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A big, overdue Star Wars post (oy). - Yew Erdri Ming — LiveJournal

About A big, overdue Star Wars post (oy).

Previous Entry A big, overdue Star Wars post (oy). May. 23rd, 2005 @ 02:12 am Next Entry
I've seen Revenge of the Sith twice now. I suppose it's time I said something about it.

Star Wars has been much on my mind for several months now, and I've accumulated a great deal of secret opinions and theories that I feel now I ought to share. But, before that, to save some of you skimming, I will say that yes, I liked Revenge of the Sith a lot. It's a good movie. Thumbs up.

It's better than Return of the Jedi. But I haven't been liking Return of the Jedi very much lately.

A few months ago, I watched Empire and Jedi over two nights. As I watched Empire, I couldn't help but compare it to Episodes I and II, and try to determine precisely what it is that makes Empire Strikes Back a far superior film. The answer, in part, is subtle characterisation. For everything a main character says in Empire Strikes Back, there are a thousand things he or she expresses without saying. These quieter things are expressed in ways somewhat analogous to the way we intuit things about the people we meet in life.

Think about the exchange between Han and Leia at the beginning. Han tells the general he's leaving, Leia looks on with a somewhat ambiguous interest. Han confronts her, and we can't gauge much from either but a stiff formality. Then Han becomes annoyed and says, "Don't get all mushy on me. So long, Princess."

Leia had not sounded remotely close to mushy, and we had no reason to expect her to. Han's being sarcastic, but not necessarily, as he insists, because of her hidden feelings for him, but more likely because of his clumsy feelings for her. She seems remote to him--throughout the movie, he constantly refers to her as "Princess" and "Your Highness" as though these are insults, and it seems clear he regards her as a being that's too frustratingly far from him. But apart from Han's words, we don't actually receive the impression that Leia is particularly arrogant and frigid, as demonstrated by her defiant kiss with Luke in the medbay or her earnest words in the briefing with the Rebel soldiers. What Leia is is inexperienced and sheltered--as demonstrated by her inept insults hurled at Han, the innocence of which amuse him ("Who's scruffy lookin'?").

Han doesn't understand his feelings for Leia and neither does she. And she seems little able to comprehend her own eventual affection for him, just sort of helplessly going along with it after some initial resistance to the unfamiliar emotion. And we might wonder how much her affection for him might be based entirely on the situation they're in.

So then. What do these two people look like? They look like kids. Adolescents, clumsily working their way through strange emotional territory. This makes them seem vulnerable, and this adds to the suspense of their flight from the Empire.

Because we don't sense any confusion in Vader. He's tall, dark, mechanical, and adult. His overwhelming Star Destroyers loom over the human interactions, threatening to crush the helpless little organic tendrils with a solid metal boot. One might infer that the "quick and easy" path of the Dark Side is Vader having sidestepped the uncertainties of youthful human emotion to embrace the decisiveness and efficiency of machines and tyrannical rule.

The other main storyline of Empire Strikes Back, Luke's, is also very good. Not a love story, but a more personal story of self-confrontation, culminating with the clear symbolism of the Degobah cave. Where, as Yoda notes, Luke fails. In fact, Luke starts the movie as a self-confident young man who knows what Dak means when he says he feels like he can take on the Empire by himself. After all, Luke's done just that, having destroyed the Death Star in the previous film. You know how the teenage ego can be. How can it be knocked down from that peg? And in fact, despite being mauled by a beast on Hoth and chastised and somewhat humiliated by Yoda, Luke doesn't loose his childish front until he's at Vader's mercy. Not until his brashness looks like it shall certainly lead to his doom.

We sense all this, without it ever being spelled out for us. It's made plain by Vader's costume, his ships, Harrsion Ford and Carrie Fisher's performances, and the dialogue. Even Mark Hammill, who'd been somewhat gratingly inept in the previous film, delivers an effective performance here.

But it's all over with the closing credits because Return of the Jedi is a different animal, somewhat more akin to a monster truck show. The virtues of Jedi are its special effects and action sequences, so it's little wonder that children tend to prefer it over Empire.

The tender, inexperienced Leia is gone, replaced by an action figure lady. She's light-years more mature than the girl in Empire Strikes Back and we're never told why. She returns Han's "I know" to his "I love you" like it's the punchline to a joke, for any emotional resonance their relationship has is residue from Empire. Han is himself reduced to a creature of broad, quickly appreciable lines, and the only time we sense vulnerability in him is when he's got hibernation sickness. When Leia deigns to mention to him that Luke's her brother, he looks like he's won a prize at the fair, after he'd very maturely told her he'd get out of the way if she wanted to be with Luke. Actually, Harrison Ford's really good here, and I can sort of believe Han from Empire might behave this way, if it weren't for the fact that I feel he'd be creeped out by Leia's lobotomy.

