Because of the disappointment inherent in the first two chapters of the new Star Wars trilogy, Episode I: The Phantom Menace and, to a lesser extent, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, many longtime fans are approaching the upcoming final movie with a mix of skepticism and even disinterest. But not me. I'm getting really, really excited.
In the original Star Wars movie, now known as "Episode IV: A New Hope", Obi-Wan Kenobi memorably talks of how "Vader was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force". It is that conversation with Luke Skywalker that gave birth in our minds to a history that predated the movie we were watching. But then we watched two prequels that only led up to Anakin Skywalker's turn to the Dark Side without showing the main event we were waiting for.
Episode I was mired in confusing intergalactic trade federation politics ("NAFTA in space" as one film critic accurately described it) and offered only a pint sized Anakin and the excruciating Jar Jar Binks. Despite a brilliant fight scene between Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul, the movie -- much as it pains me to say this -- kind of sucks. Episode II was definitely an improvement, but the dialogue was often embarrassingly bad and the love story between Anakin and Padme was a real bore.
But Episode III is the story we've been waiting for all these years. And even with the diminished expectations the other two prequels brought, I find myself not only thinking often and excitedly and optimistically about Episode III, but even dreaming about it night after night.
At the heart of the Star Wars saga is the battle between good and evil -- the Jedi and the Sith -- for the souls of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. I was raised in a somewhat religious household, and the notion that Heaven and Hell were battling for my allegiance was something ingrained early on. I have since abandoned much of my family's conservative values in favor of liberal ones, and more importantly I have come to see the world as far more gray than black and white. But the power of that initial basic premise is branded on my brain. In fact, I think it's because I know the real world isn't a matter of obvious good and evil (George W. Bush not withstanding) that Star Wars strikes a chord with me. When the world is divided into such basic sides, it's a lot easier to know which way to go, what side to choose.
I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but sometimes I almost think that Star Wars actually feels like my personal religion even more than Christianity is. Of course I don't believe that the Skywalkers are real and God isn't. But I have to confess that George Lucas's films are dearer to my heart than, say, the biblical stories of Sampson or Noah. I was five years old when the first Star Wars was released, and twenty-eight years later I still keep a toy Millennium Falcon on my bookshelf -- not as a kitchsy tribute to childhood, but as a genuine symbol of how dearly I hold these works.
And regardless of how we of the original Star Wars generation have felt about the new trilogy -- no matter how jaded we have become -- it is a sobering thought that Episode III is the last Star Wars film. It is the final chapter to be told in a story that has been with me and a lot of people my age for the overwhelming majority of our lives. I have watched and rewatched these movies over the years with a mixture of visceral thrill, comforting familiarity, and even tears. When I watch Anakin turn to the Dark Side next month (and perhaps the birth of Luke and Leia too), even if I end up disappointed by the filmmaking itself, I refuse to simply critique Episode III cerebrally. This is a film I plan to watch with my emotions as much as my intellect -- probably more.
But as it happens, all the previews I have seen look really good. This is a darker Star Wars than most of its predecessors, more Faust than Buck Rogers. And I think that's a direction that will be welcome. Will Episode III be a masterpiece? Probably not. But I can't imagine a movie that could possibly mean more to me. As a film critic it's easy to feel peer pressure about what movies I succumb to and which ones I don't. But I'm ready to shout from the roof tops that I side with Star Wars.