Posts Tagged ‘Meta’

Essay: “The Renegade”

July 26, 2016

This is a repost from matril’s LiveJournal page, with her permission.

If you would just follow the Code, you would be on the Council!

Ah, poor Obi-Wan. He just doesn’t get it. A stickler for the rules, thoroughly dedicated to the Council’s authority, yearning for approval and validation. His master follows a different path, and even after all these years as his Padawan, Obi-Wan still can’t quite understand the inner workings of Qui-Gon’s mind.

You see, Qui-Gon doesn’t care about anyone’s approval. He doesn’t worry about missing out on honors and accolades and positions of authority. He’s not motivated by external metrics of success. The Force alone is his guide; specifically, his personal interpretation of the Force’s will. Above all else, he does it his own way.

Yeah, George Lucas is basically Qui-Gon Jinn. I sincerely doubt he created the character with that intent; from what he’s said, he feels that he started out like Luke but fears he might have become Vader, though he’d prefer to see himself as Yoda. Well, subconsciously or whatever, he invented a near-perfect avatar for his older self – the maverick, the renegade who thoroughly baffles the establishment, the outlier whose feats gain their grudging admiration, who cares not a bit that they refuse to grant him access to the inner circles of their elitist club.

I shall do what I must. The moral renegade follows his own conscience, rarely influenced by popular trends. He’s not immune to missteps. And sometimes his single-minded determination can came across as abrasive or callous.

I know, Padmé. Dealing with a presumptuous Jedi is about as much fun as confronting a corrupt Galactic Senate. What’s really annoying, though? Qui-Gon was absolutely right. Anakin won the race and your ship got repaired, just like he said would happen. That makes it even more irritating.

But of course we have very different metrics for success in the movie-making world. A lot of them are money-based. No one can deny that Lucas became a very successful man in that regard, though they often try to credit anyone but him for the original trilogy’s success. The other metrics are quality-based, which is far more subjective and harder to pin down. Lucas, however, never showed much interest in pleasing critics. At all. Good reviews, bad reviews; whatever, as long as he made the movie he set out to make. When he goes back and changes little things here and there, it’s to satisfy his own artistic sensibilities. Whatever anyone else thinks of it is pretty much irrelevant. This has not endeared him to self-styled purists, although I personally feel a tremendous amount of empathy for an artist’s drive to tinker and tweak with his work. There is a force guiding him too, though not quite so mystic as Qui-Gon’s – the force to put his vision into cinematic form. Whatever you might say about that vision, it’s a far more admirable motivation than money-making. He sold his company for a fortune and immediately donated the bulk of it to charity. Greed is not his driving influence, that’s clear enough.

He is the Chosen One; you must see it!

It’s not all serenity and unconcern for Qui-Gon. There are clashes with the Council, and this last one was portentous. He has made it his quest to bring the boy of prophecy out of slavery and present him for training. And the Council summarily denies his request. Qui-Gon can’t let this one go. It’s too important to him, to the very fate of the Force. I often wonder what he would have done if he survived the Battle of Naboo; if he would have persisted until the Council relented, or, barring that, if he would have ignored the Council entirely and trained Anakin anyway, risking expulsion. I suspect that Qui-Gon still has a loyalty to the Jedi Order even if he doesn’t agree with the Council or Code’s every stricture, so I doubt he would committed such a flagrant transgression as that.

But that’s not what happened. Qui-Gon is killed, while defending the galaxy from the avatar of the very phantom menace threatening to overthrow the Force’s balance. Oh, it’s not Sidious or the Sith alone who throw that balance askew. The Council is so insular, so rigid, so blind and deaf to the world outside the Temple, that they are losing their grasp on the living Force that Qui-Gon was so in tune with. His loss is a symptom of their sickening, their growing weakness. Obi-Wan, only just a Padawan himself, far more prone to the influence of the Code and the Council than his master was, is faced with the overwhelming task of training the Chosen One. And much of Anakin’s conflicting troubles will arise from the fact that in his outlier impulses he’s far more like Qui-Gon, yet he shares Obi-Wan’s yearning for approval and acclaim from the Council. A renegade who needs validation. Qui-Gon rarely had that problem.

It would be absurd to declare that a similar impending doom threatens the Hollywood establishment; the fate of the galaxy hardly hangs in the balance if movies nowadays are more derivative, less imaginative and innovative. There have always been great movies and lousy movies from the very beginning, though I’m deeply sad that none of these new so-called Star Wars films will have the heart and soul that Lucas lent to his six. But some of the battles Lucas has fought have been pretty far-reaching. Just one example: films that have no opening credits, so you can become immediately immersed in the story? You can thank Lucas for that, and it wasn’t an easy battle by any means.

