Say Good Night, Obi-Wan

Two experts ponder the final Star Wars movie.

Bryan: Yo, Chris. We’re here tonight because we’ve just emerged from the midnight screening of Star Wars—Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Also—and this may be slightly redundant—because we’re big, fat Star Wars nerds. I mean, big. You, 30 years old. Me, 27. Our entire lives, spent under the tutelage of Jedi master George Lucas. The compulsion to consume all things Star Wars got so bad this week that you called me, breathless, with the news that Boba Fett was conducting an online chat on (Slate’s corporate cousin). Actually, you called and e-mailed me. You were nervous I’d miss Boba Fett, weren’t you, Chris? You know what? I readthe chat. I read it twice. I shed a tear when Mr. Fett revealed that “it would be wonderful to put the outfit on again and kick some ass.” But enough with the nerd bona fides. We’re here to dissect Episode III. So, Master, whaddya think?

Chris: Who you calling fat? And my wife would surely like everyone to know that my multiple messages to you about Boba Fett’s online chat, which I have not had the pleasure of reading, were sent with appropriate measures of hip, ironic distance. Thirdly, if you, gentle reader—not you, Bryan—don’t like spoilers, stop reading now. What did I think? I’m glad that now we know the reason Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. It’s because Obi-Wan Kenobi failed to teach him the most important part of the Jedi Code: Bros before hos.

Bryan: Yes, Ani forsakes Obi-Wan, Yoda, and other members of the Jedi Order for Miss Padmé—played by that interstellar goddess Natalie Portman. But as Slate’s David Edelstein points out, Anakin’s conversion has a lot—a lot—to do with the temptations offered by Senator/Supreme Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine, whom Edelstein compares to an “old queen” in search of a new cabana boy. I never thought I’d say this, but our favorite serial has gotten a wee bit homoerotic, no? I always wondered why Yoda was so hot for Luke to stay on Dagobah.

Chris: You bring up what was actually the most disappointing thing about the movie to me. And it’s not homoeroticism. The implication, to me at least, of the film’s conclusion is that Palpatine has been lying to Anakin/Vader all along, that Palpatine did not in fact possess a secret power that could save Padmé’s life. Which means that, in one of the final frames, Lucas abandons, or at least softens, the fairly radical moral philosophy he’s put forth. That love isn’t all we need. That love can be selfish. That the attachments of marriage and family may be constructs that we sinners need to get through life, but if we were truly moral beings we’d view things from a broader, more just perspective. I thought that was where we were heading with all this talk about “attachment” and its dangers. Movie heroes are supposed to break the rules and get the girl. In Revenge of the Sith, it’s the villain who flouts authority and gets the girl.

Bryan: [stunned silence]

Bryan: Dude, that’s so heavy. But as long as we’re getting cosmic, I’d remind you that Anakin’s attachment to the “girl” results in intergalactic disaster. He betrays his friends and mentors, exterminates Jedi, winds up waist-deep in lava—all for the sake of some girl. If Lucas is turning against his radical Jedi philosophy—which says attachments (“temptations”) lead to weakness—then, well, he’s got an odd way of showing it.

Chris: Yeah, but then we find out—or at least I think we find out—that he was lied to all along. So, he was deceived into his actions. That feels like a cop-out to me. I would have liked it better if his love for Padmé led him to evil directly, without any deception on the part of Palpatine. While I’m being heavy, I’d argue that attachments aren’t the same as temptations. They lead to temptation, rather, because you end up elevating one person over everyone else. Just like Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith struck me as a brief for celibacy. But let me change the subject: Most of the reviews so far have emphasized how, at long last, George Lucas has tied the many threads of his six movies together. But there’s a whole lot of stuff that still doesn’t make any sense. Which bits of remaining nonsense are your favorites?

