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2017-09-21 12:25 pm

Star Words: Part XXVIII

There was a lot of foreshadowing about Anakin discussed in the last entry, but we also have a tremendous hint regarding the identity of Sidious, right before the film's final scene. It casts an ominous shadow over all of the gleeful celebration that follows.

Yoda and Mace discuss the fallen Darth Maul (did they learn his name from the Viceroy or not? No one mentions him by name again, so who knows?) and acknowledge that the Sith truly have returned. And they know there's another one out there, because "Always two there are. No more. No less. A master...and an apprentice." This is a great line on its own. It explains the Sith rule of two succinctly and simply. We understand that the two must be constantly at odds, each secretly planning on replacing the other while knowing the other plans to replace them. Vader's power play with the Emperor and Luke makes more sense than ever.

But Mace's reply...this line gives me goosebumps.

"But which was destroyed? The master...or the apprentice?"

And the camera pans not-so-subtly across the faces of the funeral attendees to finish on Palpatine's.

If you want to give a clear visual representation of dramatic irony, here it is. We know, as an audience, know something that the characters don't. And oh, how it stings.

I don't think we're meant to be in any doubt about the identity of the hooded Sidious. He's on Coruscant just like the Senator -- and if that weren't enough, the balcony where he talks with Maul is clearly visible outside the window of Palpatine's apartment. They both first show up as holograms. Sidious speaks casually of wielding control in the Senate. And for heaven's sake, they have the exact same chin. Star Wars is not all about shocking reveals, "I am your father" notwithstanding. In the prequels especially, there's more power in watching the unwitting characters fly blindly into the tragedy we know is coming.

This is very Shakespearean, by the way. No one worried about spoilers when they were about to watch Othello. The basic stories were familiar to most people, and in any case, if it was a tragedy, the audience knew the hero wasn't going to make it. The point is watching the journey, noting every step along the way that could have been taken differently. It's not the same kind of entertainment as watching a story with a happy ending, but it's definitely entertaining. Cathartic, even. But I've probably gone a bit too much into English teacher mode. Back to the movie.

When the title of the latest Disney Space movie came out, everyone was clambering to find out who the last Jedi could be. (Don't get me started on the notion that the Jedi would be all-but-extinct AGAIN only 30 years after THE JEDI RETURNED. Ahem.) Anyway, the story came out that when a reporter asked George Lucas who the Phantom Menace was, he immediately said, "Darth Sidious." Hah! I love it. Everyone expects that you have to be coy and withholding about everything, down to the meaning of the title, but that's not the point of it for Lucas. Sure, you wouldn't want to give everything away before someone has even seen the movie. But in our spoiler-obsessed culture, I think we can fail to appreciate the nuances of storytelling, and the value of seeing more upon repeat viewings than the initial shocking reveal.

Could the Jedi have done anything to recognize Palpatine's true nature before it was too late? I'm not sure. He was apparently clouding their minds pretty darn effectively. But maybe it was their arrogance that allowed him to get that strong in the first place without their notice. They were quite comfortably sure that the Sith were extinct at the start of the film. They weren't even thinking to keep their eyes open for any sign of them. So maybe if they were wary and watchful early on, the Sith wouldn't have grown so powerful without their notice. If only...if only...but it's not to be. Palpatine is right under their noses, and they're looking past him.

So that's all for Episode I! It's practically the last line of the film, with just a few yelps from Jar Jar and a jubilant (and rather ironic, considering future events) "PEACE!" from Boss Nass in the final scene. Next time I'll be moving on to Episode II, which will match up nicely with my other project I'm currently working on -- One-Woman Attack of the Clones. Oh yes, I'm still doing that. I do have fun with my hobbies....
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2017-09-14 03:35 pm

Star Words: Part XXVII

There are just oodles of foreshadowing lines after the final battle of Episode I, aren't there? And most of them are about Anakin. We have Palpatine's friendly "We shall watch your career with great interest" that's only horrifying if you know what he's really planning. And we have Yoda worrying of the "grave danger" he senses in Anakin's training, while Obi-Wan insists to Yoda that he will fulfill his promise to a dying Qui-Gon, "without the permission of the Council, if I must." This leads to Yoda's grumbling about "Qui-Gon's defiance" living on through Obi-Wan, his reluctant concession, "Your apprentice, Skywalker will be" and Obi-Wan's promise to Anakin at Qui-Gon's funeral -- "You will be a Jedi." Whenever a character says the words "I promise" in a Star Wars film (or any story, really) you can bet that it'll be important later. Lucas doesn't generally belabor plot points, so it must be very significant that we see the ominous, uncertain nature of Anakin's induction into the Jedi Order.

And it all begins with Qui-Gon's dying words.

"Promise me. Promise me you will train the boy. He is the Chosen One. He will bring balance."

First off, kind of a snub toward Obi-Wan, isn't it? Just imagine that your beloved mentor, the man who trained you for years and years, is about to die. And there's not a word about you and how much you meant to him. He reserves his last breath for that upstart little kid he's barely known three days.

Okay, but Obi-Wan is probably a bigger man than to get too resentful. After all, he and Qui-Gon had an excellent heart-to-heart right before the battle (see entry XXIII of this series), so he has his master's approbation and well wishes. And he has to know Qui-Gon's single-mindedness when it comes to following the will of the Force. So there must be something about training Anakin that's too important to leave alone. Does Obi-Wan believe at this point that he is the Chosen One? Maybe not. I think he wants to believe it, because otherwise Qui-Gon wasted his last words and last wishes. He's certainly going to honor that dying wish with all his might.

And here we have the establishment of an awfully shaky apprenticeship for Anakin. Obi-Wan, barely done being a Padawan himself, driven not by any particular connection to Anakin but out of devotion to his lost master; charged with the training of possibly the most important potential Jedi who ever lived. No big deal. No major issue if he fails, except perhaps the Force falling permanently out of balance. But Qui-Gon begged for his promise -- there's that word again! -- and Obi-Wan is determined to follow through.