What I do fear is the mean-spiritedness, the nasty sense of entitlement that treats Lucas like some sort of monster simply for making movies the way his artistic conscience leads him to. He’s always done that from the beginning, as much as his resources allowed, and I feel that’s what made Star Wars great. Not the X-Wings or the masked villains or the exploding Death Stars, though those are the fun superficial markings of a deeper world of creativity and storytelling genius. It was the renegade mindset, the man who said, “I shall do what I must” and always remained true to that ethos.

Qui-Gon can be a difficult man, but overall he is generous and kind. When Obi-Wan apologizes for arguing with him, Qui-Gon doesn’t gloat or grab the chance to claim superiority. He praises his Padawan, assuring him that he will be a far greater Jedi than himself. Now look at that video again. Lucas’s AFI tribute was sweet, but also full of a lot of good-natured roasting from all the people he worked with. And he chuckled through the whole thing. Go ahead and tease him, poke fun at him. He knows he’s not perfect. He’s put up with far worse abuse over the years, and I’m astonished it took him this long to finally get a little fed up with the whole thing and go into retirement.

Qui-Gon’s defiance I sense in you.

May we all have a just a little bit more of that renegade spirit. We could certainly do with less complacency and unoriginal thinking in the world of movies, and the world at large.

Retrozap’s “The Prequel Villains Examined”

July 14, 2016

Michael O’Connor’s “Power to the Prequels” series looks next at its villains:

Outside of those two characters, it’s possible Lucas feels uncomfortable with how villainy is glorified in most franchise films, including his earlier efforts. Consider the original films and how the majority of fan costuming groups adopted the Empire’s fashion. Those films made dressing up like space Nazis the cool thing to do, and it makes perfect sense when you compare the glamour and polish of the Empire with the raggedy hippies of the Rebellion. The Imperials dress better, design starships that are simultaneously sleeker and more intimidating, and construct massive and awe-inspiring bases. Of course, they’re also unrepentantly evil.

But in the prequels, you’ll notice that Lucas sheds some unflattering shade on prequel villains. With the exception of Maul, the prequel villains are a far more sordid, repulsive lot than their OT progenitors. The prequel good guys have all the coolest starships and costumes. Compare the Trade Federation fighters with the Naboo starfighter for instance. Or the Separatist tanks with the Republic gunship prominently featured in Attack of the Clones. And who wants to look like the coughing, gangly General Grievous or the frog faced Nute Gunray when you could be the dashing Obi-Wan, the fashionable Queen Amdiala, the stoic Mace Windu, or the idiosyncratic gnome Yoda?

Essay: “Old Things Become New”

June 30, 2016

Originally posted on matril’s LiveJournal page; I’ve edited the post down to the discussion about the prequels.

“Old Things Become New (Or Why The Prequels Make Everything Better)”

What I’m going to focus on here is what I love about the prequels: that they, in contrast, make watching the original trilogy even more enjoyable. I suppose here is where haters might suggest that their lesser quality makes the OT look so much better, but that’s not at all where I’m headed. I enjoy watching the prequels as a tragic tale in their own right, and I enjoy the original trilogy on its own. Putting them together, however, creates a richer, deeper, incredibly rewarding experience. Here’s why.

1. We see what was lost when the Empire took over. The galaxy of the OT is a harsh, constricted place in more ways than one. The aesthetics, the colors, the clothing and settings are stark, limited mostly to shades of black and white and brown. Everything is utilitarian, with only an occasional glimpse of beauty or color. Now I understand that this is something a lot of fans love about Star Wars, that it has a “lived-in” look, that there’s grit and dust and all that. But let’s just consider, honestly – is it somewhere you’d like to visit? Consider the settings – an unforgiving desert world, a planet of ice, a murky swamp, an armored space station whose only purpose is to deal out death. The only places that seem relatively hospitable are the jungles of Yavin IV and the forest moon of Endor, but those brief glimpses of lush green are in constant peril from the Empire’s incursions, representing the spark of life struggling to remain alight long enough for freedom to be regained.

But then we have the prequels. And they show us that the galaxy is gorgeous.

