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Posted May 26, 2005


Sith Satisfies My Inner Star Wars Child


William Kallay

By now, 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 Maker!

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 that matters.

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 wasn’t Hollywood.

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.

Where the 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.


Edwards "Big" Newport Photo By William Kallay (Copyright 2005 From Script To DVD. All rights reserved.)



Copyright 2005 From Script To DVD.  All rights reserved.


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