Revenge is swell
In an increasingly media-diversified world it is becoming rarer to find common ground when it comes to popular culture. Doubtless, many brickbats will be cast at it for poor dialogue and the subordination of actors to computer-generated trickery. But, the last "hole-plugging" addition to the franchise: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, deserves school attention at the very least for being a media phenomena more or less guaranteed to generate vast collective interest and shared experience.
At a cost of $115 million (pound;61 million), Episode III clearly has a job to do drawing in vast audiences - and the first task students could undertake is some attempt to chart the extent to which Revenge of the Sith temporally penetrates all aspects of life - spawning promotions, tie-ins, reviews, and web comment and fan sites as legion as the clone, droid and Wookie armies it features.
There is certainly a lot of conflict in Episode III - and one of its achievements is managing to generate sufficient difference in the various duels to make them distinguishable and exciting. Thus Anakin Skywalker's clash with Christopher Lee's Count Dooku is significant for the light it sheds on our hero's increasing embrace of the Dark Side of the Force.
Later, Obi-Wan's tussle with part-robotpart-alienall-over baddie General Grievous, is enlivened by Grievous' Kali-like array of multiple arms brandishing light sabres. And all the fights involving diminutive Yoda are gripping. As in the Episode II: Attack of the Clones, he proves he can bounce off the walls and exchange murderous bursts of Force energy with the best of the Jedi.
It might make an interesting exercise to look at some of the spectacular set piece scenes in the first two episodes - examining how, for example, the battle on the grass plains of Naboo or the Ben-Hur-like pod racing sequence in Episode I manage to convey important character-information and mix humour in with the pyrotechnics.
The same is true of many of the epic battle sequences in Episode III - particularly the opening scene in which, despite a screen filled with exploding battle cruisers and space fighters locked in dog-fights, there is still space for important relationship development between Anakin and Obi-Wan.
And there's comedy too, provided again by the droid R2-D2, who emerges in this and other moments of jeopardy in Episode III as a capable little street fighter in his own right. Unfortunately, as the film continues and the story threads diverge (reflecting its overarching need to explain how the events of Episode IV filmed nearly 28 years ago came to be) so the cutting between scenes becomes ever more frantic inevitably leading to a commensurate loss of texture. Particularly poorly served is a great Saving Private Ryan-inspired beach-landing scene involving thousands of Wookies that is no sooner started but discarded in favour of events on other planets.
When it comes to injecting impact into warfare, though, another key factor is location. There are fights in a series of remarkable settings - not least Yoda's encounter with the evil Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) in the main meeting chamber of the Republic - the destruction there underlining a shift from democracy to tyranny that's well under way.
The setting for Anakin's final confrontation with his mentor Obi-Wan is also suitably symbolic - amid explosions of lava and rivers of flame on the planet Mustafar. George Lucas has acknowledged a big debt to the work of Joseph Campbell, whose work drawing together the common strands in world mythologies, provides much of the architecture of the Star Wars narrative.
In Episode III, we witness Anakin's tragic fall - literally into the pits of hell - his plight as fallen angel doubling up with doomed desire to protect his pregnant wife; his every act drawing her fate Oedipus-like inexorably on. The film, like its predecessors lends itself to detailed narrative study. And surprisingly, although we know from the outset that Anakin is doomed, the journey to heavy-breathing Darth Vaderdom is sufficiently compelling to make travelling it with him worthwhile.
* Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is open nationwide, certificate 12A
Film Education has produced a free Star Wars Episodes IV-VI study guide on CD-Rom focusing on story and character development.