Episode 3 in China

Star Wars: Episode III

Last night I went to see Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (AKA 星球大战前转3) with some friends. We went to the 9:40pm showing at Hongqiao Century Universal Theatre (虹桥世纪电影城) and paid 60rmb (about US$7.50) per ticket.

For the day after the much-anticipated movie just opened and a Saturday night, the turnout wasn’t spectacular. The theater was only about half full. There were a handful of foreigners in attendance.

I have no way of judging whether or not the other viewers had been following the Star Wars movies at all, except for the woman behind me. She was making obnoxious comments the entire time. Whenever Yoda came out she kept remarking how cute he was. When Anakin was talking to Palpatine early in the movie and Palpatine mentions the Sith, the woman had an earth-shattering epiphany: “He’s the Sith!”

I enjoyed the movie. The way I saw it, the movie had to do three things:

  1. Wow us with special effects
  2. Connect the new trilogy with the old one
  3. Tell a good self-contained story

I’d say it did quite well on #1 and #2, but was definitely lacking in #3. For one thing, there were some lame lines. For me, what took the cake was how Darth Vader taking his first steps in his new costume looked like it came right out of an old Frankenstein movie, and then, just a little later, his cry of “NOOOOOOOO!” at what the emperor told him was so clich�� it was embarrassing. Still, overall the movie was quite entertaining.

I didn’t let the Chinese subtitles distract me too much. I wasn’t worried about them being wrong this time, I was just interested in seeing how certain lines or words were translated. I did happen to notice that “Sith” in Chinese is 西斯 (which I could have gotten just from the full name of the movie in Chinese), and “Jedi” is 绝地. They’re pretty much just systematic transliterations. The one for “Jedi” doesn’t bother me so much as the one for “Sith.” “Sith” somehow sounds evil in English… like “seethe” or “hiss” or “writhe” or “death.” “X��s��” doesn’t really sound like anything–except maybe the legendary Chinese beauty 西施–and it doesn’t sound evil.

If you’re interested on how the new Star Wars movie is received in China, don’t miss Joel Martinsen’s report on Danwei.org: First Reactions to “Sith.” If you’re interested in Star Wars in general or Lucas’s inspirations in particular, don’t miss this revealing in-depth analysis: How did George Lucas create Star Wars?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Maybe I should go see this one, though I haven’t seen any movies for at least five years:P

  2. The political angle to the movie that’s been bandied about recently makes me wonder whether Î÷˹ was chosen for the transliteration because it recalls ·¨Î÷˹, “fascist”.

  3. zhwj,

    Nice, I totally missed that. Î÷˹ makes a little more sense now.

    Any insight into ¾øµØ?

  4. Da Xiangchang Says: May 23, 2005 at 3:21 am

    Very VERY disappointed in this newest Star Wars. I saw it yesterday. There was only ONE thing going for it: the action sequences (esp. the one that opens the movie). And even with action sequences, only the spaceships fighting was interesting. The light-saber fights were lame and very slow-moving; they’re FAR inferior to Chinese fighting sequences in, say, Kung Fu Hustle or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Lucas should’ve hired a Hong Kong wire-fu guy to help him out. I mean, that slow light-saber stuff dazzled in the ’70s, but combat scenes have advanced lightyears since then.

    The character development was indeed laughably bad, and the dialogue was TRULY crappy. Like John has said, the “Noooooooooo!” was the most egregious cliche, but there were countless others like “I love you so much” and “You’re so beautiful.” It’s like Lucas had a Movie Cliches manual, and he flipped to various chapters–Dialogue for Action, Dialogue for Romance, Dialogue for . . .–and just plugged them into his script. All the action was done according to the requirements of the plot; they didn’t spring from characters’ personalities or any logic at all. For example, the plot revolves around the Princess dying while giving childbirth, which leaves me wondering. A civilization that’s mastered intergalactic travel surely is able to perform caesarians.

    Conclusion: “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” is one of the worst movies of the year. I don’t know what happened, the 1977 Star Wars are truly visionary and entertaining with wonderful characters (Han Solo is hilarious)! And now . . . this crap! Hopefully, Lucas’s next project would be permanent retirement.

