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Along with duality, another crucial motif of the Star Wars saga is the concept of identity and how it can be formed and altered. Visually, this motif plays out with symbols like masks (and unmasking), uniforms and other evocative costumes, and even the environments that represent characters or races. But there is a verbal component as well, and that is the use of names.

"I'm a person, and my name is Anakin!"


On the surface, this line might seem nothing more than a clumsy way to let us know what this boy's name is. But I've always found it highly appropriate that we're shown from the very beginning how Anakin dislikes being identified as a slave, takes his personhood very seriously, and believes that said personhood is tied directly to his name. It's heartrending, because we know that he will ultimately become enslaved far more tragically to the Emperor. And that enslavement will be symbolized by a new name, that of Vader.

This flash of anger, this insistence on being identified by the correct term, strike me as very similar to the moment Luke speaks his father's former name and Vader snaps, "That name no longer has any meaning for me." His furious reaction makes it patently obvious that the word Anakin is, in fact, painfully meaningful for him. Any reference to his former self must be shoved away, denied and spurned. But that only proves how powerful a force his original identity remains, somewhere deep inside him.

Anakin will bear many identities throughout his life -- slave, celebrated podracer, Jedi Padawan and Jedi Knight (and how he bristles at the notion of not attaining the rank of Master -- kind of gives new meaning to Vader's boast to Obi-Wan -- "Now I am the Master"), secret husband, Sith Lord, aspiring (but never attained) ruler of the Empire. In the end, however, the identity that saves him is not one defined by his abilities or his social status or how others view him. It is an identity based upon the ability to act with complete unselfishness and sacrifice -- that of father. It is only when his love for his son overcomes his need for power and control that he regains his personhood at last and becomes Anakin once more.

Next time, something from Anakin's mother....
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I've said it before, and I'll say it again, without apology. I love this character.

"Meesa day starting pretty okeeday with the brisky morning munching..."


He's a hapless klutz, but he's kind-hearted and always means well. And I love this scene where he is introduced to Padmé. She's the first character who appears to like him immediately, without reservation. This says a lot about her capacity for compassion and being non-judgmental, which become particularly important once she reveals herself to be the queen. She asks, "You're a Gungan, aren't you?" with simple curiosity, not an ounce of disgust or rancor toward the race that has historically spurned her people.

His response, meanwhile, says a lot about Jar Jar. I love this whole speech. He's so artless, almost child-like, in his re-telling of the events that swept him up into all of this. And the goofy words are just so much fun to say. "Brisky morning munching" is a great synonym for breakfast; I should really use it more often. And his bewilderment and terror at the current situation? Honestly, I could see myself responding the same way, though perhaps with slightly different wording. "I have no idea what happened. One second I was happily getting breakfast, then suddenly this Jedi shows up and everything's exploding and I'm flying on a ship into outer space. I'M TERRIFIED." (Also, when he says he's getting "berry berry" scared, I'm always thinking, "Oh, Jar Jar has a thiamine deficiency, huh? Better get some more whole grains into his diet!" Um, just a little nutritionist joke there.)

In any case, the friendship between Jar Jar and Padmé is a vital precursor to the alliance between Gungan and Naboo that will ultimately defeat the Federation, and it all starts here, with a scared fugitive pouring out his fears to a sympathetic handmaiden. Maybe after she finishes cleaning Artoo, Padmé goes and finds a suitable brisky morning munching for Jar Jar. It's just the kind of thing she would do.

Next time, we'll finally hear from Anakin....
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Sometimes you just need a character who can provide little snippets of exposition, someone who can help the audience navigate the twists and turns of a fast-paced plot or intricate world-building. And if you're going to be that character, why not do it with with gusto, fully embracing the role of Captain Obvious? Such is Ric Olié.



I love everything about this goofy minor character. Ric's lines are never complex or nuanced; they're simply the necessary connective tissue to help us understand that the ship is in danger, or Artoo has just miraculously saved the day, or they're arriving at the city planet of Coruscant. But his delivery is so earnest, so wide-eyed and fully invested, that I can't help grinning every time he opens his mouth. His lines are memorable to me not in spite of but because of their cheesiness. "There's the blockade!" "That little droid did it!" "Coruscant! The entire planet is one big city!!" Always with an exclamation point. I love it.

