I recall back when the last three star wars films came to the big screen and how upon viewing each one at the cinema that even though I enjoyed them, there were plenty of people who moaned about Ja Ja Binks or the new kid who played Anakin Skywalker. Even Ewan Mcgregor got a shafting for his portrayal as the younger Obi Wan. Because I had gone to see all three, the then girlfriend bought me the George Lucas autobiography, perhaps in part because I was studying film and narrative at University. I found that we shared the same birthday, but that means nothing at all.
What exactly is what then with the first three, the prequels and what may yet come in the next three?
There was a film out on tv not so long back where it depicted a young George Lucas and how he came up with Star Wars. Wondering around university, seeing characters around said campus and writing the ideas down. Err, no. As fun as that may seem, the guy studied film and narrative, and for those of you thinking of doing similar, the course entails learning about ideology, politics (to a degree) post modernism, structure, dialectics and pretty much the deconstruction of the media and how it manipulates for what ever outcome it desires. So what do we see in a film like star wars? Lucas was apparently into the Flash Gordon serials as a child. He was into cars and mechanics as a teen. By the time he hit university he was no doubt introduced to the notions of hegemonic’s and power structures. What the hell do I mean? Well, what is imperial? A measurement? What is a Republic? The very definitions in star wars are clear cut, however, the behaviour of an imperial system throughout history has made the West rich and the rest lag behind. I live in a country (UK) that had one of the most successful empires of all time where it ruled many countries for many years, and recently I might add. Is this interesting?
The whole narrative of the first three instalments are based on a mixture of Russian Folk lore with princes and princesses thrown in with a struggle of independence against a fascist empire, while delving into the mystical world of the metaphysical force. It’s sort of like the last of the Buddhists fighting Catholics while the struggle of a monarchy against a fascist dictatorship plays out in the background. When you look at it, Star Wars is far crazier than you think.
Star wars doesn’t delve too deeply into these ideals in the first three. We have good over here and bad over there. How do we know? The music? The costumes? Perhaps the term storm trooper itself coming from the first world war as the German ‘Storm troopers’ left the standard tactics of trench warfare behind in order to just rush their enemies in hordes of chaos and then might I add, win. Perhaps it’s when Luke finds his aunt and uncle toasted on the desert floor. Perhaps it’s when Darth Vader chokes an incompetent officer. The first three are light and dark indeed, which is why it was simple to understand. You loved the good guys and loved/hated the bad guys in equal measure. So what changed?
Enough said about the first three as they are pretty much perfect, apart from Ewoks I here some say. Never mind. Let’s delve into the less loved prequels. What exactly do we have here?
This is where I think the young Lucas became the mature Lucas and tried to get involved with a far more complicated narrative. Really? We now have a story not based around the simplicity of a fascist empire versus a motley crew of freedom fighters run by a has been princess. The romantic notion of a monarchy being better than having a dictator is a strange one anyway. Did the US war of independence not take place against the British Empire run by a king? Did the French revolution, when they cut off the royalties heads not give rise to Napoleon? But where am I going here exactly?
The prequels starting with the Phantom menace were far more interesting to me in that they deal with a pauper prodigy who can fix anything, who eventually loses his mind when he finds out he cannot fix people. The films are about the dogma of religion and the genius of the Sith Lord who wields his power through politics far better than through lightsaber pugilism. What was Lucas thinking then? Lucas was, as a younger man a cross between Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious and a nerd. His early days of messing about with cars and love for mechanics shows through in the first three films. If you look at the Millennium Falcon you see a love affair from its creator who likes the idea of second hand run down vehicles that need fixing because they are still great. The lead protagonist Anakin is in fact one step further along in that he is a super technician/mechanical engineer. Lukas would probably like to be both Han Solo and Anakin. The smuggler scoundrel who’s handy with the wrench and the prodigal son who could make the Falcon new again in about a week or two of tinkering. Anakin was a far more interesting character than say Luke. Then again the Alec Guinness version of Ben Kenobi was far more interesting than the Ewan Mcgregor version. Script, Acting, who knows what was going on. I’m not sure if Christen Hayden can or cannot act, but he sure was weird at times as the pre-Darth Vader.
As you get older and appreciate things other than swords made of light or firing lightning from your arse hole, the real players turn out to be the hegemony. Hegemony? The ones in control, the ones at the top of the pyramid. Master of puppets handing down orders to the minions. Not the ones who have the money, the ones who print it. Yes, Palpatine is by far the one who deserved more screen time, yet the narrative couldn’t allow for as he was the Phantom menace. The smartest sociopath in the room, the one who makes Darth Vader look like a simpering pantomime. In fact, when it boils down to it, Vader can’t be the best villain of all time because he is just a fallacy of the true evil in the entire franchise. As you see the world as Lucas obviously has upon growing a bit older, sees the villain as a clever, secretive/occult like figure. All the way throughout the franchise I was asking questions like. I wonder how long a storm troopers work shift is? How does Palpatine pay for all those clones and ships and…He manipulated those Chinese stereo type speaking aliens with the robot army you see. But in the end, Palpatine got a lot done. He orchestrated a war between one set of minions against that other lot with that Princess, all in order to create a vote to gain himself ultimate power on an emergency basis, where he then forms a dictatorship. Can you fit that sort of thing in a star wars movie? Trilogy? Evidently it was complicated and not well received.
Palpatine then, is the Devil himself that reflects how you can imagine true evil to work. Never go on display, convince the world you don’t exist and become the charming actor that is necessary to gain influence for the wealth needed to commit atrocities.
