Rampant Geekery: Star Wars Thoughts [SPOILERS]

Inspired by Gary Farber’s interesting comparison of what is supposed to be the full script and the actual theatrical version of “Sith”, I thought I’d list some of the things that occurred to me about the film and the overall Star Wars narrative as it is left at the end of the film.

1. Much as I suggested in an earlier post, the Jedi had an internal crisis which paralleled that of the Republic. They had lost their way, even their balance, just as the Republic had become arteriosclerotic by the time of “The Phantom Menace”. Palpatine’s overall plan brilliantly capitalized on their complacency and detachment, their inability to understand the world around them. Nor do Obi-Wan and Yoda actually seem to have learned much in their exile by the time “A New Hope” rolls around. They both tell Luke he’s going to have to kill his own father and both of them seem horrified by Luke’s strong feelings for his friends. Understandably since from their perspective, Anakin’s attachment to Padme appears to be the cause of his fall. But watching “Sith”, I don’t think that’s it. Overlooking the awfulness of Lucas’ actual staging of the romance, you might argue that only Obi-Wan’s personal friendship with Anakin and Padme’s love for him keep him from falling much earlier. It’s not his attachment to people that is his weakness: it’s his narcissism, which arguably the Jedi helped to feed with all the talk about him being “The Chosen One”. If I were going to go back and rewrite the EU novels, most of which stink pretty bad anyway and could use a rewrite, I’d make the post-ROTJ story of the New Jedi Order be about a Jedi Order that rejected asceticism and understood that the Force isn’t just simply divided into a dark and a light side. I know that’s where the EU books eventually got to, but in a kind of haphazard way. The prophecy of the Chosen One appears now to be accurate, but what the Jedi don’t grasp (even as they speculate that the prophecy has been misinterpreted) is that they’re the target of the prophecy, not the Sith, that the Jedi are the ones “out of balance”.

One other note on this: I’m struck at how casually the Jedi kill their enemies when they could just disable them instead. (For example, Yoda’s decapitation of the two clone troopers on Kashyyak.) Whatever else they are, they’re not especially reverent about life, and even less so sentience, since they have zero compunction about droids even when said droids clearly are sentient. Their reluctance to kill helpless enemies is clearly a martial code first and a nominal allegiance to some kind of justice system, not a belief about the sanctity of life. I have no problem with this: it’s what makes the Jedi attractive in many ways, true Zen warriors–but it does mean that a certain amount of their rhetoric rings hollow.

2. Gary mentions that he’s not entirely sure why Palpatine stages his own kidnapping. Partially it appears that there’s a brewing political situation where he needs to be confirmed in his Supreme Chancellorhood once again, so this is another in a long series of Reichstag Fires for him. Clearly it’s also very much about getting Anakin to kill Dooku and hopefully removing Obi-Wan at the same time: Palpatine wants Anakin at his side by the time he brings down the curtain on the Separatists, evidently recognizing that the Separatists can’t keep it up forever and the time is fast coming where he’ll have to declare himself Emperor. I did like the brief look of panic and surprise that Dooku gives Palpatine when he tells Anakin to kill Dooku: evidently that was not in the scenario that the two Sith worked out beforehand. One wonders what Palpatine told Dooku: whether Dooku had any idea that Anakin is targeted for recruitment, whether Dooku really knows the overall plan, and so on. The “Clone Wars” cartoons help with this a bit, and the overall history of the Sith gives us plenty of room to recognize that Dooku and Palpatine are playing the usual, “Let’s work together while we try to kill each other” game.

3. I still can’t forgive “midichlorians”, but Lucas did at least try to recover the fumble of Anakin’s virgin birth with that extremely interesting conversation between Palpatine and Anakin at the Star Wars-universe version of a Cirque de Soleil performance. Not only does Palpatine hint that his plan to bring down the Jedi and take over the Republic has been in the works for a very, very long time, he gives us the briefest glimpse of his own training.

4. Other things about all three prequels now make a bit more sense. Everyone made fun of the stupidity of having a single ship control all the droids on Naboo in “Phantom Menace” but now it’s clear why Palpatine wanted it that way: he wanted an off switch so that when the time came he could shut down all the Separatist armies in one easy move.