Anakin isn't the protagonist of Episode I. The story belongs primarily to Qui-Gon, Amidala and Jar Jar. It's curious to start that way, but the more I think about that choice, the more I like it. Anakin was a slave from an obscure planet. No one expected him to be anything important, until a chance meeting with a maverick Jedi. And then everything shifts, reorienting around Anakin's journey through light and darkness. That shift, to me, is a fascinating way of illustrating how the universe has gone off-kilter, out of balance. Something is off. Something has gone wrong. And Palpatine's private victory is only the beginning.

More on that with next week's installment -- which will be the finale line I'll discuss from Episode I in this series! I look forward to moving on to Attack of the Clones after that...
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2017-09-11 12:26 pm

Luke Fan Video

Made this a while ago, but it kind of got lost in the midst of my more elaborate projects. Oh, how I love Luke and his heroic face at the end of Return of the Jedi.

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2017-09-07 11:51 am

Star Words: Part XXVI

It's always interesting to me how people tend to underestimate Padmé Amidala as a character in much the same way that the fictitious villains of the film tend to underestimate her. Sidious claims she is young, naïve, easy to control; the Viceroy sneers at her (or her decoy) and assumes he can bully her into signing a treaty. And audience members, apparently fixated on some skewed perspective of her role, dismiss her as weak, boring or other such generalizations. I have to wonder -- have they ever really watched Episode I?

She's awesome in Episode II and III as well, but just consider what she does in a single movie. With a combination of ingenuity, determination and compassion, she takes back her planet from an enemy whose forces far outnumber her own, using every resource, every trick of diversions and quick-thinking to reclaim her throne room from the Viceroy. Why do people think that having strong women in Star Wars is a recent innovation? Good grief, even if you insist on ignoring Padmé, Leia was there in 1977. But let's never disregard Padmé.

"Now, Viceroy, we will discuss a new treaty."

I love this scene so much. She allows herself and her guards to be taken, disarmed and apparently helpless, into the custody of the Viceroy. But she always has a few more tricks up her sleeve. A decoy, drawing away some of the battle droids. A secret stash of weapons, snatched up in the confusion. A captain, always ready to think on his feet and help her secure the throne room. It's all done in a matter of seconds, giving the Viceroy no time to react before it's too late and he's the one in the queen's custody.

And what a great line; what a great delivery. Steady but carrying an edge of contempt. Taking all his threats and throwing them back in his face. I love, too, that Padmé is physically much smaller, yet somehow manages to stare down her foe. Just a fantastic moment all around. The other battles of Episode I's finale are, arguably, more fun to watch, more eye-catching and intense. But this ending might be the most satisfying. After all the Viceroy's confident taunts, he must admit defeat in the face of a fierce, tiny fourteen-year-old queen.

Next, the fateful words that will change Anakin's future, for better or worse....
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2017-08-31 04:02 pm

Star Words: Part XXV

Everything has been set in place for the epic final battle of Episode I. The Gungan-Naboo alliance has been finalized, scouts have reported on the situation in the city (and by the way, that "underground resistance movement" Panaka mentions in passing could be the inspiration for some great fan fiction) and Padmé has laid out her intricate, multi-tiered plan of attack. Diversions, distractions and daring gambits. The fighting will occur in the palace, the plains and in space -- and there will be even more side-battles than anticipated once Darth Maul shows up -- but when Padmé says that "everything depends" on the fight to gain the throne room, she's not kidding. There is little chance that the starfighters will be able to take down the droid control ship; they could hardly anticipate that a nine-year-old will stumble (aided unconsciously, no doubt, by the Force) into the trick that gets him through those shields. And if they fail, then the Gungans are almost sure to be outnumbered and outgunned by the massive droid army. The only real hope lies in capturing the Viceroy. And the throne room is the place for it, where the Viceroy will feel smugly safe and unaware of the hidden weapons placed there. Whew. Padmè Amidala may hate war, but she's definitely got a cunning mind for strategy.

It's too bad that none of this will matter in the long run. She does catch Sidious a bit by surprise -- "This is an unexpected move. It's too aggressive" and "She is even more foolish than I thought" -- but ultimately, he will win no matter what. Consider the ominous command he gives to the Viceroy.

"Wipe them out. All of them."

The Viceroy assumes he's talking about the Naboo and Gungans. And maybe he is, in this particular instance. But this could be considered the general mantra of Darth Sidious, and perhaps the Sith in general. Something in the way of your quest for power? Wipe it out. All of it. Show no mercy. Nothing must impede your rise to complete dominion. It doesn't matter which side it's on. There is no such thing as loyalty or gratitude. Sidious uses people as long as they are useful, and then he tosses them aside. Queen Amidala has served her purpose in getting Chancellor Valorum out of the way; now he's perfectly happy to authorize her execution. But later on, when the Viceroy is no longer useful in perpetuating the fabricated war that gave Palpatine more and more power, when he no longer needs the Separatist leaders as scapegoats for the galaxy's problems -- wipe them out. All of them.

On a lighter note, this phrase is endlessly applicable in day-to-day situations, and particularly fun to repeat in Sidious's throaty growl. Cleaning up a mess; weeding a garden; whatever. It's much more satisfying when you're addressing the task with squinty-eyed menace. Just maybe don't try it in a kindergarten classroom, but you probably already knew that.

Next, the words of a defiant queen...
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2017-08-24 01:31 pm

Star Words: Part XXIV

The Gungan-Naboo alliance is the key to victory over the Federation, the symbiotic relationship that will save them all. But it is by no means a sure thing when Jar Jar leads Queen Amidala and her entourage to the hidden "sacred place" in the swamps. Boss Nass is hardly likely to look favorably upon a group of humans brought to him by a disgraced exile -- the second instance of Jar Jar doing so in this film! And this time, as Qui-Gon has already clarified, they are not permitted to use Jedi mind tricks to persuade the Gungan leaders. (I assume it was acceptable before because Qui-Gon only "persuaded" Boss Nass to let them go in peace, whereas this request will result in putting the entire Gungan army in the direct line of fire. Makes you wonder exactly where the Jedi consider the ethical lines lie in the use of mind tricks -- and whether it's really ever ethical to compel someone in such a way. But that's a discussion for another time.)