Bryan: While we’re on the big stuff, I’ll plug your seminal (heh) tract, “Sex and the Single Superhero,” which explores Jedi celibacy in more depth. Now, then … what loose ends didn’t Lucas tie up? I’m still not sure why Yoda and the Jedi Fun Club don’t realize that the most evil guy in the freakin’ galaxy lives and works, like, 20 feet away. And yet, in Episode II, we learn that Yoda can sense the hurt feelings of his fellow Jedi millions of miles away—sorry, Mr. Jedi, I don’t get it. I’m unclear on what happened to “Sifo Diaz” (forgive the phonetic spelling), apparently the first Hispanic Jedi, who started the Clone Wars in Episode II. And, finally, the eternal question, one Kevin Smith raised the other day: Why doesn’t Darth Vader recognize C-3PO (the robot he built) and R2D2 (his frequent co-pilot) in episodes IV through VI? Answers, Suellentrop, answers!

Chris: Well, I can’t resist one last comment on Jedi celibacy. As numerous fanboys informed me after that piece came out, in the novels and comic books we’re apparently informed that Jedi aren’t celibate. They’re just prohibited from forming romantic attachments. So, Li’l Orphan Ani could have sated his sexual desires with Clintonian abandon, picking up space hos (or bros) at every port in the galaxy, as long as he didn’t fall in love. But I stick to what we’re told in the films. And in the movies, as far as I can tell, Anakin is the only Jedi who gets it on. Though Lucas may have left out the Best Little Whorehouse in Coruscant scenes to keep the PG-13 rating.

I don’t have answers for your questions, but here are some more of the many remaining mysteries: Do you think Darth Vader chooses to freeze Han Solo in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back because he’s angry that Solo shot Greedo who, as we learned in The Phantom Menace, ishis childhood friend? When Leia shows up at the beginning of Star Wars in the ship that Jimmy Smits flies in Revenge of the Sith, do you think it’s because she’s been handed down the 20-year-old family clunker? And how in the world—as I believe the Weekly Standard’s Jonathan Last was the first to point out—does Obi-Wan age from a young, vibrant Ewan MacGregor into a decrepit Sir Alec Guinness over the course of a mere two decades?

Bryan: I have no doubt fanboys are this second firing up their 10-parsec modems to give us the answers. (On second thought, please don’t.) Meanwhile, let’s discuss the all-powerful Palpatine, whatever his title. He’s the star of Episode III, even though Lucas has done him no favors, giving him deep lines and covering him in a milky-white, gelatinous mask. (He looks like the love child of Hellraiser and the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man.) Is it just me, or was Ian McDiarmid the only actor in the new trilogy who realized Star Wars is best played as camp? Natalie Portman thinks she’s still in Beautiful Girls; Jimmy Smits appears to be stuck in a particularly earnest episode of L.A. Law. The only actors to escape Lucas’ clutches with a shred of dignity are the ones that eschew subtleties and go all the way—McDiarmid, Frank Oz, and maybe (if one calls it acting) Chewbacca.

Chris: See, you want to talk about acting, but then you bring it back to plot inconsistencies. Chewbacca—since he and Yoda are old pals, why don’t they get a chance to reminisce and tell old war stories in episodes IV, V, and VI? And while I’m on the subject, is there anything Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker at the beginning of Star Wars that turns out to be true? The famous lie, of course, is Kenobi telling Luke that Darth Vader killed his father. But Obi-Wan appears to have decided to embroider that big lie with a host of little ones. He says Luke’s father was a great pilot. These prequels give us no real evidence for that. He says Luke’s father wanted him to have a particular light saber that he pulls out of a box. Guess not. He says that he fought with Luke’s father in the Clone Wars. If that’s true, it’s sure hard to tell. Oh, what the hell, here’s one more quibble: In Star Wars, a member of the Empire tells Darth Vader that Vader is the only remaining believer in that hokey Force religion. Is Palpatine, delightfully campy as his performance may be, still keeping his Sithdom in the closet two decades hence?

