I still prefer The Passion of the Jedi

Sunday, 25 July 2004 — 7:45pm | Film, Star Wars

It just so happens that the one weekend I go camping in the Rockies, I miss a monumental piece of news:

Special Announcement: Episode III Title

starwars.com is pleased to announce that Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith is the full title of the next Star Wars film, scheduled for release on May 19, 2005.

The Sith are masters of the dark side of the Force and the sworn enemies of the Jedi. They were all but exterminated by the Jedi a thousand years ago, but the evil order continued in secrecy. They operated quietly, behind the scenes, acting in pairs – a Master and an Apprentice – patiently biding their time before they could take over the galaxy. In Episode III, they’ll finally exact their revenge on the Jedi.

The title was publicly revealed today in a special presentation to a packed audience of Star Wars fans at Comic-Con International in San Diego, California. “For some time now, the naming of a new Star Wars movie has taken on some special meaning among core fans, who love to take part in guessing games before a title is announced, and then engage in debate once it is,” said Steve Sansweet, Director of Content Management and Head of Fan Relations for Lucasfilm. “Let the debates begin.”

Coincidence or not, I first got into watching, writing about, living and breathing cinema at around the same time as the year or two leading up to The Phantom Menace. Until that first title was announced in late September 1998, the fans thought they knew it all; it was going to be Balance of the Force, Rise of the Empire and Revenge of the Sith. Nobody told them so – it was just one of those memetic phenomena that everybody just assumed. So The Phantom Menace came as a bit of a surprise, and created a temporary divide that would foreshadow a more permanent one to come – a rift between those outraged that George Lucas had not pandered to their collective expectations, and those more accepting of novelty who rationalized the merits. Attack of the Clones faced the same thing, only by the time of its release, the hostilities were already firmly cemented.

This time around, the camp better known to laypersons and the media at large – the complainants still aghast that Lucas isn’t adhering to their vision of a saga set in a universe of his own imagination – have nothing to complain about. Revenge of the Sith is what they always wanted, and if anybody wishes to contest that, I will gladly provide links to title speculation threads on any selection of Star Wars discussion forum on the Internet, including those I have never visited. I guarantee you that every one of them guessed this one. Not that I agreed, necessarily – I always preferred Duel of the Fates, which was the very appropriate name of John Williams’ thunderous choral track in the Phantom score, or alternatively, The Passion of the Christ. Think about it.

Of course, expectations are secondary to what works in the final product. Does Revenge of the Sith work, in the storytelling sense? You bet it does.

Return of the Jedi is the best Star Wars title for a number of reasons, the paramount of which is that it has a triple meaning, just as Star Wars is really three parallel stories that cross at six catastrophic turning points. For the sake of discussion, let us refer to them as the Metaphysical, Political and Individual. The Metaphysical story is the tale of how the balance of the Force sees disruption and restoration, demarcated by the resurgence and vanquishment of the Dark Side, corporeally embodied by the Sith Lords. The Political story is the conflict introduced by the rise of the Galactic Empire as the Republic crumbles beneath its feet, only to be thwarted by the restorative Rebel Alliance. The Individual story deals with two individuals, really – on one hand, the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker; on the other, the role of his son Luke in facilitating the latter, something I discussed in depth last Father’s Day. Return of the Jedi, the title, means three different things: the return of the Jedi Order with the induction of Luke Skywalker as he overcomes his last trial (Metaphysical); the return of the Jedi Anakin Skywalker from the Dark Side (Individual); and most overtly, Luke’s own return to the surface of the narrative as he accompanies the Rebel Alliance to Endor (the eye of the Political storm).

Popular legends tell of how prior to Jedi‘s release, the title was announced as Revenge of the Jedi to thwart bootleggers, only the ruse fooled distributor Twentieth Century Fox itself, resulting in some of the most coveted merchandise items on the Star Wars auction block. The Episode III title is a neat homage to that particular debacle. Revenge, of course, is quite contrary to the doctrines that guide a Jedi, something never specifically named and often crudely referred to as the “Light Side” out of ease.

But the Sith, on the other hand – to them, the employment of revenge is quite different, in that it is not only acceptable as a motive, but encouraged. Now, I must hastily tack on a quick disclaimer that I have not read anything pertaining to the plot points in Revenge of the Sith, and the execution of what we all know must happen, but it is already easy to see – by method of interpolating the events that must link Episodes II and IV – that it contains the three-story structure. Like “Jedi” in Return of the Jedi, “Sith” in Revenge of the Sith can be either singular or plural. It fits neatly into all three major narrative threads. The upheaval that marks the transition from Republic to Empire is an exactment of revenge against the political structure that thrived for a thousand years on the banishment of the Sith Order, or so it is implied. At a greater level is the spiritual motive to vanquish the decrepit stabilizing force that is the Jedi and deliver the galaxy to the Dark Side of the Force. Then we have Anakin Skywalker, who emerges as the Sith Lord Darth Vader – and the groundwork has been laid for his own vengeful intentions, in line with what we already know about his demeanour; observe the massacre of the Tusken camp in Clones, or the seeds of hatred in his personal conflicts with Count Dooku and in a whole other way, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Given that we know how the story ultimately ends, Revenge of the Jedi does not breed the same level of speculation as something ominous like Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. (Tangential observation: Anakin Skywalker is a half blood prince in his own right… hmm.) The title is something to which it is quite easy to be accustomed, and in terms of tone and word choice, fits the Star Wars saga like a glove – “Revenge”, aside from being a dish served cold (in the words of another franchise), is a compatible neighbour with the likes of “Menace”, “Attack”, “Strikes” – words that comprise titles of chapters where on one level or another, the bad guys win. Come May we will know not only the full significance of the title, but possess the last pieces of a grand thirty-year puzzle. Being of that oft-overlooked demographic that saw the Prequels and left the cinema as a satisfied customer, I can hardly wait.

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