You've probably already read the reviews, so I won't belabor the point: Lucas finally proved that the magic hadn't left the Star Wars universe after all, and gave his fans what they were looking for- a dark, violent lightsaber-clash of a movie that would bring the series to a heart-wrenching completion. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is not only the best of the prequels, but might just be the best film of the entire series.
(Warning: some spoilers ahead, read at your own risk!)
Yes, the dialogue is still cheesy- it's Star Wars, after all. Some of the 3d still leaves a bit to be desired, and some of the characters are all but thrown away.
But the intensity of Anakin/Vader's fall from grace, the final confrontations with Palpatine, Windu, Obi-Wan, and Yoda, the destruction of the temple, and Padme's death all lend the film a tragic element that all the others- including the original trilogy- have lacked. By the end, I'd shed a few tears- for Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padme, and the doomed Republic.
That's not to say that the movie is entirely humorless- the opening scenes manage to be quite amusing, without trying to rely on comic-relief characters (such as the notorious Jar-Jar Binks, who only makes two brief appearances and never says a word- thank God)… though it's not long before the entire movie descends into gripping, oppressive darkness. This isn't a kids' movie- Lucas takes the gloves off, at last. As the master said, "This has always been a dark story. It's about a man's descent into hell. That's pretty serious stuff. … I could pull it back a little bit, but I don't really want to."
Most importantly, though, the movie manages to seamlessly tie up almost all the loose ends of the first two, for the transition into Episode IV- a fine achievement in of itself. And unlike Episodes I and II, there isn't much here that doesn't work- it all hangs together like the Millenium Falcon; it may be as elegant as a trash compactor in places, but it can still do the Kessel Run in under six parsecs.
But enough gushing (Kevin Smith already has that task well covered). We all know why Star Wars is relevant to GenSit- it is a tale of cosmic spirituality gone horribly, horribly wrong.
The Jedi Code—and a lesson in history
"There is no emotion; there is peace.
There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
There is no passion; there is serenity.
There is no death; there is the Force."
-From the Jedi Code, the teachings of Master Odan-Urr
The four core teachings of Master Odan-Urr are at the core of what it is to be a Jedi. They are, in essence, identical to the teachings of Buddhist or Christian ascesis (which makes it unsuprising that two books have recently been released citing the paralells between Jedi teaching and these two traditions). At heart, however, these teachings are both the foundation of the Jedi Order's stability- and it's greatest weakness.
In the Star Wars universe, everyone is sensitive to the force to one degree or another (with the exception of droids, of course). Most people can hardly feel the force at all, let alone call upon it. Others, such as Han Solo, have an unconscious "attunement" with the force that manifests itself as inordinately good luck and a tendency to happen upon fortuitious synchronicities, yet lack an ability to call upon the force at will. Others- a highly evolved mystical elite present among all the races of the galaxy, are so sensitive to the force that they can learn how to use it- to Control (modify their bodily functions, ala advanced yogis and martial artists), Sense (learn the will of the force, so that they might become more in tune with their surroundings, and the whole universe), and Alter (modify the environment outside their body, most commonly through telekinesis). A handful of mystics on inhabited worlds throughout the galaxy called upon and developed these abilities for millenia, though it would not be until the discovery of hyperdrive and the founding of the Galactic Republic that these mystics would formally become the Jedi Order. Beginning as a wandering band of mystical seekers and heroic vigilantes, the order would, over the course of it's 25,000 year existence, would transform into the judicial arm of the Republic and, through strict adherence to the Jedi code, safeguard democracy. An institution that started with wandering masters and small cadres of students would be formalized, with temples, training ships, strict dogmas, and massive screening programs for perspective candidates- by the time of the Clone Wars, most worlds in the Republic screened students for force sensitivity at a young age, though only a tiny fraction of training candidates would ever be accepted as Knights of the Jedi Order (most would never even begin training, being of no significant ability, or would be shunted into various non-millitant Jedi corps, such as ExplorCorps, MediCorps, and AgriCorps). Thus, the Jedi became ossified by bureaucracy and politics- and lost their way. Waiting in the shadows, their ancient enemy knew that the time had come to strike.
In the early days of the Jedi Order, a group of Jedi came to the conclusion that the Jedi Code was too restrictive- that by exploring their passions, Jedi could achieve even greater powers- including the power to create and destroy life at will. This lead to a schism in the Jedi Order- those who remained true to the Code drove the rebels into exile in the far regions of the Galaxy, where the schismatic Jedi encountered a race of primitive near-humans ruled by sorcerer-kings who explored the same powers they did. This race called themselves the Sith. Wielding superior technology and superior skill in the force, the schismatic Jedi conquered these people and set themselves up as godlike rulers. In the dark of the remote galaxy, the Sith Empire was forged. For twenty thousand years they prepared for their return- training ever more skilled warriors, probing the deepest secrets of the force for new sorceries, and constructing new weapons. Eventually, a few young Jedi explorers would stumble upon this terrible cancer growing on the edge of the galaxy- and plunge the Republic into chaos.
