h1

New Star Wars Forums

October 21, 2011

Hi all,

As the prolific writer of this blog, I invite you to join me at the brand new Star Wars message board:

Utapau Forums

I intend to continue sharing my mythic and psychological understanding of Star Wars both here and there, as well as more lighthearted discussions on the board.

I will also be looking for moderators in the coming weeks, so if you want to help build a great community, here’s your chance.

I look forward to seeing you there!

h1

Clone Cadets

September 30, 2010

“[The clones are] living beings, not objects.” — Shaak Ti

“You Jedi show too much compassion.” — Lama Su

Season 3 of The Clone Wars curiously opens with an episode set prior to Season 1’s Rookies. That episode was a glimpse at life as a clone stationed in one of the galaxy’s backwaters; Clone Cadets takes us in a different direction, to Kamino to witness the training regime of young clones waiting to enter battle.

The story itself seems to be fairly stock-standard, but, as with even the weakest episodes in the series, there’s always something interesting bubbling under the surface. Here we see the dilemma faced when a Jedi is in charge of training made-to-order humans for use in a war with no winners. If life is sacred, what to make of a factory that treats people as product? And what of those products deemed to be defective?

Shaak Ti and Lama Su discuss the quality of the clones

Kamino, home of the cloners, is an interesting planet in itself. It is an exercise in contradiction: water, the symbol of life, covers the planet’s surface, perpetually stirred by violent storms; standing above the water’s surface are sleek, metallic structures whose interiors are sterile and antiseptic.

We can approach this imagery a number of ways. Firstly, the design of the interiors is intended to recall the monochromatic plastic sheen of the Empire’s stormtroopers in episodes IV-VI of the original saga. Secondly, as already mentioned, water is life, and yet here we have life being created in an environment built in defiance of the natural elements—it’s quite fitting that life as a commodity is produced on a planet where nature has been shut-off completely from society.

99, one the clones deemed to be "defective", lives a life of menial servitude

Finally, we can take the symbolism that little bit further and consider water as the symbol of the unconscious; Tipoca City (the capital of Kamino) is then the ego. The water is dark, wild, untamed; the city is pristine, controlled and (most important of all) self-illuminating.

In reality, these three takes all relate back to the same thing. The Empire, as partly represented by the stormtroopers, is the enemy of life and nature—it is brute-force rationality, opposed to that which is intuitive and buried beneath the surface of consciousness. Hence the Death Star, the destruction of Alderaan, the slaughtering of the Jedi and the perversion of the Force by the Sith, turning it from being in-tune with nature via the unconscious to a tool of the ego for self-aggtandisement.

And yet here are the Jedi acting in service of this corrupt philosophy. Shaaki Ti argues in favour of treating clones with dignity and respect, but Lama Su’s retort reflects perfectly what the underlying attitude of this entire process is: a contempt for nature as nature, life as life. It doesn’t really matter if the Jedi consider the clones to be living beings worthy of respect; as soon as they signed-on to use people as property and slaves—as soon as they implicitly gave the nod to breeding humans for war—they acknowledged that, in some cases, living beings were objects, and any compassion shown was more to reassure their own guilty consciences than for the benefit of men bred to die.

h1

Return of the Mythinator

September 27, 2010

A brief note from the author of “Myth in Space”:

It’s been almost a year since I added new content to this site. Between increasing demands in my academic career and the pressure of writing maybe 1000 words on Star Wars each week, I had to choose the former over the latter.

But now, back am I.

With new episodes of The Clone Wars airing currently and the impending release of Season 2 on DVD and Blu-ray, the time is right to return to look again at the more spiritual side of Star Wars. The Force may not be real in any literal sense but, at its best, Star Wars touches on psychological truths that resonate strongly with anyone who has gazed up at the night sky and seen wonder and possibility, or spent time in a forest and felt the power of the Earth.

There are plenty of sites out there discussing continuity and various minutiae, but I don’t know of anyone else attempting to draw-out the Campbellian and Jungian elements within the increasingly immense Star Wars saga (as portrayed in so-called G- and T-canon). So, even if I’m the only one interested in this stuff, I may as well keep writing.

So, stay tuned and may the Force be with you!

h1

Weapons Factory

November 27, 2009

Following on from the Clone Wars episode Landing at Point Rain, Weapons Factory continues to highlight the rather unorthodox methodology of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. There is a fundamental disconnect between Anakin’s understanding of right and wrong and that of the Jedi Order, and in the final minutes of this episode, we see just how great that disconnect is.

With the mission to destroy the shield generator a success, it’s now up to Anakin and Ahsoka to destroy the Geonosian droid foundry itself. With the addition of Jedi Master Luminara Unduli and her Padawan, Barriss Offee, the group decide to split-up: Anakin and Luminara will distract the Geonosian forces with a rather straightforward configuration of troops while Ahsoka and Barriss sabotage the foundry from within.