So the "queen" approaches Boss Nass, respectful but regal, and introduces the notion of an alliance. He is ready to reject it outright. He blames the Naboo for the invasion; he dismisses any possibility of their worth as allies. "Amidala" gamely persists, but by this point Padmé has realized that it won't be enough. She steps forward and reveals her true identity. As audience members, we're more likely to be in Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's position, smirking knowingly at what was already obvious, but the childlike, innocent characters represented by Anakin and Jar Jar are stunned. This is a powerful gesture in many ways. Padmé is exposing her weakness, casting off the disguise that protects her, admitting in her need for a decoy that she is not invulnerable or untouchable. In a symbolic sense, she is uniting the two halves of her personhood. Queen and handmaiden, mighty monarch and compassionate servant, strong and soft together. Only this embrace of both sides will bring victory.

A few posts previous, I already explored how her line "Our fate is in your hands" echoes her earlier words to Palpatine, as well as indicating the symbiotic, entwined nature of the Gungan and Naboo peoples. And her entire speech is full of eloquent, impassioned lines. But now I want to take a look at what she says immediately before her final sentence.

"We are your humble servants."

This is a big deal, to put it mildly. When Boss Nass criticized the Naboo previously, he expressed contempt of their arrogance, of their presumption of superiority over the Gungans. For the queen to lower herself -- to literally kneel before the bosses -- is to offer a direct contradiction to that presumption. We are not better than you; perhaps we are not even equals. Without you, we are nothing.

And the specific wording is even more important. Remember when Qui-Gon first encounters Jar Jar and saves his life? Jar Jar immediately declares, "Meesa your humble servant." The exact same phrase. For all we know, it might be the ritualistic words required of a Gungan entering into a life-debt. Just consider that. The queen is essentially expressing that, as the Gungans present the only hope of Naboo survival, she is preemptively considering herself and her people in the service of a life debt. Maybe she discussed such cultural concepts with Jar Jar and/or researched them during her early service as queen, knowing that meeting the Gungans on their own terms is far more diplomatic, compassionate and effective. But whether the wording is deliberate or only a happy coincidence, it is clearly the right thing to say -- and kneeling is clearly the right thing to do. Boss Nass is not only moved, he is amused, pleased, delighted. The proud Naboo are bowing at his feet. Everything has turned upside-down. He laughs, he proclaims a new friendship between races, and he offers the army that will finally give them a chance against the Federation's oppression.

Next, more ominous words from a Sith Lord...
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2017-08-14 10:18 am

Star Words: Part XXIII

I suppose most of us knew that Qui-Gon wasn't going to make it through Episode I. He obviously wasn't still around during the original trilogy, and it seemed unlikely he would survive long enough to start training Anakin when we knew that Obi-Wan took on that task instead.

So when he and Obi-Wan have this heartfelt exchange right before the final battle, we know it's leading up to their final separation. And what a poignant, bittersweet moment it becomes. Qui-Gon might only be in one movie, but his influence on Obi-Wan will affect every important choice his Padawan makes thereafter.

I appreciate how Obi-Wan initiates, how he offers an apology for his previous criticisms about Anakin. You can see it still stings him that Qui-Gon is ready to move on to another Padawan (I mean, the guy was ready to just drop Obi-Wan then and there in favor of Anakin, in front of the entire Council!) but Obi-Wan recognizes that his behavior was childish and not befitting a Jedi. And he expresses his gratitude for Qui-Gon's faith in him. Qui-Gons's response proves that he wasn't just claiming that Obi-Wan was ready for the trials so he could get him out of the way and move on to Anakin, just in case anyone was wondering. He offers Obi-Wan warm, unreserved praise.

"I foresee you will become a great Jedi Knight."

This is another place where Episode I's status as a prequel makes everything so much more meaningful. Obi-Wan will be a great Jedi indeed -- and one of the very last of the old order. He will also blame himself at least partially for Anakin's fall to the Dark Side, and live much of his later years in exile. He will not be the Jedi who saves the galaxy and brings Anakin back to the light, though he plays in a part in teaching the one who does. Qui-Gon's life ends in tragedy, but Obi-Wan will live through worse and worse tragedies every day, for years upon years.

And this scene will have its counterpart in Episode III, in the final exchange between Obi-Wan and his own former apprentice before everything falls into darkness. Obi-Wan, too, offers Anakin effusive praise and encouragement, but for Anakin, already tormented by nightmares of Padmé's death and the pernicious lies planted in his mind by Palpatine, it is not enough. The contrast with the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan scene makes it all the more painful.

Next time, the powerful words that will bridge two peoples and ultimately win a war...
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2017-08-10 01:37 pm

Star Words: Part XXII

It is clear to me now that the reasons I enjoy Star Wars are vastly different from the reasons many others enjoy Star Wars. They perceived the prequels as some sort of dramatic departure, or even betrayal, of what makes Star Wars Star Wars. I saw them as a natural extension of what already existed. They hate the very concept of midichlorians. I love it.

"They continually speak to us, telling as the will of the Force."

Earlier in the film, midichlorians are mentioned but not explained. We know only that their presence indicates something important to the Jedi, that Anakin's count is higher even than the great Master Yoda, and that Qui-Gon suspects the boy might have even been conceived by midichlorians. But now, with a simple question from Anakin, he explains their meaning. And I just love this scene, because it demonstrates Qui-Gon's patience and teaching ability, his gentle smiles and clarifications as Anakin looks more and more bewildered and incredulous. ("They live inside me" has a great wait, is this guy completely nuts??? kind of delivery.) It shows us what might have been, if only Qui-Gon had survived to be Anakin's master. Now there's no more mystery, and we understand the Force like any other mundane scientific principle.