I enjoy "Power's back!" in particular because it's infinitely quotable. I feel obligated to say it every time a power outage is restored, with that same intense Ric-ish delivery. It's almost as fun as saying, "Commence primary ignition" when starting a car, or "Full reverse! Chewie, lock in the auxiliary power" when you're about to drive backwards. It's simple; there's no brilliant hidden meaning or subtlety, but Star Wars isn't all about deep meanings for me (though obviously that's a big part of it). It's also just plain fun. I don't think it's a mistake that the character Ric interacts with most, other than his fellow pilots, is Anakin, the little boy who's about to have the whole galaxy opened up to him. The thrill of seeing Coruscant and Naboo for the first time, and learning how to fly a ship -- we get to see that through Anakin's eyes. And Ric's delight at sharing it with him is infectious. When you think about it, there's something pretty special about a very busy pilot who still takes the time to listen to a newly-freed slave boy and give him an impromptu lesson or two. Cheesy lines, yes, but Ric's a good guy.

Next time, something from Jar Jar...
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Another pithy quote from Qui-Gon. This one won't be a surprise to anyone, I'm sure. But it's still lots of fun to explore.

"There's always a bigger fish."


First off, the delivery is perfect. Wry and understated, considering they just barely escaped being devoured by a giant undersea monster. That's Qui-Gon for you -- perfectly assured that things will work out for the best, even when it seems patently obvious that disaster is looming. And then we have the delightful ambiguity of this statement. In this situation, the bigger fish ended up being a positive factor for them. But what if the bigger fish comes after the bongo next? Is a bigger fish really something to rejoice over?

On top of that, as a symbolic statement, this line provides marvelous foreshadowing for a film with a hidden "bigger fish" -- a phantom menace, if you will -- pulling the strings of smaller fish like the Trade Federation. Even the formidable Darth Maul is little more than a pawn within the larger schemes of Sidious. There is nothing more deliciously ironic to me than the parade scene at the finish of this film, wherein our heroes celebrate their defeat of the Federation -- while the actual mastermind behind the whole invasion is standing right there. One step closer to his plot to take over the galaxy. Hiding his evil nature beneath his benevolent smile. It gives me chills every time. I wonder if Qui-Gon, with all his outside-the-box wisdom, could have spotted the true bigger fish if he had survived. We can only wonder.

Next, some words from one of my favorite minor characters....

(Note: I've backed up my journal at Dreamwidth and will be crossposting there for the foreseeable future.)
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Returning to the regular chronology, let's take a look at our heroes' trip to Otoh Gunga. I remember being absolutely enthralled by this sequence upon my first viewing. I'll never understand the crabby nonsense about how special effects ruin everything and we should have real settings and practical effects and blah blah blah. Now, shoddy effects can certainly be distracting. But the idea that something has to really be there on set to be convincing? Bah. Why can't we have more faith in an audience's imagination? And the actors, for that matter. I love being transported to bizarre worlds that couldn't possibly exist here. That's part of the fun of the saga.

And we'd never been treated to something like this before. An underwater city, with peculiar bubble-like walls that kept out water but allowed entry if you slowly passed through them. A race of proud, amphibious beings who look down on outsiders with contempt. An imposing tribunal who passes judgement on wrongdoers with an arrogant assurance of their infallibility, who dismiss the invasion aboveground as completely irrelevant to the Gungan people, safe in their hidden refuge.

And then we get Obi-Wan's line.

"You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of you will affect the other; you must understand that."


We've already seen hints of the overarching theme of symbiosis, but this is the first overt reference. I like that it's spoken by Obi-Wan; it shows that he has worked hard to understand his master's teachings of the Living Force. I also think the half-pleading, half-chastising tone is fitting for a younger, more impetuous character. Qui-Gon would certainly like the Gungan bosses to understand their interconnected role with the Naboo, but he's not going to demand that they listen to a lecture when there are more immediate urgent concerns. Obi-Wan is a little less patient with them. To him it's so patently obvious, and therefore quite frustrating, that their complacency will be their undoing. Qui-Gon is content, meanwhile, to use a little mental manipulation to expedite their journey. Always the pragmatist.