More on the question of Palpatine’s training and other things. I saw someone suggest that the film really should have ended with Vader taking off to chase Captain Antilles and Princess Leia, to recover the plans, with an ellipsis of the years in between. Actually I like it the way the actual film does it much better, and no doubt the caretakers of the Star Wars universe do too, since it opens to them a whole series of stories for books, animated films and comic books that are set in the time in between “Sith” and “A New Hope”. I’d actually read or watch those if they’re done well, because there are some obvious and rather interesting stories that reflect on the overall narrative.

1. The formation of the Rebellion. The contours are there (and further outlined in the full script Gary read), but I like an especially delicious irony that I can see. Palpatine uses a “wag the dog” scenario with the Separatists in order to gain control of the Republic, but the emotions spawned by the war against the Separatists actually open the way for the Rebellion, and the tactics used by the Separatists also teach the Rebellion a great deal. Palpatine actually sows the seeds of his own future defeat through the very machinations that gain him power.

2. Jedi-in-hiding. The reversal of the Jedi Temple beacon means that it’s actually possible that some other Jedi survive the massacre in hiding. It’s reasonable to speculate that one of the major jobs that Darth Vader will shoulder in the first ten years or so of the Emperor’s reign is hunting down surviving Jedi. Any Jedi in hiding, including Obi-Wan, would obviously have to struggle against a complicated burden. They don’t dare demonstrate or use their powers, but they would be living in societies where compassion would almost demand that they do so. I can definitely see a story involving Obi-Wan, the Hutts and the danger of exposure…

3. Yoda and Dagobah. It’s left open how Yoda finds Dagobah and how long he’s been there when Luke arrives in ESB. I assume he chooses it because of the profusion of lifeforms. There might be a story in Yoda’s flight to the planet, particularly because the Emperor and Darth Vader know full well that Yoda is still alive and a threat. That story might also explain why there’s a place very strong in the Dark Side on Dagobah…

4. Palpatine’s backstory and his future ambitions. I like Obi-Wan’s deleted line about a plot hundreds of years old in the script Gary quotes: it’s nice to see that he at least realizes at the very end the enormity of the plan Palpatine has been carrying out. Is it his plan, or is he the inheritor of it from his own master? Moreover, once the whole plan succeeds, now what? The motivation for just having two Sith and no more is presumably gone, since that was about the need to keep hidden from the Jedi and avoid division on a grand scale. You’ve just subverted the Republic and destroyed the Jedi: what you gonna do now, Palpatine? Go to Disneyland? What drives a conspirator once his conspiracy succeeds at the grandest scale?

5. How early does Darth Vader begin to hatch his own plots to overthrow the Emperor, as long as we’re at it? Anakin doesn’t appear to have the cunning of Dooku or the raw intensity of Maul, so it would be interesting to see how he goes about learning his trade as a Sith in the early years of the Emperor’s reign.

—–

One thing that does occur to me is that it’s a little hard to believe that Darth Vader is so blase when it turns out Princess Leia has fled to Tatooine at the beginning of “A New Hope”. Considering that he’s also receiving constant briefings about the Death Star plans when he returns to the Death Star, briefings that include a description of one of the droids involved and a description of a pair of farmers who appear to have been harboring the droids, it’s a bit weird that he doesn’t put two and two together quicker than he does. Even after Obi-Wan shows up, he seems to still think it’s just about the Death Star and Princess Leia. Presumably though this is what allows him to grasp right after the end of ANH that he has a son.

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13 Responses to Rampant Geekery: Star Wars Thoughts [SPOILERS]