Darth Vader as a villain is a sympathetic character in comparison. He was the manipulated and all because of the Jedi council, the other villains in the prequels. A friend of mine complained that these Buddhist type knights had been put in the wrong place. Why were they on a planet sized city elevated above the world? There is among much that you could gripe at with star wars, however, sometimes there is a stroke of genius at hand. At which point does a religious group become arrogant and dogmatic. Political and self serving snoots? The pompous Jedi constantly condescend on a young Anakin from the outset. He’s too old, too tall, too uncontrollable, too inquisitive. In fact, the whole idea behind Anakin is that he is highly intelligent, if not arrogant at times, yet all the while yearning for knowledge. Anything wrong with that? A bit narcissistic perhaps, but talk about how not to deal with a head strong youth. The Jedi then discuss him bringing balance to the force. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if there are only two or three sith and a few hundred Jedi, how is it a balance works in the Jedi’s favour? Perhaps a weighing scales as a physical demonstration will clear this up.
On the right are Jedi and…you get the point. Was I moved by the Jedi slaughter? Not really. They needed a reality check as their hypocrisy and arrogance knew no bounds. Imagine you had someone telling you that your shit, or too old or too smart to be what you wanted to be all the bloody time. There’s a friendly approach to instil discipline perhaps, but there’s no need to be rude. The worst rule of being a Jedi is being celibate. When did that ever work for religion on the whole? I think Nun’s manage. Catholic Priests? Some have issues. But that’s a sweeping statement and all you can say is that telling a teenager to not go for the sex is tricky, even for a Jedi.
I think the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith aimed for there to be a mystery at its heart. Unfortunately if everyone knows what the said mystery from watching the sequels over thirty years plus, the whole affair just looks like everything was contrived to fit. Imagine if you didn’t know who Palpatine was. You would be watching and wondering as Obi Wan goes on his detective tour around the Galaxy. The whole affair would be like trying to unveil a conspiracy theory where each villain disposed of leads closer to the truth until you see Palpatine tell Anakin to lop off Dooku’s head. Bingo! Instead we are just pantomiming it up as Palpatine feigns being a victim while the audience is shouting ‘He’s a phoney!’
The point of a narrative is to have one thread that acts as a one binding factor to all others. In game of thrones for example it is the ignorance and unwillingness to face the doom of the Ice walkers that descend upon the world, while those in power fight amongst themselves. In the Prequel star wars films it is the inability to see in the dark as such, the hidden agenda that preys upon the flawed and rigid system the Jedi have in place. Yoda complains that things are hidden from his power of force sight. Yea, he’s just hamming it up and what he’s really saying is that he hasn’t the faintest idea what is going on. This is because the Jedi are too geometric in nature and suffer the inability to understand surreptitious behaviour that is perhaps the way of politics.
What does appear to have worked in the first three is that when there were twists, the audience were authentically surprised. Going into a film and seeing the main story beats as you imagined them as going to happen takes away some of the thrill. A bit like how trailers for movies these days give away the mystery. So it wasn’t really the star wars prequels fault. On the other hand, the way Palpatine rose to power became quite the fascination. On that basis I enjoyed all three.
What now? Already there are talks of coloured storm troopers being wrong, and that’s before any other news of the Force Awakens was revealed. What appears to be the problem there I’m not sure. Is it that all the troopers need to be clones? Are people idiotic? I recall this about the history of slavery. One idea was that paying to keep a slave housed, clothed and fed was too expensive. Let’s pay them a minimum wage for them to manage themselves and call it freedom. So the clones got too expensive and cannon fodder were brought in on a terrible wage. Is it too much to ask to use imagination or was the complaint just racist? Either way the new film has the chance to start fresh as it appears to be doing thus far.
What is good about the re-boot is that it doesn’t have to be a re-make. Already we see the remnants of the empire becoming a force that wasn’t quite quashed in Return of the Jedi. Han Solo’s been to prison for a long time and some how Luke hasn’t managed to stay in the picture as some sort of ruler of a new clan of Jedi. I think J J Abrahams already knows that starting a movie where our hero’s are the underdogs is a good step, for the original three began in such a way. What shape or form the enemy is in remains to be seen. We see they still wear faceless uniforms and that the Sith still exist. Many boxes ticked for a conflict then. As with all the Star Wars films there is always a two tiered system of the smaller conflict of religious ideals pitted against everyone else in the form of political struggle. I suppose if the empire is till dictating to the galaxy then a rebellion for democracy still looms. Ah yes, the beaten up old ships and rag tag army vs the pristine super ships of the Empire. We like that don’t we. We feel sorry for the Jedi who end up living in some swamp and loath the Sith who wonder around the polished decks of their super structures. It’s a bit like lord of the rings where you have to admit the evil doers are very industrious. I would like to see better dynamics in star wars. Why are the evil doers so capitalistic in that they literally compete, betray and kill each other when such might surely needs some co-operation from those in charge? Why are the Jedi so staunch in their views that they almost appear to sink into apathy with little achieved apart from meditation? In this day and age I think some audiences seek a balance to these ideals. Perhaps Darth Vader was all of these things flitting back and forth for it surely must be confusing to have to meditate during a fight or to have to kill little children and feel utterly sick with despair afterwards. Could we have a grey side with a white lightsaber where the Sedi or Jith just assesses the situation as to whether to be a badass or a monk? Who knows? I think the director J J Abrahams of this new film has the capacity to consider the dynamics of the human being far more than the mechanically minded Lukas, although on saying that Lukas set up the architecture to one of the greatest sci- fi franchises ever created.