If The Force is a sentient energy field, couldn’t Evil be one too?

11 Jun

         Sometime in my first semester at Hampshire College I was sitting in Saga (the cafeteria) with the girls as they were making a list of people that they hated. I turned the list over, and started to make a list of “People/Things Deserving of More Love Than They Get.” The girls promptly put everyone sitting at the table on the list. I added “The Star Wars Prequels.” Marissa looked at me incredulously. The Star Wars Prequels deserve more love than they get? Absolutely.
fan image
(It’s just fan art, and has nothing to do with the production. There is no reason to believe any image like this will appear in Episode III.)
         Last night, Rhea and I made a large salad and then watched Episode IV, the original Star Wars movie. We then stayed up until three am watching Episode II, the most recent prequel. They’re in exactly the same style, and I was particularly struck this time around at how many things in Episode IV are stylistically similar to Episode II and yet, on message boards and in reviews, Episode II is critiqued for not having the same elements as the original. Is “This party is over” really that different or worse a line than “Didn’t we just leave this party?”? And, before going any further, I just have to say that if the main point of a Star Wars movie is to entertain, there isn’t much that is more consistently entertaining than watching Yoda limp into the room, force-call his mini-saber to his three fingered hand, and then go ballistic like he’s stuck in a blender and can’t get out. While there’s a large online camp of fans that “defends” the prequels by pointing out similar “flaws” in the originals, there are very few unabashed prequel lovers online. Donald Trull has an awesome, brilliant, and lengthy dissertation on why The Phantom Menace is one of the best Star Wars movies, but he also hates Episode VI. T’Bone is good too, but there is a general sense garnered from consistent online browsing of sites where movie rumors, reviews, and reports are frequent that the Star Wars Prequels are somehow bad movies, much worse than the originals, and can be blamed for ruining the franchise.
         Of course, there is some truth to that. “But how am I to tell the good side from the bad?”
         The original Star Wars Trilogy is a three part tale of Good vs. Evil. The Evil Empire is overcome by the Good Rebellion. While there is a hint of greyness involved in discovering that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, these three episodes are essentially black and white. Good vs. Evil. In The Original Trilogy (OT) The Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
         In The Prequel Trilogy (PT) there are no good guys, and there are no bad guys. There is good, and there is evil, but they are their own forces, acting through characters as the characters choose. In the PT the Force is the same as it is in the OT except that it is sentient. It has a will of its own. (Note: Midichlorians are NOT the Force. They are microscopic organisms residing in all living cells which communicate the will of the Force. Taking someone’s Midichlorian count is not scientifically determining how powerful with the force they are. It’s merely a way of measuring potential, which is in all living things.) In other words, the PT is forcing the OT to be something different. If good and evil isn’t so simple, so black and white (it isn’t) then the Empire isn’t Evil, nor is the Rebellion Good. The Force isn’t just “an energy field.” “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
         People don’t like unlearning. Therein lies the heart of “The Prequel Problem” as online Star Wars Fandom has dubbed it. It was fun to believe that the Jedi were peacekeepers, as wise as Yoda was in Episode V. It turns out that the Jedi were no more peacekeepers than the police are in our world. They are also arrogant and foolish, and Yoda wasn’t always so wise. Anakin was once the kindest boy in the galaxy who gave “without any thought of reward.” He was smart and “knew nothing of greed” (tho he does learn that it can be a “powerful ally”). He could fix, build, and fly. There was no evil in him. People don’t like this. There are Star Wars legends that during the first screenings of Episode IV in 1977 people booed and hissed at Darth Vader’s introduction. The Prequels are telling those people that they were wrong to do so. It’s disturbing to think that Darth Vader, one of the most famous cinematic villains ever, was once so good. Jake Lloyd was excellent at playing an innocent boy, but it was impossible to see how such a boy could become evil. And that’s the point. Unlearn what you have learned. Darth Vader isn’t evil.

“Many things will change when we reach the capital, Ani, but my caring for you will remain.”