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I don’t just want to visit Naboo. I want to live there. I mean, look at that. Imagine what the Empire’s work must have done to that beauty, especially considering it was the Emperor’s native planet and its peaceful ways were always vulnerable to attack. It makes the tragedy all the more tangible, knowing what was lost – and the drive for victory all the more meaningful, seeing what the Rebels are fighting to restore.

The same is true for the costumes, the architecture, the indicators of high culture. This was a mighty Republic at the peak of its power; prosperous, affording great luxuries to many of its citizens…and of course, dangerously decadent and complacent, which is how they managed to lose it all to the corruptive influence of a Sith Lord. If the galaxy looked the same before or after the Republic’s fall, then what’s the big deal about its fall? The contrast is deliberate and powerful.

2. Familiar tropes are turned upside-down. The prequels contain many parallels to the OT, but always with some surprising alteration. Anakin’s age in Episode I, for one thing. Since Luke as introduced on the verge of manhood, we probably assumed Anakin would be as well. Instead, he’s a wide-eyed, innocent child. In addition to setting the stage for Anakin’s future struggles – early separation from his mother, clashes with the Council’s long-established methods of training – it also helps us better appreciate Luke’s journey, and how his different position grants him the opportunity to make up for his father’s failures.

Another thing we learned in the OT was to associate the stormtrooper look with the bad guy’s endless hordes of evil henchmen. They’re basically faceless automatons. And how do they show up in the prequels? As clones, programmed from birth to serve the Republic. They’re fighting on the side of the good guys. When the Republic becomes the Empire, as far as the clones know they just keep doing what they’ve always done. But we will never look at them quite the same way again. They’re not merely a simplistic manifestation of the Empire’s power; they’re physical proof of the Emperor’s heartless evil, as he happily produces score upon scores of living beings who have no choice but to fight and die for him and him alone. He treats them like battle droids. We know better. Also, the little fact that they’re basically Boba Fett’s little brothers is a fun tidbit I never would have imagined.

3. Every meeting/reunion becomes so much more poignant. When Luke sees the hologram of Leia, and later meets her in person on the Death Star, we mostly assumed he was struck by her beauty. After ROTJ, maybe we considered that they had some kind of twin-vibe going on. But it’s after Episode III that these moments become most powerful. We’ve seen their birth. We’ve seen the brief moments they were together as babies, and then watched them get taken away to their respective adoptive homes. Twenty long years later, seeing the children of Padmé and Anakin reunite is so satisfying. Just knowing who the twins’ mother was, her passion and courage and kindness, gives their characters fresh significance, seeing how much of her lives on in both of them. And let’s not forget that Luke’s first glimpse of his long-lost sister happens in the exact same room where Anakin confessed his dark vengeful actions to Padmé. That dingy old garage becomes a place of destiny.

Vader and Obi-Wan’s reunion is heartrending. You get a tantalizing glimpse of their backstory if you just watch Episode IV, but how much more powerful to see their relationship grow, then deteriorate after Anakin’s fall, culminating in the tragedy on Mustafar – and then to watch them meet on the Death Star. Just imagine what must be going through their minds, how fraught that moment is. You know they won’t both walk away from this one either, but this time it’s Obi-Wan who willingly sacrifices himself.

And consider how much more tragic to see Alderaan destroyed when we know more about Leia’s adoptive parents, particularly Bail. We see clearly how a man such as that would raise a passionate freedom fighter like Leia, and we share her anguish so much more deeply as her home is lost forever.

Meanwhile, it’s pretty darn entertaining to see Yoda show up in Episode V if you’ve seen him as a wise, respected leader of the Council….sure, he’s testing Luke, but I’m pretty sure he’s gone a bit loopy after all that time alone on Dagobah. The contrast is a lot of fun.

4. New details offer clarity, and a number of surprises. When Obi-Wan and Yoda’s bodies vanish and they become ghosts, it’s easy to assume that’s just a Jedi thing. The prequels reveal just how rare it is – and we see Qui-Gon’s influence extends long past any explicit mention of him. Blue ghosts are even more miraculous than we might have thought.

When Yoda says Luke is “too old” to begin training, it sounds like he might just be searching for excuses. Then Episode I told us that Anakin, at age nine, was too old. No wonder Yoda was so resistant to teaching an adult! But Luke’s success tells us that the former Council’s methods weren’t necessarily infallible after all.

