Saturday, May 21, 2005

Spoilers, Sequels, and Sith

Stop reading if: a) you haven't seen Revenge of the Sith, and b) you care if I spoil the ending. But since it's a prequel, you kind of already know the ending.

Star Wars was a first for many things. It was the first true summer blockbuster. It was among the first believable depictions of space flight (Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey were the others). It was one of the first films to exploit merchandising, following the lead of Planet of the Apes.

Planet of the Apes failed to leave the audience wanting more, with five movies, ubiquitous merchandising, a Saturday Morning cartoon, and a television show, all in less than a decade. For Halloween in second grade I dressed up as the Roddy MacDowell character (Cornelius? Galen? Caesar?). Carolyn, this girl in my class, dressed as a female chimp from the show, by coincidence. Yes, there was teasing. This was in addition to the lunch boxes, board games, and trading cards. The point is that no one could say that Planet of the Apes came to a premature end.

In a way, Star Wars was a way of tiding over the fans from a show that did have a premature end, namely Star Trek. It is important to note that this was around the time when Star Trek conventions began to build momentum. By 1977, audiences had seen actual space flight, courtesy of NASA, on their television screens. They were ready for a mature science fiction drama, and George Lucas delivered.

Following the turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, including war, assassinations, scandals, and general questioning of authority, the standard good-versus-evil movie was not seen as marketable. With Star Wars, Lucas could present a western without stereotyping the Indians, as well as a shoot-em-up without guns. No one could accuse him of supporting "the man," since the strict, militaristic characters were the bad guys.

Star Wars fans were forced to wait three years for a sequel. There were only comic books, toys, and an awful Christmas special to tide us over. In that time, there was a lot of what we now call "fan fiction." Fans were allowed to use their imagination on what happened to the characters next. It was easy for a fourth grader to draw dogfights between x-wings and tie fighters in a spiral-bound composition notebook. At that age, there was nothing nerdy about liking the biggest movie in the history of the medium. I remember discussions in school about whether Darth Vader was killed in the first film. My friend Chris Huffman reminded us (remember that this is before cable and DVDs) that Vader's tie fighter went into a spin, but later corrected itself, after Han Solo shot at him.

Darth Vader was never referred to as the "Dark Lord of the Sith" in the first film. That was a line used in the marketing of the "action figures" (boys don't play with dolls), presumably at the direction of George Lucas. Also, the movie never explained how Darth Vader came to have all that hardware on him. One of the explanations floating around was that he fell into a volcano.

I finally was able to connect the dots during Revenge of the Sith when it became clear that the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin would take place on a volcano planet. That was a nice touch to bring the two trilogies together. Sadly, this was the only clever idea in the film. Loose ends are tied up in the manner of a Murder, She Wrote episode before the last commercial break.

Weak, belated explanations in the film:

1. Yoda escaped almost certain death and went into exile, so neither the Emperor nor Darth Vader know that he is alive to complete Luke's training.

2. Yoda taught Obi-Wan how to be immortal, just like Qui-Gon was, which explains how Obi-Wan is able to talk to Luke even after he is struck down in a light saber fight.

3. Darth thinks that he killed Padme, meaning that he won't go looking for his child(ren).

4. C-3P0 has his memory wiped clean, which explains why he doesn't understand the mission in Episode IV. Such amnesia is not necessary for R2-D2 or Chewbacca, since neither of them speak English to the audience.

Unexplained:

1. The Senator from Alderaan (Jimmy Smits) narrowly escapes being killed by clones, but is unmolested before and after the Senate was in session, and after his return to his home world.

2. Yoda knows about Leia, but tells Obi-Wan in The Empire Strikes Back that Luke is "only hope" of the Jedi.

3. Darth Vader somehow finds out that Luke is his son after being lied to about Padme's death by the Emperor.

4. Darth Vader interrogates Leia in the first two films, but never notices that the force is strong in her.

5. The Death Star is being built in Episode III. Does it really take 20 years or so to complete?

Am I taking it too seriously? Of course. I would argue that there is no need to tie up loose ends. Just make a fun, entertaining film. But the cheesy attempt to mesh the two trilogies puts these inconsistencies front and center. Moreover, the whole concept of a prequel tends to mess up the plot of the original film.

Me: George Lucas, your sad devotion to that dying film franchise is...gasp...gasp....

Lucas: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

3 Comments:

Blogger Marty said...

I did have one big problem with one scene in the movie, Obi-Wan and Yoda risk their lives to get into the Jedi academy (or whatever the Jedi place is known as) to change an automated beacon to warn any living jedi not to return to the seat of the Council. However, doens't Yoda sense the deaths of the Jedi? And if Palpatine had orchestrated a perfect attack on the Jedi, he would know that there weren't any left, so why would he set up a beacon? It seems to show that there had to be some Jedi still alive at the time of directive 66.

May 23, 2005 2:10 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

However, we both deserve penalty flags for nitpicking.

May 23, 2005 2:11 AM  
Blogger Aaron B. Solem said...

Throwing a flag on myself for nitpicking:

It could be me remembering things wrong, but Obi-Wan is the one who says "That boy is our last hope" and it is Yoda who says "No, there is another". Which would be odd considering Obi Wan should know who Leia Organa is since he's watching over Luke and Luke has been traveling the galaxy with her. I’m going to assume it’s because Leia has a lower midiclorian count than Luke (Dumb explanation for the Force, I’ll concede that) that Obi Wan has such a lack of faith in her to stop Vader. She is pretty good with a blaster though (Notice, she never misses!).

The problem isn't that it takes 20 years for the death star to be complete; the problem is that it takes only some four years for the 2nd death star to be "fully operational". I assume it’s a combination of union leadership figuring that a new death star would be a dangerous workplace and the Empire became a right to work state between IV and VI.

Also, Marty, you’re presupposing that every Jedi was on a mission for the Jedi Order with clone troops. The Jedi had various duties, and being generals during the clone wars was just one of them. There were probably a few Jedi that were not with clones at the time, as to be taken out per directive 66. Otherwise, who would Vader hunt down and kill during the twenty years between three and four?

This was 140 minute movie it would have taken a lot longer to explain a lot of these shortcomings. I was just happy that Lucas finally made a good prequel.

ABS

May 24, 2005 6:11 PM  

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