Jake as AnakinPadme
         Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones really is about this very “prequel problem.” It’s all about the expectations that the Galaxy Far Far Away (gffa) has created, and then flipping them upside-down, sometimes literally. Most of those who didn’t know the plot before hand, actually expected the clones to attack. (Imagine that.) After the opening crawl, the camera pans UP. The starships come from underneath it. This is backwards from every other Episode. Then the starships flip over. We expect it was Padme who gets blown up in the very beginning, only to find it is a decoy. We see a lot of opposites in Episode II: Obi-Wan closing his lightsaber and watching Jango fly away, the opposite of Darth Maul closing his, and watching Qui-Gon get away in Episode I. We see Padme and Anakin on a retreating bridge, just like Luke and Leia in the Death Star, except the children make it across, and the parents fall. We see Yoda, that peace loving, “wars not make one great,” zen-like master pull out a lightsaber and do some major fighting. We see Threepio fighting for the bad guys (sort of). We see stormtroopers (sort of) fighting for the good guys. We see the imperial symbol on the Jedi-starfighter, itself a tiny Star Destroyer. We see a lightsaber duel in which all we can really see are the faces of the two fighting it: Dooku and Anakin, flashes of red and blue, Jedi and Sith. In Episode I the senator of Naboo is Palpatine, in II, it is Padme: Bad Senator/Good Senator? Count Dooku seems to want what the republic wants, but is just trying to get it in different ways. the Jedi are too full of themselves to really be useful. They should know the difference between knowledge and wisdom, but they don’t. A theme in this movie, often in the subtext, is how old age brings less wisdom, and not more. Yoda says that arrogance is more and more common in the older “more wiser” Jedi. The new Sith Apprentice is one of the oldest characters in the movie. Obi-Wan tells his astromech to send a message to Coruscant care of the “old folk’s home” when he is reporting to Yoda and Mace from Kamino. And then there are the younglings. The wonderful younglings, who through pure childhood innocence state what everyone around them should know, but is too arrogant to realize: someone must have changed the archive records. The lighting design in this scene is brilliant also: there Obi-Wan is, as he’s trying to sort out the mystery of his missing planet, and really he’s literally walking through the stars with all the wonders and mysteries of the galaxy at his very fingertips.

younglings“How wonderful the mind of a child is.”

