Posts Tagged ‘Meta’

New Power to the Prequels: Worlds of Star Wars

October 15, 2016

Retrozap has a new entry in the Power to the Prequels series, “The Prequel Trilogy Worlds of Star Wars”:

The most obvious example of planet-as-metaphor is probably Mustafar, a volcanic setting spewing fire and lava, volatile and unstable. It is an exact mirror of Anakin’s own emotions after he turns to the Dark Side. There is something removed and empty about Anakin as he murders the younglings and masters in the Jedi Temple, but by Mustafar the anguish and revulsion has caught up with him. Note his tears in the aftermath of murdering the Separatists leaders; as he looks out at the churning, heaving chaos of the planet before him, he is provoked to emotion. Wrapped tightly in his cloak, Anakin appears to shiver despite his fiery surroundings.

Crossing The Stars And Whatnot

October 15, 2016

Repost from matril’s Livejournal page.

It’s time for another long, impassioned post wherein I expend tremendous mental energy in order to analyze a particular aspect of the Star Wars saga. Hooray!

For those few long-time readers of my blog, you’ll know that I’ve visited this particular aspect many times before. Analyzing it, yes, but it’s also been the focus of the majority of my fan fiction, as well as quite a few of the songs in my crazy Les Starwarbles project.

The topic is, of course, Anakin and Padmé’s romance.

This is probably one of the most contentious topics among those who critique the prequels. They didn’t want to see pre-Vader as a lovesick, awkward teenager, pouring out his heart in tongue-tied stiltedness. But I love it, unabashedly.



Of course being pretty is not a sufficient reason, by itself, for a romance to appeal to me. I’ll explore what I do like about this romance, but first I want to clarify what reasons I don’t include among my liking of it. That’s actually the reason I started thinking I wanted to write this post. Fictional romances come in many sizes and shapes, so to speak. There are some that I love. Then there’s some that draw little emotion from me one way or another – and finally there are some that I thoroughly despise, usually because they would be alarming, even abusive, in real life.

Here’s what has been bothering me. I’m not a fan of what I’ve started calling “that Disney space movie” (vast understatement there), and the speculation about who’s going to get kissy-faced with whom in later installments leaves me mostly saying, “Meh.” (Also, if you break up one of the best fictional couples in movie history and offer only a tepid reunion scene before killing one of them off, you are a moron. But I digress.) However, watching the – allow me to suppress a gag – Rey and Kylo Ren shippers fills me with horror and nausea. Even leaving aside the fact that they’re probably related….HE IS HER TORMENTOR. HOW IS THAT ROMANTIC? Ugh, ugh, ugh.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. There’s a certain tendency to zero in on the most appallingly dysfunctional pairing and romanticize it. To somehow believe that what amounts to Stockholm Syndrome is a dreamy scenario. This scares me, frankly. And what infuriates me even further is when said shippers assume that it’s basically the same sort of scenario as Anakin and Padmé.

WHAT. WHAT. NO. Pardon my rampaging capitals, but HEAVENS NO. This is the first and most crucial thing I want to clarify about my A/P shipping – it is never, in any way, because I’ve romanticized the “dark and angsty” dynamic of an abuser and his victim. I ship them in Episode II and the start of Episode III. Once Anakin turns to the dark side, there is nothing but the tragedy of what used to be. There is nothing romantic about Vader’s abusive behavior. It’s unacceptable. Yes, I’ve imagined many an angsty glimpse into Vader’s mind as he is tormented by memories of his wife, but even though they both loved each other to their dying breath, Padmé was right to leave him – at least, she would have done so if not for the whole being strangled and collapsing to the ground thing. Sob.