I thought Revenge of the Sith was better than OK (it’s sad to say that I’ll probably see it again), but I used to disagree with people who argued that the prequels would ruin the original movies. (Well, the first two, since Return of the Jedi was already a quietly acknowledged stinker.) Now I’m not so sure. As enjoyable as Revenge of the Sith is, they should stick these movies in the remainder bin next to The Silmarillion before it’s too late.

Bryan: Now you’ve touched on the big question, Master. Which is, was this whole prequel thing a gigantic waste of time? The 16-year interregnum between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace was a time of peace in the Galactic Republic. I barely thought about Star Wars. OK, not quite true. I bought three Star Wars video games. I read at least five novels, the final of which was called The Courtship of Princess Leia, about which I shall say no more. I saw the original trilogy countless times on videotape and at least twice in the theater. But given the early-1980s hysteria, it wasn’t much. Then 1999 comes along, and we get all psyched up, studying the trailers like the Zapruder film and salivating over every bit Lucas unleashes on the Internet. The first two movies were fairly wretched. And even though Revenge of the Sith was decent—decent—I can’t help but feel I’ve sorta wasted six years of my life on this crap. A more frightening thought: If the new films mar the original trilogy, it means we wasted three decades of our lives on this crap. Jump in before I strangle myself with my power cord.

Chris: Now you’re being overwrought. You’ll be first in line a few years from now for the 3-D versions, or the live-action Broadway shows, or episodes VII, VIII, and IX. You brought up the campy fun of Ian McDiarmid’s performance in Sith. The dirty secret of Star Wars fandom is that the campy aspects of the movies are part of the fun. What Star Wars fan doesn’t hoot with delight at the abominable lines poor Mark Hamill has to deliver in the original movie? “But I was going to go to Tasche Station to pick up some power converters!” When I saw the Special Edition Star Wars in a New Orleans theater in 1997, that line was greeted with applause. My favorite Star Wars story is a non sequitur, but I feel obliged to share it, because it may be my last chance. When a friend of mine went to see Return of the Jedi with her two sisters, here’s how three good young Catholic girls responded when a character pronounced, “May the Force be with you.” In unison, they recited back, “And also with you.”

Bryan: Broadway show? What Broadway show? But, seriously … As we wrap this thing up, I want to ask you this, Mr. Suellentrop: Are you better off than you were six years ago? Better put, did we at least get some decent sci-fi out of all this? You and I sneer at those who proclaim Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix to be the “mythology of our generation.” (It’s so obviously Night Court.) But I hold out hope that Star Wars is the best sci-fi of our generation—better than those listed above and, Lord knows, better than creaky old Star Trek, which met its ignoble end a week ago. You’ll still venerate Lucas and company, right? At least until the live-action TV series he’s promising comes out, and we’re talking about continuity gaps again?

Chris: Look, I too have played Star Wars video games, and not in the distant past. The recent Knights of the Old Republic was better than any of the prequel movies. And while George Lucas didn’t make those, it’s a pretty significant feat to create a mythology as rich as Star Wars. You brought up Star Trek. I’ve got nothing against it. But its universe is a cold, rational one filled with liberal, multinational, goo-goo organizations. What’s great about Star Wars—and one of the reasons I think it has greater appeal—is its acknowledgement, even celebration, of the irrational, the mystical, the religious. More than one friend of mine—OK, me and one friend of mine—sat in our separate backyards as children trying to move rocks with our minds. Star Wars isn’t political, but liberals are now trying to adopt it as their own, by claiming that Revenge of the Sith is an allegory for the Bush administration. Um, does that mean that Osama Bin Laden is a Jedi?

Bryan: Maybe he’s Osama the Hutt. Let’s stay clear of the geopolitical connotations, shall we? Let’s instead sign off like this: We have spent nearly 30 years with Star Wars. It—the movies, the books, the games—have consumed an alarming amount of our spare time—more, I’d wager, than any other cultural item. And after those thousands upon thousands of man-hours, when we should have been reading Collette, or at least Margaret Atwood, we can definitely say this about this space opera: It’s probably better than Star Trek. May the Force be with you, Suellentrop.

Chris: And also with you.