L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 320, May 22, 2005
"The British are Coming!"
Revenge Of the Sith:
Exclusive to TLE
As anyone who knows me is aware, I've been concerned about George Lucas' final entry in the Star Wars film saga, Episode III: Revenge Of the Sith. This concern had nothing to do with the fact that the two preceding movies in what's called the "Prequel Trilogy" have been dramatically and directorially flawed. My concern with this outing has been the fact that all the information leaked to date indicated that this was most assuredly not a movie for children.
This last Wednesday night, the rubber met the road. At 11:59pm CST, I attended a screening of the movie in Sioux City, Iowa. While many of my pre-screening worries turned out to be unfounded, my opinion is that this is not a movie for children. Unlike the rest of the saga, key moments of Revenge Of the Sith are too graphically violent and gory to be appropriate for the the children the franchise has always marketed to.
Thankfully, most of the potential problem areasincluding Vader's the slaughter of the Jedi childrenis handled tastefully. There are still far more dismemberings and decapitations than in all the other movies combined, but there are few close-ups. What close-ups exist are brief.
The slaughter of the Jedi children is, as expected, gratuitous. It's done to make a point about Vader's change in character that could have been made without explicitly murdering a room full of 8-year-olds. Fortunately, while it's clear what Vader has done, the actual massacre occurs off-camera. There are shots of dead children, but thanks to the magic of the light-sabre, there is no gore to accompany the missing limbs.
However, the climax and denoument of the film includes imagery which is, if anything, more graphic and disturbing than leaked information indicated.
As those who follow the franchise are aware, the cute-but-annoying Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) engages Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in the light sabre duel to end all light sabre duels. In the process, Anakin is horribly disfigured and can only survive by donning the familiar black armor of Darth Vader.
Since the first film was released in 1977, fans were aware that whatever happened to Anakin must have been extreme. It is: Obi-Wan cuts off Anakin's remaining human arm and both of his legs, following which Anakin is literally burned alive.
The Vader immolation and reconstruction scenes are downright goryoccasionally gratuitously so. The shots are lengthy, and the audience sees his hair and skin burning off of him as he screams. It is not appropriate childrens' fare
If you choose to take children to the film, I would advise they turn away from the screen at a specific point. Specifically:
Anakin jumps from a piece of debris in the lava flow to where Obi-Wan is standing. Mid-flight, Obi-Wan cuts off Anakin's arm and legs. The shot of Obi-Wan dismembering Anakin is in a fast long shot and is acceptable. Following this, Anakin and Obi-Wan exchange lines.
Immediately after this, however, are the graphically gory sections of his immolation, at which point children should be advised to look away.
From this point until we see him in the Vader armor, graphic scenes of the badly-burned Anakin are interspersed with other scenes. It is not even remotely appropriate for viewing by children.
In particular, when Anakin is brought back to Coruscant and resconstructed, we are treated to lengthy shots of droids replacing Anakin's body parts while he screams in agony. He writhes and screams on an operating table while droids literally shove prosthetic limbs into his stumps. This can only be considered utterly gratuitous, since even with 21st-century medical science, a burn victim would be anesthetized or unconscious while such procedures are undertaken.
These shots are interspersed shots of Padme (Natalie Portman) giving birth to Luke and Leia. While this effectively provide a dramatic counterpoint of future hope via the children with Vader's horrific reconstruction, it makes it virtually impossible to suggest when the children might look away.
On the whole, it was a relief that most of the movie wasn't as the graphic as it could have been. With the exception of the Vader immolation and reconstruction, the numerous decapitations and dismemberings are tastefully filmed.
If it were possible to leave the movie immediately after the immolation scene without missing the key plot points, I would suggest that parents do so. Since it is not, I will not be taking my daughters (aged 9 and 11) to see the movie. This is aided by the fact that they're lukewarm regarding the Star Wars movies in general. They have no need to see the final scenes until they're older, and they don't have any great desire to see the movie, so why bother?
More generally, the movie is significantly better than either Episodes I or II. It still suffers from the major directorial flaw of those movies, which is:
There's too much action on the screen at any given time, and the viewer has difficulty deciding where to focus their attention. Certain battle sequences become confusing, particularly the opening space battle. Like Episodes I and II, this probably won't be such an issue on a small TV screen when it's released on DVD.
In summary, this film's PG-13 rating is one of the few times when an MPAA rating actually fits the film. There is no need to distress children under 13 by exposing them to the imagery of the film's last twenty minutes, nor by Vader's slaughter of the Jedi children. If you have a child over the age of 13 who is particularly distressed by graphic imagery, be aware that the movie's climax and denoument are extremely gory.