Friday, January 15, 2010

Star Wars Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith -- anger and birth of evil

Director: George Lucas, 2005.

With The Revenge of the Sith Lucas brings the entire Star Wars epic to a close. Despite knowing the inevitable outcome, even from the end of Episode 5 (The Empire Strikes Back), this satisfyingly depicts the transformation of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) into Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones). The story is superior to those of its two predecessors in this trilogy and is certainly on a par with episodes 5 and 6 from the original trilogy, due mostly to the overarching presence of Darth Vader, a most engaging villain.

Set 3 years after the battle of Geonosis and the Clone Wars, General Grievous has kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). When Jedi knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker spring to the rescue it falls on Anakin to stop Dooku. As Grievous escapes leaving Obi-Wan fallen and dazed, Anakin raises two light sabers over Dooku, the Sith Lord Tyranus. With Palpatine looking on, Anakin decapitates Dooku in cold-blood. This is not the red-hot angry massacre of the Tusken Warriors on Tattooine. Anger could be blamed then, not now.

Back on Coruscent, capital of the Republic, the Jedi begin to suspect the Supreme Chancellor, and ask Anakin to spy on him. But in doing so, Palpatine manipulates him, drawing Anakin ever closer to the Dark Side of the Force. When Anakin discovers the true identity of Palpatine as Darth Sidious, Palpatine asks him, "Are you going to kill me?" Anakin, struggling with his mixed emotions: "I would really like to!" And then the Supreme Chancellor says, "I know you would. I can feel your anger. It gives you focus . . . makes you stronger."

Anger is a key theme running throughout this dark chapter of the series. Palpatine is right: sometimes anger gives focus. There is a place for focused righteous anger. Jesus showed this when he cast the money-changers out of the Temple courts (Jn. 2:14-15), since they were sinning. But more often anger brings tunnel vision and loss of perspective. Too frequently it leads us to actions that we later regret. It is why Paul said, " 'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Eph. 4:26). And Anakin's anger will become the death of him.

Later, reunited with Padme, his secret bride, she tells Anakin that she is pregnant. This news brings joy but also trouble, as Anakin has visions of Padme dying in childbirth. Like the troubling dreams he had of his mother in Episode 2, he wants to take action. Angrily he tells her he wants the power of life and death, to be immortal and to offer immortality. In short, he wants to be like God. If Attack of the Clones gives us a picture of Anakin as Satan, here we see an image of Anakin as Adam.

In the Garden of Eden Satan tempted the first human couple. Though Adam and Eve were commanded by God not to eat from one tree, Satan told Eve, "You will surely not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-5). Adam and Eve did not triumph over this temptation to be like God, but they found, to their dismay, that they did not become immortal, god-like beings (Gen. 3:22). Instead, they were transformed into sinners, dying within and without.

After a saber duel between Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Palpatine, Anakin faces the choice that would seal his destiny: follow the Jedis and save Windu, while arresting Palpatine, or follow Palpatine and become a Sith. His decision, inevitable from the outset, was driven by his emotions and his desire to save Padme. The attachment he was warned about in Episode 2 has now caught him in its net. With a final display of power, Palpatine kills Windu but is physically disfigured into the Darth Sidious we know from the first trilogy.

The Supreme Chancellor immediately sets his clone army against the Jedis throughout the galaxy. Killing these forces of goodness, he seeks to solidify his position and become Emperor.

The film has several classic light saber duels. In Coruscent, Master Yoda faces off with Darth Sidious, and loses. On Utapau, Obi-Wan battles Grievous, who wields four sabers. And then in the thrilling finale, Anaken squares off against his mentor, Obi-Wan. Set against the molten lava cascading from the volcanoes of Mustafar, Obi-Wan defeats Anakin leaving him alone, without legs and arms, burning and dying. This fight presages the later fight in Star Wars when Obi-Wan will shut his sword down and die at the hands of Darth Vader.

The end of the film is the most powerful. With editing superior to anything in the previous 5 movies, Lucas juxtaposes the births of Luke and Leia, twins born to Padme, with the birth of Darth Vader, as Anakin is reconstructed into a bionic man.

Formerly Anakin had been considered the chosen one who would bring balance to the Force (The Phantom Menace), now he has become Darth Vader, who would bring terror to the galaxy. The virgin birth of the earlier episode is here mirrored by the birth of the anti-Christ. It is not Anakin who would be the Christ. No, he is the anti-Christ who must be defeated by the Christ-figure represented by his son Luke.

The first trilogy belongs to Anakin and Darth Vader, with the rise of the dark side. But the second trilogy belongs to the son, Luke, and the victory of good over evil. Just like in real life. The first half belongs to the sons of Adam and Satan, with the rise of sin and evil. But the closing of history belongs to the Son, Jesus, and his victory over Satan. We are living in the expectancy of this victory. May the force (of the Spirit) be with you!

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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