But any wise audience member won't dismiss the line as quickly as Boss Nass does. First of all, it provides some useful foreshadowing to the moment when the Federation's invasion does, in fact, disrupt the haven of Otoh Gunga, leading at last to their alliance with the Naboo. Secondly, what a beautiful and universal concept it truly is! This weird alien world and the vastly different human civilization above share an intrinsic bond whether they are aware of it or not, and certainly whether they like it or not. There are many real world versions of this concept, from John Donne's "No man is an island" to the Circle of Life described in the Lion King. Who we are, and what we do, will affect those around us, and the reverse is just as true, whether we're considering our fellow humans or other life forms or the very planet on which we live. We will only discount the wellbeing of others at the expense of our own wellbeing.

Notice that the blame for the rancor between the two peoples can't be laid entirely at the feet of the Gungans. Boss Nass expresses disgust at the Naboo's superior, arrogant attitude, and I don't think he's entirely fabricating. I can easily imagine humans, with their preconceived notions of what an advanced civilization looks like, would see the Gungans and immediately assume they're primitive, simple-minded, even child-like. If only they hadn't needed an extreme situation like an invasion for both groups to finally overcome their prejudice and embrace their symbiont as an essential part of life! At the risk of being extremely cheesy, I hope we can all find our place in the symbiont circle without being compelled by such extremes.

Next time, one of my favorite lines from Qui-Gon...
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I'm going to cheat a little here and go backwards. I've been doing the quotes chronologically until now, but I realized that I wanted to cover two lines in one entry. Both come from that pesky guy who never lets you see the top half of his face.

"I will make it legal."
"Not for the Sith."


With Darth Sidious and Palpatine, we have a different kind of duality as compared to Amidala/Padmé or the Gungans and Naboo. It's a deceptive, manipulative dichotomy, between the apparently benevolent Senator and his hidden evil nature. The secret connection between the two identities is indicated from the very start, as both make their initial appearance via hologram. Both are a form of manipulation of those with whom he is communicating, though his exploitation of Amidala is more subtle, beneath the veneer of helping the queen and her people. He appears kind and helpful and honestly bewildered that the ambassadors haven't arrived yet.

As Sidious, however, he is brusque, dismissive of the slightest sign of cowardice ("I don't want this stunted slime in my sight again") and sneering. And then there is his utter contempt for the rule of law. "I will make it legal." There we have his entire system of political belief, summed up in five words. His will, his word, makes the law. Not the will of the people, not a collection of elected representatives; just one ultra-powerful being, bending the galaxy however he pleases.

And later, as the sniveling Federation leaders admit that Queen Amidala has slipped from their grasp and will be impossible to find, he offers the brief but highly effective retort, "Not for the Sith." This is accompanied by Darth Maul's sudden impressive entrance, the first time we get a view of his nightmarish visage, terrifying even in the fuzzy blue of a hologram. So we don't have too much trouble believing that the Sith are, indeed, a formidable force (sorry, but it's such a common word, the puns are inevitable) to be reckoned with.

Sidious speaks in curt, harsh tones. Palpatine, as we'll see in later scenes on Coruscant, rambles on and on in a friendly and solicitous manner. But that chatty kindness is nothing but a mask, and beneath it all is a man who could send a chill up your spine with just a handful of well-chosen words.

Next time, the theme of duality continues with some words from Obi-Wan...
matril: (matril)
On another Star Warsian note, I've put up two Youtube videos with piano solos of Star Wars themes. On a public setting, even, because I'm far more confident about my piano playing than my singing. ;)



matril: (matril)
I could select a number of wise, pithy quotes from the maverick Jedi hero of Episode I, but I'm starting with this because of its marvelous acerbic edge.

