Warning: There will be copious amounts of geek and nerd discussion throughout this post which will last a very long time. Long winded doesn't even begin to cover it. If you feel that by reading this post you will undoubtedly become a geek or have geek leaning thoughts, please leave now.
If you’re still around… boy are you lame. Kidding [wink / finger snaps / guns]
I have no real point to all this madness but it’s Wednesday and I really didn’t want to do a lot of heavy thinking during my lunch break but I had carbs so the mind wandered off onto this rant. So, I’m just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. You should be so honored.
Actually, I’ve procrastinated finishing this post from a few weeks ago. Here’s the run up. Awhile back, my three year old took her first step into a much larger world. She got to see the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. I should preface that by saying she watched the re-mastered, re-envisioned, re-WTF-GEORGE-YOU-PUT-HAYDEN-CHRISTIANSEN-INSTEAD-OF-SEBASTIAN-SHAW versions on Spike TV. Small steps, right. One day, when she’s a little older I’ll reach into the bag of holding and grab the original, original trilogy on VHS. Hey, if she can watch the same ten episodes of Kipper and Caillou on Sprout without getting bored she can handle watching these films again, right? Right. That’s what I thought. Represent!
Anyway, I was kind of worried how she’d react to seeing the biggest bad ass of the galaxy, Darth Vader. After all, she’s only three and seeing a big hulking robot with an upper respiratory infection could frighten her. However, I was pleasantly surprised as she was totally sucked in by the films. As she should. A couple of highlights from the her critique of the films.
“The black guy is a nice guy.”
At first I thought she might have been talking about Lando Calrissian but he hadn’t shown up yet, so she was obviously referring to Darth Vader. I told her he wasn’t a nice guy but she insisted that he was. I didn’t want to ruin the movie but informing her that, yes, by the end of the movies he is a good guy, again, but for right now, he’s bad. I simply said, “Honey, he’s a bad guy.” She insisted that I was wrong. Smart kid.
“The big camels are bad guys.”
She was, of course, referring to the Imperial AT-AT Walkers in Empire Strikes Back. The last time she spoke the word camels was in reference to there being camels in our pool. I was baffled at this declaration until she reinforced her point by stating there was camels like chlorine in the pool. “Oh, chemicals. Yes, there are chemicals in the pool.” Here, she called the AT-ATs camels which is exactly what they were called in the Family Guy’s spoof, "Something, Something, Something Darkside." This just confirms my thoughts that, either Seth McFarlane is as mature as a three year old or my daughter is as smart as Seth McFarlane. I say win-win.
“The Golden Guy is good.”
Yes, C-3PO is definitely a good guy but not very well kept in the loop on anything. This is probably to the betterment of the rebellion because keeping 3PO in the dark is your best bet. He has a tendency to talk too much and is liable to give away the entire plan before it has a chance to work.
“The Brown Guy is good.”
OK, now we must be talking about Lando. Nope. She was speaking about Chewbacca. “Yes, he’s a good guy.”
“That’s not going to make him happy.”
She was referring to the Emperor’s divulging his knowledge of the rebel plans and assuring Luke that the rebellion would be crushed. What can I say, the kid was paying attention.
“I’m going to shock that guy. He’s not very nice.”
This was accompanied by her wiggling her fingers at the screen as The Emperor was using Force Lightning on Luke.
“He helped him because he loved him.”
This referring to Vader waking up from his nap and punting The Emperor over the side of the railing.
“He’s not a robot. He’s a man!”
Can’t get nothing past her. When Luke removed Vader’s helmet I was afraid that the pasty and scarred Humpty Dumpty like appearance of Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker would freak her out, but she was actually excited to find out that Vader wasn’t a robot. Quite the philosophical observation. Vader had gone on with the Empire’s way of thinking and acting like a robot, following orders. Only now, in the end, he finally stands up and goes against the norm and becomes human again. Yeah, I’m gonna go with the fact that she was just surprised to see a guy in that suit. One can dream, though.
Beyond the artistic critique of a three year old, I went into geek mode to wax nostalgic about the films, but mostly about Return of the Jedi. I saw Jedi in the theater, and I mean when it was originally released back in 1983.. I was eight years old and went with my brother and sister and remember sitting on the aisle seat in a row of two. In 1983, Reagan was President and art and life were not mutually exclusive of each other. Science Fiction was bleeding over into real technology and the times we lived in bled into the stories on screen. Of course, Star Wars was already an influence on everything from politics to television. V, the original miniseries, came out in 1983. The Strategic Defense Initiative a.k.a. known as the Star Wars program came out in 1983. And the culture and aesthetic feel of 1983 was apparent in Return of the Jedi. I don’t want to get too sociopolitical on the subject so, I’ll end that topic right there and move onto the film itself.
