Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Sith

Postmodern Sass points to this article by Anthony Lane in the New Yorker about the latest Star Wars installment. He doesn't like the word Sith; thinks it sounds silly. I do like the word, since for me it brings to mind something both cold-blooded and reptilian (because it sounds like the sound a snake makes), and the Egyptian deity Seth (or Set), who i associate with evil. I think it's one of Lucas's better inventions, certainly better than Naboo or Mace Windu.

I confess though that one reason i like the word is because i like the idea of the Sith. For me, the most interesting part of the original franchise was the Jedi tradition. The idea of a warrior/priest class goes back a long way in both history and story-telling, but like most things in Star Wars, Lucas managed to impart a slight new spin to a very old idea. But since an individual Jedi could be so powerful, the key to making them interesting was the "dark side". Sure, it's a vague, Saturday-morning-cartoonish sort of notion, but without it the Jedi become Dudley Do-Rights. The paradox of the warrior is that no matter how righteous his or her cause may be, he or she must, at least temporarily, become the more aggressive, more efficient, more ruthless killer. To avoid crossing over to the dark side the Jedi has to do this dispassionately, almost like an assassin, whereas on the dark side all of this energy comes from hatred, fear, revenge, etc. I just love unresolvable shit like this. It's kind of like the untranslatable concept of bushido, the code of the Samurai.

In The Phantom Menace, Lucas came very close to destroying the Jedi mystique with the idiotic midichlorian crap (why? why, i ask?). But the Sith saved the day, in particular Darth Maul. The climactic fight scene between Maul, Qui Gon Jin and Obi Wan is the best scene in that movie, and so superior to any other fight scene (so far) in the series that it makes all of the other Jedi matchups look pathetic (and, yes, i'm including the Yoda-Dooku fight in Clones, which i thought was just plain silly).

The main reason why this fight was so much better than others is Ray Park. Ray Park is a person, not a place. He's the actor/martial artist who played Darth Maul. Park is probably not an especially good actor, but he's a very good martial artist. If you watch the fight scene in Phantom Menace you'll notice a few things about Darth Maul that no Jedi displays at any point. Darth Maul moves. He spins, he kicks, he jumps, he flips himself back to his feet. All with balance and his eyes up and focused. He even walks impressively. Yes, it's choreographed. But all of the fight scenes are choreographed, yet this one is so much better. It's like Fred Astaire. Even though you know his scenes are choreographed and rehearsed, you can still tell he's a better dancer than anyone else in the film (except, of course, for Ginger).

So i have to admit that i'm looking forward to the new film primarily because it revolves around the Sith. I'm almost certain that there won't be any fights as good as the Darth Maul fight, and i'm anticipating lots of that electricity-from-the-fingertips effect. But i'm hoping for one last Jedi-Sith battle that looks like what you'd expect from warriors trained from childhood.

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