Star Wars: Thoughts

After watching SW: Attack of the Clones the other night with our son, I was thinking about the different trilogies and side movies/series. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen most of the animated series (Rebels, Resistance, or the recently released Bad Batch), and haven’t seen Clone Wars in order (or perhaps even the complete series, I caught it sporadically when it first aired).

Although there is, obviously, a lot that has been said about all three trilogies, particularly negatives regarding the prequels and sequels, some of it warranted and some simply the whining of interweb trolls & (generally white male) “fans”, I think all three trilogies have their strong and weak points. So, just to throw out my own opinion on the strengths (with brief comments on the down sides):

First Trilogy (eps 4-6)

This trilogy gets “Best Overall” simply because of being the first, and childhood nostalgia. Was it the best written? No. Was it the best acted? Heck no (even Carrie Fisher mocked her “floating English accent” repeatedly). But, it was the first, without which the rest would not exist. And it did some clearly groundbreaking things for the late-70s and early-80s in sci-fi. In terms of filming, Lucas stitched together scenes from WWII movies and Kurosawa movies with filler, that somehow worked.

Prequel Trilogy (eps. 1-3)

This trilogy, I give “Best Choreography” and “Best Space Battles” . Let’s face it, the original trilogy lightsaber choreography was . . . not the best. It’s often pretty clear that Vader and Luke are swinging at each other’s swords, rather than at each other. For this trilogy, they had great choreographers and the SFX had reached a level for excellent space battles to be composed. This despite the lack of chemistry between Christensen and Portman, and the “Best Future Plotholes” award.

Sequel Trilogy (eps. 7-9)

“Best Character Deaths” for Han and Luke. Both were, I think, satisfying and fit both within the plot and the character growth. I’ll also add “Best Fanservice”, because there’s nothing especially wrong with giving fans what they want. These three, despite their flaws, did a good job evoking the feel and sense of the original trilogy and had enough back references to the original to give a strong “feel good” vibe. Frankly, no one goes to SW movies looking for deep meaning and high drama (deeper meaning can certainly be found, but that’s not generally the goal in going to see them).

Others

Solo, Rogue One, and Mandalorean, I put down as “Best Writing” and “Best Acting”. As prequels in the first two cases, they had a difficult job in setting things up that already happened. In Rogue One‘s case, this was especially difficult, as we knew they would succeed in getting the plans (hence Ep. IV), but also that there was high likelihood of character demise (although not assured, since the team that got the plans is never mentioned in Ep. IV; the death of the Bothan team/s was getting Death Star II plans before Ep. VI). Mandalorean has done an excellent job as well, so far. Probably up there with Clone Wars on writing, and acting, in terms of character development, lore development, and clicking into the setting of the other movies/series.

Star Wars VII Thoughts Revisited

Continuing from last week, there are a few other things I’ve been thinking about regarding Star Wars VII.

 As people have mentioned, there are a lot of similarities between Episode VII and Episode IV. I think a lot of these similarities come from both movies fulfilling the same phase of the Campbellian cycle—the point where the hero is identified, the call to adventure is given, the call is rejected, and the call is eventually accepted. Likewise, in this phase, the mentors, helpers, and villains of the cycle are introduced. So, they certainly fill the same function, in that respect. However, I think the two movies are used for different purposes, despite their similarities. A New Hope is, in addition to its Campbellian role, an introduction to the world and the story. It starts in the middle, but it really brings viewers into the world Lucas has created. On the other hand, The Force Awakens serves as a bridge, connecting the original trilogy and (chronologically) second incarnation of the cycle to the third trilogy/cycle. And there is where we see the homages to IV-VI, creating the links between different iterations of the Campbellian cycle.

 The other thing that came to mind is objects. This could be due to my recent reading of Patrick Geary’s Furta Sacra, but the questions of Luke’s lightsaber (given to Reye) and Vader’s helmet keep coming to mind. Obvious questions about how Luke’s saber reappeared arise, given that the saber discussed is Luke’s first (and Anakin’s), the one lost on Bespin.