  1. Damn you, Tim; I read this, and you get me thinking that maybe there really was an interesting and even powerful story and mythology at work in Star Wars, and that by checking out of that particular geekworld long ago (contenting myself with Star Trek instead) I ended up missing out. The possibility that, lurking somewhere in the hidden recesses of Lucas’s original vision, there was a consistent theme about the Force and how, in the end, the Jedi themselves were poor stewards of it, is intriguing. Obviously, the actual execution of the movies provides very little evidence for this possibility; the primary example being the climactic showdown between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor in ROTJ, which seems to suggest that Luke’s emergence as a true Jedi comes when he, in the end, truly does resist emotion, and achieve detatchment. (And what kind of lesson is it, in regards to affection and ascetisism, that Vader seems to achieve full redemption simply by tossing a weirdly helpless Emperor down a big shaft, now that we know that he wasn’t just some oddly principled-yet-violent dark knight in the employ of the Empire, but a child-murdering psychopath in his youth? Again, the suggestion there, if there is one, is that nirvana comes when the past, both its sins and its loves, are let go.) Still, this post gets me thinking. I, too, would be interested to find out if Yoda’s immense power didn’t come at some sort of price, that the dark side found a kind of “home” on Degobagh at least partly because of his own strained employ of the force itself. And you idea of Vader spending a few years hunting down Jedi, and Obi-Wan struggling to elude him. Anyway, this post is an additional argument to break down and actually see Sith.

    How does Qui-Gon Jinn fit into this particular imagining of the prophecy of the Chosen One and the fate of the Jedi? I could only stand to watch about 30 minutes of Phantom Menace, fast-forwarding through the rest, but Qui-Gon seemed to be presented as the exemplary, detached, unemotional Jedi. Is there more to his character than I saw, or is the story of the force you’re working out here only (barely) visible in the final two prequels?

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    See, I don’t think it’s that Luke achieves Zen detachment. What he resists is anger at Darth Vader and joy at the ferocity of his own power–the very things that the Emperor was able to use (with more subtlety) to tempt Anakin. What gives Luke the strength to resist? Partially that he loves his father and wants to save him. Loves him not as an actual person, mind you–it’s not like they’ve been out bowling or anything–but the belief in his inner goodness, in his redemption. He cares about him. The prelapsarian Jedi spend too much time pursuing detachment of all kinds: no love, no marriage, no desire to save or redeem anyone. Obi-Wan and Yoda are the only ones able to master much of any emotion, and only after it’s too late. In the broader universe of books and such, it’s been suggested that this was one reason Qui-Gon was something of a rebel within the Jedi Order, that he was more passionate in various ways. It’s also why Mace Windu’s supposedly a badass fighter–he dabbles in the Dark Side but only when he’s fighting.

    And note what brings Vader back from the Dark Side: watching his helpless son get murdered by the Emperor. Caring, again. Not detachment.

  3. kieran says:

    I think this is a case where the fans are too good for the product. I mean, they deserve better.

    it’s a little hard to believe that Darth Vader is so blase when it turns out Princess Leia has fled to Tatooine at the beginning of “A New Hope”. … a description of a pair of farmers who appear to have been harboring the droids, it’s a bit weird that he doesn’t put two and two together quicker …

    This is the key problem. It’s only hard to believe if you think the story has a fundamental coherence that you just need to think a bit harder to understand. But no such coherence exists. This kind of thing — and there’s so much more of it: midichlorians, the inconsistencies in the Jedi’s outlook, the force not being able to clue you in that the love of your life is pregnant, etc, etc, etc — can only plausibly be explained in terms of poor thinking and bad planning on the part of George Lucas. Fans of course much prefer heroic efforts to reconcile clashing plot and character elements within the confines of the SW world. But the decision to pop the droids in Ep I — to pick one example from many — was clearly motivated by things like marketing and popularity, rather than by some good internal reason. There’s simply no decent explanation for Vader’s actions, or any number of other inconsistencies, that doesn’t involve stepping out of the story and pointing the finger at the writers. It’s kind of sad to see so many devoted fans searching for a way to preserve the belief that The Story Works and Lucas Has It All Figured Out. It’s like a case of “When Prophecy Fails.”

  4. Gary Farber says:

    Other comments of mine I appear to have accidentally left on the thread below; sorry.

    “How early does Darth Vader begin to hatch his own plots to overthrow the Emperor, as long as we’re at it?”

    In the script I quoted, Anakin proposes to Padme that they’ll kill Palpatine and “rule the galaxy together!” This was probably, at the time, simply chaotic flailing about, but it establishes the thought in Anakin’s head at that point. What he does or doesn’t try subsequently, I have no idea, but presumably you must be pretty sure you’ll succeed if you strike at the king, so either he was slapped down really well at some point, or never really tried. Palpy, of course knows that Stih apprentices always try to kill masters, and vice versa (replacing them with new, better ones); it’s tradition!

