Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Revealing How Darth Vader Became Darth Vader

Padmé (Natalie Portman): So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause.

What I will always remember most about "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," which made its debut 10 years ago today, is something that almost no one else will remember.

It is the only Star Wars movie I have seen at the theater with my father — and, even though Episode VII apparently will be showing on America's movie screens sometime next year, Episode III likely will be the only Star Wars movie I ever see with him. (And, unless my brother went with him to see another of the Star Wars movies, it may be what he remembers as well.)

My brother and I took Dad to see it on Father's Day 2005. He saw Episode IV, which was the first Star Wars movie, way back in 1977, but I didn't see it with him. He might not have seen it at the theater at all. He may have waited to see it on TV, whenever it was first shown.

Dad doesn't go to the theater alone; typically, he went with my mother when she was alive. When the first Star Wars movie was showing in theaters, though, I saw it with Mom, who loved movies and often watched a movie multiple times and might very well have gone to the theater with him to see it a second time. So that may have been when he saw it, but I don't know that for certain. All I know is he didn't see it with me.

And then I saw the next two installments in the Star Wars franchise with friends — on both occasions in theaters that were far from where Dad was living at the time. That wasn't really unusual for me, though. I have rarely seen a movie in a theater with my father since I was a small child. In those days, I imagine he took me to movies that I wanted to see and were appropriate for my age group. I doubt that he wanted to see them.

Dad wanted to see this one, though. He has never said why, but my guess would be that it would answer a lot of questions for him, just as it answered a lot of questions the Star Wars fans had about how Darth Vader came to be. He just didn't care to sit through the first two episodes.

Might have been a good idea if he had, though, since his mental image of Obi–Wan Kenobi was Alec Guinness, not Ewan McGregor. And Hayden Christensen surely was not his idea of Darth Vader. If, along with the rest of the audience, he had been familiar with the actors playing the younger versions of those characters, he wouldn't have had to ask me who they were.

Anyway, the movie answered all the questions about how Anakin Skywalker gravitated to the Dark Side — although, in hindsight, I suppose it wasn't too hard to guess. For all the buildup the movie received for how it would answer all the lingering questions about Darth Vader and his relationship to Luke and Leia, the Star Wars trilogies have been pretty transparent, haven't they? There clearly are biblical parallels in the battle between good and evil, the conflict between the Force for good and the Dark Side.

I guess that was what intrigued my father. He was a religion professor when I was growing up — like his father before him. I also remember that he enjoyed science fiction — the Star Trek TV series, for example, and "2001: A Space Odyssey." Maybe he liked the mix of biblical morality stories played out against a futuristic backdrop. The light saber duels — and there were many in "Revenge of the Sith" — provided an obvious example.

Looking back on it, I am inclined to wonder if "Revenge of the Sith" might have been a metaphor for something more sinister, like the rise of radical Islam.

Natalie Portman's character may have held the key to that — and perhaps it may have given us a clue of what to expect in the third Star Wars trilogy. Her strong female character seemed to be eliminated faster in "Revenge of the Sith" than it probably would be even in a radical Islamic environment.

Speaking of Portman, she wasn't exactly a newcomer when she made "Revenge of the Sith," even though she was not quite 24 when it premiered. She was a big–screen veteran, having had several minor roles and a few major ones in the previous decade. By the time I saw "Revenge of the Sith," I had already seen Portman in Episodes I and II, as well as "Cold Mountain," so I knew she had some talent.

But, even though there were times when "Revenge of the Sith" was a swashbuckling romp of which Errol Flynn would have been proud — and the dialogue could have been better — Portman never gave in to the temptation to camp it up.

And that probably wouldn't have been too hard to do with all the technological bells and whistles that George Lucas used in the sixth (but, apparently, not final) installation in the Star Wars franchise.

I can only wonder what is in store in Episode VII.