The actual “attack of the clones” represents the turning of the tide — transforming a peaceful Republic into an Empire, under the direction of a “phantom” menace: If the Force is a sentient energy field, couldn’t Evil be one too? One person’s attack is anothers defense (or perhaps pre-emptive action…)
         While disrupting what we already thot we knew about the gffa, and the nature of good and evil, the Prequels are also showing us glorious new aspects of the gffa and its inhabitants. We get to see Jedi on assignment. We get to see how the Force can be used to maintain an invisible connection to someone, even through layers and layers of buildings and traffic. We get to see Artoo save the day (several days, actually). We get to see Threepio built, covered, and we get to see how he develops. We get to see him experience space travel for the first time. We get to see Artoo fly, really fly, for the first time too. We get to see Artoo and Threepio together, bickering like the good old days they haven’t lived through yet. We return to Luke’s homestead, and the camera settles into many familiar spots. We watch as Padme hugs Darth Vader’s shadow. We see hundreds of Jedi in battle, and hundreds of (sort of) stormtroopers. We see them planning the Death Star! We see Palpatine become the emperor, though nobody realizes it yet except him. We see the formation of the Empire, and we see a few seeds for the rebellion. We see the light, colorful, clean world of Episode I turning into the darker, dirtier, and more drab world we are familiar with. And there’s still one more Episode to go.
         All that said, the Star Wars Saga, all six episodes, is (beyond being over 12 hours of fun saturday matinee/Flash Gordon/Harryhousen style adventures) fairly disturbiing. Despite being rated PG, Episode III will showcase Anakin choosing to become evil.
         The thing that jumped out at me last night upon viewing IV and II was how Anakin and Luke’s stories are really being paralleled, yet reversed. In Episode II, Anakin on Tatooine stands at the edge of a crater, staring at the ground before speeding upon a bike to search for his mother. He finds her, but she is essentially dead already, thanks to the Sandpeople. He holds her for a moment, closes her eyes, and looks up to the camera. The music switches to harsh violins, his anger rising. His stare is chilling. Then he attacks the Sandpeople. A moment ago he was the little boy from Episode I who wanted to stay with his mother, and promised to come rescue her. “Stay with me Mom. Everything’s gonna be….”
         Luke in Episode IV, on the other hand, gets attacked by Sandpeople. Later he speeds in a landspeeder to search for his Aunt and Uncle, who’s death was framed on the Sandpeople. He arrives too late, as Anakin does. He stares at the smoking skeletons for a moment, and then looks up to the camera. The music swells the Force Theme, and Luke’s face shows loss, not anger. After this, he stands upon the edge of a crater looking not down, but up at the setting twin suns. Toward the horizon. “All his life has he looked away, toward the future.”
It seems that Anakin’s story is the opposite of Luke’s, but told in reverse chronological order.
Indeed, the entire Tatooine sequence in Episode II seems perfectly designed and created to link the PT and the OT together, until there is only The Saga. Padme comes out of Luke’s future home and sees Anakin staring at the ground. Anakin tells her to stay and that Luke’s future Aunt and Uncle “are good people.” Padme only says ‘Anakin’ and embraces him desperately. She will never again see Anakin without the scars that have thrown him into the turmoil of the Dark Side. The directing in this scene is key: when Anakin and Padme embrace, the camera doesn’t show us them: it shows their shadows. The shadows of the Skywalker couple are imposed on the entrance to the Lars homestead, effectively pinning this fateful evening and the terrifying events that have a hand in creating Darth Vader to the homestead where Luke spends his entire childhood. In Star Wars Geektalk: it links the PT to the OT. There is a subtle change in the way Padme looks at Anakin as we get to Tatooine in Episode II. Prior to this, especially on Naboo, she looks at him as someone with an obsession with her, and it “makes her feel uncomfortable.” He is someone who wants a forbidden relationship with her. But watch her as she sits next to Luke’s future seat at the Lars’ table. Sympathy. Concern. Genuine caring. She is the only one we see really giving him comfort after Shmi’s death, which finally is realized with the “truly deeply love you pledge” outside the Geonosis Arena.
         So, this is turning out to be really long, but, I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Since I’ve arrived at talking about Anakin and Padme’s relationship, I can’t continue without mentioning the infamous “fireplace scene” in Episode II. Do you feel uncomfortable during the fireplace scene? So does Padme. She is in the dark, both literally and emotionally. She is encased in a tight outfit, restricting her movements, just as she is restricting her own emotions by devoting herself to politics and “not giving in.” This scene is lit mainly by the flames of the fire only. Flame, fire, and heat are too-often used as metaphors for love, passion, and lust. Also, it’s fascinating to notice that there is always a fire burning during key moments of Anakin’s life: Qui-Gon’s funeral, his mother’s death, and the fireplace scene. Padme and Anakin spout “poetic” soliloquies about love and souls and hearts and scars, and I don’t feel like it is two actors reading clumsy lines from a page. I feel like it is two inexperienced young people, who are in over their heads, don’t really know what they are doing, and don’t really know what to say. Is it “bad dialogue’? Well, it’s not “good” romantic movie dialogue, but, it is perhaps realistic dialogue. (More realistic than, I think, the dialogue in most romantic comedies.)
         What else is good in the prequels? In Episode II: The arena is all but deserted when that one stark, haunting image of young Boba clutching Jango’s empty helmet and resting his head to it holds for an all too brief moment of calm. Poised on the edge of dark and light. Surrounded by aftermath. Pure unvoiced desolation and loneliness. Pure cinema.
In Episode I: The Anakin Shmi farewell scene, when little Anakin runs back to his mother once again. “I can’t do it mum, I just can’t do it” Here’s sweet and talented Anakin, little Ani, a boy who loves his mother and, for a moment, realizes that the situation is really bigger than he can take. He’s in the middle of a huge galaxy, and it’s one thing to say “I want to be the first one to see all of the stars” but it’s another to go off and do it. He’s going to be away from his mother for the first time. That’s hard for anyone, and it’s harder when you’re younger. He goes back for comfort. “Stay with me Mom.” Qui Gon looks on as they say farewell, and after Shmi says “now be brave, don’t look back, don’t look back” and Anakin goes toward Qui Gon, you see some slave kids laughing and playing just by them, running through the frame. The kids are happy. They are in an unchanging world of slavery on Tatooine, in contrast to Anakin who’s seeking “better than a slaves life” yet doesn’t “want things to change.” Shmi has told him that “you can’t stop the change” but those children that run by, they hint otherwise. They remind that, perhaps, things didn’t have to be the way they turn out. Combine this with Qui Gon’s belief that “nothing happens by accident” and you have enough fodder for a philosophical discussion easily rivaling one spawned from inside The Matrix.
         And this long entry just goes to show that the Star Wars Prequels deserve more love than they get. The PT and the OT form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of them will affect the other.