5. The contrast of Anakin’s fall with Luke’s triumph is such a thing of beauty. Though Anakin’s ultimate decision to join the Dark Side is one that, I hope, we cannot sympathize with, there is much in his preceding struggles that is highly sympathetic. He misses his mother, and deeply regrets that he was too late to save her from death. He longs for a life with Padmé and fights to reconcile that with his allegiance to duty. He fears losing her as well. He’s overwhelmed by the prospect of fatherhood. He feels under-appreciated and resents the Council’s distrust of him, turning instead to the pleasant flattery of Palpatine. None of this excuses his fall, but it makes us recognize how perilous it must be to walk the path of a powerful Jedi.

So Luke’s path is equally uncertain. Considering Anakin’s fall arose from a fear of losing the ones he loved, imagine how terrified Obi-Wan and Yoda must be when Luke is gripped by those same fears, flying recklessly off to Cloud City to try to rescue his friends. And failing spectacularly. Vader, we realize, laid the trap for him precisely because he knew how powerful the fear of loss could be. He knew it would draw Luke to him like nothing else could, because that’s what happened to him. His claim to Luke in ROTJ that Dark Side is “the only way to save your friends” makes a lot more sense when we see how Palpatine lured Anakin to the dark.  And Luke’s refusal to give in to hate is glorious, shining a light so bright it casts away the shadow that has enveloped Anakin since his fall. Knowing the innocent child he used to be makes his return so much more poignant.

I’m sure there’s much, much more. I appreciate every detail more each time I watch the saga. At the end of it all, watching the prequels makes me even happier when I watch the originals afterwards.

New Series: Sex And The Prequel Trilogy

June 24, 2016

anakinpadme

Wait, what???

I had a similar reaction back when I was in college and while poking around the film book section of the library, found an essay about sex and the Star Wars films (back when there was only three).  Some of it was wacky and a bit of a reach.  Some of it had some interesting points that I’m now 100% sure were intentional, such as Luke’s maiming in TESB being a symbolic castration.

Certainly I hope for many clicks, but don’t worry, this is going to be strictly PG to PG-13 serious discussion of themes in the films. The discussion will focus on the films themselves, not comics or novels (both “legends” and “new canon”) and not fan works.  Some Clone Wars mentions will occur.

Just by way of introduction, we all know that as family-oriented entertainment, the Star Wars films do not put sexuality up front and center and it certainly never depicts it in an explicit way. What is shown is fairly restrained. The kissing scenes aren’t overly long and emphasize the romantic feelings and the emotional investment of the characters rather than raw sexual desire. There’s no tongue action or the aggressive steak-chewing kisses common in modern films, even in PG-13 rated ones. I frankly found it a tad surprising that there was even a little bit of open mouthed kissing in AOTC; I chalked it up to changes in standards between the time of the OT and the early ‘00s. There are no walking off to the bedroom/waking up the next day in bed type of scenes, much less any outright explicit sex scenes. The only implication at all that sex has taken place between characters is if they end up having children, and in Shmi’s case, even THAT doesn’t necessarily mean nookie happened. The movies don’t even imply sex between unmarried characters; Hondo Ohnaka’s joke to Aurra Sing about young Boba Fett (something like “he’s not one of mine”) in of all things The Clone Wars is literally the only time that kind of thing is ever mentioned or implied. There’s a reason why Kevin Smith once said that Han and Leia’s first kissing scene in TESB was the Star Wars equivalent of porn.

George Lucas may be pretty traditionalist in his outlook and he always had a family audience firmly in mind but that does not mean he is a prude. This is after all the same guy who made “THX-1138” and executive produced “Body Heat.” Sexuality certainly played a prominent (but not a graphic) role in “American Graffiti.” It is present in Star Wars, most notably when Leia spent a good chunk of ROTJ in her infamous bikini that stirred the hormones of many a young lad. (There is also something perverse about a huge slug who gets his jollies from females of a different species.) It gets freaky with Leia and Luke’s twincestuous kiss in TESB, which wasn’t topped until Game Of Thrones came along. But usually, it is approached in a subtle way that sails over the heads of young kids. An example is the innuendo between Han and Leia in TESB that went over my 10-year-old head with the whole “Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited”/”Sorry sweetheart, I haven’t got time for anything else” exchange.

Sexuality certainly does play a role in the prequels. Much of it obviously pertains to Anakin and Padmé’s relationship but it goes beyond simply the nuts and bolts of making sure there’s another generation of Star Wars characters. It’s in part about the both of them growing up and realizing who they are as a man and as a woman. It’s partially about symbiosis, about natural vs. unnatural reproduction, about using color and setting to express things that aren’t going to be depicted onscreen, about attachment, passion, and the different kinds of love. There’s a lot to unpack, which is why this is going to be a multiple part series. Stay tuned!