Speaking of lobotomies, perhaps Jedi's biggest flaw is the walking corpse passing for Luke Skywalker. Utterly gone is the kid from Empire and suddenly we have the cool, almost ghandi-like man, again with no explanation, no discernable character arch. Sure, maybe the big blow at the end of Empire led him on the path to nirvana, but that's taking an awful lot of development as read, particularly considering the "pay-off" is a guy Spock would probably describe as stuffy.

We don't sense any flaws in this guy. So what kind of tactic is team Palpatine/Vader supposed to use to bring him to the Dark Side? Why, endlessly repeating "Dark side", until maybe Luke goes, "Hmm. Dark side. That sounds kinda cool."

In Empire, Vader appeals to the desire for peace. He expresses the idea that, with the great power of the Dark Side, he and Luke can end "this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy." To Lucas's credit, he picks up on this idea in the prequal trilogy and makes it one of Anakin's central character traits.

But it's nowhere to be found in Jedi. In the corridor after Luke's been captured, what's Vader's big argument? "You do not know the power of the Dark Side!" And what's Luke's? "I will not turn and you'll be forced to kill me."

And no, we don't for a moment really feel Luke will turn. When he angrily attacks Vader after Vader's threatened to corrupt Leia, I guess we're meant to believe that Luke's afraid of losing her. But how exactly is he supposed to go from that to being a servant of the Dark Side? In order to save Leia from the Dark Side, he's gonna go to the Dark Side? Huh? Hey, in order to save you from your sandwich, I'm gonna eat it for you and love it. You're welcome.

And Vader's soul is apparently saved by Luke as Luke almost sacrifices himself to Palpatine. So Vader realises he doesn't want the people he loves to be hurt. Okay . . . that still doesn't provide a counterargument for his tyrannical bent. After all, he wanted the Empire to bring order to the galaxy, right? So looks like Vader's got some more development to go but--oops, he's dead because the movie's almost over and that would be too much to deal with. So hurrah, dancing Ewoks, the end!

Now that brings us to the prequel trilogy, and a whole different set of strengths and weaknesses.

The Phantom Menace was the best movie for Padme Amidala. Some people say Natalie Portman's a bad actress, but I think it's merely that she's kind of a reserved person. I've known people like this. And there're other actors like that; Clint Eastwood and Kim Novak are two examples. Not as much emotion tends to leak out of Portman--not as much as Carrie Fisher. But this makes Portman perfect as the doll-like queen. Imagine Carrie Fisher in the makeup and headdress and you'd see an entirely less ethereal effect. Portman's big virtue is her statuesque beauty, and I wonder if perhaps her casting provides some insight into George Lucas's view of women and if it is perhaps similar to J.R.R. Tolkien's.

It's much remarked upon how all the female characters in the Lord of the Rings books are very remote, very awesomely beautiful figures. As with Tolkien, all of the most powerful emotional tales in the Lucas-written Star Wars movies (which include episodes I through IV) tend to be about the men, and only occasionally about their feelings for women.

So perhaps this is why, when the attempt is made to bring Queen Amidala down to earth for a love story in the second movie, it really doesn't come off. It feels more like the broad outline of a love story than an actual love story as Lucas too hurriedly dashes from one point to the next, their declarations of love feel like Lucas prematurely ejaculating.

People can point to the flaws in the second movie as being its poor editing, its lack of a clear villain, and convoluted plot. But to my mind, the only truly relevant flaw is the failure of the love story--all the other things would have been at least good enough if the love angle had worked. All the prequels have beautiful sets, costumes, and action sequences, which make them acceptable as eye-candy.

But what finally works on an emotional level is Revenge of the Sith. And what works about it has little to do with the love story, and just about everything to do with the relationship between Anakin and Obi-wan.

Every time Anakin and Padme use the word "love" in conversation, it feels wrong. What we're seeing isn't a human relationship, but a very lofty, porcelain sculpture of royalty that doesn't fit in with the rest of the movie. When Obi-wan says "love" near the end of the movie, we really feel it. Because we have been enjoying the relationship of these two men as brothers, and Anakin's betrayal is heart wrenching.

There is one level on which Anakin's relationship with Padme does work, and that's her as a factor in his decision to turn to the Dark Side. This is epitomised in a wonderfully, eerily quiet scene on Coruscant where Anakin stands in the Jedi Council Chambers and Padme stands in her room, looking out at the city.

But for the most part, poor Natalie Portman has the unenviable task of saying things that are almost alien to the narrative. In Revenge of the Sith, it's Anakin we're riding along with for the most part and since his love for Padme seems insubstantial, her pleas based on it feel hollow.

But I think Hayden Christensen did a good job. Some might say he seemed too stiff but, remember, Vader was pretty stiff. I had the impression that Christensen was making a concerted effort to have his voice match in cadence and rhythm with James Earl Jones. Which isn't an easy task without sounding silly or at least implausible. But I think he pulls it off. What you get is a sort of deadening after he turns to the Dark Side. After he's first bowed before Palpatine, and he's given his new name, he rises slowly, tiredly, similarly to how Vader would rise in the original trilogy. As though the conflict in him is an almost palpable weight.

