
thunderous sound effects roared over the 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo
soundtrack. I nearly stood on top of my seat when the Death Star blew up.
What an experience and what a movie.
I became an early Star Wars “geek.” I pleaded with my friend, who owned a
storybook/album of the film to play the LP. Eventually, he became fed up
with me and said, “All you do is talk about that stupid movie!” I didn’t
think it was stupid. Though I didn’t dress in Luke Skywalker pajamas and
carry a light saber, the film still had an impact on me. What intrigued me
about it wasn’t so much the world Lucas created, but how his world moved
audiences. Seems odd that such a young kid would think of something like
that, but I did.
Yes, I got the Star Wars toys and posters later on. My parents even had two
of the posters professionally framed. I still have them. And I grew up
watching “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return Of The Jedi.” I’ve always
felt, from the day I saw “Empire,” that it was superior to “Star Wars.” It
was artistic, yet accessible for a kid, and it was dark in contrast to the
first film. But I recall schoolmates in junior high saying that the movie
was “okay,” and also hearing them blow the big surprise about who Luke’s
father really was. Ironic that today, “Empire” is considered the best in the
entire series of films.
“Jedi” was the weakest, and I was fairly disappointed in it. Too much was
going on in the story, and damn it, why did George have to kill off Vader?
And those Ewoks…. But, it was still entertaining and minus some of the
quibbles, a good film. Then Lucas put out those Ewok television films. Not
quite Star Wars, there.
It would seem like I’d never see another Star Wars film. Lucas had embarked
on expanding ILM, Skywalker Sound and the “Ranch,” that doing another Star
Wars film seemed an unlikely scenario. But Lucas came back from his other
duties and announced that the prequels would finally get made. Thank the
Since 1999, Lucas has given audiences a mixture of good and dreadful
chapters about the early days of the Star Wars saga. It’s hard to believe
that Darth Vader was a whiny mama’s boy in “The Phantom Menace” who grew
into a more whiny and moody young adult in “Attack Of The Clones.” George,
how could you steer your fans wrong? Yet, in “Revenge Of The Sith,” Vader
has emerged triumphant and ticked off and I love it!
So here I am, in my late-30s, sitting in a near-capacity theatre in Newport
Beach, California, waiting with such anticipation that the curtains on the
giant 70-foot screen would close, then re-open for the 20th Century Fox logo
and march. Would I be entertained with this hyped-up film?
This article isn’t so much about reviewing “Sith.” (The film has been
reviewed like crazy since it was snuck on journalists, webmasters and select
audiences in early May). Rather, this article is more about the experience
of seeing the conclusion of Lucas’ fantasy series, and the impact the Star
Wars films still have on audiences today.
Edwards Newport Cinema, otherwise known as “Big Newport,” is an unusual
theatre. In these days of megaplexes, it’s rare to find a theatre around
with over 1000-seats and a large screen. Somehow, this theatre, thankfully,
has survived since 1969 without being twinned or closed down. I decided to
see “Sith” here because of the audience ambience, the screen and the overall
feel of watching films here. Indeed, the surround sound channels have been
wired to play much of the film’s front channel soundtrack, but that’s like
complaining that an old Cadillac doesn’t get good gas mileage. It’s the size
Edwards "Big" Newport Cinema, Newport Beach [Enlarge]
Lines for “Sith” started around 5:00 p.m. for the 7:00 p.m. show this
particular Saturday evening. The day was hot, so heat from the sun still
lingered as the line stretched down Newport Center Drive and down the next
street. Various kids, probably born in the late ‘90s, wore Vader helmets
with the actual breathing sound effect in tow. A 20-something guy in front
of me was twirling a plastic light saber, with poor posture and a look of
someone who’s probably seen “Sith” ten times by now. Well, at least this
The crowd entered the auditorium and I looked around. People of all ages
were here. Granted, this is a well-off to rich income area, so most of the
people wore their trademark expensive surfer shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and
the parents of those late-‘90s kids drove Escalades. But this could be a
slice of the American moviegoing population, regardless of class status.
