Because my review of Revenge of the Sith was more or less a positive one (at least I thought it was: I said “better late than never” but what I think I really meant was “too little too late”), I didn’t expect to be bombarded with much hate mail (a real bummer because we were planning on a sequel to our “Star Warts: Attack of George Lucas’s Minions” column from 2002), but who knew that my laidback observation that several scenes from the film court anti-Bush readings would inspire as much vitriol and nasty presumptuousness as it has, from conservatives and liberals alike! Though I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say about Revenge of the Sith in my review of the film, I feel the need to address some of the disturbing e-mails I’ve received from rabid Star Wars fans (most of whom haven’t seen the film), especially since there’s very little opportunity for me to do this kind of thing, what with our resident columnist Alexa Camp assigned to respond to all hate mail that floods our inboxes. (Fret not Alexa fans: We promise you one of her hate mail columns real soon.)
Alex Sandell, some maniac who writes for a website called Juicy Cerebellum, calls me a “whore” in the subject line of his e-mail, accusing me and the editors of my “corporate fucking Micro$oft site” of using our review as a means of securing “money and fame.” Since I don’t know what’s remotely “corporate” about Slant Magazine—an alt-weekly-style e-zine that reviews films and music and makes its two founders very little revenue—or how our review of the film will bring us fame and fortune exactly, I can only assume that Sandell is suffering from some form of delusion, the same affliction that seems to be plaguing all these individuals who are tending to Revenge of the Sith’s Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes in the same way they do Lucas’s films. Just as the dramatic Sandell assigns me way too much power (breathlessly he writes, “Thousands of people are already boycotting the film—based on YOUR quote”), so do a disturbing group of hate mailers who are pleading with me daily to change my rotten rating of the film to a ripe one, ostensibly because a higher Tomatometer rating legitimizes their obsession with the Church of Lucas. When did Star Wars fans become such shills, silencing the skeptics who are apparently trying to pinch poor Lucas’s collection plate?
Typically I’m not concerned with the idiots that hide behind the anonymity of their computers to lob misshapen and half-assed insults, but I thought it was amusing that one person who accused me of possessing a fourth grader’s writing acumen gets to hide behind his employer’s fascistic e-mail protection policy, which apparently allows employees to crap on anyone and ensures that “any unauthorized use or dissemination of this message in whole or in part is strictly prohibited.” Someone should tell the folks at ABN AMRO Bank N.V. that Jay and Silent Bob are on their way to beat the mother-fucking shit out of James Bieniewicz. But that’s nothing! To Jesus Ramirez, Dwight Benignus, Newbie Was Taken and Dan (who wrote to me asking, “Uhm, whats up with all the penis metaphores in your revenge of the sith review?”), I give you dictionary.com’s definition of metaphor, which I find particularly apropos here: “One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol: ’Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow and the craven’ (Neal Gabler).” Guys, I get that the humor flew over your heads, but it’s Lucas, not me, whose making the metaphors…I’m just here to point them out to you.
But I digress. In Revenge of the Sith, when Obi-Wan says, “Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes,” after Anakin says, “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” it seems like a rather obvious dig against George W. Bush, but what do I know: When the entire audience at the film’s New York City press screening cheered at this little exchange, they must have been suffering from some form of mass hysteria, responding not to the verbal exchange but to the size of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen’s light sabers. It all seems so cut and dry, yet people have been angrily pointing out that Bush’s you’re-with-us-or-against-us challenge has been uttered countless times before. (I’m sure it has, but quick, name one person who did!) And I’m sure there were many allegedly failed pot smokers before Bill Clinton, but that doesn’t mean that a movie featuring a character blurting under pressure that he “didn’t inhale” is referencing my father’s bad hookah experience in Havana in 1965.
Others have also stated that an anti-Bush comment couldn’t have been made or intended because Star Wars was conceived 30 years ago, which probably means that while Lucas was writing Revenge of the Sith (this is after 9/11 and Bush’s attack on Afghanistan and Iraq), he intended the light saber duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin to evoke that day in 1975 when Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (of cult leader Charles Manson’s posse) pointed a gun at Gerald Ford’s stomach, right? Even the hate mailers smart enough to acknowledge, admit or welcome the anti-Bush reading seem equally belligerent and close-minded. (One reader went as far as to call me a “retard” because Darth Vader was meant as a swipe against Richard Nixon!) It’s as if the one compliment I’ve paid the film (it’s contemporary resonance) is being lambasted by a group of people unwilling to accept that language, tradition and pop iconography are malleable and evolve as our human culture does. Even some of the nuts on Free Republic, where my article was posted on their creepy-crawly message board, seem to understand my basic point that only a few sequences exude an anti-Bush bias and that it’s something that doesn’t exactly spill over into the rest of the film.