teaser banner Iteaser banner II


3 Responses to “If The Force is a sentient energy field, couldn’t Evil be one too?”

  1. youngjedi June 11, 2003 at 9:45 pm #

    Yes, but…
    Yes! I love the prequels for everything you’ve talked about. And dislike like them for the same smack of digital indulgence that made me fear for the then future history-telling when my stomach turned in response to Jedi Rocks. Lucas has said that technology has allowed him to do much more of his vision, that he was limited in making the OT. Well, I think maybe that’s just what he needs, then–a little restraint from his misdirected cute-sy impulses–if he is to make films (alright, movies) that conform to the aesthetics of a wider audience. But that’s not what he’s ever been interested in. He made the money and now he can what he pleases with it. But some of that money is mine. I’d be willing to give him more if I could enjoy its product on more levels. I have a stake in Star Wars financially as well as emotionally, philosophically and spiritually. Those should be worth something in the production. Are we as fans being valued? Just because he didn’t intend on making a cultural myth doesn’t excuse him from answering that culture.
        In fact, the midichlorian bit is to many a slap in the face. It removes a layer of universality by defining the science of the spirituality of the gffa to exclude our own. This affect is largely accomplished due to the mode of presentation. Tight in on the two, Qui-gon responds to the natural question of a young boy. But to the audience, he explains away a piece of mystery. It’s not that we were waiting for a guru to reveal the mystery for our use and appreciation, and we are just unhappy with the answer; we are disappointed in the story teller for this unnecessary device. This is an instance of bad writing. Remove every reference to midichlorians and the plot would suffer not at all. It can’t add anything to the greater mythology–the subjective mythology and cosmology, yes, but not the mythology that our culture receives–only detract from it. If I didn’t know better, it would seem Lucas was responding to criticisims from religious groups that he was offering up a new religion.
        On a line-to-line comparison of the scripts, none are particularly more cringe-inducing than the others, but some seem out of place. Sam Jackson, center screen, “This party is over.” That’s a very Samuel L. Jackson line, and it would be right at home in Pulp Fiction. “Didn’t we just leave this party?” fits right in with the established love-hate/like-shoot relationship banter of Han and Leia. And it’s swept along with the action of the scene–it has not the stopping affect of the here comes a big line preparation for Sam Jackson’s.
        Is the acting any better in the OT? Again, that’s debatable. Is the music better? Hmm…maybe it’s that out of place thing again. Ep II especially seems like a movie full of accidental music, rather than a score. Is this a fault of the editing? Do we just miss the star field background in the credits post ’97?
        Speaking of aesthetics, despite the cold colors of the OT, it has a warmer feel. The vividness of color and camera work in the PT makes me uncomfortable. Oh, well, with any luck, while the subdued sheme of the OT pacifies us introverts, the PT will be attractive to extroverts.
        Whatever it is, be it brighter colors, sharper focus, scripting, acting, scoring, the PT doesn’t reach out and pull me to its bossom (the same as Jedi Rocks makes me push away) the way the OT does, and each of the movies (I realize I’m being prejudgmental toward Ep III) leaves an unsatisfactory aftertaste.
    I’m trying to think of how to wrap this up on a positive note, but your entry is defensive enuff of the positive that mine can be defensive of the retractive without having an unbalancing affect. : )
    in Love,
    PS Have a wonderful summer!
    –science and poetry

