Attempt at mythology

George Lucas (director) Star wars, Episode 3: revenge of the Sith general release, certificate 12a

A wise man once wrote (and I'm paraphrasing here), 'You get Elvis fans and Beatles fans. You can have people who like both, but everyone prefers one to the other' (alright, not that wise - it was Burton C Bell, vocalist with industrial-metal band, Fear Factory). It's the same with the two giant franchises of science-fiction, Star wars and Star trek. Lots of people like both, and there are similarities between the two but, whenever geeks gather and compare them, battle lines are drawn over which is better. I prefer Star wars. I admit Star trek is better written, more thought-provoking and more progressive, but there's something about Star wars that really grabs me. But, just like with Elvis and the Beatles, of course, the world is not divided into two camps over this. I think it's safe to say that the majority of the world's population are not overly concerned one way or another - there are more important things in their lives. To a fan though, such indifference is baffling. I freely admit that I am always somewhat taken aback whenever anyone admits that they're not interested in Star wars, or even - shock, horror - that they haven't seen all the films. On an intellectual level I know that Star wars is not that important, I have never felt the need to dress up like one of the characters (although I would like a light sabre), and I only rarely quote lines from the films, but still, when I went to see the new Star wars movie, Episode 3: revenge of the Sith, and watched those opening credits scroll up the screen, my palms were sweaty and my heart was pounding. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Only two weeks after the film was released, it has already taken £286 million at box offices worldwide. With Revenge of the Sith, the epic has come to an end - of sorts. The first trilogy started in 1977 with the simply named Star wars (later retitled A new hope), and told the story of plucky rebels fighting against the evil Empire, led by the emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. In 1999 Star wars creator George Lucas once again took us to a galaxy far, far away and to a time even more long ago with The phantom menace, the first of a trilogy of prequels which ends in Revenge of the Sith. The prequels have charted the rise and fall of the Jedi knight, Anakin Skywalker, who in this latest film embraces the dark side of the force and becomes Darth Vader, and the father to Luke and Leia, two of the heroes of the earlier films. Revenge of the Sith takes up the story some years after the preceding Attack of the clones. The Republic is at war with the separatists, and the battle has spread across the galaxy. The Republic's clone army, led by the Jedi knights, are winning, but all is not what it seems. The leader of the Republic, chancellor Palpatine, is also behind the separatist movement, and has engineered the war as a means to gain more power. The Jedi realise this too late, by which time Anakin has been seduced to the dark side by Palpatine with the promise of being able to save the life of his wife, Padme Amidala. The tragedy comes full circle with Anakin turning on his fellow Jedi, including his friend and mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Of course, with this being Star wars, the action far outweighs the dialogue. This is a good thing. George Lucas can tell a great story, but can't write dialogue for toffee. The action on the other hand is wonderful. Lots of computer-generated battle scenes and lots of light-sabre duels. The opening sequence - an aerial battle above Coruscant with early versions of X-wings and Star Destroyers versus swarms of separatist droids - is just breathtaking, and all at a speed so fast that you can only get an impression of all that's going on. This is where Star wars excels, in painting the broad strokes of an epic story against the backdrop of a rich, fantasy world. With Revenge of the Sith basically being the tragedy of the series, it is also a lot darker and more melodramatic than the other films, with massacres, betrayals and recriminations, and, with the backdrop being a galactic war, there is a lot of heavily sanitised violence on screen. The war is portrayed as being a tragedy, but only in so far as it affects the lives of the central characters. Certainly, it never feels like a war film, perhaps because most of the combatants are thoroughly dehumanised by virtue of their being, for the most part, clones or droids. Something that will appeal to fans of the series are the ways in which Revenge of the Sith connects to the earlier films. We see cameos by characters who appear later on in the series like Chewbacca, Grand Moff Tarkin and Wedge Antilles; Padme wears her hair in buns like Leia; and, best of all, we see Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader, complete with eerie breathing. We also see the death of the Republic and the birth of the Empire. In the earlier films, the rebels talk glowingly about the Republic. I had always assumed that the Empire had overthrown the Republic. Not so! Revenge of the Sith reveals that the Republic becomes the Empire, and, what is more, the Republican senate votes to give absolute power to Palpatine. As she watches aghast, Padme comments that they are seeing the death of democracy, and it is accompanied by rapturous applause. Despite denials from George Lucas, some have chosen to read real-world parallels into this. Certainly there are plenty of shades of grey to enjoy in Revenge of the Sith. It does raise interesting questions about the wisdom of putting your faith in leaders. The division between good and evil is not as clear-cut as in previous films. Even the hitherto squeaky-clean Jedi are shown to be flawed. They are arrogant and see themselves as the self-appointed guardians of the Republic. Doubtless, there will be some who read this and just think Star wars all sounds a bit silly. Fair enough. It's safe to say that the film is not for you. The target audience of the film is pretty much what you would expect; pre-teen children, and 20- and 30-somethings fans of the first trilogy. It is a bit of a tightrope affair to try and appeal to a new generation of Star wars fans, while still satisfying existing fans. The prequels have come in for quite a bit of criticism from those who felt they didn't match up to the originals - in the sit-com Spaced Tim, a die-hard Star wars fan, describes The phantom menace as a "jumped-up firework display of a toy advert". He is not alone, and there has been a bit of a backlash in certain circles criticising George Lucas for shameless profiteering and dumbing down. To my mind though, it is an unfair criticism in so far as that same accusation can be made about the original films, and that does not stop me loving them. The difference is all to do with nostalgia. Still the franchise has made an obscene amount of money. Figures so big, I can't get my head around them. Prior to Revenge of the Sith, the films had made £3.1 billion, while the merchandising has made £4.9 billion. That's books, action figures, replica light sabres, computer games, board games, posters, clothes, Star wars Lego "¦ You name it - you can get it with a Star wars logo. And Revenge of the Sith is not going to be the end of it. George Lucas has already announced that there will be a TV series focusing on minor characters from the films and a CGI animated series about the Clone wars, and yet another version of all the films, this time in 3D, released one a year from 2007 to 2013. It's perfectly warranted to criticise the Star wars franchise for the brazen way in which it has targeted small children as consumers. You could even say that the films exist purely to sell the merchandise. But that's capitalism for you. In a communist society, culture will be produced for its own merit, free from the malign constraints of the 'need' for profit. In the meantime, sadly money is always going to get in the way somewhere along the line. Sure, Star wars is a money-making juggernaut, but that does not stop it from being enjoyable. And 'enjoyable' is the right word to use. Unlike a lot of good science fiction, Star wars is not intellectually challenging. It speaks to your heart, not your head. It is more like a roller-coaster - you sit back and enjoy the ride. Perhaps that is because it is not really science fiction. Sci-fi is usually about what-could-be-but-isn't-yet. Star wars has some of the superficial trappings of science fiction - space ships, alien races and robots - but that is as far as it goes. It is a story about larger-than-life heroes and villains, magical powers, internal and external conflicts. It has more in common with fantasy, or cowboys and Indians, or mythology. The mythology analogy is an interesting one. George Lucas himself has, somewhat egotistically, claimed that the series has been a deliberate attempt to create a mythology "for our times". Lucas drew his inspiration from a plethora of sources, including Akira Kurosowa's films (Seven Samurai), space operas like Flash Gordon, but also Joseph Campbell's mythological meta-text, The hero with a thousand faces, which analyses myths from a variety of cultures and argues that there are universal archetypes of characters and plots. The result is an attempt at a mythology that is conscious of its own status as myth. Whether that makes Star wars a post-modern mythology or the mythological equivalent of painting by numbers is open to debate. I'm not sure. What I do know is that Revenge of the Sith is a hell of a lot of fun, and a fitting conclusion to the Star wars epic. Now I'm off to make 'vroom vroom' noises with an imaginary light sabre "¦ Jem Jones