Luminara Unduli and Anakin Skywalker team-up on Geonosis

But, as obliquely hinted at with this episode’s fortune cookie (“No gift is more precious than trust”), Anakin is unsure about the idea of the two Padawans being given such responsibility. The notion of “trust”, however, is a red herring: Anakin is simply uncomfortable with losing control of Ahsoka and allowing her a degree of autonomy.

From the very first moments of Weapons Factory, Anakin undermines Ahsoka at every opportunity, not once giving her the opportunity to grow as a leader or as a Jedi. By allowing Ahsoka to grow, Anakin risks losing the relationship they’ve formed. Like the Mother personality in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho — keeping her son, Norman, as unnaturally frozen in time as the stuffed animals that adorn his office — Anakin cannot allow Ahsoka to mature, for if he does, he loses the child he now cares for.

This then manifests as a rather paradoxical Master/Padawan relationship. Anakin must at once keep Ahsoka in the role of “child” and yet, simultaneously, he must be sure not to mentor her too well, lest she “grow up”. The result is a kind of “big brother” role, where doesn’t so much mentor as hector.

It is not surprising, then, that when Barriss first encounters the pair, they are (rather publicly) at each other’s throats, behaving more as out-of-control siblings than as in-control master and apprentice. Luminara and Barriss, on the other hand, present as calm and respectful of each other’s role in the relationship. The styles of Anakin and Luminara are like night and day.

And so once the two Padawans inevitably become cut-off from the group, the differences in approach between Anakin and Luminara are truly apparent. Luminara remains calm, having made peace with either possible outcome; Anakin, meanwhile, becomes belligerent, mistaking Luminara’s enlightened detachment for cold-hearted indifference.

Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee prepare to enter the catacombs of the droid foundry

Anakin’s attitude represents a complete misreading of both Jedi and, in our world, Buddhist philosophy. It’s not that you don’t care or turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, but rather that you accept that death is necessarily a part of life — no amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth will change an outcome, whatever it may be. You can (and should) be an active force for good in the world, just as the Jedi are, and yet still be willing to accept that life itself is a grand work of art, and both joy and sorrow, comedy and tragedy, give the finished, rendered piece its beauty.

“It’s not that I gave up, Skywalker, but unlike you, when the time comes, I am prepared to let my student go,” Luminara tells Anakin. “Can you say the same?”

Whether Ahsoka eventually dies, graduates or turns to the Dark Side (as unlikely as that may be), I think we all know the answer to Luminara’s rather pointed question.

h1

Happy Life Day!

November 17, 2009

I’ll be back with more Star Wars goodness in about a week, including a post on last week’s Clone Wars episode, but in the meantime, I want to wish you and yours a happy Life Day on this, the 31st anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special

Bea Arthur

The late Bea Arthur in The Star Wars Holiday Special

Yes, back when I wasn’t even five months old, this travesty of televisual variety programming was terrorising children and adults alike with its bizarre sketches, incomprehensible Wookiee dialogue and a very wooden Harrison Ford. But what else was hot at the time?

  • “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, with Summer’s own Live and More album topping the Billboard 200
  • Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings was tops at the box office
  • Laverne & Shirley was the highest-rating TV show during the 1978-9 period

Yes, in 1978, Tolkien, dance music and spin-off TV shows dominated pop culture. The late ’70s sure were wacky! Thank God those days are over!

h1

Landing at Point Rain

November 10, 2009

After the more leisurely-paced episode Senate Spy (and then a three-week break), The Clone Wars has returned with action galore in Landing at Point Rain. This is a 22-minute slice of intensity from a larger war epic — think the D-Day landing sequence from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan crossed with Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down — and it opens a four-part story arc that will continue in the coming weeks. (Senate Spy essentially functioned as a prelude.)

The war returns to Geonosis

The war returns to Geonosis

With the earlier discovery of a new droid foundry on Geonosis, Generals Skywalker, Kenobi and Mundi lead a landing party to take down the shield generator protecting the foundry, ultimately hoping to destroy the facility and capture Geonosian leader Poggle the Lesser. But things don’t exactly go as planned, and Anakin Skywalker and Ki-Adi-Mundi must journey to the rendezvous point on foot, fending-off legions of armed Geonosians in the process.

There isn’t a clear, direct link between the fortune cookie and the episode this week (“Believe in yourself or no one else will”) though it is a truism that is particularly relevant to leaders in battles as well as to life in general. But the most interesting moments of Landing at Point Rain are quieter than the bombast on display  — they come from the world-weary demeanour of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he contemplates the price of war.

“What I worry about is the way this war seems to be drawing-out with no end in sight,” Obi-Wan remarks in the opening scene, all too aware that the need to revisit Geonosis does not bode well for the continuing efforts of the Republic. As he prepares to return to the barren rock planet that was home to the first battle in the ongoing Clone Wars, he can’t help but reflect on the events of that fateful day. There’s a real sense that nothing has changed despite the best efforts of the Jedi, and yet real people continue to die on the battlefield.