I’ve seen the monstrous lover concept idealized again and again and again, even with claims that it’s just a variation on Beauty and the Beast. Well, having written a whole discourse on that fairy tale on my other blog, I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t equate the two at all. If the Beast is truly a monster in heart as well as outward appearance, I’m done. I don’t want anything to do with it. Blech. It implies that it’s a woman’s job to change a wicked man through the sheer strength of her love. And that is a poisonous concept. Absolutely untrue. Can someone be motivated to change themselves for the better, of their own choice and willpower? Certainly. It’s quite reasonable to see two people come together and become better people through each other’s loving influence. But you have to start out with two basically decent people, looking to unselfishly serve each other. Don’t give me that “tame the beast” garbage. That’s not what I see in Anakin and Padmé.

That brings me to something else in a similar vein. The troubling notion that Padmé is drawn to Anakin because of the darkness she sees in him – the awful cliché that the nice girl always falls for the bad boy. More nonsense, as far as I’m concerned. Proponents of this notion point out that she still confesses her love for him even after he has told her about the brutal slaughter of the Tusken Raiders. Sometimes they even suggest that she approves of his actions. Yikes. But just take a look at this.


That just doesn’t look like the face of someone feeling tremendous attraction, or someone listening with savage approval. Pretty alarmed, if you ask me.

So why does she love him even when she knows he’s capable of monstrosities? Well, let’s have a study in contrasts. Here’s what Anakin looks like during his confession on Tatooine:


Lots of emotions here; anger, shame, horror – but he’s definite not happy. Definitely not glorying in what he’s done. Compare that with this:


In other parts of this scene, he shows anger, jealously, resentment – but never shame. And he smiles, a chilling wild-eyed smile that shows he’s begun to glory in the Dark Side. To enjoy it. To delight in the notion of ruling the galaxy with an iron fist. Padmé sees the difference. She’s not okay with what he did on Tatooine, but she recognizes that he’s not okay with it either, and he’s fumbling blindly through grief and rage and guilt. On Mustafar, it’s not a stretch or a mere cliché for her to declare, “I don’t know you anymore!” He has truly been transformed from a man whose conscience stings at wrongdoings, to someone barely human who eschews the very notion of remorse. And she knows she cannot follow him down that path. Someone who’s attracted to bad boys might have contemplated following him. She doesn’t, not for a second.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve never claimed that they have a perfect, pure love that was only destroyed by external forces. I can rage at Palpatine and grump about Obi-Wan’s flawed training of Anakin, while acknowledging that Anakin carries most of the blame for his fall and the ruination of his marriage. Even if he hadn’t turned, they’d still have issues to work out. If they’d been better at communicating in Episode III, so many problems could have been avoided. I can appreciate their romance without over-idealizing it. Honestly, the same goes for the Leia/Han romance in the original trilogy – I’ve compared and contrasted the two relationships before, and explored how there’s actually more of a creep factor in Han’s courtship behaviors than in Anakin’s. I still love Leia and Han’s romance, though, particularly in how it subverts expectations in Episode VI.

But because we know Anakin’s going to become a Sith Lord, people tend to interpret all his behaviors in a much more critical light. That’s faulty reasoning. Consider it entirely from Padmé’s perspective, who remembers him as a sweet-hearted boy from when they were both children, and sees him now as an intense young man who is torn between his Jedi commitments and his personal connections; missing his mother more than he can bear, smarting at the loss of a normal childhood. At first she’s probably bemused by his obvious crush on her, then warms up to him as she spends more time in his company. In their seclusion on Naboo it’s clear that she has been starving for personal indulgences like this; conversations without any hidden political agendas, carefree strolls by the lakeside, stolen kisses. And though Anakin makes overtures, he’s never aggressively pushy, and he always backs off when she asks him to.


Leading up to their first kiss, offering a hesitant, nervous smile, giving her a chance to respond before venturing further.

Now consider their body language during that kiss.


Their lips are literally the only parts touching. Anakin is so cautious, he doesn’t dare push any closer. He’s gripping the railing as if for dear life. Padmé is free to pull away, to respond however she chooses. And when she does change her mind mid-kiss, he doesn’t argue, bewildered though he might be.

