Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Star Wars Files -Part One

The suspense has been building all weekend. Fakiegrinders are on the edge of their mousepads, anxious to get the full scoop on the Greatest Space Fantasy Franchise of All Time. So now, at the risk of running on as long as the popular sextet of sci-fi movies, it is time to unleash...

The Answer to Star Wars, Midichloridians, and Everything

The question we are pursuing is: "How could Anakin Skywalker, at the end of Return of the Jedi, be almost instantly restored to grace after a lifetime of following the dark side?" You can read further about the history of this quandry in the Old Milk archives. FULL SPOILER WARNINGS IN EFFECT: I cannot be held responsible for giving away details of the plot of Revenge of the Sith to any readers who have not yet seen it, or to those who have seen it but fell asleep at some point.

I suppose the shorter, more obvious answer to our Anakin question is that the Star Wars saga is a myth, and dramatic reversals and transformations are the stuff of myth. In destroying the Emporer, Anakin symbolically overthrew the allegiance to the dark side that had enslaved his soul, so it was only fitting that his spirit should get to hang out with Yoda and Ben at the end of the film.

The longer answer is actually an unpacking of this idea. If we examine the story in more detail, we will see that Yoda, Ben and the whole Jedi counsel were complicit in Anakin's fall from grace. Yes, Darth Vadar was a badass, but it takes more than brash impulsiveness and the loss of a loved one to breed a tyrant. Ben, Yoda and the galactic policing agency they belonged to were unintentionally complicit in Anakin's fall, and thus was it necessary for the surviving Jedi to work towards his redemption in the latter three movies, even to the point of appearing as spirit guides to Luke Skywalker through his perilous quest.

I'll build my argument by going through the movies sequentially and noting the salient facts, starting with;

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

or, "The Old Republic Just Ain't What it Used to Be"

This seems to be the movie that even die-hard Star Wars fans love to hate. I saw it about nine times in the theatre, and recently again on television, and It's still one of my favourite three SW films, coming in just after A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. I like Lukas' depiction of the Old Republic with all its dream-like chivalry, and I like Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn. I even like Jar Jar Binks, though this confession likely puts me in an obscure minority alongside some strange bedfellows (it's his floppy ear flap thingies--I think they're cute). Anyways, let's take a closer look at the menacing phantoms and other oddities of this film.

In PM we are introduced to the Old Republic, a great conglomerate of hundreds of thousands of star systems represented democratically in the Galactic Senate, and policed by the ancient order of Jedi Knights. The Jedi have acted to maintain peace and justice across the universe for a thousand years, but, sadly, this peace is about to come to an end with the reappearance, after a millennium, of the Sith--a secret order of Jedi gone bad who have turned to pursuing the dark side of the Force. Throughout Ep.I (PM), and most of Ep.II (ATC), the Jedi councel remain ignorant of the presence of a dark Sith lord right under their lightsabers, so to speak, in the person of Senator Palpatine, a devious politician who works his way to the position of Supreme Chancellor. The Jedi counsel is portrayed as benevolent but somewhat rigid and authoritarian. Their powers to use the Force to see future events is waning, and as galactic order begins to unravel--starting with a seemingly isolated trade blockade on the outlying planet of Naboo--the Jedi become increasingly unable to respond effectively to the crisis. The Galactic Senate is also shown as in decline, and the deceptive Palpaptine has little problem in manipulating events that bring about his rise to power.

The main hero of this film is Qui-Gon Jinn, a maverick Jedi who has been granted the title of Master, but is not a member of the Jedi counsel. The reason given for this is that he refuses to follow the Jedi Code, and a quick check to the official Star Wars web site will reveal that it is particularly Qui-Gonn's philosophy of following feeling over thought that puts him on the wrong side of Jedi dogma. It seems that the Jedi counsel values reflective thought, meditation and research into the nature of the Force over feeling and action. Qui-Gonn, however, in expounding a philosophy of following one's instincts often acts in a spontaneous and independent manner, with our without the blessings of the collective Jedi counsel.

It is through following his intuition that Qui-Gonn becomes the protector of the young Anakin Skywalker, whom he first encounters living as a slave to a scrap dealer on the desert planet Tatooine. Anakin, it seems, has a stronger sensitivity to the Force than any life form Qui-Gonn has ever come across. This is due to Anakin's unusually high count of "midichlorians", a microscopic organism that lives within cells of host creatures in a symbiotic relationship; giving life to matter, it would seem. Lukas uses midichlorians as a pseudo-scientific metaphor for the relation between spirit and matter, akin to Descartes' idea of the pineal gland. Qui-Gonn has a premonition that Anakin is the Chosen One who, it is prophesied, will bring balance back to the Force.

Qui-Gonn is probably my favourite Jedi. His ability to relate to the amphibian Gungans, like Jar Jar, and his philosophy of following feeling and intuition over abstract thought make him a liaison with the chthonic spirits. His independent nature and aversion to bereaucracy give him the ability to act in a decisive manner, and his compassion and sensitivity to the living Force ensure that his actions work towards the greater good. Had Qui-Gonn survived to become Anakin's Jedi Master, his protege might not have turned to the dark side. As things happened, it is significant that Qui-Gonn is the one who, having been killed by Darth Maul at the end of PM, returns to SPOILER ALERT! Time to go see the movie.

The stage is thus set for the tragedy to unfold in the next two movies. Anakin is presented to the Jedi counsel on the capital city/planet of Coruscant. While the counsel recognize his great potential, they are wary of training him. The Jedi like to train their apprentices from birth, and Yoda senses a great deal of fear in the young Anakin. He was, after all, a slave for his entire childhood, and had been recently plucked from a backwater redneck outpost and deposited in the midst of the largest metropol in the galaxy. But rather than doing anything to ease Anakin's sense of fear or displacement, the Jedi act in a clinical and almost self-righteous manner. Their disassociation with the realms of feeling are readily apparent in the way they treat Anakin, though by the end of the film they do agree to allow Ben Kenobi to take Anakin as his Padawan learner, even though Ben has only just recently been granted the status of Jedi Master himself. Qui-Gonn says at one point while talking to Anakin's mother on Tatooine, "I didn't come here to free slaves". This is a significant statment, as Anakin's acceptance as a Jedi Padawan can be seen not so much as a liberation, as trading one form of slavery for another. It is ultimately only in ROTJ, when Anakin-as-Vadar overthrows the Emperor in a spontaneous act of compassion, to save his son Luke, that he truly becomes free.

Stay tuned for the second Fakiegrind installment of The Star Wars Files coming soon to a blogspot near you!


em said...

STOP! Stop this madness!

Urge Overkill said...

Look, man, this is my moment of glory. I know we may be killing off readership with all the Star Wars stuff, but just a few more blogs and we'll bury the whole thing, ok?

flatlander said...

Ok, for the sake of mental health, and dropping readership, I'll keep the last two issues of "The Star Wars Files" under wraps for the time being, and, like Lukas, release them at appropriate intervals, thus keeping any still-living Banthas safely in the bag.