  5. Sorry Big Sausage, Lucas is going to be making more Indiana Jones films now.

  6. Da Xiangchang Says: May 23, 2005 at 5:38 am

    Yeah, but Lucas is only the producer of the Indiana Jones movies. Spielberg will be the director and will have creative control. And I trust Spielberg a hell a lot more than Lucas!

  7. ¾øµØ literally is “dangerous place” or even “desperate situation”, which admittedly works for this movie, but makes them seem a bit more ruthless than “Jedi” feels in English.

    Of course, here in 2005, they seem all badass since they remind me of ¡¶¾øµØÌؾ¯¡· (Bad Boys).

    DX: Re: wire-fu – Lucas was hemmed in by continuity; he couldn’t jazz up the sabre battles any more than he did because the more restrained Obi-wan – Vader face off in A New Hope would then be difficult to rationalize. Unless he went back and re-CGI’d the thing, but think of the fans’ reaction to that…

  8. or, rather, ¡¶¾øµØÕ½¾¯¡·.

  9. DXC,

    Wire-fu in Star Wars?! Wire-fu is a style (one that you obviously like). It wasn’t used in any of the other Star Wars movies; it would be ridiculous to insert it now. I thought the light saber battles were great. I don’t know what you were expecting… maybe you’ve forgotten what Star Wars light saber battles are like. Compare this movie’s light saber battles to other Star Wars movies’ and I think Episode III shines.

    Your critiques of the so-called “drama” are pretty spot-on, but I think a lot of what you say about the action is pretty baseless. You’ve been blinded by your devotion to HK-style.

    One of the worst movies of 2005? Hardly. Trust me, there will be far better candidates for that. I’d say there’s already been one that’s done a good job setting the crappiness standard: Alone in the Dark.

  10. Da Xiangchang Says: May 23, 2005 at 12:06 pm

    Yeah, wire-fu might’ve been out of the place in a Star Wars movie, but one of the reasons why wire-fu is used a lot these days is cuz it DOES make fighting sequences look a lot better. For example, The Matrix is known for its action sequences; a year from now, NOBODY will remember any of the sequences in this Star Wars movie. I truly felt the light-saber stuff was crappy. But to each his own . . .

    And I should say this Sith movie is one of the worst movies I’VE seen this year. Alone in the Dark is, of course, a lot worse–but since I use Rotten Tomatoes, I rarely watch TRULY bad movies. I mean, check out Alone in the Dark’s score (haha!); passably good is 60%.

    And not that anyone would care, but here are the worst movies I’ve seen this year: STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, and A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES.


  11. It’s possible to argue that Yoda’s saber-fighting (esp in Episode II) is a little wire-fu-esque. I thought the saber-fighting in Episode III was lacking as well, but not because it was too slow, but rather because it was shot too close. You could only see flashes of light instead of how the fighters were actually moving.

    The “NOOOOOO!!!” line was bad, but “Hold me like you did at the lake by Naboo” is also a stinker and has already entered my everyday vocabulary.

    Very few Taiwanese people have seen the original three movies, but a lot have seen the first two prequels. I can only imagine what’s going through their head when they hear thtat the third prequel is breaking all sorts of box office records.

  12. the movie was alright, but i felt it was a bit rushed. the last ten minutes of the movie was like a checklist for the rest five star wars movies.

  13. 1st and 2nd, I remember only the racing scenes across the desert and the waving of the hand in the ‘jedi tricks’ scene with the flying troll. CG was used so much, it played it out. Enough said.

    This 3rd film was highly enjoyable and great entertainment. $22 bucks for a couple tickets – printed out from the net and walked right into the theatre. The plus was hearing the young boy(s) a few rows back start to whimper & actually cry when Darth raised after his operation and started exploding the surrounding environment with Matrix-like waves of force. The PG-13 rating is there for a reason for the dummy parents.

    The positives highly outweighed the negatives and I felt a lot of the anger and ambition of Anakin reflected in my own life and others around my age. The amazing thing for me is how I have witnessed so many of Lucas’ amazing marketing propaganda and licensing blitzkreig’s in my own quarter century lifetime.

    $50 Million in one day and $150 Million in four days is no joke.