 I, perhaps because of Geary, started thinking about these objects as something akin to religious relics. On one hand, the lightsaber could be a fake, from some random pre-Empire Jedi or a fleeing Jedi who sold it off for passage out of the Empire’s sphere of power. However, these explanations don’t fit the epic tone or story. Rather, my practical side suggests it fell into a shaft like Luke did and some Bespin maintenance ugnaught picked it up and sold it. Taken in the context of relics, though, the saber must be saved and returned for worship.

 Likewise, Vader’s helmet needs to be recovered from the Endor pyre, either by Luke (as a reminder of what could be) or by Ren as a relic of worship. It takes on a powerful symbolic role, and received devotion on the part of whoever recovered it.

 Alternately, Luke’s lightsaber could be seen as fulfilling the role of magic swords throughout Earth’s legends. In this way, it could be a sort of unnamed Durendal or Excalibur, the symbol of the Chosen One or the “True Hero” (moving from Anakin to Luke to Reye as appropriate). There is certainly a counter argument regarding Anakin, unless we recall that he gave up that particular saber/sword when he joined Palaptine, thus becoming the villain and rejecting his role as a hero of the Clone Wars. It then must pass to Luke, the hero of the Rebellion, “destined” to rebuild the Jedi Order. Then to Reye, the one who appears set to combat the villain Luke accidentally created (much as Luke defeated the villain that his own mentor, Kenobi, accidentally created).

Star Wars VII Thoughts

It’s been over a week since seeing Star Wars VII, so I think I’ve processed enough to write up some thoughts.

First, I like the movie. It felt like a mix of V and VI, in many ways. I think it is a good addition to the series. The casting was good, the performances were good, and the writing worked. I liked the fact that they minimized the use of CGI, even if it sometimes looked like a few alien heads (Mon Calamari & Sullustan) were disproportionately big.

The off screen history seemed logically consistent, from Luke’s new Jedi to the original trilogy characters’ reactions to loss/failure. On the latter: Luke follows the only models he has–Yoda & Kenobi, both fail and run off to self-imposed exile; Han goes back to his pre-Rebellion path, a sort of muscle memory; Leia does the same. Chewbacca obviously follows Han, that life debt; 3PO & R2 stick with Leia, where they were at New Hope’s start.

Over all, there was a good balance between homages to the original trilogy and new material. From the trench run to the desert planet and lost droid, the homages worked well to provide continuity with IV through VI. They also hint at the cyclic view of history & reality that is so central to the Star Wars universe. This has happened before and will happen again.

The cyclic element is something inherent to the Star Wars universe and comes out well in VII too. From Lucas’s reading and incorporation of Campbell’s heroic journey with the original trilogy to its expression in the later movies, this journey cycle is inextricable from the series. We see the Campbellian journey on three levels with the series. On the microcosmic level, every movie in the series includes the hero journey element, ex. Luke’s call to adventure, refusal of the call, acceptance, assistance from mentors, success, and return with enlightenment and gifts for society (the rejuvenation of the Jedi). Moreover, each trilogy to date has a more macrocosmic level version of the Campbellian journey whether Anakin’s evolution from slave boy to villain (Campbell does note that the hero who doesn’t die young often becomes the next generation’s villain) or Luke’s journey from backwater farm boy to galactic hero.

So, when people have said that we’ve seen VII’s story before, they’re absolutely correct. And that’s a core element of the Star Wars universe. It also fits Campbell’s theory that the hero’s journey is a never-ending cycle (the third level mentioned above); when one journey ends, another hero’s begins. In this case, rather than becoming the villain, Luke inadvertently creates the next generation’s villain, much as his own mentor did. Thus, he must mentor the next generation’s hero on her (Reye) own journey against the villain that he created. Meanwhile, there is the parallel Campbellian journey being played out by Finn as he follows the same arc, much like Han did parallel to Luke’s in the original trilogy.

Question: Genre Related

So, here’s something I’ve been thinking about, figured I’d throw it out to the readership:

In our post-Star Wars society (e.g. after 1977), in your opinion is it possible for a writer to use laser swords/plasma swords/force swords (whatever alt. name for a lightsaber you want) and not look like they’re “ripping off” Lucas?

That’s with or without a group of monastic warriors using them.