November 15, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee

Without any poorly developed romance to drag it down, Revenge of the Sith manages to send the prequel trilogy out on a high note. This long descent into darkness as the Jedi Order is wiped out and the Sith gain absolute over the galaxy, is remarkably enjoyable (from a certain point of view...).

The Clone Wars are in full swing, although the end is in sight. During a rescue mission for the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) manages to kill Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who had been leading the insurrection against the Republic. This means that Chancellor Palpatine (who is now revealed to have been Darth Sidious all along) must find a new apprentice, so he turns his attention to completing his seduction of Anakin to the dark side. This is made easier when Obi-Wan is sent away to kill the new separatist leader, General Grevieous, leaving Anakin behind. Anakin, who is also dealing with Padme's revelation that she is pregnant and that he thus will become a father, feels spurned by the Jedi Council over this decision and that they do not trust. With so much hanging in the balance, Anakin is pushed inevitably closer and closer to the dark side.

The Queering
I can recall waiting in line to see Revenge of the Sith at the midnight showing in theaters. I remember playing Uno with some college students (I was in the middle of working towards my first bachelors degree myself at the time) who were in line behind me, while sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of chilly enough night. It marks one of the more fun times I had in college. There is a certain excitement that comes, not just from seeing a movie in theater, but in waiting in line to see a work that one is eagerly awaiting the release of. If the movie succeeds, the experience can be transcendent. Seeing it with the right audience, that cheers at the right moments, is far different from seeing even the most artistically accomplished film with an audience that might as well be dead. Citizen Kane is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time (and rightfully so) but that movie's power is subtler, and doesn't quite compare in many ways to seeing a lightsabre battle between two Jedi's that was legendary long before it had ever been committed to film.

This is not a knock on Citizen Kane, simply the observation that it is possible for one to like different movies for different reasons. I do not think that Attack of the Clones is in any ways, an artistic accomplishment, although there are certainly many nice visuals that could qualify as arty. This may seem like an odd observation, but while George Lucas was hardly a film student at the time he had made The Phantom Menace, not only had he directed a small handful of films, but hadn't actually been in a directors' chair in decades. I think this shows most in the way many of the scenes of The Phantom Menace were incredibly stagy and the camerawork often resembled the work done on well made, but unambitious TV show. By the time we get to the Attack of the Clones, the action is much more fluid and more cinematic. With with no poorly developed romance scenes drag things down, the dialog manages to not be embarrassing to itself or any nearby bits of sand.

Another element that has increased from the previous films are the queer subtexts. The relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan is much clearer and they spend more time on screen together this time around and even get to have a moment of physical intimacy in an elevator shaft. There's even a moment during an important and emptionally charged scene where Obi-Wan yells out "I loved you... like a brother!" Furthermore, the scenes between Soon-to-be-Emperor Palpatine and Anakin ooze the scent of seduction. Also, the fact that Anakin and Padme must keep their romance secret, lends an element of queerness to their otherwise heterosexual relationship. And as I talked about in my reviews of the previous prequels, the Jedi Order can be read as an isophylic order, while there are obvious parallels and references to the events of World War II. Taken together, then there is an obvious parallel between Anakin Skywalker and Ernst Rohm. A parallel that is emphacized when Palpatine has Anakin hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights as the destruction of the Jedi Order can be seen as mirroring the The Night of Long Knives.

This of course makes for a more interesting reading, for as we are repeatedly told, the rise of Darth Vader requires the "death" of Anakin Skywalker, much like Hitler's rise to power forced him into assassinating Ernst Rohm. Of course Anakin's death is purely symbolic in nature, but it can be seen as Anakin having to purge anything "queer" from his life, including both his relationship with Obi-Wan and his secret love affair with Padme. How nice, for a change, that a characters descent into evil can be read as them having to de-queer and straighten themselves out, rather than the other way around.

Overall, Attack of the Clones contains many powerful scenes and on the whole, manages to more than justify the existence of the prequel trilogy. Although I do contend that the previous two were good enough to stand on their own merits. The force is steroids strong this time around.

Served hot or cold, this dish of revenge is purely delectable.

The Rating
**** out of ****


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