This is it, ladies and gentlemen! The last Star Wars movie. An end to the saga after 28 years and six episodes. The final closing of the circle. It is with some sadness and yet elation that I welcomed this film as it thundered into theatres on May 19. I was sad to see it all end, but excited about the prospect of seeing the fall of Anakin Skywalker.
Opening Day was a special event, and I decided to treat it accordingly. I asked for the day off work, I pulled the kids out of school, and we hauled the whole gang over to the aptly named Colossus theatres in Woodbridge, just north of Toronto. It's a huge complex containing an IMAX theatre, DLP all-digital projectors, etc. Not to mention a highly appropriate choice of decor; the top of the structure looks like a giant flying saucer, and there are space-themed displays inside such as a life-size Yoda and a Borg drone mockup. We had pre-booked tickets for the 12:00pm showing, and we met an old friend of mine and three of his kids just inside the front gate.
Of course, we knew that this looming suburban Giganto-Plex would not produce the kind of fun-house atmosphere that you would get in a downtown theatre. This far from the city core, with no public-transit access, you wouldn't get the crazies, or the people wearing costumes, or the rowdy university crowd. But when you have kids, you just want to be able to get into the theatre and find decent seats without an excessive lineup, so in the end, I think we chose well. I was practically beside myself with anticipation as we sat in the theatre and waited for the film to start. And no, I did not spoil the film for myself by reading the novel first.
But how was the movie itself, you ask? Well, I suppose I should talk about that now, shouldn't I? The opening battle was unexpectedly fun, with surprisingly light-hearted swashbuckling action scenes that remind me of the general tone of the Indiana Jones movies. They establish the bond of friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan, and they provide contrast with the betrayal and darkness which is to follow. The combat is, of course, visually spectacular, with chaotic exchanges of fire, great gouts of flame spitting forth from gutted spacecraft, and R2-D2 proving his mettle as the best sidekick in the galaxy once again.
The film's second act is Palpatine's devious machinations on Coruscant. Ian McDiarmid does a superb job of conveying the oily, devious, scheming Palpatine as he makes himself a closer mentor to Anakin than anyone on the Jedi Council ever was, including Obi-Wan. Without getting into details, let's just say that a combination of Jedi arrogance and Palpatine's scheming eventually lead to the downfall of the Republic. But to keep things hopping, Obi-Wan is shown hunting down the wily four-armed cyborg General Grievous, who narrowly escaped his previous encounter with the Jedi. Opinions are mixed on this subplot; while some argue that it dilutes from the intensity of the political machinations on Coruscant, others think that it's good to keep an action thread running. And it bears noting that both of my sons cited Obi-Wan's showdown with General Grievous as their favourite part of the movie.
In any case, we eventually find ourselves moving into the third act, where the Empire is born and Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, first in mind and then in body. It is a transformation that goes too quickly for some, who no doubt expect Palpatine to give a reasoned argument to convince Anakin to join the Dark Side. But that's not how the Force works; if you use the Dark Side of the Force too many times, it takes hold of your mind and corrupts you until you can't think straight. It may be that some film critics are too dense to realize this (even though it is virtually spelled out for you in some of the other movies), so perhaps George Lucas should have copied the methods of Peter Jackson in order to make the otherworldly corruption of Anakin's soul more obvious to those who can't fill in the lines without slow-motion close-ups and pounding heart-beat sound effects.
In any case, my irritation with certain thick-headed critics aside, I loved the third act. The betrayal and murder of the Jedi, the fall of Anakin Skywalker, and the fateful confrontation with Obi-Wan on the volcano world of Mustafar were all excellent as far as I was concerned, and at least some of the critics must have agreed since the film got far better reviews than the first two prequels (which, interestingly enough, got a greater percentage of positive reviews than the original trilogy did when it was first released, thus indicating that critics have always underestimated the appeal of Star Wars).
One final note: is this film suitable for kids? Maybe, and maybe not. My kids both liked the film, and my younger boy insisted on running out and buying General Grievous toys afterwards. But he was also traumatized by the scene in which Anakin becomes Palpatine's apprentice. He hid his face in my wife's arms for much of that scene, and was visibly upset for the rest of the movie, actually bursting into tears at the end and crying through most of the credits. It is noteworthy that nothing in any of the "Lord of the Rings" films ever came close to affecting him in that way, despite widespread claims of their profundity and emotional power; perhaps it takes an adult to recognize the clichéd Hollywood convention that slow-mo = emotional power.
But does this mean that I should not have taken him to see it? That's harder to answer; he does say that he liked the film, and he would never have agreed to sit out when he knew his older brother was going to see it anyway. But for those who believe in the preservation of childhood "innocence" (a word which is often used in much the same way as "ignorance"), perhaps they might want to keep their younger children home. Personally, I don't think that shielding kids from unpleasantness is necessarily a positive thing, and I would even say that it may be useful for a child to realize that a man who seems like a kindly old uncle can actually be a monster underneath. But of course, each parent has his own rules.
In the end, all I can say is that while the movie is not perfect, no movie is. But it does have real power, and it does a great job of blending swashbuckling action with the tragic and depressing theme of Anakin's downward spiral into darkness; no easy task, to be sure.
PS. For all of the critics and would-be critics who predictably trotted out that "wooden romantic dialogue" crack to attack the brief snippets of romance in this movie, let me ask you this: have you ever listened to a real teenager trying to sweet-talk a girl, or a real young couple saying sweet nothings to each other? If you honestly think that real youngsters actually speak in polished Hollywood-standard romance dialogue, you've been watching too many movies.