Or not.

People complained the concept was too "science-y" and removed all the mysticism of the Force. I could counter that communing with unseen lifeforms with a sort of bond that must be felt rather than intellectually understood is just about as mystical as you can get. But I'm not going to focus on contentious arguments and counter-arguments. Instead, I'm going to explore why I love this addition to the Star Wars mythos and why it makes perfect sense, to me, as a logical extension of existing lore.

Again we have the preeminent theme of symbiosis, life forms living in harmony so they can derive mutual advantage from each other. There are planet-sized symbiont circles as seen with the Gungans and humans on Naboo, but there are also symbiont circles at the smallest microscopic level, in every living cell. It's beautiful.

Now, for the record, even though there's a strong mystical/magical/fantasy element to midichlorians, I'm perfectly happy with their scientific association. Biology is a rational realm of study, but it still fills me with a sense of awe and wonder. The name of midichlorians is obviously a reference to the real-world mitochondria, which perform the essential cellular task of metabolizing energy -- and which, far back in the evolutionary process, might have been a separate life form that engaged in symbiosis with larger organisms and ultimately became so entwined in their processes that it merged into a permanent organelle. Amazing, right? And that's hardly the only example of microscopic symbiosis. Our digestive system is an entire miniature ecosystem for microbes, and we've only just begun to explore the nature of our relationship with that vast network of symbionts, the unseen life forms we literally couldn't live without.

Okay, but maybe science isn't your thing. Star Wars is space fantasy; it's about wizards who can levitate and perform mind control and see the future. Well, yes. You know what else? They have a deep and reverent connection with living things. Obi-Wan describes the Force as "an energy field created by all living things." Yoda says, "Life creates it...makes it grow." The concept of the Force has always included this crucial element of connectedness between living things -- in other words, symbiosis.

And it makes sense that there would be some measurable way to determine a person's potential affinity with the Force. Potential, remember, not actual ability. Anakin has an off-the-charts midichlorian count, higher than Yoda, but he's not as powerful as Yoda...yet. He still has to be trained, to learn how to heed the whispers of the Force, to understand how to channel his powers. Even if he owes his very existence to midichlorians, that's still no guarantee that he'll be the greatest Jedi ever. It still takes work. I also like that it's never explicitly stated whether the midichlorians were actually responsible for Anakin's conception, nor what it truly means to be "the Chosen One;" whether he was meant to be conscious avatar of the Force, or just a cosmic accident foreseen by an ancient Jedi prophet, or something else entirely. It's much more interesting to speculate and explore the possibilities than to have everything spelled out, to have far-reaching questions that extend past a simple yes/no answer.

Also of note -- every life form has midichlorians. So even if your count is very low, you still have a connection to the Force. Not enough to become a Jedi, but enough for the Force to matter, for the phrase "May the Force be with you" to to be more than a meaningless rote expression. We are all part of the symbiont circle.

Next time will be another line from Qui-Gon, and all the more poignant because, though he doesn't know it, there's not much time left for him....
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2017-08-03 12:39 pm

Star Words: XXI

After enduring the inaction and indifference of the Senate, Queen Amidala is in the midst of a moral crisis. She gazes out at the glittering cityscape of Coruscant, an entire city-planet full of people without a single one who can help her. She knows the futility of trying to take back her planet by force without any significant military power on her side, and even if she had a hope of winning, it would require a war that goes against all her pacifist principles.

And then Jar Jar mentions the Gungans' "grand army," and you can see the wheels start to turn in her head. It's a desperate hope, and it would mean fighting and violence and all the things she hates. But it's still a hope, and anything has to be better than sitting and waiting helplessly while her people die.

So when Palaptine arrives, flushed with triumph at his almost-certain appointment as the new Chancellor, the news hardly seems to register for Amidala. She is already mentally plotting out what must be done to set her plan into action. She moves, striding from one end of the room to the other, full of energy and determination, so different from the queen quietly sitting on the couch during the pre-Senate scene in this apartment. Palpatine's words hardly seem to have any effect on her, except to further strengthen her resolve. She tells him she has decided to go back to Naboo.

He protests; he reminds her of the dangers. She does not waver. She will sign no treaty.

"My fate will be no different than that of our people."

A perfectly-phrased rejoinder. It shows her solidarity with the people who call her queen, characteristic of the self-sacrificing kind of leadership she espouses. It also contains a subtle jab against Palpatine -- remember, these are your people too, Senator! -- that would probably prick the conscience of anyone who actually had a conscience. It doesn't change Palpatine's evil designs in the slightest, but Amidala could not be aware of that. Nor does she notice the very slight smile emerging on his face once she turns to leave.

If she stays on Coruscant, he'll become Chancellor and put on a show of helping the poor beleaguered people of their home planet. If she goes and inevitably gets herself killed, her martyrdom will only increase the power of the sympathy vote (which he refers to with a rather smarmy complacency, followed up with a "I will be Chancellor" line that always makes my skin crawl). And if she somehow manages to pull off her one-in-a-million gambit, her victory will make it all the more natural for the Senate to give Palpatine a victory as well. At this point, he can't lose.

This line is poignant as well in how it will be echoed throughout the trilogy. We see Amidala evoking a similar sentiment later on in Episode I when she reveals her true identity to Boss Nass, kneels before him and declares, "Our fate is in your hands," which is enough to convince him that the Naboo might not be so unforgivably arrogant after all. The fate of Gungan and Naboo is entwined, and they have finally acknowledged it and can use to reclaim their planet.

Then, in Episode III, Anakin refuses to leave a wounded Obi-Wan, informing Palpatine, "His fate will be the same as ours." In this regard, he and his secret wife are very similar. Devotion, self-sacrifice, a refusal to abandon those they care about. Only someone as skilled as Palpatine is able to corrupt such a trait into obsession, jealousy, and a lust for power.