Now, I want to move on to two aspects of the Stars Wars films that seem to make people very angry these days and I'm not entirely sure why. These two aspects being the politics and the Force.

First of all, I love the politics. I don't know why. Maybe it's because it's stuff I've wondered about since I was a kid. How did it get to be an Empire? Were all the people involved really evil inside? It's like Dante and Randall's conversation about the people on the Death Star. I have to admit I find it difficult to sympathise with those who call the politics dull and distracting. I find it fascinating--it's called Star Wars, after all, and if you're going to talk about war, it's good when there's more to it than running around and fighting. I wanna know how the fight got started, and I like that it's for complicated and sinister reasons.

And the Force--anyone who's figured out what the Star Wars reference was in the latest Boschen and Nesuko chapter also knows that I don't agree with everything Yoda says. But that doesn't mean I don't think it's a valid point of view.

We're strongly compelled to hate religion these days, and I'm not fond of religion myself. But maybe there is something noble about leading a life of self-sacrifice, even of chastity. We're only told the horror stories that result, but perhaps it's not wrong to say that there is a psychological advantage to be gained this way--by becoming removed from human passions. I don't think so, but I wouldn't insist that I'm right, and I certainly think it's a worthy topic to explore. Empire and Sith make some points, although the clumsiness of Jedi provides some counterarguments.

And that's something that Sith really has over Jedi--idealistic cohesiveness. Lucas's writing may not be perfect, but at least he holds true to his motives in this one.

I'd like to close by pointing out something about Star Wars that I don't see mentioned very often but I think is the strongest quality of both Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. And that's the Flash Gordon factor.

Some of the dialogue people complain about is the way it is for a very specific reason--when Obi-wan says, "You won't get away this time, Dooku!" we're perhaps reminded of the thousands of times we've heard these words used in parodies of old superhero movies and television shows. So many times that many of us can only appreciate this sort of dialogue on ironic terms. And we are a more cynical people than we were in the 1930s and 1940s.

The really great thing Lucas does is take the child-like, earnest attitude of wonder and treat it absolutely seriously. As if this always truly was the way we would confront space and alien worlds and fantastic action sequences. I like it. For all the convolution, it feels remarkably bullshit-free.
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: "Satan Rejected My Soul" - Morrissey
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From:jbarbie23
Date:June 5th, 2005 11:40 am (UTC)
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*sigh* - I reasoned that by virtue of having seen the last movie first, I wouldn't have to see the first five. But now I'm interested. OK; I'm off to netflix.com and I will add them to my queue; thank you very much! Hmph. You do realize this pre-empts the likes of "Ocean's Eleven" and about a hundred other, mostly older movies that no one can believe I've never seen...
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From:setsuled
Date:June 6th, 2005 03:08 am (UTC)
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I reasoned that by virtue of having seen the last movie first, I wouldn't have to see the first five.

Wow. I'm always amazed when someone over 12 hasn't seen the original trilogy. But it was such a big part of growing up for me, I guess I can be a bit Star Wars-centric . . .

You do realize this pre-empts the likes of "Ocean's Eleven" and about a hundred other, mostly older movies that no one can believe I've never seen...

Heh. I haven't seen any of the Ocean's Eleven films either. But there'll always be a million great old movies we haven't seen yet . . .
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From:sovay
Date:December 20th, 2006 03:15 am (UTC)
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My real answer to this post is that I clearly need to see the original Star Wars again. And maybe Revenge of the Sith, which I have never seen—after the first two prequels, I think I can be forgiven for avoiding the third like the plague.

Hey, in order to save you from your sandwich, I'm gonna eat it for you and love it. You're welcome.

*ksnerk*

You rock.

But to my mind, the only truly relevant flaw is the failure of the love story--all the other things would have been at least good enough if the love angle had worked.

The failure of the love story in Attack of the Clones was one of the more spectacular things I have ever seen onscreen. There were lines spoken by Padmé and Anakin that I almost wish my ears had fallen off before I heard: "I don't like sand. It's coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth . . ." Oh, please just let me choke on my popcorn.

I have to admit I find it difficult to sympathise with those who call the politics dull and distracting.

I didn't find the politics dull or distracting: I just didn't think they were explored adequately enough to provide a plausible run-up to the situation we find in A New Hope. Frankly, I'm also curious about how the Rebellion started. I don't know Luke and Leia's canonical ages, but we must only have about twenty, twenty-five years to work with—so is there opposition from the beginning? How quickly does it develop into a full-fledged resistance? Et cetera, et cetera . . . Is this dealt with at all in Revenge of the Sith?
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From:setsuled
Date:December 20th, 2006 03:57 am (UTC)
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after the first two prequels, I think I can be forgiven for avoiding the third like the plague.

Yeah, I don't blame you.

