By Sal Paolantonio
ESPN

For the longest time, my daughter Sarah, who will turn 17 next month, begged me to buy tickets to the first midnight showing of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith." But I was worried about going – not because George Lucas had warned us all that his new movie might be too dark for young people. I was worried that it would be too dark for me.


"Revenge of the Sith" is a dark end to the "Star Wars" saga.

I'm saddened by what Lucas has done with the final chapter of his long cinematic saga. Not because it's ending. But because of the way it's ending. Let me explain.

Born on the back end of the baby boom, I was 20 when the first "Star Wars" movie came out. It was 1977, a time of generational uncertainty and upheaval. Our older brothers and cousins, just home from Vietnam, were no longer listening to the Beatles – they were embracing Black Sabbath, and warning us about the dark underbelly of our own government.

The gas crisis taught us we were growing up in a world of limits. The new guy in the White House, Jimmy Carter, was trying to erase the memory of Richard Nixon. But he seemed to make things worse when he defined what we were all feeling. America, he said out loud, was in the midst of a national "malaise."

It was against this backdrop that my friends and I piled into the giant Loews Cinema on 44th and Broadway in New York to see what everybody was talking about – a movie about an intergalactic space battle, with jet fighters that defy light speed, a dynamic kid named Luke Skywalker, and a villain for the ages who had powers not of this world.

Yes, we were blown away by the cool special effects. But that was only a small part of our attraction to this movie called "Star Wars." For many of us, it was the belief in our own power to make things right again in a world that had gone terribly wrong.

Luke, with a little help from his friends [see: Lennon & McCartney], defeats the Evil Empire by destroying the Death Star, and Darth Vader is sent hurtling into deep space.

MORE ON "STAR WARS"
Check out our comparison of the two Evil Empires, our special look at fans waiting in line, and the secret script for Episode VII.
Oh, man, we came out of that theater swinging our imaginary light sabers at the cops in Times Square. We knew what Lucas was telling us. And Lucas knew exactly what he was doing. He called this movie chapter four, "A New Hope."

In one rip-roaring good time, Lucas had given us the answer to an age-old epistemological question raised by that Danish party-pooper Kierkegaard. The existential contradiction between awe and dread could be solved by the power of positive thinking, belief in something called "The Force."

And more specifically, there was an unmistakable message to our generation. Lucas was saying, "Expunge the stench of Watergate and Vietnam and reclaim your future." This is what we learned and tried to do.

Now, of course, the Evil Empire does come back, but the Jedi returns and Luke saves his father from the evil that has consumed him. But this is not what our children will see when they watch "Revenge of the Sith." This is Episode III. And here, according to Lucas, we will learn of the dread: how Luke's father, Anakin Skywalker, turns to the dark side of "The Force." The evil of Darth Vader is incubated and comes to a boil.

Maybe Lucas knows exactly what he's doing once again. Maybe he wants to make a movie that reflects these times. All this generation has to do is turn on the TV and there are plenty of bad guys – Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, pop icons on trial and going to jail. A new generation of real villains.

There is a lot of angst among the conservative movement that Lucas' new movie is an attack on the Bush administration, full of hidden left-wing politics. Of course, there is politics in these movies. But the politics is that politics often fails us.

Way back in the '70s, Lucas wasn't promoting an ideology, but a philosophy – a belief system at a time when all the conventional institutions (belonging to our parents) were failing us. Just like in the movie.

In a brilliant review of "Sith," A.O. Scott of the New York Times wrote, "Taken together and watched in the order they were made, the films reveal the cyclical nature of history, which seems to repeat itself even as it moves forward. Democracies swell into empires, empires are toppled by revolutions, fathers abandon their sons, and sons find their fathers."

I don't want to shoehorn a sports metaphor in here just for the fun of it. But think of it this way: What if Kevin Costner decided to make a prequel to "Field of Dreams," filling in the back story with a tale of just how Ray Kinsella had a falling out with his father – the dark side of the dream. And that's the only movie you saw. No pristine baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield. No magical appearance by Shoeless Joe. No storybook ending of Ray and his dad playing catch in the twilight. You would have to see the the first movie to complete the story, to capture the hope.

Same with "Star Wars."

When we saw the first movie back in 1977, we didn't have to be told how Vader joined the Dark Side. We lived through it. We saw the dark side played out on the national stage. What we hadn't seen was how it could be vanquished. Lucas showed us that. But after seeing "Revenge of the Sith," our kids won't know that critical redemption. They see a massacre of women and children, and a fiery fight scene that looks like it takes place in the darkest depths of hell. Not a pretty picture of the future.

There is an easy way out of this dilemma. After taking your kids to see "Revenge of the Sith," do what I did. On Thursday night, my daughter and I immediately went home, curled up with a much cheaper bowl of popcorn and watched Episode IV, A New Hope.

I wanted her to see how Darth Vader gets his. I wanted her to experience the hope. And she did. It was very exhilarating for her, and a little teary for both of us.

I hope you do the same thing.

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN.



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