    “Fans of course much prefer heroic efforts to reconcile clashing plot and character elements within the confines of the SW world.”

    Kieran, it’s a game, and everyone playing but a few loons knows that; it’s not serious. And, of course, Lucas changed his mind over the years, came up with new ideas, etc.; no one denies that, or has the delusion it was some sort of fully formed Grand Plan at any point. (Reading the early drafts of the early films, particularly the first, which I gave a link for in my last post, makes this particularly clear, but it’s also perfectly common knowledge to anyone paying attention [which you have no obligation to do, of course].)

    “But the decision to pop the droids….” It’s probably just me who has no idea what that means.

    “It’s kind of sad to see so many devoted fans searching for a way to preserve the belief that The Story Works and Lucas Has It All Figured Out. It’s like a case of “When Prophecy Fails.””

    [eyeroll]

    Game. Silly fun. That’s all.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    All continuity stuff is a game. But it’s a kind of interesting interpretative game, and isn’t purely silly. It’s about meaning-making. No thread is so poor that you can’t weave something better than the thread itself.

  6. Gary Farber says:

    Sure, Tim. (Um, do you mind the diminuitive?) I’m just saying that it’s not “to preserve the belief that The Story Works and Lucas Has It All Figured Out.”

    I’ve now added a bunch of excerpts from the yet earlier Lucas-written (apparently) scene summary, by the way, giving yet more variations on Lucas’s thinking at a somewhat earlier point, as well as various other addenda to each post. Only those truly interested will be interested, of course.

  7. emschwar says:

    Palpatine mentions Darth Plagius as being the first Sith (possibly the first Force user, as we know Qui-Gon got at least partially there by then end of episode I) to be able to create life and cheat death. So it seems clear to me that he was going to take advantage of the Jedi prophecy by deliberately impregnating Anakin’s mother, and then slowly turning him over time. Sidious, being no fool, realized that this turn of events would rather brutally leave him out of the picture, and so killed his mentor and assumed that part of the plot.

    So again, a lot of the silly things in Episode I can be explained by Palpatine engineering coincidences to land Padme’s ship on Tatooine and getting Qui-Gon to bring Anakin back. Even that ludicrous pod race makes sense if you think of it in terms of showing off Anakin’s best potential to the people most likely to want to take advantage of it. The virgin birth, of course, seals the deal; they HAVE to get this kid into the Jedi order now!

    As for the vaunted Jedi detachment: notice how the only time anything ever gets done in the films, despite all Lucas’ protestations in favor of detachment, is when somebody gets angry and/or attached? Let’s see: Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul. Anakin vs. Dooku. Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader. Luke vs. Yoda’s warnings of dire eeeevil. Luke vs. Darth Vader (though admittedly the second instantiation of that particular conflict didn’t really accomplish anything; it was all Chewie’s fault the Rebels won that war). Hrm. Looks like righteous anger is okay in the SW-verse after all; the key is to not let it blind you.

    I can’t remember if this was mentioned earlier, but if it wasn’t, or you missed it, check out David Brin’s take on Episode I:

    http://davidbrin.com/starwarsarticle1.html

    His opinion hasn’t exactly improved since then, and it’s not entirely surprising as to why.

  8. kieran says:

    Game. Silly fun. That’s all.

    I guess getting all pissy at me in the previous thread was all part of the silly fun, too. I should have realized.