I can see some problematic behaviors in the fireplace scene, when Anakin says a few things implying that Padmé carries all the blame for his turmoil and torment. Nope, it’s a two-way street, buddy. You’re not blameless here. Still, after Padmé definitively turns him down, he doesn’t make a single overture until she changes her mind. He isn’t happy about it, but he respects her wishes. And it’s only when he veers toward darker paths in the next film that their relationship truly begins to disintegrate. That distinction is important to me – the difference between a romance with two imperfect but good people, and the fallout of someone turning abusive, no longer an acceptable partner. In many ways Anakin’s behavior resembles that of an addict succumbing to full-fledged addiction. It’s possible to love an addict deeply while knowing it’s not safe to be with them anymore.

So what else do I actually like about their relationship? Oh, plenty. You might argue that it was my earliest ship, at least insofar as there was anything to ship in Episode VI. (I was two.) The idea that Vader not only used to be good, but that there was a woman he loved, the tragic unnamed figure who became Luke and Leia’s mother? Very intriguing. I recognize that I was already heavily inclined to be invested in this relationship, but it could have disappointed me. It didn’t. From the first introduction of Queen Amidala, in her insanely elaborate costumes and face-paint, I was ready to explore how this powerful, remarkable girl would fall in love with Anakin. I like how they meet and become friends as children. It’s not romantic yet – sure, Anakin has a boyish infatuation with her, but it’s simple and innocent. And darn it, I just like the idea that she’s the older one rather than the typical older-guy scenario. It also makes sense that ten years pass till their next meeting – if they’d grown up alongside each other, she probably would have had more trouble seeing him as a grown young man and a potential romantic partner. What she has, instead, is happy memories of the boy who helped her in a time of dire need, without any need for reward; a boy who cared deeply for his mother and spoke passionately of the need to help others and right wrongs.

When I first became aware of the “forbidden love” angle in Episode II promotional material, I was a little leery. I’ve never found Romeo and Juliet and their ilk very romantic. Why should I get excited by a couple whose primary attraction to each other is nothing more than the fact that it’s illicit? It’s very typical of teenagers, but not the stuff of deeply-rooted, lasting affection. And all their tumult arises from external factors largely beyond their control. Feuding families, star-crossed destinies, blah blah blah.

Not so with Anakin and Padmé. The forces that would keep them apart are, at least partly, of their own choosing. Padmé has chosen to devote herself to a life of public service, at the expense of almost any personal indulgence. Anakin wants very much to become a Jedi. If they didn’t want these things, they could simply say, “You know what? If that’s all it takes to marry you, then I’ll go ahead and resign/leave the Order.” But it’s not that simple. They are principled, dedicated people. They care too much. Yet serving their ideals comes into direct conflict with their feelings for each other. (Perhaps even more so for Anakin, because if he left the Jedi Order, then how could he justify the price he’s paid of ten years separation from his mother?) It’s a far more appealing version of forbidden love, in my view – one that grants the players more of an active role in the conflict, and makes their angst far more poignant.

I was also delighted that Padmé’s confession of love provided a nice parallel to her daughter’s words in Episode V. Both of them realize, with their beloved on the verge of death, that there’s no more time to hesitate.



And the contrasting respective reactions from Anakin and Han are perfect for their characters – Anakin’s uncertain, “You love me?” versus Han’s self-assured and reassuring, “I know.” Much as I love the Leia/Han dynamic, I didn’t want to see an identical romance play out in the prequels. Padmé and Anakin are different characters in different situations. The parallels are nice to see, but just as important for their contrasts as for their similarities. Ignoring the nonsense of the Disney space movie, Leia will succeed where Anakin failed. There is heartbreaking tragedy, both galaxy-wide and on the smaller, intimate scale of the Skywalker family, but hope will return; the children will learn from the mistakes of their parents and build a better world.

