THE FINAL Star Wars is, as writer-director George Lucas promised, a tragedy--but it's not the tragedy Lucas thinks it is.
Ever since he began making his second set of Star Wars movies a decade ago, Lucas said that Episode III: Revenge of the Sith would be the unvarnished story of the young knight Anakin Skywalker's degeneration and conversion into the black-helmeted, black-outfitted Darth Vader, the villain of the first three films. The tale of woe it really tells is that of George Lucas himself, the final chapter in the sad degeneration of a vital, vivid, and highly amusing moviemaker into a dull, solipsistic, and humorless incompetent.
Lucas had more than a quarter of a century to figure out why Anakin Skywalker went bad. And here's what he came up with: Anakin is afraid of losing his wife Padmé in childbirth. Padmé tries to reassure him: "I promise you I won't die in childbirth," she says, offering a touching expression of her faith in the range of health-care services that were available a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. That over-deliberate line of dialogue is typical of Revenge of the Sith, which joins its immediate predecessor Attack of the Clones on a very short list of films that deserve to compete for the Worst Script Ever Written.
"Hold me, Anakin!" Padmé tells her husband. "Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo!"
No performer living or dead could pronounce the word "Naboo" without sounding like a moron, and Lucas matches that authorial infelicity with dozens of others. One of the movie's villains is named "Dooku," and it's a pity that Lucas didn't arrange for Dooku to visit Naboo, because that could have generated a truly memorable piece of dialogue, like "You should never have come to Naboo, Dooku!"
Later in the film, Vader's mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Padmé that her hubby has murdered some children: "He killed younglings at the Jedi temple!" She storms off and confronts him: "Obi-Wan says you killed younglings!"
Padmé's anger and shock seem a mite surprising, since in Attack of the Clones her then-boyfriend Anakin had told her about another occasion on which he had killed some kids. This is spoken in a soliloquy that suggests what Macbeth might have been like if it had been written by George Lucas: "I killed them! I killed them all! They're dead, every single one of them! And not just the men, but the women and the children, too!! I slaughtered them like animals! I HATE THEM!"
But I digress, because that speech isn't in the film under review--and there are plenty of other hilarious examples of bad writing on display in Revenge of the Sith.
For example: Obi-Wan uncovers the killing of the younglings by checking out some hidden video at the Jedi Temple. The wise old creature Yoda, who may be the most intelligent person in the universe, but seems to have learned English by reading old Time magazines, warns him: "Obi-Wan, watch the surveillance tapes you should not!"
Yoda has just returned from a diplomatic mission to a planet inhabited by bipedal gorillas because, as he explains in the rounded tones of an opponent of the John Bolton nomination, "Good relations with the Wookiees I have." Later, a defeated Yoda sighs: "Into exile I must go." You half-expect him to be followed by six other dwarves chanting, "Hi ho, hi ho / Into exile we will go . . . "
Anakin is invited to attend the theater as a guest of the president of the republic (a scene that allows Lucas to let us know that the favored form of entertainment in the highly advanced Star Wars galaxy is a Cirque du Soleil show performed inside a blob of translucent Jell-O). The president tells him about the Dark Side of the Force, and how it can be used to bring people back from the dead. Anakin decides he wants in. To which the only possible response is: That's it? The entire universe is thrown out of balance and evil defeats good all because one petulant and whiny guy doesn't want Natalie Portman to buy the farm?
"Dialogue is not my thing," Lucas has said. "I don't like writing, and I don't like scripts." But there is a whole lot more to a script than just the dialogue. There are also small matters such as plot, motivation, and character development. How is it possible that Lucas could have satisfied himself with the notion that the destruction of the galactic democracy and the triumph of evil over good could all have sprung from a single lousy pregnancy? Granted, Mrs. Darth Vader wears some very fetching beaded outfits--plus, she's a senator just like Hillary Clinton, only decades younger and way better looking. Even so, this is astoundingly thin gruel on which to hang six movies made over a period of 28 years.
Back in 1977, we were told in the original Star Wars that Darth Vader "was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force"--that Vader had become a villain because he had been consumed by a lust for power, so that he could boss people around, blow up planets, and, generally speaking, control the universe. Like all great villains, the Darth Vader we saw in the first Star Wars actually loved being a bad guy. He enjoyed being able to choke annoying underlings by pinching his thumb and forefinger together. He relished his swordfight with his old mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. He didn't even mind slicing his own son's hand off (in the second film) just to prove a point.
But the Darth Vader we see at the end of Revenge of the Sith hasn't been seduced. He's been tricked. He's not a villain. He's a schmuck.
And what of George Lucas? He is, by leagues, the most commercially successful moviemaker in history. Forget the billion-plus dollars he has earned from the Star Wars movies. Industrial Light & Magic, the special-effects firm he began with his Star Wars profits, grosses $1 billion per year.
But what happened to the director who made the thrilling mood piece American Graffiti, that deceptively casual account of a bunch of teenagers in a California town in 1962 hanging out on the last summer night before the school year begins? What happened to the guy who revolutionized science fiction by making an outer-space adventure that managed to be cheerful, exciting, and lighthearted?
The tragedy of George Lucas is that he made billions of dollars, and all it did was turn him into a drag.
John Podhoretz is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.