In my review of this final chapter in Lucas’s space opera, I state, “I imagine that Revenge of the Sith is very much the film Lucas’s fans want to see, but are some of them ready for an anti-Bush diatribe?” I thought the question was rhetorical and I certainly didn’t expect it to strike such a nerve. To my surprise, there actually seemed to be an answer, and Star Wars fans—at least the ones who voted for Bush—were letting me know what it was: “No!” Even if fans silly enough to deny that Lucas (or playwright Tom Stoppard, who did have a hand in polishing the film’s dialogue, at least according to Christensen in a recent issue of Playboy) may have coded a swipe against the President into the script, is it something that constitutes a betrayal of their faith in the Star Wars franchise?
In an e-mail, Lezlie V. Cox explicitly answered the question I posed in my review: “Hell yes I’m ready! I’m ready for anyone to call this tyrant a tyrant. Someone needs to say it…kudos to George Lucas for having the balls to do it!” Lezlie’s message is especially illuminating when coupled with Craig Winneker’s “No Star Wars For Oil” article on Tech Central Station. In addition to pointing out some more anti-Bush digs I didn’t bother to catalog in my review (”’This war represents a failure to listen,’ Padme laments at one point, before declaring after a vote to give executive power to Chancellor Palpatine: ’So this is how liberty dies—to thunderous applause’”), Winneker questions Lucas’s need to add so much topicality into the story line. He states, “This stuff has no place in a Star Wars flick.” Except there are people like Lezlie who think this universe does have room for this kind of topicality.
The Star Wars films have always thought in black and white, and it’s this rudimentary thinking that explains much of its appeal. By not taking anything remotely resembling a partisan political or philosophical stance, these films have allowed us to interpret Lucas’s characters as we see fit. But in Revenge of the Sith, Lucas dares to add a few none-to-subtle and very specific shades of gray, and the effects are understandably jarring. It’s not something either fans or non-fans expect, and I’m sure it’s not something people who voted for Bush or believed in his weapons of mass destruction want to see. For 30 years, a partisan agenda has never gotten in the way of the experience of a Star Wars film, so why start now? I imagine liberals would be wary of a Star Wars film that criticizes Clinton, but to Sandell I must say: If thousands of people are allegedly boycotting this film because of my crazy interpretation, think of all the serious film snobs and Dems that are know going to give it the time of day!
If the countless e-mails I’ve received from people telling me how I should and should not write my reviews are any indication, some believe that there’s simply no place for political commentary let alone a point of view in a film review. Paul Andersen of Portland, Oregon tells me that “the best way to review movies is to ask if the movies worked” and Rita Snyder, a professor of psychology at Denison, acknowledges that the film “may show signs of rebellion against Bush” but then goes on to tell me that she voted for Bush and that I should “keep political views out of the professional arena of evaluation.” Well, Paul, I think anyone with a fourth-grade education could discern from my review that I thought the film was borderline okay (slower types also have the star rating on the site to work with). As for you, Rita, have you e-mailed Lucas yet to tell him to take the political views out of Revenge of the Sith before you buy your ticket?
Seriously, who are these people who want to read lobotomized film reviews and dictate where political thought does and does not belong? It’s all so absurd, because any reasonably intelligent person understands that film doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that great art is often inextricably bound to the politics of its time, a similar relationship that exists between politics and great criticism (which was a subjective enterprise last time I checked) and one that’s easily avoided by changing the channel, so to speak: Go read Gene Shalit, who spends more time piling puns into one of his “reviews” than offering anything resembling serious critical thought. (”Revenge of the Sith took revenge on my boredom!” he might say.) I realize you can’t win with your average Star Wars fan (I know because some of them are my friends) but, in the end, my problem isn’t with them as much as it is with people like Dude Spellings of Eugene, Oregon (hey, Paul, you and Dude should hook up some time!). Dude inquires, “Is it possible that Lucas just made a movie and the commentary on current events is yours?” I don’t know, Dude, why don’t you tell me after you’ve actually seen the damn film. Isn’t it possible the commentary is there and you simply refuse to see it?