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a NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
Online NewsHour

May 19, 2005

Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post reviews the latest Star Wars movie, "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," and then speaks about the film's impact on the movie industry, culture and fans.

JEFFREY BROWN: The force is with us again, as the galaxy far, far away has come to a theater very near you. The final film of George Lucas' epic, the epically popular "Star Wars" series, is called "Revenge of the Sith." It comes nearly 30 years after the world, through "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," first came to know Luke and Leia -

LUKE SKYWALKER: I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Han Solo and Chubaka --

HAN SOLO: Laugh it up, fuzzball.

JEFFREY BROWN: -- C-3PO and R2-D2, and of course, Darth Vader. It's around this dark villain that the final installment is framed --

DARTH VADER: I am your father.

JEFFREY BROWN: -- as it charts the descent into evil of the promising young Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker. Though "Revenge of the Sith" is the last film to be released, it's technically the third in a series, following two other prequels, "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones."

And while those films underwhelmed critics, they, like their predecessors, were wildly popular at the box office. All told, the five "Star Wars" films so far have grossed an astonishing $3.5 billion worldwide, with billions more in merchandising sales.

JEFFREY BROWN: Stephen Hunter is a Pulitzer Prize winning film critic for the Washington Post. He's seen the "Revenge of the Sith," and he joins us now. Welcome, Stephen Hunter.

STEPHEN HUNTER: It's good to be here.

JEFFREY BROWN: We take it for granted now that this is a blockbuster, but take us back to when you saw the original "Star Wars." What made it such a phenomenon?

STEPHEN HUNTER: Nobody knew anything about it. We only knew George Lucas from "American Graffiti," which gave no indication of what was to come. We went into the theater and the movie itself had a weird vibration to it, a weird buzz, and it continued through the first three or four minutes. It was episode four. We had no idea what to make of that.

Then there was a crawl that, you know, that vanished into the top of the screen that explained things, assumed familiarity with things we knew nothing about. Then see the black sky and a spaceship comes in from overhead. It was a great moment in movie history, because it's the best spaceship you've ever seen. We've been seeing crummy spaceships for years and years, and this was a great spaceship. Man, this is going to be cool.

That spaceship disappears and you're sitting back, and suddenly there's a bigger spaceship. It's gigantic, and it goes on and on and on. And that moment, I think, it's just one of the most treasured moments I have in a life of movie going. I mean, it promised so much, it was so romantic, it was so revitalizing, it was so much a sense of reinventing the genre, that it's a very powerful emotional moment. He's really worked hard to maintain that momentum. I mean, that big ship is still going on.

JEFFREY BROWN: So how do you define the influence it's had since on the industry and on film making?

STEPHEN HUNTER: Well, for better or for worse, it spawned a host of imitators. Not imitators in the sense that they -- I'm not talking about cheesy imitations or parodies, but what it did was it made -- it sort of made the summer movie blockbuster. It and "Jaws" made the summer movie blockbuster a ritual, an event, something that became important in America, in the American entertainment industry.

And filmmakers for years and years and years have tried to replicate that specialness, that vividness that this movie brought. And all the big summer movies, whether they're science fiction or fantasy or whatever they are, they're hoping to recapture some of that influence, some of that very special wonderful feeling that that early movie made. Also, I think for worse, but many people think for better, many people in Hollywood think for better, is it spawned a sense of giganticism in movies.

This movie was made, this first movie in '77, was made for $8 million bucks and looks like it was made for $80 million bucks. He had extraordinary production values, which he brought to it. And that's the one constant over the years is the sense of trumping himself and showing these visions. I think he was instrumental in this whole movement towards computer initiated imagery, which is, I think, overused today. But nevertheless it gives you visions and vistas and machines, particularly machines that you've never seen before. That's its most enduring legacy, I think.

JEFFREY BROWN: I was reading today of the "Star Wars" series, and there's so much written about it, but as a kind of cultural unifier.

STEPHEN HUNTER: I think that's very good.

JEFFREY BROWN: Something that's sort of rare in our society now -


JEFFREY BROWN: -- where the media is more into niches.

STEPHEN HUNTER: Exactly. One of the things about "Star Wars" that was so attractive to people of my generation was the way it recaptured the pleasure of the movies of our youth. And one of the things that all those movies had was they attempted to unify as opposed to -- as opposed to disintegrate.

In other words, instead of going for a specific niche audience and playing that audience off against other audiences and making that audience feel special as opposed to the other audiences, this movie, the old classic movies and the "Star Wars" movies tried to bring everyone together. And the consequence is a movie that can be enjoyed by bald geezers like me and kids with pins in their noses, who otherwise would have very little to talk about, I'm afraid.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. So you've seen the new movie. Want to give us a quick review?

STEPHEN HUNTER: It's very, very good. It's much -- of the second cycle of the movies, it's far and away the best. It's much better than the past two, which as far as I can tell were obsessed with political machinations. This movie is as if he's thought to himself, "George, what do you do best? You direct action."

So the movie is very, very hard moving; it's full of very good action sequences. The action, though, expresses character ideas. And we do learn what turned Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. And, you know, this is a classic subject for artists to examine. I'm not sure that this is profound thought, but it's very convincing. And I will say the young actor Hayden Christensen is much better as a proto-Darth Vader than he was as Obi-wan Kenobi's sidekick

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Steve Hunter, thanks a lot.

STEPHEN HUNTER: It's been my pleasure.

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