 

Essay on “The Importance Of The Phantom Menace”

June 8, 2016

The Tatooine Talk blog posted an essay called The Importance Of The Phantom Menace, which dispels the idea that TPM was unnecessary:

Some think the film is irrelevant, and that by skipping over it the viewer misses nothing. Thanks to the assumed authority of certain “reviews” and the incessant diatribe of the dreggs (typo intentional) of society, it is an idea which has pervaded the internet movie discussion scene to a near-toxic degree.

It is also an idea with which I strongly disagree. Aside from it being the episode from which I receive the most pure, kiddish glee, The Phantom Menace adds an enormous depth to the story, characters, moral questions and mythology which continue on through the subsequent episodes. In this post I’ll be giving four (plus a few more) reasons why I think those who skip The Phantom Menace are missing out.

Part 2 of SWR’s “Balance of the Force” Series

June 7, 2016

The second part of Star Wars Report’s series on the balance of the Force is up for your reading pleasure:

To the Jedi, Light would be the natural order of the Force. Therefore, for the Chosen One to restore Balance to the Force, he would necessarily have to destroy the Sith, thereby banishing the Dark Side. This was precisely Obi-Wan’s lament on Mustafar, after striking down his former apprentice: “You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring Balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness.” That Obi-Wan’s certainty in his understanding of the prophecy is self-contradictory evidently escaped the Jedi Master during this impassioned battle, for at the beginning of the duel he had confidently affirmed, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

Some Interesting Reads

June 1, 2016

shazbazaar at Star Wars Report started a new  series discussing the balance of the Force.  Of course, there’s lots of talk about the prequels:

While some fans charged that this seemingly scientific explanation removed the mysterious nature of the Force, Qui-Gon’s words did no such thing. He simply expanded this idea of the unity of all living things inherently linked to the Force. In the first episode of The Clone Wars, “Ambush”, Yoda encourages the three clones with him by explaining that each of them the nature of the Force and their connection to it as individuals, even though they may not sense it, “All around us is that which we need to prevail…In the Force, very different each one of you are…Clones, you may be, but the Force resides in all life forms.”

Meanwhile, starwars.com did a little bio write up about Darth Maul.

Essay On Padmé: Women of Speculative Fiction

April 13, 2016

Cynthia Ailshie posted an essay as part of her Women of Speculative Fiction about Padmé and her role in the saga:

And I applaud Lucas for creating a compelling character in her own right. The only thing she had to be, for continuity’s sake, was the mother of Luke and Leia. He could have focused on Anakin and kept her a side character love interest, or worse. Instead, her journey provides the driving force behind most of Episode I and Episode II, and her diminishment and death in Episode III highlights the heartbreaking tragedy of the prequels.

Parallels With Roman History

January 17, 2016

Pints of History has a started a series about Star Wars and real world history, beginning with a short piece about Rome’s transition from republic to empire:

The story parallels ancient Roman history. The first emperor, Augustus, led the Roman Republic as its most powerful magistrate, starting in 27 BCE — with an ever-repeating term of office, thanks to victory in a civil war. Like Palpatine, he centralized power in his own hands at the expense of the Senate, but he didn’t disband the Senate. In fact, he carefully preserved the forms of republican government.

Clone Corridor Essay On Anakin, Padmé, & Arthurian Legend

January 17, 2016

Clone Corridor posted a really good piece about the Arthurian legend’s influence on the Anakin/Padmé romance:

I think the similarities to Anakin here are quite obvious, but the idea that this paragon of knighthood is brought low by illicit love runs through Anakin’s story. He has the potential of being one of the best Jedi to have ever lived with incredibly powers, but by falling in love with Padmé Amidala, herself a queen at the time, seemingly dooms him from the beginning. Both Lancelot and Anakin are torn between their duties to their orders and their hearts.

Just to throw in my own thoughts, Gwinnie was by late medieval standards both an adulteress and a traitor, way more serious than anything Padmé ever did. In real life that got your head separated from your body if you happened to be a queen married to Henry VIII. I’ve read that the Guinevere/Lancelot romance did not appear in Arthurian legend until after the Norman invasion and the French court’s troubadours brought a little sprinkle of forbidden love and scandal to add a little spice. It figures they’d like that sort of thing.


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