  9. Dan says:

    All of this encapsulates what’s wrong with Star Wars and why it is so damn popular among a certain class of geeks: they suggest this deep mythology. If one only has the secret decoder ring, then everything starts making sense. The thing is, the films really are much more interesting if we start interpolating – based perhaps, on our reading of the extensive canonical literature – some background conflict between intuitive and analytic force users in the Jedi Order, or if we rework the narratives of the first two films in light of the third. In honor of the late Ricoeur, let’s just call it “nerd hermeneutics.” Makes sense, I suppose, of why at least one very smart friend of mine says that Star Wars is his religion…

  10. ProfPTJ says:

    “Nerd hermeneutics.” I like that :-)

    But I have to disagree with you, Tim, about Luke in RotJ. What Luke figures out — what eluded Obi-Wan and Yoda and the rest of the old-school Jedi with their decaying, doctrinaire, disenchanted notion of the Force — is that arrogating to yourself the right to judge good and evil is itself the Dark Side. The pursuit of absolute ends is what damns Anakin, almost damns Mace Windu (but he is prevented from killing Palpatine and becoming Emperor in his stead because of Anakin’s intervention), and would have damned Luke if he had gone ahead and done what Palpatine wanted him to do: kill his father and become Palpatine’s new apprentice. The temptation of the Dark Side is the temptation of a “just war” and similar notions, the sort of thing that political realists like Weber and Morgenthau and Thucydides have been warning against for millennia — the temptation to exonerate all manner of evil means in pursuit of good and noble ends.

    Luke ends up, IMHO, doing what Obi-Wan almost figures out by sacrificing himself on the Death Star in Episode IV: fight to a standstill, then stop and bear witness, and let the Force do what it will. Call it Zen Christianity, perhaps: it’s not the Jedi’s responsibility to save the world, but to fight the powers holding it back in order that new posibilities may be opened. But trying to control those possibilities puts you back at square one.

    To put it another way: Luke has (Kierkegaardian) faith. The Jedi in the Old Republic have become too cynical and rationalized for faith. Palpatine, if he ever had faith, has sacrificed it for the pursuit of unlimited power; Anakin loses faith because he is afraid that Padme is going to die and that he won’t be able to stop it (and that somehow he will be to blame if she dies, as he blames himself for his mother’s death), so he makes the classic tragic mistake of bargaining with the devil for the power to prevent tragedy — which always, always backfires horribly.

    Luke’s solution is commitment — “I am a Jedi, like my father before me” — which is very Martin Luther-esque, and hence more like Weber’s “science as a vocation” than it is like “politics as a vocation.” I read the Star Wars saga as in part about the dangers of an effete, feckless academy refusing to assume its proper role in the public sphere, which is not to govern directly but to challenge government with “uncomfortable facts” and in so doing to hep create the conditions of possibility for the ceaseless play of social action (to mix religions for a moment, what the Vulcans call IDIC — Infiinte Diversity in Infinite Combinations). Of course that’s not all of what the films are about, but it’s part of what I read there.

    That’s part of the pleasure of the text, after all, and what can make religion so darn enjoyable!

  11. tozier says:

    Oh, my friend, how you send me back.

    Is anybody else old enough to remember a column — was it in Starlog? — published between Empire and ROJ? It built up an amazing redemptive storyline, using a list of clues and cues as long as your arm, to explain how Boba Fett must in fact be Luke’s real father, and Vader merely lying. Things like “Notice how Fett intentionally misses shooting them all the time?” and so forth.

    Somewhere, even now, in a parallel universe….

  12. Gary Farber says:

    “So it seems clear to me that he was going to take advantage of the Jedi prophecy by deliberately impregnating Anakin’s mother, and then slowly turning him over time.”

    Lucas maintains that it’s like it’s stated in the movies: the midichlorians did it.

    “As for the vaunted Jedi detachment: notice how the only time anything ever gets done in the films, despite all Lucas’ protestations in favor of detachment….”

    I think it’s possible you may be committing the classic fallacy of confusing the characters’ statements with the authors here.

    “Hrm. Looks like righteous anger is okay in the SW-verse after all; the key is to not let it blind you.”

    Indeed, which is where Luke wound up. Kinda the point, as I understand it, so you’re right. Bottom line of the films is that Lucas is saying that the Jedi were arrogant and out of balance, and that led to their fall; it took Luke and Anakin (which is chicken, which is egg?) to bring “balance.” I’m bemused that so many folks don’t see this as obvious, but I guess Lucas overdid the Jedi propaganda. (ProfPTJ gets it.)

  13. ProfPTJ says:

    I elaborated a bit on my reading — perhaps overmuch, but what the heck — over on my blog: profptj.blogspot.com.

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