    • junorhane June 11, 2003 at 11:22 pm #

      Re: Yes, but…
      Speaking in my idealized manner: George Lucas (or anyone else) should not need money to make his art. Nor should anyone need money to see his art. That said, I think your argument still stands. We do have philosophical and spiritual stakes in this universe. We are vulnerable. One of the most intelligent debates to be found online about the state of Star Wars fandom is in questioning whether or not we as fans actually do have a say, a stake, in what happens in the gffa. Is it at all “ours?” You’ve laid out the best argument I’ve heard regarding this, and I’m inclined to agree, somewhat. “Just because he didn’t intend on making a cultural myth doesn’t excuse him from answering that culture.” I think he is answering that culture, he’s just not giving us the answers we want. He’s excluding the science of the gffa from our own, as you say. That is his answer. In a way, yes, he’s slapping his fans in the face. Jesus never intended to start a religion. Lucas never intended to create a phenomenon. He’s “mystified” by it. Does that mean he should make it live up to our expectations? Does it at least mean that he should listen to what we think about it? He thinks no, as he’s clearly said many times that they’re “his stories” and he’s telling them the way he wants. Should he differ in that? I don’t know. I wish he would. I wish he would hire me to write or edit Episode III, but…I’m not sure he should. It’s not my story, no matter how much faith, emotion, philosophy, and or spirituality I put into it and get out of it. If every rebel listened to the detractors of their story, there’d be no rebels. For the record, I strongly dislike Jedi Rocks and much prefer the original song. I don’t particularly like midichlorians either, but I still believe in the Force as much as I ever have. In the gffa, it communicates via midichlorians, in our world, perhaps it uses mitochondria, who knows. Lucas probably is responding to criticisms of religion starting. He hates having that kind of power, and has no interest in it (ironically) or so he claims. It’s possible that he’s trying to alienate the fans. His answer is, essentially: “I never intended for you all to take this so seriously, and I don’t care that you do.” Ouch. “The gffa is not what it once was,” say the fans. “The gffa was never what you thought it was,” says Lucas. Not much more to say after that.
      As for the music in Episode II, this is a huge disapointment. As near as I can tell, John Williams didn’t ever write a complete score for the movie, and I really don’t know why. The entire third act, save the very end and the credits, had no music written for it. The result, is that the music used is lifted directly from Episode I, or taken from what new music he did write, and choppily pasted over again. Unfortunate and, honestly, poorly done and disrespectful. And as for the “unsatisfactory aftertaste”: yeah, I know what you mean, and while I hesitate to say that this is the point of them (like I said, it’s a disturbing story), I do think that the final three Episodes should be better. They should be warmer. They should feel more comforting, and they should be more powerful. If they are all one cohesive story, as Lucas claims they are. The Dark Side is corrupting Innocence in the PT. There is nothing comforting about it. The Light Side overcomes in the OT, which is tremendously comforting. (Which leaves me wishing that Episode VI wasn’t as weak as it is…)
      In a world where the Dark Side is corrupting Innocence, the PT feels more real to me. Perhaps that sounds strange coming from me. After all, we’re also in a world where Innocence is triumphing, but, currently, I find the PT more interesting. (I also think that Lucas has developed the cinematic language greatly with them, regardless of the digital influx.) So I don’t know if my response is positive or negative, or will unbalance things…but it is the will of the Force that I post it…and then go to bed.
      Love ya, have a good trip. May the Force be with you.

  2. junorhane June 12, 2003 at 7:51 am #

    One More Thing
    In the commentary on the Episode I DVD George says that the reason the midichlorians are there is because they explain how the Force “can be strong” in one person and not another, and how it “can run strong” in a particular family…
    It’s him saying that yeah, the science of the gffa excludes our own, and it always has, just as its inhabitants (all but the “humans”) locations, and technology do (and always have). It is a Galaxy Far Far Away after all…

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