When Episode III rolled around, I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for. I knew it would be a painful ride no matter what. But how it played out – wow. Somehow it never occurred to me that Anakin would be plagued by visions of Padmé’s death that mirrored his visions of his mother in the previous film. Now the foreshadowing seems pretty obvious, and so deliciously painful. Self-fulfilling prophesies, selling his soul for naught….a tragedy that forever changed how I view Vader. I always knew there was more to him than uncomplicated evil, but now every time I see him, I imagine the twisted bitterness of a man who threw away everything to save his wife…only to lose her through his own horribly misdirected rage. And surely to see her face, to hear her voice when Luke looks at him in Episode VI and says, “Come with me.”



Everything about Padmé and Anakin makes the original trilogy more meaningful to me. I recognize that this opinion is not going to be shared by others, not even many fans of the prequels, because they just find their dialogue cringe-worthy or the acting wooden, or they don’t trust anything Anakin says or does because of what he will ultimately become, or they think it’s weird that they met when he was nine, or any number of other criticisms. They’re entitled to that opinion. And I’m entitled to mine. Just as long as you understand that it’s not a stereotypical nice girl/bad boy ship. It’s a complicated, angst-ridden, principle versus passion, moments-of-bliss-amid-galactic-tragedy kind of ship. The kind of ship that inspires this glorious music.



Chosen One Series On Cantina Cast

September 27, 2016

Earlier this year, Cantina Cast posted a series of essays about Anakin’s arc through the prequel trilogy that are definitely worth reading.

The Chosen One: The Boy

The Chosen One: The Padawan

The Chosen One: The Fallen Knight

A Bunch of Stuff To Read

September 22, 2016

Becca Benjamin at Coffee With Kenobi posted Star Wars: Return of the Prequels:

But getting back to my point, the prequels are returning to Star Wars. For the simple fact that in order for them, the story group, to tell the story, they must start at the beginning. Even if that means taking a step back and going back in time, back to where it all began. In other words, “Everything starts from here” and if you saw the new Japanese poster for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, those words are captioned directly below Jyn’s image – along with, “Another Star Wars.” Again, just like poetry, the storytelling rhymes.

It talks a great deal about “The Prequels Strike Back” and how the films work with each other.

As for some oldies that I missed, here is The Geek Nerdom’s 8 Prequel Moments That Lucas Planned In 1977 from back in June and from early August, Comic Books Galaxy’s 8 Reasons Why Star Wars Prequels Should Be Given A Chance.  Now, I have to say I disagree with the way the latter frames the OT (i.e. you don’t have to be against one to be for the other) but it is interesting to see the perspective of a younger fan whose Star Wars experience started with the PT and doesn’t see the OT as some mythical thing of perfection.

And last but not least a very thoughtful piece on what it means to be a Star Wars fan:

Obviously, I’m being very general, because hardly every Star Wars-related webpage has content of that nature, but so many do. If this was what you had to do to call yourself a Star Wars fan, then I didn’t want to be one anymore. Why? Because I passionately love the prequel trilogy (Episodes I, II, and III) and consider them to be highly underrated films. I also have no problem at all with the special editions of the originals, although admittedly I don’t have the proper background to take sides on this debate. I have actually never seen the unaltered cuts of the originals (Episodes IV, V, and VI), but I do know the bulk of the changes that have been made in the special editions. From my perspective, these changes have no effect on any of the elements that made Star Wars what it was to begin with, and it seems a little irrational to me that so many fans are complaining that the unaltered cuts are no longer available, because the cuts that are available tell the same story with the same characters.

Review: “The Prequels Strike Back”

September 12, 2016


“The Prequels Strike Back: A Fan’s Journey” (2016)
Dir. Bradley Weatherholt

Full disclosure: I was a backer on Ministry of Cinema’s crowdfunding for “The Prequels Strike Back” and as such, I got access to a digital copy of the film.

In many ways, “The Prequels Strike Back” is like a movie version of SWPAS’s comments section. In fact a couple of you guys actually are in the film! The hour-and-20-minute documentary basically has two messages: there’s more to the prequels (and Star Wars as a whole for that matter) than meets the eye and it’s time to stop beating up on the films and on George Lucas.