Most people will contest that Jedi was the weakest of the three original films in the sixolgy. Um, sexology? Er, Hexalogy. Whoops! Yeah, Hexalogy. Sheesh. OK. As I was saying, I loved the film, but you already knew that, but most people look at Return of the Jedi as the selling out point for Lucas. He ties up all the loose ends of the trilogy and manages to snag the kid friendly award by positioning living teddy bears as the underdog that overthrows the Empire. Severely outmatched, the pint size protagonists use guerrilla style tactics and weapons fashioned from the forest that would have made Dutch from Predator proud. Now, others tried to hit on a deeper level to the conclusion of the series. Suggestions from Harrison Ford that Han Solo should be killed off can either be taken as his attempt to give the film some tension because, if you can kill Han Solo, anyone can be killed. Of course, this could have been taken as his attempt to end the life cycle of his character so that he can move on and not get pulled back into the mix, should Lucas decide to continue the series beyond three films. And there were also ideas that Luke Skywalker would just wander off alone at the end instead of joining up with his rebel friends, leaving the audience and the movie unresolved with a sad and depressing conclusion. So, you can see why the finished product could come off as a popcorn fluff resolution instead of the dramatic ending to a saga that hit its light speed rhythm with Empire’s ending.
But apart from all the rumors and speculations, I loved the finished product. Even though I am still on the fence over this past May’s finale of LOST, I love a good conclusion episode and Jedi brought one of the greatest film series ever produced to a satisfying end. It was also the end of an experience that shaped the way I grew up in this world. To all the naysayers out there I say, "Ee Choo Tah!"
Let’s delve a little deeper, shall we? Oh come, on. Like you have anywhere good to be for the next ten to fifteen to seventy-two minutes.
First of all, look at the color schemes we get. We have three distinct feels going on in the film. We start off with bright yellows and rusty reds and browns for Tatooine. We then move into the greens and browns of Dagobah and Endor. Finally we have dark blues for the space battle and fight scenes on the Death Star. Whoever colored the film was a genius. The colors really popped out more than they did in Empire Strikes Back. Empire was a very blue film with the exception of Cloud City’s airy, fleshy feel. It had a real human color tone, like someone looked at one of those human body medical models and used the flesh and muscle colors from it as a palette.
Secondly, the cast dynamic is great. If you take a look at some early hero tales and adventure you’ll see a common thread of separation of forces. In Empire Strikes Back, our band of rebels are split into two forces much like Scooby Doo often splits up the gang into two groups. Here, Shaggy is represented by Luke and Scooby Doo is portrayed by R2-D2. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the Millennium Falcon is a riff on the Mystery Machine but you could convince me that C-3PO is a representation of Velma, bespectacled and brainy and often speaking over everyone’s head. But, I digress. Usually, in these types of stories, two factions are working simultaneously towards a conclusion and in Jedi you have three, I guess. You the ground forces supported by Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO while the air strike is led by Lando and Wedge. Luke sort of functions on his own quest to redeem his father and complete his journey to full blown Jedi. But in each storyline you have dependencies on the others. Lando relies on Han to bring down the shield around the Death Star while Luke depends on Leia to accept her destiny should he not return and if you don’t realize it, Luke went into his quest with the acceptance that he would not return. He was almost acting as a distraction as much as the Ewoks were. Luke was sort of tasked with occupying the Emperor’s time so that he wouldn’t be able to escape once the attack on the Death Star was completed. And how about that Death Star?
Talk about budgetary crunches. Yeah, it was fully operational but it was missing a hell of a lot of walls, or at least windows. I gather that the price tag on it was rather inflated from the original. I’m sure they prototyped it and maybe even had prefabrication units for easier deployment. Think of it. The first one served as a pilot run and once you templatized the process you could produce multiple Death Stars to increase your forces. Think about this. The first Death Star is seen in its skeletal form in Revenge of the Sith, which is set 19 years before its first official use in A New Hope. It gets blown up and four years later, they have another one, already half built. There had to be some forethought into replication of the process and material acquisition. Then again, you have to have enough people to man it. As it was, the original trilogy back story has been expanded to include information concerning the discontinued practice of cloning Storm Troopers. So, they’re recruiting, not cloning their ranks. Talk about the law of diminishing returns. The more you grow your ranks in terms of vehicles, the more you have to grow your ranks in human stock. You’re putting a lot of eggs into one basket. Suddenly, that two meter wide vent shaft becomes a huge deal. Wow, tangent land, population, me!