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One of my favorite themes woven throughout the story of Episode I is duality. True, it wasn't an entirely new concept for the Star Wars saga, as we had seen contrasts of light and dark, good and evil, and so forth in the original trilogy, but it becomes truly prominent in this episode. Most of all, the point is made over and over again that duality is not just a simplistic division between bad and good. More often it involves two halves of a whole that could not exist apart from each other, and must act in balance if they are to function effectively. I'll get into this more in future entries as I explore the concept of symbionts, but right now I'm referring to Amidala and Padmé.
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Now let's move on to the first quip of many that we'll hear from Obi-Wan. You all probably knew I was going to include this one. But did you know that I would use it as a jumping-point for a long discourse on Obi-Wan's character development? Well, if you've read any of my other long-winded posts, then yes, you probably could have guessed that as well.
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I have an idea for a series of posts about the prequels. I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with it. One of the most common complaints detractors tend to obsess over is the notion of clunky dialogue. I don't deny that badly-written lines can make the audience cringe, but honestly, "clunky" is fairly subjective. It's pretty much impossible to create a consensus of what constitutes well-written dialogue. And I'm not going to drive myself crazy with the apologist route. Star Wars has always had cheesy lines, from Luke's Tosche Station whine to Threepio's "Curse my metal body!" and many many more. For me, honestly, the cheesiness is part of its charm. Dialogue is generally just a means to an end for Lucas; writing the script is one of his least favorite parts of the process. He tells the story through visuals, through motion, through strategic editing, through the explosive kinetic quality of cinema.

And yet -- and yet -- Star Wars is still eminently quotable. Not every single line of dialogue, of course not. If every line was a scintillating display of wordplay, it would get fatiguing pretty darn fast. It's the occasional quote that stands out and becomes iconic. "May the Force be with you" "I find your lack of faith disturbing" as well as the more humorous ones like "Let the Wookiee win." The prequels are not an exception. And I'm going to celebrate my favorite lines, in chronological order from Episode I to Episode III, devoting a post to each one.
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Torso Fan!

Feb. 16th, 2017 12:04 pm
matril: (matril)
Most fan behaviors fall one of two categories -- curative, meaning the gathering of collectibles and/or knowledge; and transformative, meaning the creation of fanworks. I lean more toward the artistic category, but that doesn't mean I've totally neglected the collecting side of things, particularly things that have a use beyond sitting in a display case.

So I love t-shirts. They're basically billboards for your torso, right? I mean, I guess you could wear plain undecorated shirts. That's okay too. But if you're looking for a visual way to convey your love of something, a t-shirt is the perfect medium. I've accumulated a bit of a collection over the years, and I'm going to devote a post to my favorites.
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matril: (matril)
Those who know I'm an avid Star Wars fan (and who doesn't know that?) might be inclined to ask me two questions lately: have I seen Rogue One yet, and isn't it sad about Carrie Fisher? The answer to the first is not yet, I'm not super-hyped about it but I'll get around to it eventually, primarily so I can see Mon Mothma and Bail Organa as played by the actors from the prequels. As for Carrie...well, I have thoughts, but let's get to them in a roundabout way.

A few weeks before Christmas, I got a letter from the hospital. We're always getting some sort of mail reminding us to get checkups or asking us to fill out a medical survey or other such things, so I opened it with little concern. The opening line of the letter informed me that my Ob/Gyn had recently died.
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matril: (matril)
Within the realm of fandoms, it's no coincidence that we use a term like "canon" to discuss which aspects of a story are acceptable or not. Those discussions all too often bear a marked resemblance to disputations of dogma among religious circles. Such fanaticism is, um, rather alarming for a mere fictional universe (and this is coming from a pretty strong fanatic) but I'll go along with the metaphor for a moment.

Within some factions of Star Wars fans, a mere liking of the prequels is considered heretical. Well, allow me to declare my full-blown heresy, because I'm not just a fan of the prequels, I'm a proud fan of Jar Jar Binks. GASP.

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Visage

Dec. 17th, 2016 04:30 pm
matril: (matril)
(I've written this scene before, so I'm kind of plagiarizing myself, but consider this the expanded version. I just can't get enough of exploring Vader's inner thoughts.)
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For my next project (of course there's going to be a next one) I'm hoping to find a song that works for a Padmé-centric video. I'll have to give that some thought...
matril: (matril)
Among the many spectacular creations of the Star Wars universe, lightsabers might just be the coolest. They showcase a near-perfect fusion of fantasy and science fiction aesthetics: classical sword-fighting turned futuristic. The concept is awesome, and the execution of it even better. The visual effects are so convincing we forget that it's really just a prop with the glowing look added in post-production. The sound design is pretty much flawless. And the fight choreography is, of course, spectacular.
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