I almost wish my ears had fallen off before I heard: "I don't like sand. It's coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth . . ." Oh, please just let me choke on my popcorn.

Hehe. "What I'm saying, Padmé, is that I want to rub my lips on your Blarney Stone."

I didn't find the politics dull or distracting: I just didn't think they were explored adequately enough to provide a plausible run-up to the situation we find in A New Hope.

They're explored in greater depth in Revenge of the Sith. I gotta respect Lucas for sticking to his guns--everyone whined, "No more politics!" and he replied, "Oh, I'm just gettin' started on y'all."

I'm also curious about how the Rebellion started. I don't know Luke and Leia's canonical ages, but we must only have about twenty, twenty-five years to work with—so is there opposition from the beginning? How quickly does it develop into a full-fledged resistance? Et cetera, et cetera . . . Is this dealt with at all in Revenge of the Sith?

Yes, a bit. There are people like Jimmy Smit's character, Bail Organa, who are secretly opposed to the new formed Empire. The Rebellion basically seems to be a political party of the old Republic that splits off.

There's a deleted scene on the DVD that I rather wish Lucas had left in that shows Padmé meeting with Mon Mothma, the future leader of the Rebellion later seen briefly in Return of the Jedi.
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From:sovay
Date:December 20th, 2006 04:21 am (UTC)
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The Rebellion basically seems to be a political party of the old Republic that splits off.

Heh. For reasons that I will have to analyze, I find that both slightly disappointing and extremely intriguing. I think perhaps because I had imagined the Rebel Alliance more as a grassroots movement that eventually got itself organized enough to command ships and bases, less a political opposition that had to go underground. Hmm.
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From:sovay
Date:December 21st, 2006 09:34 am (UTC)
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All right, thanks to your no doubt unimproving influence, I dug out our old tapes (we have the original trilogy on VHS, acquired when I was in high school, before George Lucas went back and diddled with the special effects) and watched the first two-thirds of The Empire Strikes Back and then Return of the Jedi tonight. And I didn't find Return of the Jedi unwatchable, nor would I even say strictly that it's a bad movie, but it is a much, much weaker film than The Empire Strikes Back, and I don't think it was served well by a back-to-back viewing. Ah, well. Keep in mind that I'm now fairly brain-dead with staying up, but here are some reactions. I may post more in the morning when I get my intellect back.

But it's all over with the closing credits because Return of the Jedi is a different animal, somewhat more akin to a monster truck show.

Yeah. I was surprised at how few action sequences there are in The Empire Strikes Back, and how many in Return of the Jedi. The weight in the second film is clearly on the characters and their relationships; in the third, it's on explosions.

Do you have any idea how much time is supposed to have elapsed between the two movies? The new Death Star is half-constructed, which cannot have happened in six months, and Luke refers to Yoda as "an old friend," which implies that some years have passed, and frankly I'd feel more comfortable about the character continuity if there had been some time for changes to take place in—but I also can't see how the characters would have left Han Solo frozen in carbonite for, say, five years, so really I have no explanation.

Leia had not sounded remotely close to mushy, and we had no reason to expect her to. Han's being sarcastic, but not necessarily, as he insists, because of her hidden feelings for him, but more likely because of his clumsy feelings for her

I love how when Han needles Leia in the medbay—"I think you just can't bear to let a gorgeous guy like me out of your sight"—Luke's expression suggests that as pleased as he was to be rescued by Han, if this was what he had to look forward to, couldn't he have just been eaten by the wampa, thank you very much? Although Luke is not above his own immature responses, as when he self-satisfiedly folds his arms behinds his head and settles back after Leia's passionate kiss. They're none of them all that aware or certain of their desires. It's completely believable.

Therefore, among the many plot-points that Return of the Jedi dropped the ball on, I would like to have seen that slightly confused sexual tension played more strongly against the emerging information about Luke and Leia's parentage; it pretty much fell out of the picture once Luke was told he had a twin, and I see no reason to believe that his previous several years' attraction to her would have disappeared overnight from that knowledge, only become a lot weirder and more difficult to deal with. I will not even get into the fact that she seems to deal quite readily with the realization that not only is Luke her brother, Darth Vader's her father: and she's faced him more than once; been interrogated by him, in fact. You'd think that would leave some mixed feelings at best . . . I also find it curious that while it is nowhere implied in Return of the Jedi that Jedi are discouraged from forming romantic attachments, as is plainly the case in the prequels, that was still the impression I received somehow from the final scenes of the film—that while Han and Leia pair off as a couple, Luke as a Jedi stands alone; he cannot be Leia's lover not only because he is her brother, but because of the path he follows now. And if I think about it, that makes no sense, because Leia has the same Jedi inheritance (if nothing else, she senses him in The Empire Strikes Back in much the same way that Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi are aware of one another's presence) and clearly no problems with her sexuality. There's no reason to believe she won't both have children with Han and develop her own powers as a Jedi. The same does not seem to be true for Luke. Canonically, does he ever have relationships or children?
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From:setsuled
Date:December 21st, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC)
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All right, thanks to your no doubt unimproving influence,

Join me, Sonya. It is the only way.

