Say Good Night, Obi-Wan
Two experts ponder the final Star Wars movie.
Posted Thursday, May 19, 2005, at 5:46 AM
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 WashingtonPost.com (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 Curtis, Slate's "Middlebrow" columnist, writes for Grantland, Texas Monthly, and Newsweek. Follow him on Twitter.
Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor for blogs at Yahoo News and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has reviewed video games for Slate, Rolling Stone, and NewYorker.com. Follow him on Twitter.