It's a different kind of tragedy for his wife. This devotion to people is both her most admirable strength and her greatest vulnerability. She could have easily died in her quest to take back Naboo. Her life is imperiled repeatedly through the trilogy as she ties her fate to those around her, devoted to a cause greater than her own self-preservation. And when her people fall -- her Republic, her colleagues in the Senate, and most of all her beloved husband -- she falls with them. All that they used to be has died, and so she dies as well. Her fate is the same as theirs.

Next, some more wisdom (a little biology lesson) from Qui-Gon...
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2017-07-27 11:44 am

Star Words: Part XX

Twenty! At this rate, I could be doing this series for at least another year. Perfectly happy with that.

I've always appreciated the way that the prequels shift our perspective of characters first introduced in the original trilogy. Vader/Anakin is the most obvious example of this, but we also get to see a younger, brasher Obi-Wan, as a well as Palpatine adroitly playing a kindly, helpful role before his true nature is revealed. And then there's Yoda.

In the original movies, Yoda is a peculiar (and entertaining) blend of quirky and wise, goofy and admirable. He is the wise old hermit, the secret wizard that the hero initially disregards before recognizing his true worth and humbling himself to be taught by him. And yet for all his wisdom, by the end of Episode VI we begin to see that he, like Obi-Wan, is flawed in his understanding. Neither of them believed Vader could return from the Dark Side. Neither of them saw any option but for Luke to kill him. Luke saw another way.

Which brings us to Yoda's earlier days, before everything falls apart. His part in Episode I is relatively small, but enough to see that he is a leading member of the Jedi Council. Not an exiled loner, but part of the establishment. A well-respected leader -- perhaps a little more like Luke assumed he would be when he was looking for him in Episode V. This is Yoda in the glory days, blind to the doom that awaits the Jedi. Or is he?

"Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Yoda doesn't know the full enormity of what's coming, but he's wary, perhaps not so arrogantly self-assured as the rest of the Council. He doesn't know that Anakin will become a dreaded Sith Lord, but he knows that his future is troubled. And these words of wisdom provide the perfect foreshadowing for the trajectory of Anakin's fall to the Dark Side.

When I first watched Episode I, I thought Yoda was being a little ridiculous in reprimanding Anakin for missing his mother. And I still think the Council's lack of compassion was significant factor in alienating poor young Anakin, demanding a stoicism that you couldn't possibly expect from a nine-year-old untrained in their ways.

However. Fear of loss is the core of Anakin's weakness. It drives him to anger when he cannot prevent that loss. That anger festers and becomes hate, toward the Sandpeople in Episode II and toward the Jedi themselves in Episode III. And suffering -- suffering is very stuff of Vader's existence, both for those who encounter him and within his own tortured soul.

If only Yoda's words could have somehow been presented as a kindly warning, rather than a stern reproof. But who knows whether Yoda ever would have had the means to protect Anakin from the darkness that threatened to claim him. He is in many ways a relic of the old Jedi Order, the last of their kind. Luke, with his greater compassion and understanding, will be able to build up something much better. (And don't talk to me about Disney movies that undermine all of Return of the Jedi's triumph. Just, don't.)

Next, more bold words from a newly empowered Queen...
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2017-07-20 11:54 am

Star Words: Part XIX

I'm going to have to find a new way to title these posts. Roman numerals can get kind of unwieldy...

Anyway, let's look at the Senate scene in Episode I. It might just be my favorite Coruscant scene in this movie. First off, we get a dizzying view of the chamber where thousands of galactic representatives meet. It reveals the truly massive scope of the Republic...and how easy is to drown in a sea of bureaucracy. The scene is frustrating; of course it's frustrating. It's only a few minutes long, yet it seems to drag on interminably as we slog through procedure after procedure. Then, when Amidala finally has the chance to plead her case, she's immediately interrupted, and asked to defer. This brings us to her scathing response. "I will not defer. I have come before you to resolve this attack on our sovereignty now."

"I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee."

We see now why someone as young and comparatively inexperienced as Padmé managed to get herself elected ruler of an entire planet. Her gifts are on full display here; her eloquence (clearly not planned beforehand, as she's being compelled to speak extemporaneously), her passion, her ability to cut through all the political bickering straight to the heart of the problem. Her people are in peril of their lives and the Senate might be willing to form a committee to talk about it. Maybe. Well, she's not having it. The momentum of her resolve will carry her all the way back to Naboo, where she will reclaim her planet without any help from an ineffectual government.

Of the process, she unwittingly paves the way for a Sith Lord to attain the highest position of power in the galaxy...and her planet's freedom will only be a temporary victory, as it will ultimately fall under the shadow of the Empire along with everything else in the galaxy. And so we see the quiet brilliance of Episode I. On its own, it offers a simple tale of a young queen saving her people in the face of galactic indifference and conspiring villains. But as the first chapter of the saga, it portrays the beginning of the end, a pyrrhic victory on the road to tragedy.

Next, some prophetic words from Yoda (though even he can't see the extent of the approaching disaster)...
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2017-07-13 02:23 pm

Star Words: Part XVIII

Thanks to everyone who watched my absurd One-Woman Star Wars! I'll probably start making Episode II after the summer, when my kids are back in school. I've never had more fun with such a silly endeavor.

So we have two major plot strands that play out on Coruscant: Amidala's attempts to gain the aid of the Senate, and the Jedi Council's response to Qui-Gon's discoveries. Both reveal the complacency of the Republic's most powerful institutions, ultimately leading to their undoing. For the Jedi, that complacency is illustrated quite effectively by Ki-Adi Mundi's declaration.

"The Sith have been extinct for over a millennium."

Oh really? If the Jedi Order hasn't caught a trace of them, then they don't exist? Don't you think there's even the slightest possibility the Sith could have found some sneaky way to escape your notice?

Mace: "I do not believe the Sith could have returned without us knowing."

