Hollywood knows how to pick its battles. No other studio even attempted to open a movie the same weekend as George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith. Without competition, Sith has broken the record for a new movie opening, amassing a four-day $158.5 million box office take in the U.S. alone. The former record holder it destroyed was The Matrix Reloaded's $134.3 million four-day box office bonanza. Sith also broke the opening day record of $50 million and has grossed an estimated $303 million worldwide. Never before have five of the major box-office records been broken by one film. It's no wonder. Not only is it allegedly the final movie of the Star Wars saga Mr. Lucas plans on making, but it opened on an amazing 3,361 screens. Also of note is that illegal DVDs of the movie are making record sales for movie pirates on the streets of Beijing, China.
Perusing press clippings of post-weekend reviews, we find quotes from all sorts of people such as Thom Stanly, age 39, who said on Sunday in Fairfax, Canada, "I've been waiting for this moment for 27 years." Of course, you can't help but think that three years ago, Stanly probably said, "I've been waiting for this moment for 24 years," while waiting in line to see Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones.
When Lucas premiered Sith at the Cannes Film Festival, the first reports out were about how "dark" it was, though it received a PG-13 rating in an era of R-rated films. Sensitive soccer moms everywhere thought this was really bad, because compared to every other Star Wars movie which received a PG rating, this one might have too much violence. While the dismemberment count was quite large, what disturbs us most is that R2D2 becomes a killer-of other droids. C3P0, thankfully, is still a gold-plated dandy that gets a memory wipe.
But that isn't the "big" story within Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith.
A few hours after the Cannes premiere, the comments regarding Lucas's alleged hidden allusions in the movie to the current political climate started to seep out. When watching the movie, sometimes they are in your face and easy to spot, such as when Darth Vader says, "You're either with me or against me" to Obi Wan Kenobi, sounding eerily familiar to a post-9/11 President speech. Other lines stand out in the script:
"So this is how democracy dies, with thunderous applause ... "
"Only the Sith (dark side of force) sees life in black and white ... "
"What's the point of putting him on trial if he controls the Senate ... "
"Through destruction I will bring peace and freedom to the galactic empire ... "
Liberal pundits say it's the perfect metaphor for the right-wing takeover of our own republic and the dark forces that threaten our democracy. It has been widely noted that Lucas based his film on the good vs. evil, white hats vs. black hats of '50s Westerns, with perhaps a little Vietnam intrigue thrown in. Lucas also admitted being influenced by Joseph Campbell, one of the 20th century's great mythologists.
Whether good vs. evil, fathers and sons, youthful ignorance vs. aged wisdom, all stories tend to be a mirror of what happens in our world. But does Hollywood (of which everyone agrees Lucas is not a part of) reflect what it sees? Or do we see what we want to through colored glasses? There is evidence of Lucas's personal politics, however. He was quoted in a New York Times article saying, "The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable."
"When I wrote it, Iraq didn't exist," Lucas said to journalists before leaving for Cannes. "We were just funding Saddam Hussein and giving him weapons of mass destruction. We didn't think of him as an enemy at that point. We were going after Iran and using him as our surrogate."
Yep, he's a flaming liberal for sure, even though Lucas wrote the entire storyline-longhand-years ago, before even the Sith Lord ... I mean George W. Bush, was in charge.
Other organizations are banking on the popularity of the Star Wars saga as a metaphor for the current political climate and to bring attention to their political points of view. Moveon.org was said to be spending $150,000 for advertisements on CNN and on leaflets distributed among lines at theater multiplexes comparing Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee (the majority leader) with the evil Chancellor Palpatine (Darth Sidious, the Sith Lord). Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood (PABAAH) has added Lucas to their list of boycotted entertainers, which includes Jane Fonda, Sean Penn and the Dixie Chicks. The Drudge Report compared the White House press corps to The Revenge of the Sith as they slammed the administration's press secretary for telling Newsweek to "fix" the problem in the Muslim world caused by their retracted report about soldiers flushing copies of the Koran down the toilet. ('Scuze me? It seems it got screwed up over there by other means first.)
What is ironic is that Star Wars, a movie franchise that has been around for 27 years, has been the source for many of the ideas and metaphors used in politics today. Take, for instance, Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system. Then there's the Senate handing over power to the leader who aspires to be emperor. Then there's John McCain comparing himself to Luke Skywalker during his 2000 primary campaign. Lastly, there's the inevitable "I am your father" issue. But we won't go there.