Next, let’s take a look at those Ewoks. Critics of the prequel trilogy will be quick to point out Jar-Jar Binks as the albatross around the neck of the movies, more so than Hayden Christiansen's acting. That may be so, but he is no different than the Ewoks in that he was designed as a comic and somewhat likable character that aids the missions. The difference in Jedi is that the Ewoks are not overtly played for laughs. Jar-Jar was played strictly for camp. The Ewoks were in fact warriors on Endor and were as dangerous as a pack of wild animals, no matter how small they appeared in comparison to the Empire.
Another thing that made them dangerous was their home field advantage. The Empire, for all its technology and firepower, was simply no match for the terrain and indigenous life forms’ ability to use the landscape to their advantage. You're talking about big bulky machinery and its agility in a wooded landscape. There's a limited amount of flexibility to their walkers in tight areas, especially dense forests. Saying that it’s unfathomable to think that Ewoks could ultimately bring forth the collapse of the Empire is ridiculous and inaccurate. They were simply a second unit attack, used primarily as a distraction to help deplete the opposing forces which would allow the rebels to achieve their goals. Without the rebels, there is no way the shield could have been brought down in time. That’s not to say that the Ewoks, given enough time and planning, could not have destroyed the shield generator but it’s unlikely that they could have succeeded within the window of opportunity given. The Ewoks were not responsible for the downfall of the Empire, they were merely additional forces that served a function.
Next up, the Emperor’s New Apprentice. The one thing that Lucas maintained in the prequel trilogies was Palpatine’s desire to buck the system, no matter what. Logic surrounding the Sith and the line of succession always dictated that there are only two, a master and an apprentice. In most cases, the master is always overthrown by their apprentice in a case of a self fulfilling prophecy of power and aggression. It’s like a snake eating its own tail. It’s always the nature of a Sith to take what it wants and never accept their place in line. If they don’t take action to secure their place as master, their master will ultimately replace them because they know that their usurping of command is inevitable. Yet, when they achieve that position, they are usually in it for a very short time because their appointed apprentice is already eyeing the spot. Palpatine is the exception to the rule in that he constantly replaces apprentices in order to either account for a lack of quality among Sith underlings or to circumvent destiny. Eventually, he chooses the wrong one, Anakin, which causes his downfall. Further analysis of Palpatine's folly is that Anakin is quite possibly the product of Palpatine’s manipulation of the force. So, in fact, we have a character that can manipulate both birth and death as told by his exchange with Anakin during the opera scene in Revenge of the Sith. Whether or not he could actually do what he says is debatable. He could in fact be playing on Anakin’s fears over the impending death of Padme during childbirth. However, he gets a sense of hubris and sticks with Vader for 23 years as his apprentice, knowing that eventually Vader should probably turn on him. It's in the nature of a Sith to want to be number one, by whatever means. Why Vader waits is beyond me? But I have a theory later on in the post. LATER? OMG (INTERNET/TEXT SLANG AND OR ABBREVIATION QUOTA REACHED) THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOREVER. That’s OK, you should have seen my kid’s eyes rolling in the back of her head when I explained all this to her. Kidding.
Back to Vader and Palpy. Palatine, first. He’s a very good at multi-tasking. He orchestrated the entire separatist movement, the trade blockade, the removal of Chancellor Valorum from the Galactic Senate and his own rise to political supremacy. Meanwhile, he’s playing Anakin right into the hands of the dark side by pushing him towards Padme and pulling him away from the Jedi council. That’s a hell of a game of chess he’s playing. This, of course, is all shown to him through the force by his own admission. Yet, somehow he manages to overlook human nature and even misses Anakin hiding the fact that Padme is pregnant by him. Now, Anakin had no clue that Palpatine was a Jedi, let alone a Sith. How could Palpatine not pickup on this? Obi-Wan even states that the Emperor knew that if Anakin were to have any offspring they’d be dangerous to him. I guess the conclusion was that Padme’s death was prematurely accepted by Palpatine and he was unaware that she survived long enough to give birth to Luke and Leia.
Then, flash forward to Jedi. Palpy thinks he’s got this all locked up, right? He’s seen the attack on the Death Star. He’s seen Luke fighting Vader. He’s seen all of this pointing to a conclusion that declares him as victor. The pivotal moment is when Luke decides he won’t kill Vader. It means nothing in terms of Luke’s resistance to the dark side of the force. In fact, in the end, Luke really means nothing. He either replaces Vader or he dies. If he’s not going to turn, he’s as good as dead, anyway. Yet, Vader extends an offer of apprenticeship to Luke at the end of Empire. Well, either Vader is finally getting the nards to knock off the boss or he's playing into the Emperor's plan of finding Vader's replacement. Now, all of a sudden, the tide turns and Luke is all, "Oooh, I'll show you dad. I'll chop off your hand, too. Sucks doesn't it." On a side note, Vader/Anakin is pretty danger prone. That's three times in as many movies that he's lost a hand. Anyway, back to Jedi. Luke tells Palpy, "I am a Jedi, like my father before me. Neener Neener, you eat bantha weiner." So, force lightning kicks in and Luke gets a little fricasseed. Then Vader steps in and does a Sith toss over the railing. The greatest Sith in the galaxy is taken down because he picked on some guy’s kid. That is either a huge gaping hole in the logic of how the nature of the force works or, this could all be a waste of time because it’s just a big old plot hole. But you have to admit, for a guy that was very good at spinning all these plates in the air, how could Palpy miss all this coming? Human nature, that’s how.