I dug out our old tapes (we have the original trilogy on VHS, acquired when I was in high school, before George Lucas went back and diddled with the special effects)

The original versions were recently released on DVD but they were unavailable for a very long time. I was quite proud of having old widescreen VHSs of the movies, which I spent a hundred dollars on one Christmas when I was a kid. My mother thought I was insane. But if your VHS versions aren't widescreen, I recommend seeing them that way as soon as you can. They're very wide movies, and the pan-and-scan format deletes roughly two thirds of the screen. Editing decisions I thought bizarre even as a kid suddenly made perfect sense it widescreen.

I really wish Lucas had never messed with the original movies. Because, even having access to the original versions now, there's always the nagging feeling I'm not watching the official or real versions. Plus, to be absolutely fair, there are one or two of Lucas's tamperings I actually thought were good, though they were mostly small things. Like replacing the English readouts on the Death Star's tractor beam generator with Aurabesh, alien writing.

watched the first two-thirds of The Empire Strikes Back and then Return of the Jedi tonight. And I didn't find Return of the Jedi unwatchable, nor would I even say strictly that it's a bad movie, but it is a much, much weaker film than The Empire Strikes Back, and I don't think it was served well by a back-to-back viewing.

That's about exactly how I feel. I think if I could watch Return of the Jedi in isolation, I might enjoy it a lot more. I still get pangs of nostalgia about it, and I love things like the Jabba's Palace mod for the Jedi Academy video game. Somewhere in the back of my brain, there's still an innocent child's Return of the Jedi.

Keep in mind that I'm now fairly brain-dead with staying up,

Heh. You're a lot more coherent than I am when brain-dead.

Do you have any idea how much time is supposed to have elapsed between the two movies?

Trying to find an answer for that, I found this interesting Wikipedia entry about time measurement in Star Wars. Apparently there was one year between Empire and Jedi. Not, in my opinion, enough time for such a drastic change in Luke.

There was a book, Shadows of the Empire, that tried to deal with the period of time between Empire and Jedi. I haven't read it in a long time, but as I remember, Luke started the book seeming very much like he did in Jedi.
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From:setsuled
Date:December 21st, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC)
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As the Wikipedia entry suggests, there was a lot of tangential stuff surrounding the book, which was sort of interesting. I even bought a copy of the musical score by Joel McNeely.

The new Death Star is half-constructed, which cannot have happened in six months,

There is some controversy about that, especially since the first Death Star is seen being constructed at the end of Revenge of the Sith, nineteen years before A New Hope. Some speculate that they were able to move faster because they'd already done it once (awfully simplistic rationale, I know). There's also Randall from Clerks theory that the Empire hired a bunch of independent contractors.

I also can't see how the characters would have left Han Solo frozen in carbonite for, say, five years, so really I have no explanation.

There's also the fact that Han appears to have gained a little weight in carbonite. Perhaps he's retaining water?

They're none of them all that aware or certain of their desires. It's completely believable.

Yes indeed.

the emerging information about Luke and Leia's parentage; it pretty much fell out of the picture once Luke was told he had a twin, and I see no reason to believe that his previous several years' attraction to her would have disappeared overnight from that knowledge, only become a lot weirder and more difficult to deal with.

Good point. That would've been great. I bet it would have gone that way, too, if David Lynch had been the director, as Lucas originally planned.

I will not even get into the fact that she seems to deal quite readily with the realization that not only is Luke her brother, Darth Vader's her father: and she's faced him more than once; been interrogated by him, in fact. You'd think that would leave some mixed feelings at best . . .

Yeah. She was really lobotomised. The book The Truce at Bakura made some attempt to deal with the issue, but Leia still seemed like she was drastically under-reacting.

he cannot be Leia's lover not only because he is her brother, but because of the path he follows now.

Yeah. I get the feeling we're supposed to see him as some sort of vaguely superior being for it.
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From:setsuled
Date:December 21st, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC)
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There's no reason to believe she won't both have children with Han and develop her own powers as a Jedi. The same does not seem to be true for Luke. Canonically, does he ever have relationships or children?

Nothing is canon outside of the movies, except possibly the Boba Fett animated segment from the Holiday special. Lucas had all the rights to Star Wars stuff and kept a tight grip for years, allowing very little to be written by others. Then, with what I remember was some fanfare, Lucas allowed The Thrawn Trilogy to be published as the first of a long interconnected series of fiction by other writers, under the caveat that Lucas can contradict those stories in the movies if he wished. That's how the Expanded Universe began.

So basically, all the Expanded Universe stuff, including books, comic books, video games, and animations, have to try to agree with each other, but Lucas is free to ignore them. So when one says "canon" for the Star Wars universe, it's a term with slightly nebulous meaning.