Ah, well. That settles it. The Council's knowledge and foresight is pretty much infallible. If a threat that dire was rising up, you would know. Only one problem with that....

They've been around this whole time. Whoops.

By the film's conclusion, the Council will finally have to concede that the Sith aren't extinct after all -- after losing the one Jedi wise enough to recognize the danger early on -- but they're still blind to the identity of the Sith Lord who's hiding in plain sight. It's the beginning of the end for them. There's a similar line coming up from the librarian in Episode II, indicating that this arrogance extends beyond the Council. We see how you don't have to be evil to enable the downfall of goodness. You need only be complacent.

The Coruscant scenes are, overall, fraught with disappointment and frustration. The capital of the Republic should be a place where things happen; where problems get solved and people are striving together for the greater good. Instead, we witness inaction, delays and bureaucratic squabbles, and cool dismissals of anything that threatens the comfortable worldview of the establishment. Palpatine must, of course, carry the blame for taking down the Jedi and the Republic, but they sure helped make it easier for him.

Next, some or Amidala's impassioned words to Senate...
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2017-07-07 01:33 pm

Star Words: Part XVII

A day late, sorry! I suppose posting that massive video on Wednesday threw me off my usual schedule. In any case, let's look at the master manipulation of one Senator Palpatine. I'll never understand why people complain about the Coruscant/political scenes in Episode I. First of all, they really don't take up a large percentage of the movie. But even if they were longer, why wouldn't you want a glimpse into the workings of a massive galactic-scale government? Particularly one that is, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, teetering on the verge of collapse? Don't we need to understand how the Republic fell and why it's so important to restore the democratic principles destroyed by the Empire's tyranny? I mean, that's the whole point of the prequels, examining the macroscopic decay of the galactic government as well as the intimate fall of a single man. And here is the Sith Lord at the center of it, playing the part of a kindly advisor.

"The Republic is not what it once was."

How I love this scene. While Palpatine puts on a show of offering a young leader counsel and support, he is slowly but surely manipulating her into serving his plots. Notice the staging. She sits, passive and nearly silent, while he talks and talks and talks, walking circles around her almost like a predator stalking its prey...or a spider weaving its web around its victim. His tone carries a convincing note of regret as he describes the corruption and slogging inaction that has enveloped the Senate. But in truth, he has been eagerly encouraging the Republic's decline, preparing for his eventual takeover. The Republic is not what it once was, and he's secretly delighted. Valorum is mired by baseless accusations, he takes care to note -- but Palpatine could very well be the one who started circulating those rumors, ensuring the current Chancellor's failure and subsequent take-down.

In the long run, almost every well-meaning character will play into Palpatine's plots. But within the smaller conflict of Episode I, at least, the queen is able to choose a different path than the one he has laid for her. She shakes off her passivity by the end of this scene, declaring that accepting Federation control is something she cannot do. And by post-Senate scene, she is confronting him with fierce energy of her own, no longer merely sitting and listening. She moves, she speaks, she acts, and she takes back Naboo. If only it had brought a lasting peace, but Palpatine has been playing the long game all along.

Next, some Jedi Council arrogance foreshadows their downfall...
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2017-07-05 06:23 pm

One-Woman Phantom Menace

Well, here it is. The results of over two months work and a whole lot of insane fannishness. It's meant to be silly, of course, but I hope viewers will be laughing with me and not at me? We'll see...

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2017-06-29 02:48 pm

Star Words: Part XVI

One of my favorite aspects of the Padmé/Anakin relationship is that it doesn't start with sweeping romance, longing looks and smoldering stares. It starts when they're children. So the foundation isn't built upon physical attraction (notwithstanding Anakin's admiration of her angel-like resemblance); it's built upon friendship and a mutual admiration of each other's desire for goodness and kindness. That's why my favorite Episode I scene between them is this one.

"My caring for you will remain."

It's a challenge, actually, to limit myself to only one line from this scene. Each one carries an important note of foreshadowing, character development and deepening of their friendship. So I'll go ahead and put the entire exchange of dialogue here. Why not?

Padmé: (Noticing Anakin huddling in the corner) Are you all right?

Anakin: It's very cold.

Padmé: (Bringing him a blanket) You come from a warm planet, Ani. A little too warm for my taste. Space is cold.

Anakin: You seem sad.

Padmé: The queen is worried. Her people are suffering...dying. She must convince the Senate to intervene, or...I'm not sure what will happen.

Anakin: (Gives her the japor pendant) I made this for you. So you'd remember me. I carved it out of a japor snippet. It'll bring you good fortune.

Padmé: It's beautiful. But I don't need this to remember you by. (Considers) Many things will change when we reach the capital, Ani. But my caring for you will remain.

Anakin: I care for you too...only I...

Padmé: Miss your mother.

Two people, scared and feeling out of control, seeking comfort in each other. I love how Padmé offers the physical warmth of a blanket as a sort of symbol of the emotional warmth she represents to him. And then there is the strange wistfulness hiding beneath the simple words "Space is cold."

I love that Anakin, miserable as he is, still notices her pain and tries to help with a simple trinket. There's a ton of foreshadowing here. "So you'd remember me." Years later, Padmé will still have this pendant, and she'll still remember him. She'll carry that memory to her grave. Good fortune? That's harder to say. Terrible pain and suffering will come, but ultimately it will be Anakin's connection to Padmé, through their children, that will save him from his darkness.

And Padmé must navigate carefully between the wish to prepare Anakin for her "disappearance" on Coruscant and the need to hide her true identity as the queen. "Many things will change. But my caring for you will remain" as we see when she tells him later as Amidala, "We are sure her heart goes with you." And that caring will continue, till death.

Lastly, we see the beginnings of Anakin's anguish at being separated from his mother. Padmé is deeply empathetic, the one person who understands. Which will make it all the harder when her loss is at the center of Anakin's fears in Episode III. But for now, this exchange establishes a sweetness and gentleness that lies at the core of their relationship.