Director Bradley Weatherholt stars as narrator/host as he journeys to different locations and interviews a variety of people about the prequels: fans, movie critics, scholars, journalists, someone who did visual effects on the films, a couple of well-known geek personalities (Chris Gore and Kevin Smith), actor Christian Simpson, and Mike Klimo of the Ring Theory fame. Weatherholt describes himself as a lifelong Star Wars fan who felt that after all of the backlash dumped on the films and it was only fair to re-evaluate the prequels and give them their due. The film goes through some of the lightning rods for criticism and addresses them from both sides but it bears noting that Weatherholt doesn’t feature mad dog bashing either. Most of the rebuttals can be boiled down to: the OT did it too (in fact the film emphasizes more than once that the OT still doesn’t get that much respect among critics, film historians, and directors), people’s expectations were too high, older Star Wars fans were too attached to the OT to give the prequels much of a chance, Star Wars was mostly intended for kids, and Jar Jar wasn’t all of that bad. The good news is the film does not take the tone of giving left-handed compliments to the prequels. The tack it does take is that a lot of what was dumped on the prequels or on Lucas was unfair or exaggerated.

This is all very entertaining but the documentary is at its most engrossing when it interviews Klimo, Joshua Sikora, Anne Lancashire, mythologist Dr. Jonathan Young (who you might recognize from History’s “Ancient Aliens”), film historians and critics, and a music journalist. If you’re a fan of the 2007 t.v. special “Star Wars Legacy Revealed,” you will love this portion of the film. It’s catnip for those of you who live for the mythology of Star Wars and love to analyze its structure. In fact, I learned a thing or two I hadn’t known before. Watch for the music journalist’s segment as he talks about John Williams’s score. There’s something about “Across The Stars” that I heard for the first time that amazed me. Apparently there wasn’t time or opportunity to include an interview with Camille Paglia, who was going to be included in the film, which is too bad because she always has great stuff to say about Star Wars.

I’ve seen quite a few unauthorized or fan documentaries over the years but this film is head and shoulders above all of them in production value. Everything is professionally shot, the picture looks great, and unlike just about every other unauthorized Star Wars documentary or show I’ve seen, this actually does use clips from the films. This movie would’ve been a lot less had it just been talking heads instead of using the Star Wars saga as illustration. The film moves along at a solid pace, divided along according to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Most of the film was shot in 2015 but completed before TFA came out, so it figures a little into this but just a teensy bit since it was still an unknown quantity.

The film interviews fans who got into Star Wars with the prequels, which is great, but I think it would’ve helped had there been more emphasis on what they loved about the films, what it meant to them in their lives, and what they do to celebrate their fandom, whether it’s collecting or cosplay or thinking about film school or whatever. It would’ve shown the movies had as much of a lasting effect on those fans as the OT did on the ‘70s and ‘80s generation. At one point the documentary addresses the romance between Anakin and Padmé and while it does talk about its traditions in courtly love and so forth, which is fine, I felt like it needed the input of a fan who loves that aspect of the prequels (hint: there’s a ton of them on DeviantArt and Tumblr). There’s one girl who’s talking about a scene in ROTS and I honestly couldn’t tell if her reaction was positive or negative. It probably could do with more outright defenses of the films along the lines of what I’ve done with the Great Scenes of the Prequel Trilogy series. It appears that Chris Gore may have turned to the light but what was his story behind changing his opinion? It’s not really covered in the movie but it would’ve made for an interesting story of how he’d been “one of them” and then realized the movies had value after all.

“The Prequels Strike Back” is overall a thoughtful movie for thoughtful people, which means it won’t reach those who are hellbent on being haters for largely emotional reasons and the whole psychology behind that would take up another film. But if you read this site, you’ll really enjoy it. At one point, Weatherholdt makes the point of comparing Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey with Lucas’s Star Wars films. Ignoring one of them is missing out on everything.

“The Prequels Strike Back: A Fan’s Journey” is due for digital release on September 14 and will be screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX on October 6. It’s unrated but some language puts it in R-rated territory.

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.


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


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.