‘HOLD me, Anakin! “Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo!” Oh boy.
Yes, Natalie Portman really says that to Hayden Christensen in the new “Star Wars” movie, “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”
And yes, the audience snickered when they heard that verbal clunker at a screening on Tuesday – even though they were watching the movie on George Lucas’ home turf, in the theater on his Marin County, Calif., hideaway, Skywalker Ranch.
Not that Lucas cared.
“Dialogue is not my thing,” Lucas freely admits, adding, “I don’t like writing, and I don’t like scripts.”
And if fans mock the overheated love story between doomed Padme Amidala and even more doomed Anakin Skywalker, “it’s not my job to make people like my movies,” Lucas says.
If that sounds contemptuous, keep in mind that by following his own muse, Lucas has built the most envied film franchise ever. The five previous “Star Wars” movies have grossed more than $3.4 billion worldwide, not to mention the $9 million in sales of DVDs, video games, plastic lightsabers and Yoda Pez dispensers.
And while Lucas may not like scripts, he loves spectacle – and “Episode III” has that in spades.
“Sith” offers the best “Star Wars” visuals yet, with a stunning opening dogfight, a spider-like Sith villain who fights with not one but four lightsabers, and – best of all – a remarkably lifelike Yoda. Plus, for the first time since “Return of the Jedi,” we have a “Star Wars” story that we can follow, with almost no references to tariff disputes and only one line for that perennial laughing stock, Jar Jar Binks.
In “Episode III,” Lucas is finally telling the story – in which Anakin completes his journey to the dark side by betraying his teacher, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Padme, and turning into the arch-villain Darth Vader.
“This is where you see Anakin undergo change. It’s what I wanted to play in the last movie,” Christensen says. “It was good to get out there finally and do it.
“I had a lot of fun going over to the dark side.”
DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE
In other words, this is the first “Star Wars” prequel that, spots of bad dialogue aside, is a must-see. And on some subconscious level, perhaps even Lucas knows it.
“I noticed a significant change with him on this movie,” Christensen says. “This time around, he was genuinely passionate about the story he was telling.
“He would get so excited. He was up from behind the monitors on every take, talking to the actors, getting into it.”
Watching “Episode III,” you’ll finally understand what Lucas has said all along – that the “Star Wars” saga is less Luke Skywalker’s story than his father’s.
“You learn that Darth Vader isn’t this monster,” Lucas says. “He’s a pathetic individual who made a pact with the devil and lost.
“Now when you see Darth Vader walk into that ship at the beginning of ‘Episode IV,’ you’ll go, ‘Oh, that poor guy! He’s still in the suit!'”
Even though everyone goes into “Episode III” already knowing that Anakin will turn into Darth Vader – “it’s as predictable as ‘Titanic,'” says producer Rob McCallum – Lucas has a lot of fun getting there (and those who want to be surprised should skip to the next section).
At the beginning of “Sith,” the Clone Wars are in full swing. The good and democratic Galactic Republic is crumbling under the strain and in the chaos, a new dictator is rising, the Republic’s Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).
Our heroes – Yoda, Obi-Wan and the rest of the Jedi Knights – are still fighting on Palpatine’s side, but they’re growing more and more distrustful of him, with the notable exception of Anakin, who worries the Jedi Council with his close friendship to the chancellor.
Eventually, the Jedis realize that Palpatine is even worse than they suspected – he’s actually Darth Sidious, the leader of the anti-Jedi Sith knights, who use the Force for evil. Along the way, we’re treated to a groovy new bad guy (the computer-animated droid Gen. Grievous), a major battle involving an army of Wookiees including our old friend Chewbacca and a climactic 20-minute lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan on the planet of volcanoes, Mustafar.
SOUND AND VISION
“Episode III” also takes “Star Wars” to darker places than it has ever gone.
There are some surprisingly harsh moments in the movie, including a genuinely upsetting massacre of Jedi “younglings” by none other than Anakin, who just a few years ago was an adorable youngling himself.
Thanks to these rougher bits, the movie carries a PG-13 rating, unlike the other five, which were all PG.
This hard-core stuff might frighten young fans who discovered the franchise through “Phantom Menace,” but they’ll probably thrill older fans who have missed the rock ‘n’ roll edges of the original trilogy. Although Lucas famously refuses to read fan Web sites, he knows those people are out there.
“There are certainly fans who wish ‘Episode III’ had been ‘Episode I,’ and than the rest of the movies had been Darth Vader going around cutting people’s heads off and terrorizing the universe,” he says.
“But I’m not interested in that story. I’m interested in a character study of Anakin.”
That might surprise those who have accused Lucas of caring more about cutting-edge special effects than the sassy characters who gave the original trilogy its heart.
But from Lucas’ point of view, “movies aren’t about words. They’re about telling a story with images and motion and music.”
I still want to see it!