Next, some ironic words from Palpatine.

But in the meantime, if I can work up the nerve, I might post a video which I've been working on for over two months. It's quite silly, but I've put quite a lot of time into it. (It's nearly an hour and a half long. Yeah.) I assumed I had achieved peak fandom with Les Starwarbles, but now I may have exceeded myself. We'll see...
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2017-06-22 02:32 pm

Star Words: Part XV

I love the rhythm of the Star Wars movies; the balanced to and fro between high-adrenaline action sequences and quiet moments. And sometimes those quiet moments are the most powerful. After the intensity of the podrace and its giddy, gleeful aftermath, we switch to the gentle but crucial scene when Qui-Gon informs Anakin of his freedom. Anakin's departure from his home and mother on Tatooine is heartbreaking even within the immediate context of Episode I's storyline, and proves to be pivotal for the overarching tale of Anakin's fall to darkness. Every line carries its own poignancy, and I could easily quote the entire sequence. But this line might be the most important -- in the scene, perhaps in the entire film, maybe the whole prequel trilogy.

"But you can't stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting."

This is the crux of Anakin's struggles, and the ultimate reason for his downfall. He can't bear for anything beloved to fall out of his control, out of his reach. Change, the only sure thing in life, is unthinkable to him. And in spite of his mother's wise and caring words, he will fight that change with all his might. Nowhere in the prequels does this concept play out more strikingly than in this scene:

Anakin is literally racing against the setting suns, driven to save his mother from her inevitable fate. And when he can't save her, he momentarily succumbs to his darkest urges. How painfully ironic that it is her death that leads to his first significant descent to the Dark Side; she, the woman who taught him far better than that. But he's been without her influence for ten years, and while the Jedi have tried to teach him to avoid unhealthy attachment, they are also responsible for his prolonged separation from her. It's just a mess in so many ways.

In any case, back to the original scene. Shmi's wisdom is particularly meaningful because she must endure an equally painful sacrifice in letting Anakin leave. You can see that her heart is breaking, but she knows his chances of leading a better life and reaching his potential are far greater if he can leave Tatooine. She doesn't let her attachment to him get in the way of his future. She conceals the depth of her own pain for Anakin's sake, and she stands alone as he walks away from her.

Honestly, I get so emotional at this point, it's almost a relief to switch to the adrenaline of Darth Maul's attack on Qui-Gon. There's that tonal rhythm again. It really works.

Next, my favorite Padmé and Anakin scene in Episode I...
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2017-06-15 05:56 pm

Star Words: Part XIV

Ah, Obi-Wan. Stuck on the sidelines, helplessly waiting while his master concocts some harebrained scheme to get the money for their ship's repairs. By the time Qui-Gon shows up with the parts, you can see his Padawan has just about reached the end of his tolerance for impulsive eccentricities.

"Why do I sense we've picked up another pathetic life form?"

We usually assume that the previous pathetic life form he's referring to is Jar Jar, but maybe it's not just him. Maybe this isn't the first mission where Qui-Gon has picked up strays with the vague sense that they might prove useful. My husband and I have even joked that Qui-Gon has been constantly on the hunt for potential Chosen Ones. Can you imagine Mace Windu wearily rolling his eyes about it -- "You think everyone's the Chosen One. Last week you thought it was that potted plant!"

But seriously. Obi-Wan is going to get some intense comeuppance for his snark this time. This "pathetic life form" is mere days from becoming his Padawan, and their relationship is arguably the most important he will ever know, for better or worse. He'll go from the unpredictable but steady care of his father-figure, Qui-Gon, to becoming the caretaker of a tumultuous surrogate son/brother in Anakin. And he'll learn very quickly that Anakin is far more than some helpless pitiable creature. Don't underestimate anyone's potential. That slave from an obscure planet could very well be the Chosen One.

Next, some words of wisdom from Shmi...
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2017-06-08 02:09 pm

Star Words: Part XIII

One of the features of writing something that takes place before an already-existing story is the awareness of things the audience knows that the characters do not, creating marvelous opportunities for dramatic irony. Foreshadowing is different, more tantalizing, when we already know what's coming.

There are so many foreshadowing lines in Episode I. When Padmé demands, "Are you sure about this? Trusting our fate to a boy we hardly know?" there is tremendous irony in knowing that she will utterly bind her fate to Anakin, and though it's after more than a day's acquaintance, it's still a swiftly-made decision that will have life-long consequences. We can chuckle at Threepio's "I assure you, they will never get me onto one of those dreadful starships" and Obi-Wan's "We could be stuck here a very long time," knowing their respective futures of perilous space journeys and decades of exile on Tatooine. There's Anakin's heartbreaking line "I had a dream I was a Jedi. I came back here and freed all the slaves." Though we know the Jedi part is coming, before Episodes II and III came out we could only wonder whether the rest of the dream foretold his destiny or only his longed-for desires. And there are few moments more poignant than the exchange between Anakin and Qui-Gon. "No one can kill a Jedi." "I wish that were so." We know that Anakin will become Vader, the infamous Jedi-killer. And Qui-Gon is mere days away from being killed. Sob.

"I want to be the first one to see them all!"

For some reason, there's something particularly affecting for me about this particular line. The foreshadowing isn't quite as literal -- though Vader travels far and wide, I doubt he manages to visit every system in the galaxy. But it's so heartrending to consider the contrast between this wide-eyed, innocent optimism and the grim being that Anakin will become.

This is one of those moments that I'm particularly impressed by Jake Lloyd's performance. There's so much sweetness in his face as he gazes at the stars and voices his dreams. Like most young children, his imagination is the only limit to his aspirations. (Of course, his confidence is significantly abetted by his ability to see the future.) Obstacles like slavery don't worry him; they can and will be overcome. And you can see why Qui-Gon believes in him, even before he confirms his high midichlorian count. It's hard to resist his infectious enthusiasm. We might all benefit from gazing at the night sky with a fresh sense of wonder and excitement. It's all too easy to forget how remarkable it really is to have a galaxy before your view.