Anyway, after Return of the Jedi, in the Expanded Universe, Luke becomes head of a new Jedi Academy and seems very much an ascetic, while the Jedi students aren't restricted at all from romance. It's explained that there's almost no surviving data from the Old Republic about the old Jedi order, explaining why Luke didn't know about the restriction. Leia becomes leader of the New Republic (I think she was president--I forget the title) and kind of sidelines her Jedi training.

Luke does get married eventually in the Extended Universe to Mara Jade.

I have a lot more to say about the lot more you had to say, but I'm afraid I have to go to bed now--I have to be up early. Two days in a row now, so forgive me if some of this comes off as a little dippy. I guess there's no big rush on this conversation, though, considering the original post is over a year old. Gods, time's getting too fast . . . But thanks very much for the conversation.
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From:sovay
Date:December 21st, 2006 09:35 am (UTC)
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She returns Han's "I know" to his "I love you" like it's the punchline to a joke, for any emotional resonance their relationship has is residue from Empire.

I still think it's a wonderful character bit that when he tells her for the first time that he loves her, it's because she's got a blaster concealed and about to nail some stormtroopers—and a heartfelt, half-amazed, wholly appreciative "I love you" it is. I didn't have as many problems with Han's characterization in Return of the Jedi as I did with Luke's or Leia's.

Utterly gone is the kid from Empire and suddenly we have the cool, almost ghandi-like man, again with no explanation, no discernable character arch.

The first time I saw the movie, I had a much stronger sense of Luke Skywalker as a sort of half-trained, almost renegade Jedi, whose abandoned apprenticeship had left him with the proper skills but an incomplete understanding of their implications or legitimate uses, and who was therefore much more in peril of slipping over onto the Dark Side. This time around, I kept seeing the places where his characterization doesn't mesh; he's robotically calm in certain situations and desperately a mess in others, and while I could be persuaded to believe that one is put on over the other—all the turmoil, self-doubt, and confusion that does not come out when Luke is dealing with Jabba the Hutt, because there he clearly has the upper hand, spills out all over the place when the emotional stakes are raised, as when he duels with his father before the Emperor—it's unfortunately not played that way. I don't see a conflicted Luke; I can see an incoherent script.

So what kind of tactic is team Palpatine/Vader supposed to use to bring him to the Dark Side? Why, endlessly repeating "Dark side", until maybe Luke goes, "Hmm. Dark side. That sounds kinda cool."

Honestly, I never had the sense that Palpatine really expected Luke to turn of his own free will; more that he could be goaded into giving way to his more volatile emotions, anger, hatred, fear, and drawing on the Dark Side, which would perforce put him in the Emperor's power. Or he could be broken, or he could be killed, in which case the threat of a new Jedi would still be neutralized.

When he angrily attacks Vader after Vader's threatened to corrupt Leia, I guess we're meant to believe that Luke's afraid of losing her. But how exactly is he supposed to go from that to being a servant of the Dark Side? In order to save Leia from the Dark Side, he's gonna go to the Dark Side?

Where Vader in The Empire Strikes Back tempted Luke with the promise of the Dark Side, all the emphasis in Return of the Jedi seems to be on its unavoidability: that there are certain acts that irrevocably commit one to the Dark Side, regardless of their intention. If Luke kills the Emperor out of fear and hatred, then he has turned. If Luke kills his own father (with maybe bonus points for the fear and hatred, I don't know), then he has turned. Every time he loses his temper, or listens to the Emperor enough to be rattled, he endangers his own foothold on the Light Side of the Force—the way he hacks at Vader's lightsaber and then wrist when he has his father pinned against the rail, he's practically berserk, taking an almost blind vengeance for the hand that Vader cost him, and that is clearly what the Emperor wants to see. I don't think at that moment Luke has any thought of sacrificing himself to save Leia. I think he's just trying to kill Vader before the Dark Lord can get to her, which would be an otherwise prudent act except for the moral weight it carries here. Only Darth Vader can kill the Emperor, because murder is the province of the Dark Side . . . I have no idea how this squares with Luke's destruction of the first Death Star, of course. I think Yoda mentions at some point that a Jedi's warrior skills should be used only in defense, and clearly Luke disregards this bit of advice. (See his failed self-confrontation in the cave, which I still think is a magnificent scene.) Perhaps there's meant to be some implicit argument for the defense of the greater good that covers the situation, but I think it's mostly that the Death Star is faceless, while the Emperor is a personality.
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From:setsuled
Date:December 22nd, 2006 04:54 am (UTC)
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I didn't have as many problems with Han's characterization in Return of the Jedi as I did with Luke's or Leia's.

Me neither, but I think it's mainly because Han was a far less crucial character, so Harrison Ford was essentially left to just "be." In fact, Ford wanted Han to die in the movie because he felt the character contributed so little. Though I think he does work eye-candy . . . Maybe it'd be better to call him "character-candy" . . . maybe "aesthetic-candy"? Hmm.