There was anticipation for the film to start. Regal, who owns a good portion
of the Edwards chain these days, plays its inane digitally projected “The
Twenty” advertisements and previews on the screen before show time. This
never would’ve happened when James Edwards, Sr. was alive. He, after all,
started the Edwards chain. I guess these days, you gotta keep ‘em
entertained before the show starts. And if that wasn’t enough, some people
brought beach balls and bounced them around the auditorium.
The lights dimmed, and the curtains (gasp!) closed. A laser image of Darth
Vader was beamed on the curtains. The audience clapped. He faded away and
the curtains opened to a wide, wide screen. Again, clapping. After a series
of summer film previews, the film began.
From the opening of “Sith,” through the cluttered, yet somehow satisfying
ending to the film, the audience was with the film. Everyone seemed to clap
when R2-D2 performed digital tricks he couldn’t perform in the 1970s.
Everyone seemed to shift in their seats during a rather slow stretch in the
film right after the major opening sequence. A few people did get up during
the show, but came back to rejoin the movie. But once the film got back in
gear, and the wonderful Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/The Emperor manipulated a
much warmer and better acting Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker/Darth
Vader) on-screen, the audience was hooked.
For me, I generally agreed with them. I clapped and laughed with them. Yup.
I enjoyed this film. It’s not flawless, but Lucas seemed to go back to some
of the traits that made the original trilogy fun. The relationship between
The Emperor and his new and evil apprentice is dynamic. McDiarmid chews up
the scenery and is somewhat reminiscent of past great villains in Lucas’
other production, “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” (1981). I love a good villain.
Christensen plays well off of both Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan) and McDiarmid.
This is a different Anakin compared to the one previously shown in Episodes
I & II. A lot of credit should be given to Christensen for bringing us
Vader. No, he still doesn’t totally convince me that he is Vader, but he
comes close in this.
film suffers, at least for this viewer, is in Lucas’ penchant for
introducing too many characters in one film. Who’s who? And those galactic
politics! If I wanted C-Span, I’d stay home. But most bothersome, and it’s
not a critique on her acting in general, is Natalie Portman’s Padme. Simply
wooden. We get more emotion from C-3PO than from her character in all of the
prequels. But, she does finally come around and somehow gets us to feel her
emotional pain at the end of the film. These are really minor observations
on an otherwise good movie. Lucas and company pulled off an impossible task
of making sure that audiences would go home happy with this third prequel.
By the end of the credits, there were still many in the audience who clapped
for the film. This certainly didn’t happen on “Menace” or “Clones.” What’s
the difference this time? Lucas gave the audience what it had always wanted:
a good story and good characters.
Which brings me to how grateful I believe audiences are for “Sith,” and the
Star Wars saga in general. Lucas created a world of fantasy that has endured
for 28 years. Indeed, the first two prequels were mind-blowing in how good
and bad they were. Moments of brilliance on Lucas’ part (Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan
and Darth Maul’s fight) were marred by moments of pure head scratching (Jar
Jar Binks and whiny Anakin). But I believe it’s the original trilogy and now
“Sith” that has people excited again about the saga. In “Sith,” we got a
greatest hits of some old friends, storylines being wrapped up in a neat
bow, and John Williams’ excellent riffs on earlier Star Wars music. Somehow,
Lucas made almost everything tie together.
The opening day weekend is over, but “Sith” is on a lot of people’s minds
even on this Monday as I write this. Forget about box office records, for a
moment. What I saw with the audience that Saturday night still plays on my
daughter’s school playground. Almost all of her first grade class decided to
play “Star Wars” at lunchtime. The boys argued over who got to be Obi-Wan.
The girls anointed my daughter to be Princess Leia. And one of the boys kept
telling everyone that “Princess Leia dies in the movie.” Well, not quite,
but stop blowing the plot for everyone!
I watched everyone of them chase each other across the grass field, using
their arms as light sabers. What amazed me was the Lucas’ characters, and
his stories, still had an impact on children who weren’t around in 1977. I
heard the “whirrr” sound of a saber from many of them. Then the “pcher,
pcher,” laser blast sound from others. To these seven year-old kids, seeing
“Revenge Of The Sith” was almost as wonderful for them as it was for me. But
I got to experience each and every Star Wars film since I was a kid, and by
George, I thank you for that.
Copyright 2005 Lucasfilm Ltd.
"Big" Newport Photo By William Kallay (Copyright 2005 From Script To DVD.
All rights reserved.)