And then I can't help wondering if Vader ever remembered this moment during his long, lonely life among the stars. SOB.

Next, a little more snark from Obi-Wan...
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2017-06-01 12:19 pm

Star Words: Part XII

Here's a character that was largely well-received upon the release of Episode I. In fact, if there were any complaints about Darth Maul, it was that he was killed off too soon, wasting further opportunities to use such an awesome character.

In response I would answer: no, he wasn't. He didn't die too soon. He served his purpose perfectly and I wouldn't change a thing.

"At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge."

(I should probably note the existence of Darth Maul's reappearance in the Clone Wars series, but I only consider the show semi-canon, and that particular "plot twist" just makes me giggle uncontrollably. I remember people joking about the idea of Maul showing up with just his upper body attached to some kind of robo-legs. Joking. As in, wouldn't that be ridiculous? And I still think it's ridiculous. He's dead, guys.)

Now, let's consider one of the motives that drove Lucas to making the prequels in the first place. He was growing more and more concerned that people were idolizing Darth Vader, seeing him as cool and awe-inspiring. But he was meant to be a tragic figure, pitiable at best. So he set about telling Anakin's story, of how a young man with tremendous potential for good squandered it all out of fear and selfishness. And then lost everything he cared about. Villainy isn't cool. It's pathetic.

Darth Maul isn't the ultimate villain. He was never meant to be. He's a lot more imposing than the cowards leading the Trade Federation, but in the end he's just as much a pawn of Palpatine as they are. What is this revenge he's talking about? You can speculate about his backstory, but my sense is that most of his burning hatred toward the Jedi has been fostered and fed by Darth Sidious. He is a Sith Lord; therefore he hates the Jedi and must enact vengeance. But I doubt there's really anything truly personal in his drive for revenge. Certainly not toward Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan specifically. He attacks them because that's what he's been taught to do, and he obeys.

In the end, Maul's terrifying appearance -- the nightmarish swirls of red and black, the horns, the glowing eyes, the double-bladed saber he wields with deadly precision -- is nothing but a mask to distract us from the true danger, the phantom menace lurking behind it all. And when Maul is killed, it will ultimately prove a hollow victory as the master simply finds a new apprentice and proceeds with his plans for galactic domination. Maul, meanwhile, won't live to see the Sith destroy the Jedi order and take over the galaxy. He gets to be the face of the surprise reveal - "Whoops, guess the Sith weren't totally eradicated a thousand years ago after all!" but he reaps none of the rewards. He proved useful for a time, and was then easily discarded for someone with more political savvy, who will in turn be discarded for someone younger and far more powerful.

(Also of interest - each character who plays the role of primary villain in the three prequel episodes could be seen to represent one aspect of Vader's persona. Maul possesses his imposing physical presence and prowess, Dooku is a former Jedi turned Sith, and Grievous is a former organic being turned cyborg. Pretty intriguing when you think about it.)

Star Wars isn't about awesome villains doing awesome villainous things. It's about good and evil, and why good is good. The prequels in particular are about about the exploitation and/or corruption of well-meaning people, while episodes 4-6 explore how good can prevail once more. And Darth Maul's character fills exactly the little role he needs to fill; no more, no less.

Next time, some heartrending foreshadowing from Anakin...
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2017-05-25 12:28 pm

Star Words: Part XI

We tend to celebrate characters who are brash, outspoken, snarky and daring. The quiet ones often go unnoticed and under-appreciated. But I've always liked the quiet ones. Probably because I tend to be more on that end of the spectrum myself. That's probably why Shmi is one of my favorites and, I feel, deserving of far more appreciation.

"The Republic doesn't exist out here. We must survive on our own."

Much of Shmi's importance in the overall story of the saga resides in her influence on Anakin -- her presence during his childhood, but especially her absence once he leaves to become a Jedi. It's always a tricky thing to create a character whose primary impact comes from her absence and death (and the use of "her" isn't a coincidence -- it's overwhelmingly women who are placed in this role). All too often, the character is nothing more than a plot device, underdeveloped, her special place in the hero's heart implicit rather than explicitly developed. But Shmi's portrayal is saved from this danger by an excellent performance from Pernilla August and the details the story reveals of her personality and experiences.

She is kind and giving, in spite of her own very limited means. When Anakin brings home a bunch of strangers in need, he has no doubt that she'll take them in, because that's what their family does. She opens her home to them, brings them to her table and feeds them. Anakin even convinces her to let him enter the podrace by apparently repeating her own words -- "The biggest problem in this universe is no one helps each other."

However, there is an interesting edge to her softness. When Padmé young and idealistic, begins a rant against the injustice of slavery, Shmi stops her with a gentle but firm rebuke. The Republic doesn't exist out here. An interesting way to phrase it. She could have said, "Those laws don't matter as long as the Hutts are in control" or "Your Republic isn't as powerful as you might think" or any other rejoinder that could launch them into a sociopolitical discourse. But Shmi's view of things is pragmatic. For any practical purposes, there is no Republic. That's how she has learned to see the galaxy, as a necessary survival tactic. Help others, but don't assume that anyone will help you. Eke out your own survival.

Shmi keeps her intense emotions buried deep. She doesn't openly sob or scream, even as she's watching her son go into mortal peril in the podrace, even as she's letting him leave her forever. It's not that she doesn't feel the complete depth of those emotions -- she says outright that she dies every time Watto makes Anakin race. But as a slave she's surely learned that it's safer to keep a calm, straight face, to react mildly even to the most monstrous of situations. It's a tragedy that someone as extraordinary as Anakin was born into slavery, but a slave's life is just as tragic for someone as gentle and good as Shmi. I'm very glad to know that this changes sometime before Episode II and she spends her last years in comparative happiness. But I'll discuss that more in later installments.

Next, a few more terse words from a Sith Lord...