Four millenia of warfare, and the near destruction of the Jedi Order and the Republic itself, would follow the encounter with the Sith (for those who want to know the story, take a look at the Knights of the Old Republic series of videogames- they cover this period quite well). Eventually, however, the final clash between the Jedi and Sith at the battle of Ruusan annihilated the last of the Sith Lords, finally bringing the madness to an end. Little did the Jedi know, however, that one Sith Lord had escaped- Darth Bane. This master would go into hiding, and create the rule of two- from this point forward, only two Sith Lords would exist at one time- a master, and an apprentice. In darkness, they would plot their revenge. For 1,000 years, the Republic- and the Jedi- knew a golden age of power, wealth, scientific knowledge, and uncontested mastery over the galaxy.
Which brings us to the story that everyone knows- the Sith took control of the Republic, destroyed the Jedi Order, and crushed the galaxy beneath it's iron fist, until a few bold rebels brought down the last of the Sith, freeing the galaxy from their tyranny forever. But is that all that is going on here?
Jedi, Sith, and Cosmic Evolution
"The Galaxy will live in tranquility if certain matters are a bit overlooked or left unheard."
One ongoing theme througout the Star Wars universe is the theme of bringing "balance to the force"- the task that Anakin Skywalker, the legendary "chosen one", was supposed to accomplish- and did- in the only way possible. Painfully, bloodily, and destructively, he, like a manifestation of Yamantaka, cut through the order that was holding back cosmic evolution. He annihilated the Jedi and the Sith- which sadly enough, was the only way the galaxy could ever evolve and move past the dead end it had become locked in.
The Galactic Republic- and Empire- was a basket case. For hundreds of thousands of years, life had failed to evolve. Technological progress had slowed to a crawl (Coruscant was completely urbanized over one hundred millenia before the Clone Wars)- other than a few technological refinements here or there, there had been little advancement millenia. No serious genetic modification was brooked by a civilization caught up in stultifying regulations and taboos, all enforced by the Jedi, guardians of all that was "natural". The most evolved creatures in the Galaxy- the Jedi Masters- had made themselves into guardians of tranquility, not the vanguard of evolution. Stopping change was their prerogative. No advancement- technological, genetic, or spiritual- was possible under the Jedi regime. The galaxy had ground to a halt- no transpersonal evolution could occur, as the Jedi had declared it their task to prevent the Galaxy itself from waking up and achieving self-consciousness. Not unlike modern Christianity, a promising spiritual system had become so stuck in mythic-rational dogmas and doctrines that it could not be the force it needed to be.
The Sith, on the other hand, represent a twisted form of evolutionary Ascent- a confused one, similiar to Nazism. Human racial superiority (alluded to in the books- and obviously in Episodes IV-VI- and notice how the Clone Wars gave the Sith a convenient way to destroy all the major infrastructure of non-human power, such as the Trade Federation?), a fixation on the advancement of new technologies of destruction (Death Stars, Star Destroyers, AT-AT Walkers), imperial power ideology, and Sith sorcery and alchemy all represent a twisted form of evolutionary Ascent, all informed by Ken Wilber's "Pre/Trans Fallacy"- this "evolution" is headed straight into the ground, as it is focused on the aggrandizement of the ego and prerational passions. If the Jedi represent modern religion, the Sith represent secular and pseudo-mystical forms of totalitarianism- Nazism, Communism, Fascism, Asian Millitarism. Both are dead ends- one because it stops itself and the galaxy from evolving, and the other because it "evolves" itself into the grave.
By manifesting Anakin Skywalker, the force decided to destroy both dead ends- it would restore balance to the force by "rebooting" the Jedi Order and destroying the Sith. But while Anakin was to bring balance to the Force, another Jedi, one who had remained true to the spirit of the Jedi, would bring about the next stage of galactic evolution- Qui-Gon Jinn. At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Yoda reveals that Qui-Gon has come back from the realm of the dead, and brought the secret of immortality. Could this be the beginning of something new- a way out of the contradictions the galaxy has caught itself in?
We can only speculate- the story ends with the restoration of the balance, and the novels set after Return of the Jedi were not informed by the events of the prequels, nor do they take the story in this interesting direction (they more or less just recapitulate the same story we've already seen, in different fashions- first with Grand Admiral Thrawn, then with a reborn Empire, then with the Yuzzhan Vong). But it leaves one wondering- how will balance come to our Force?
In any event, if there is a bone in your body that loves Star Wars, Episode III is worth seeing- and pondering.