The first time I saw the movie, I had a much stronger sense of Luke Skywalker as a sort of half-trained, almost renegade Jedi, whose abandoned apprenticeship had left him with the proper skills but an incomplete understanding of their implications or legitimate uses, and who was therefore much more in peril of slipping over onto the Dark Side.

You know, I did too, when I was younger. Maybe it was just easier for us to take things on faith?

while I could be persuaded to believe that one is put on over the other—all the turmoil, self-doubt, and confusion that does not come out when Luke is dealing with Jabba the Hutt, because there he clearly has the upper hand, spills out all over the place when the emotional stakes are raised, as when he duels with his father before the Emperor—it's unfortunately not played that way. I don't see a conflicted Luke; I can see an incoherent script.

Yes, well said.

Honestly, I never had the sense that Palpatine really expected Luke to turn of his own free will; more that he could be goaded into giving way to his more volatile emotions, anger, hatred, fear, and drawing on the Dark Side, which would perforce put him in the Emperor's power.

This is an issue I neglected to address in the original post, but it was quite in my mind. When I was a kid, I think I basically saw the Dark Side as bewitching, magically changing someone's personality. But then, watching Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back, the Dark Side is shown as something that might be a useful tool to reach logical ends, only with self-destructive consequences that are hard to see because of the overwhelming passions that come with it. To me, that was a far more interesting idea than the Emperor just putting the whammy on Luke. Which it would have to be as, otherwise, what would be the use of turning Luke to the Dark Side? Who's to say Dark Side Luke won't want to fight the Empire just for kicks? Or, more likely, for the ruthless hatred with which he whacks at Vader.

taking an almost blind vengeance for the hand that Vader cost him, and that is clearly what the Emperor wants to see. I don't think at that moment Luke has any thought of sacrificing himself to save Leia. I think he's just trying to kill Vader before the Dark Lord can get to her,

I guess wanting to protect Leia might have provoked emotions that had nothing to do with her.

I have no idea how this squares with Luke's destruction of the first Death Star, of course. I think Yoda mentions at some point that a Jedi's warrior skills should be used only in defense, and clearly Luke disregards this bit of advice.

Considering what a deadly weapon a lightsaber is, I don't think killing is necessarily ruled out as a means of defence. It is, actually, perhaps unfortunately, what Jedi spend most of their time doing in the movies.

See his failed self-confrontation in the cave, which I still think is a magnificent scene.

I love that scene, too. I remember watching it in film class in High School, and digging the idea of symbolism in movies for I think the first time ever.

Perhaps there's meant to be some implicit argument for the defence of the greater good that covers the situation, but I think it's mostly that the Death Star is faceless, while the Emperor is a personality.

Yeah. Well, I think it's a bit sloppy. I'm not even sure they thought it through at all.
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From:sovay
Date:December 21st, 2006 09:35 am (UTC)
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So looks like Vader's got some more development to go but--oops, he's dead because the movie's almost over and that would be too much to deal with. So hurrah, dancing Ewoks, the end!

As I have almost certainly mentioned elsewhere, this is my great fear for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End—that Bootstrap Bill will die nobly and plot-conveniently and Will Turner will never have to deal with the fact that damn near everything he grew up believing about his father was wrong and therefore a fair portion of his own self-image needs to be junked. If your father's a pirate and dies to save your life, you can remember him hazily and idealized and gloss over the more awkward aspects in memory. If he saves your life and sticks around, then you have to introduce him to all the guests at the wedding and hope he didn't personally rob any of them, because that would be embarrassing and sort of socially fatal; you have to interact with him as a real person, boatload of faults and all, and that's complicated. And I think much more fascinating to watch, but I'm not always sure that scriptwriters agree.

Oh, and I noticed that Piett gets about three lines of dialogue in Return of the Jedi before the Executor nosedives into the Death Star: that's barely a cameo. I am still unconditionally fond of him.

I should have watched A New Hope just for good measure . . .
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From:setsuled
Date:December 22nd, 2006 04:56 am (UTC)
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you have to interact with him as a real person, boatload of faults and all, and that's complicated. And I think much more fascinating to watch, but I'm not always sure that scriptwriters agree.

Heh. I hope the people behind Pirates of the Caribbean go your way, because that sounds a lot more fun. I'd like a scene maybe of Will saying, "And--and now, father, your soul can finally be at peace!" and Bill says, "Er, yes, or perhaps I'll live awhile first, too, how's that?"

that's barely a cameo. I am still unconditionally fond of him.

Oh, to be in the Imperial Navy at the height of the Galactic Empire. It is strangely romantic.
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From:sovay
Date:December 22nd, 2006 08:51 am (UTC)
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I hope the people behind Pirates of the Caribbean go your way, because that sounds a lot more fun. I'd like a scene maybe of Will saying, "And--and now, father, your soul can finally be at peace!" and Bill says, "Er, yes, or perhaps I'll live awhile first, too, how's that?"