    By the way, related to Rosewood House, did you notice the modern interior of Padm¨¦’s home and see the two Chinese Classical Horseback Field Chairs that got more screentime than JarJarBinks? It was pretty cool to see that Ming Dynasty furniture is STILL considered modern art, even in an elite and literati setting of the film.

    Lucas will be forever in people’s lives with his 6 Star Wars films (amongst the others that I do not know of the top of my head) and his new SF studio (that is next to the Golden Gate Bridge and Palace of Fine Arts at the presedio) … his studio is only 30 minutes from the Pixar studio in Emeryville across the bridge.

    If you visit Northern California, John, I’ll personally give you the tour, RACINGMIX style, of course.

  14. I sorta thought the dialogue in the original Star Wars movies was canny too. Probably if we judged those movies with the same standards as the movies today, the dialogue would seem equally contrived and unnatural. That’s not to say that I don’t love those famous lines (“may the force be with you” “join the Dark Side” “I am your father,” Luke constantly whining, etc.). Actually they burn deep places in the memories of almost all people who watch the films. I guess what I mean to say is that the Star Wars franchise isn’t really about high art (maybe high camp though) or seamless dialogue–it’s just the concept itself that people love and flock to. And the concept is about simple universal truths on a scale of epic proportions that people consistently relate to subconsciously.

  15. ma liming Says: May 23, 2005 at 9:56 pm

    All of you who are criticising the dialogue of the recent Star Wars are missing the point entirely. You don’t go to watch Star Wars for the dialogue, you go to be entertained, for the action, for the concept, and for that I think Lucas’ most recent attempt is a total success. Thats like saying “Gosh, I really liked “Prelude to a Kiss”, but where was the action, the gun fights?!” You gotta take it for what it is. The dialogue has never been good in Star Wars, but the other parts far make up for it.

  16. I enjoyed the film, but probably because I was willing to overlook some of its more craptacular dialogue. Most is thematically meaningful though, which makes it forgivable in my books.

    The allusions to Frankenstein and Nosferatu are doubtless as intentional as the references Lucas gives us to the other films in his own trilogy. I particularly liked the reference to the magic tree cave sequence in Empire prior to the battle between Obi-Wan and that wheezing robot, as well as to the end of that film in the final battle between Yoda and Palpatine.

    Negatives? Any scene in which Natalie Portman appeared could have been fruitfully excised, and Anakin’s motivation for killing the children didn’t strike me as remotely credible, especially for a new father.

  17. I haven’t seen the first two, but I did watch the third one. I agree that the dialogue wasn’t good, but as ma liming said, the dialogue isn’t why you go to see the movie. I thought the cinematography was awesome! All the scenes with the lava were SO cool. And Anakin’s eyes – so freaky. I hear you can now buy contacts that make your eyes look like that. The special effects were awesome, and I have to say, there is one action scene I think I’ll remember a year from now – when Yoda just slapped those guards and sent them flying. That was awesome! 🙂

  18. DalianDragon Says: May 24, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    here, in Dalian, the only “Episode III”s I can find are all dubbed in Chinese… no English.

    guess I’ll have to wait for the pirated DVD…or just watch it online.

  19. Da Xiangchang Says: May 24, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    I can see it now:

    Sith Lord: “The Princess is dead.”


  20. Kikko Man Says: May 25, 2005 at 2:40 am

    Da Xiangchang!

    You really though World without thieves wasn’t good? One of the few good one’s ever.

  21. Drat, zhwj beat me to pointing out the similarity to the ‘xisi’ in ‘fasxisi.’ (Am on parents’ computer; no Pinyin IME.)

    As for ‘jedi,’ I’d thought that Lucas got the term from Japanese jidai-geki period films, which he’d watched and been influenced by in film school, but I could be wrong there. I still haven’t seen Episode III, in Chinese or English, but I guess I’ll have to see it at some point.

  22. was the movie in English? Once I went to a cinema near Tongji University to watch I Robot and it was in chinese!!! OMG. Chinese words coming out of Will Smith’s mouth. I didn’t enjoy the movie much.

  23. DXC,

    It was just “bu” in the subtitles.

  24. John, local news about Lucasfilm and an attempt to bring their creatives from Marin to Oakland (if they don’t already live in Oakland): http://www.loveoakland.com/2012/04/16/creative-class/

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