Vader is the key to all this. Remember, Anakin is the chosen one. Not because he became the Jedi that everyone thought he’d become but because he ended up being the one to get rid of The Emperor. Perhaps he was never fully evil to start, just mostly evil. Human nature won over power and aggression, here. The one thing that Palpatine used to his advantage brought about his own demise. He turned Anakin to the dark side by providing the means to save Padme or at least the promise. Anakin attacks Mace Windu to keep Palply alive to get that information and that betrayal of the Jedi opens the flood gates for Palpy to manipulate his soul with the dark side. Then, his love, coupled with his new found rage, causes him to lash out at Padme over her perceived betrayal of their relationship when she shows up with Obi-Wan on Mustafar.
But it’s love that brings Anakin back and Palpy forgets that love is a greater power than hate. It’s not that he views Luke as a personal threat to him. We see full well that Luke is no match for the power of The Emperor, but Luke calls out to his father to help him. "Please. Father. Help me." He’s not whimpering or whining. He plays on the same heartstrings as Palpy did when he turned him. Yoda said the dark side was not more powerful than the light. Hate is not more powerful than love. It’s easier, quicker and more seductive than love but not more powerful. Luke knows this. He effing knows that there is a conflict brewing inside that old rust bucket and he uses it to his advantage. He takes that power from Palpatine and turns Vader on his master. It took about twenty years and multiple of viewings of Jedi for me to get this. I merely thought Luke was whining, as usual, and begging for help. Hell no, that bad line delivery was all staged. It was the trump card. Maybe he went in there with the game plan already worked out. Maybe he secretly let out the knowledge of Leia being his sister to bait Vader into fully recognizing his family tree. By seeing the full picture he reaches that part of Anakin that was so hell bent on saving Padme that he now wants to protect his children. OK, that might be stretching it because he goes full on attack mode and chops off his Dad’s hand. That was pure aggression, there.
No, I think the realization came as he was being shocked. I think he made a last ditch effort to turn the tables and called out to Dad. However, I think the real problem with that realization is either in the editing of the scene or in David Prowse’s performance. Of course, there’s no way to see the struggle because of the suit. There could have been another moment edited in there to help. There could have been an edit or an angle that offered the audience an inkling that Vader was transitioning. He simply pantomimed, “Hey, that’s my kid. Eff you, raisin face. Your ass is going over the side.” But it worked. Vader saw his son, the product of his love for Padme being harmed and he sprang into action. Love conquers all. The protection of your family greatly outweighs your allegiance to an idea of power. He ends up dying but he finally gets it.
I don't think there's enough of a realization in Sebastian Shaw's performance after Luke removes Vader's mask, probably because of the lack of knowledge that 16 years later, Lucas would tell the story of how Anakin became Vader. The specifics of what caused Anakin's turn to the dark side are never revealed in the original trilogy. He was simply seduced by the dark side, hunted down the Jedi and betrayed and murdered Anakin Skywalker. In away it does a disservice to both sets of films because you want to tell a specific story and you have to be cognizant of where you've been and where you are going. If there would have been some grandiose revelation from Anakin about being a servant to the force instead of its master and the Jedi's place as defender and protector instead of trying to force things to be a certain way, then it serves the prequel trilogy's depiction of Anakin's fall. Anakin never intended to be the bad guy. He was just a guy that bad things happened to and he figured that he should know best because of the burden of his destiny. However, if you stick to the notion that Anakin was simply seduced by the dark side as told by Ben Kenobi, then you totally have no place to go in terms of story with the prequel trilogy.
And that is why Jedi is an awesome movie. Does your head hurt? Are your eyes reddened and cracked from the onslaught of geek discussion? Good. Maybe, next week I’ll give you a treatise on how Jar Jar Binks is ultimately responsible for the entire chain of events in the Star Wars saga and not Palpatine. Talk about Horror Beyond Imagination. And if you are cool enough, you’ll understand the title chosen for this post. It was the working title of Return of the Jedi used to keep people from knowing what was actually being filmed. All too easy.