George Lucas | Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith (2005) is apparently the first Hollywood fiction film to criticize George W. Bush since Rob Cohen's The Skulls (2000). This is an amazing lack of courage on the part of most filmmakers, and an index of how corrupt and compliant with the dreadful Bush our media have become. Although the United States is plainly in much worse shape than when Bush took office, with tens of thousands dead from Bush's war-mongering, a collapsed stock market, huge unemployment and vast deficits, Bush is treated as some sort of sacred cow by the media.
Vast panoramas of a future world are seen outside of Anakin's home, the Jedi Headquarters, etc. These are in a tradition that goes back to the future city in Metropolis (1926). Fritz Lang's vision stressed a Modernist style architecture, somewhat similar to the Bauhaus. These were highly influential on the illustrations in the science fiction pulps, which began in 1929. In 1936, comic strip artist Alex Raymond started drawing future cities in Flash Gordon. Raymond's cities embodied a different 20th Century style, Art Deco. Raymond had the greatest influence on American comic book artists, and such artists as Carmine Infantino (the planet Rann in Adam Strange) and Wayne Boring (the planet Krypton in Superman comic books) created vast futuristic cityscapes in the Deco mode. Such Deco buildings emphasized strange, geometrically shaped towers, often asymmetric in approach. These frequently featured flanges and ramps, as well as polygonally sloped sides, and mixtures of circular and polygonal cross-sections.
Star Wars: Episode III reflects both such approaches - the Modernist and the Deco - but with a unique synthesis all its own. The general outline of the city is broadly in the tradition of a Infantino cityscape in the Deco mode. There are a profusion of towers, whose shapes are often of the irregular polygons of the Deco tradition. However, these towers combine this with a surface finish that recalls 1950's skyscrapers in the Modernist mode. These buildings are not the pink or gold solid colored geometric towers of Infantino, mysterious beacons of an advanced civilization. Rather, they are glass-and-steel skyscrapers, like a business building in today's New York, London or Tokyo, but bigger and with a geometrically "futurist" outline. The suggestion is that such buildings are the locus of an advanced capitalism. They do not have a sense of magic, but rather convey corporate success.
While each building in an Infantino or Wayne Boring city seems like some unique fantasy creation, the Star Wars: Episode III buildings seem mass produced. The cityscape also lacks unique or distinguishing features, considered as an aerial map. Rather, it is like a contemporary urban sprawl. It would be hard to draw a map of this city, or see it as an environment filled with unique places (such as the Krypton Zoo or Aquarium in Superman comic books). Consequently, the World of Star Wars does not seem more Advanced in civilization than ours does. By contrast, Krypton often seems Utopian, a product of a genuinely advanced culture (and one that has outlawed war).
Since the World of the film is about to collapse into dictatorship from democracy, it is clear that there (probably rightly) was a deliberate attempt not to suggest it is a Utopia.
Anakin's black leather Jedi outfit is the locus of many meanings. It parallels Obi-Wan Kenobi's white Jedi robes, which have a similar shape, with Obi-Wan's boots of brown leather. It stresses the close ties between the two men. And this relationship is the most important one in the film. Lucas drops the other shoe at the film's climactic moment, when the duel between the two is about to start on the planet of lava. "I loved you!" a heartbroken Obi-Wan declares. Such a declaration of love between two men is extremely rare in any sort of cinema. In classical Hollywood, it is found only in Emergency Call (Edward L. Cahn, 1933), Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) and Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948), and in surprisingly few modern films, as well. The relationship between the two men, with the somewhat older Obi-Wan teaching and training the inexperienced Anakin, echoes the central relationship of the first Star Wars, in which Han Solo looked out for Luke Skywalker. The strong similarity in clothes and equipment between the two men (they carry similar light sabers as well), is also echoed in their behavior in the opening section of the film, which emphasizes the idealized camaraderie between the two men, as they function as Hawksian professionals doing a complex job.
All-black outfits have a long history in movies. The farmer hero of Lorna Doone (Maurice Tourneur, 1922), wears a black leather jerkin whose ties and fastenings are even gaudier and more elaborate than Anakin's three-level-deep cuff buckles. This was before Variety heralded STICKS NIX HICKS PIX in 1935, and rural audiences liked seeing farmer heroes in glamorized outfits that would have been considered too avant-garde for Jim Morrison of the Doors 40 years later.
Lucas' iconography is most similar here to Raoul Walsh's in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958). The young, would-be bad guy (William Campbell) in this Western spoof swaggers around town in an all-black desperado's outfit. He clearly thinks he is evil incarnate, but he is not as tough as he hopes, and he gets run over the film's plot in short order. Like Anakin, the Campbell character is a young man trying to grow up, and find his place in the mysterious world of masculinity. Like Anakin, he thinks a trip to the Dark Side will provide him a short cut. Anakin's is motivated, on the surface, by desiring to protect his wife during childbirth - the archetypal image of Patriarchy. But both Campbell and Anakin discover that they have only found a road to failure and death. Steve Cochran's would-be gangster in White Heat (Walsh, 1949) goes down a similar path, helped out by the gaudiest charcoal pinstripe suit in the history of movies.
A young man from an obscure background gradually gets caught up in a rebellion against an evil, oppressive government. He fights plenty of saber battles and duels, and becomes famous for his ability with the saber. He especially struggles with an evil government official, a haughty man who represents everything that is Evil about the regime. But, ...he ultimately makes a shocking discovery. The Evil Older Man turns out to be... his own father! (Gasp!)
Does this plot sound familiar?
It is actually from novelist Rafael Sabatini, author of such swashbuckling novels as The Sea Hawk (1915), Scaramouche (1921) and Captain Blood (1922). This is the plot of Scaramouche.
The silent film version of Scaramouche (Rex Ingram, 1923) is one of the gems of the silent screen. The sound version (George Sidney, 1952) is less distinguished, but does have jaw-droppingly lavish sets (the theater with the big duel, for instance) that look especially impressive when seen on the big screen.
One might also mention Jack Kirby's series of early 1970's comic books, collectively known as The Fourth World. These are science fictional stories. The characters are often in touch with a benevolent source of spiritual-physical energy, known as... The Source!