To drive the point home, clones die left, right and centre in Landing at Point Rain, with at least one hapless trooper being carried off by a Geonosian, presumably to face a fate worse than death. Flamethrowers are employed as Geonosians swarm in from all directions, and these bug-like aliens begin to writhe in agony as they burn to death. This is ugly stuff, and as the look on Obi-Wan’s face shows as the battle rages on, there are no winners in such a blood-soaked enterprise.

Flamethrowers

"Bring in the flamethrowers!"

Anakin and Ahsoka, meanwhile, jokingly compare kill-counts in a game of one-upmanship. “I’ll never understand how you can simplify these battles into some kind of game,” is the extent of Obi-Wan’s reaction, yet this difference in attitudes sums up perfectly the gulf between the philosophies of the Jedi Master and his former Padawan. Anakin’s cavalier attitude to war reflects his ego-centric view of life in general, ultimately leading him to make certain momentous decisions in Revenge of the Sith.

The role of General is a serious one, with the lives of all those under you resting on your shoulders. Obi-Wan has accepted this new responsibility by acting not as a single man but as a part of a larger whole — on the battlefield, he is simply General Kenobi: no more, no less. Anakin, on the other hand, is first and foremost interested in serving his own ego, showing-off for the sake of it and just generally acting as if the war is being provided for him to prove his abilities.

Joseph Campbell, in Pathways to Bliss, recounts the tale of a certain samurai:

His overlord had been killed, and his vow was, of course, absolute loyalty to this lord. And it was his duty now to kill the killer. Well, after considerable difficulties, he finally backs this fellow into a corner, and he is about to slay him with his katana, his sword, which is the symbol of his honor. And the chap in the corner is angry and terrified, and he spits on the samurai, who sheathes his sword and walks away.

Why did the samurai sheath his sword? Had he killed the man in a personal act of vengeance, he would have no longer acted as a samurai but instead in the service of his own ego. I leave as an exercise for the reader the determination of who, between Obi-Wan and Anakin, would have withdrawn their lightsaber in such a situation.

True heroes don’t fight for the glory or the fame: they fight only because they must. It’s not about how many kills you make or what fancy moves you can pull-off. As Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back, “War does not make one great.” At the end of the day, it’s all in the attitude.

h1

Ambush

October 26, 2009

The first episode of the first season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars was the perfect introduction to the series proper, focusing almost exclusively on Yoda, one of the most beloved characters from the original trilogy. Here we had a series set in the prequel era yet very clearly drawing upon the spirit of those first few films, and Ambush was an excellent choice to showcase this aspect.

With the Clone Wars tearing the galaxy apart, it has become incumbent upon both sides — the Republic and the Separatists — to win over key planets and systems so as to maximise strategic possibilities. One such planet is Toydaria, the homeworld of Watto from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Yoda travels to the nearby and neutral coral moon of Rugosa in order to convince King Katuunko of Toydaria to sign a treaty with the Republic.

Yoda arrives on Rugosa

Yoda arrives on Rugosa

There’s something very elegant about the way Ambush links the prequel and original trilogies together via the character of Yoda. He is both the playful puer aeternus from The Empire Strikes Back and the wise leader and dynamo of Revenge of the Sith, but always still the philosophical mentor to anyone willing to listen.

This point is emphasised in the fortune cookie: “Great leaders inspire greatness in others.” It’s that inspirational element that makes Yoda so endearing and enduring as a character, helping to elevate the Star Wars saga as a whole from space opera to genuine epic.

Yoda’s three clone trooper escorts are at first bemused by the small green Jedi Master. Like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, they don’t at first quite know how to take him. But, as with Luke, Yoda touches each of them personally, and soon they are carried in spirit by his optimistic and empathic philosophy.

In one of the best scenes of the season, Yoda emphasises the individuality of each of the three clones and their unifying connection to the Force:

“In the Force, very different each one of you are. […] Yes, clones you may be, but the Force resides in all lifeforms: use it, you can, to quiet your mind.”

This is an important piece of dialogue for a number of reasons. Firstly, it introduces into the series the Force as a philosophy, making it more than just some Jedi superpower. Secondly, it reminds us that wisdom, not blaster-fire, is ultimately what triumphs in the end.

Rys, Jek and Thire learn much from the wisdom of Yoda.

Rys, Jek and Thire learn much from the wisdom of Yoda.

But most significantly, Yoda’s speech indirectly raises the conundrum faced by the Jedi: the clones are living, breathing, unique individuals, not droids or machines. And yet here they are: manufactured, mass-produced and bred for battle. To be a disciple and student of the Force means respecting life and cherishing that which supports it both physically and spiritually, and yet the Jedi find themselves owning slaves and leading them into a war they had no part in starting.

In Ambush, of course, Yoda leads his men to victory. But it’s a hollow victory, for it’s merely one step closer to ultimate defeat.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.