Hee. Thank you. Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean reminds me more of Star Wars than any other movie series I've seen—it's not a straight adaptation of extant material like Lord of the Rings, it's a richly-built world and making up its own mythology as it goes along, and at the moment I think it has the potential either to be spectacularly good in the third installment or to pull a Return of the Jedi and implode. Which I pray does not happen, because that would truly be a waste.

Oh, to be in the Imperial Navy at the height of the Galactic Empire. It is strangely romantic.

I think there's a case to be made, actually, that Piett has one of the worst jobs in the galaxy—nobody wants to be a garbage collector on Coruscant, okay, but at least you're not in danger of getting Force-choked for turning up late to a meeting or telling Darth Vader something he doesn't want to hear, never mind what will happen if you really bollix an assignment up. This far up the ziggurat, the hazards seem to far outweigh the perks. (Although I suppose if he'd survived the Battle of Endor, he'd have gotten a hell of a commendation. Well, if the Empire had won. No, brain. This is not a jumping-off point for fanfic. It's just not.) I still think it's a neat, odd detail that Luke originally planned to enter the Imperial Academy. "I hate the Empire, but . . ." Although I suppose the remark could be intended to show how seriously out of touch with current events Luke Skywalker originally is, I could also believe it as the attitude of any number of galactic citizens who were not directly involved in the Rebellion: may God bless and keep the Tsar—far away from us.
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From:sovay
Date:December 22nd, 2006 07:14 am (UTC)
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I should have watched A New Hope just for good measure . . .

So I did watch A New Hope tonight. And it kind of blew my mind. It's a complete cultural icon. It should have been as familiar to me as the complete script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I practically learned in quotation years before I saw the actual movie. Even if I couldn't remember all the turns of the plot, I shouldn't have been surprised by the worldbuilding or the mise-en-scène. But it felt alien to me, and I loved that. I'm almost tempted to watch the movie again tomorrow just to see if the effect persists past the first rewatch.

The film didn't even feel like what I now recognize as Star Wars until well past the halfway mark. For its first half-hour, the story looks as though it could be entirely the adventures of two droids and a MacGuffin. Luke is introduced incidentally, unmarked as any kind of hero—even when it becomes clear that he's more than a background face, his plot thread still seems mostly to concern itself with the immemorial dilemma of any kid looking for a way out of a dead-end town; whether his aunt and uncle will allow him to attend the Imperial Academy this year or whether he'll be stranded on Tatooine for another harvest as a moisture farmer. That arc too is abruptly short-circuited with the deaths of Owen and Beru (both ways, in fact: he has no more ties to the planet, but signing up for service with the Empire would be suicide) and he leaves for Alderaan less "to follow old Obi-Wan on some damn-fool idealistic crusade like [his] father did" than simply to get the hell out of Dodge. He doesn't care about galactic politics. He's more starstruck with R2-D2's staticky hologram of Leia than with any dreams of the Rebellion. Even the Jedi are introduced casually, of much less importance to Luke than whatever Obi-Wan can tell him about the father he's known so little about. It's a snowball of a plot. Every time you think there's a shape or a direction, it picks up another character—look, a smuggler! hey, a princess! wait a minute, where's Aldaraan?—and veers off at another angle, until by the time we wind up with Luke strafing the Death Star, guided by the Force and pursued by Darth Vader, we haven't so much followed an arc as kind of ricocheted to this point. And this future isn't all shine and CGI like the prequels, it's knocked-about, lived-in, offhandedly detailed and full of references that are never explained. (Do I know or care what the Kessel Run is? No, but Han Solo does: and that's enough for me.) There's an incredible sense of mismatched time, lost history; the lightsaber is a perfect fusion between the medieval and the futuristic that makes up this world. It really doesn't feel like anything else that came before or after, and that includes The Empire Strikes Back. And that's awesome.

I probably shouldn't have watched it after Return of the Jedi, either. I'd last seen Imperial stormtroopers being tripped up, bowled over, and otherwise ass-kicked by a bunch of small furry bear-things on Endor, but here their first entrance was efficient and merciless: the rebels who crouch in the corridor to hold them off don't stand a chance, blasted down in scant minutes and their ship overrun; no clever tricks with ropes and trees for them. And Darth Vader? Is chilling. The stormtroopers, who are intimidating enough, all scatter out of his way. Nearly his first act onscreen is to strangle a Rebel officer; easily crushing the man's throat not with the Force, but with one black-gauntleted fist. And when he does Force-choke an Imperial officer aboard the Death Star, it's not even for military failure: it's because his powers have been called into question. "Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes or give your clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels' hidden fort—" Only Tarkin's irritated intervention saves the officer; Vader does not think twice about killing a man to prove a point to him. He is not to be fucked with.

I can't imagine what it was like to see this in theaters with no prior warning. No wonder its fandom grew exponentially.
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