Thursday, October 22, 2015

Star Wars: A New Hope(lessness)

Fair warning. I'm a fan boy. I love Star Wars. In my youth I loved the movies and some of the expanded universe material. In fact, Star Wars may have helped me come to the Libertarian conclusions that I've held for quite some time. Which is ironic, considering Murray Rothbard's critique of Star Wars. Sorry Murray.

But that was then. I'm not sure what to expect from Episode 7 or Episode 8, currently being filmed. I like the work of J.J Abrams fine. Though I'm not a Star Trek fan, I'm told by friends that are fans that he took a step away from the blatant socialism of the series during his venture into the franchise.

I guess there's hooting and hollering over the casting choices for the new film for a number of reasons, in particular would be Disney induced political correctness. Maybe true, maybe not. We won't know for sure for a couple of months. For a great critique on the subject, Alex Jones discusses it objectively. But I do recall rumors of casting calls in London specifically asking for a white female and a black male for lead roles (which isn't a problem in itself). I could be very wrong though. Here's some merit to the rumor a few paragraphs in.

Okay, you were warned. Libertarian-Nerd rant approaching at rapid speed. My apologies to readers expecting serious subjects. I take that back, no apologies. You gave a nerd the internet.

Unless you've been too responsible to pay attention, you noticed the decline. The Prequel Trilogy that began hitting theaters over a decade ago and came to it's conclusion in 2005 failed (at least, in the sense of a good saga). when compared to it's original predecessor. A lot of people cite George Lucas as the problem. This may be true up to a certain point, but I'm not so certain the blame can be thrown at the man who conceived the original saga. I would lay the blame at whoever decided the Jedi moral compass should be ambiguous, likely a writer. You know, "living breathing document" arguments.

Consider the depictions of the Jedi in the original saga. Talented, wise, stoic, and fatally committed to peace - even at their own peril.

 The Jedi in the original trilogy, perhaps by coincidence, embody the Libertarian Non-Aggression Principal.

In the above scene, Obi-Wan is ambushed by Darth Vader. This is the individual against the State. Darth Vader's intentions are clear, as his weapon is drawn and has no moral objection to the logical conclusion to the likely outcome. Amidst the dialogue where Obi Wan may be making an effort to diffuse the duel, Obi Wan makes few, if any, efforts to strike down Vader. If there are efforts, they're not very strong, Obi Wan obviously carries no malice in his heart. Darth Vader, however, is clearly more aggressive in his efforts.

Upon seeing that his newest pupil is spectating, Obi Wan yields. I'd like to think that, in light of the two minutes leading to this point, Obi Wan sees no glory in violence. Darth Vader delivers the killing stroke, and displays uncertainty and fear. He steps on the remains to ensure his foe is defeated - as if the vanishing body wasn't enough of a confirmation. The State lacks confidence, it sees enemies where there are none.

Even post-mortem, Obi Wan Kenobi dissuades Luke from engaging, as he and his friends escape.

With Obi Wan dead, Luke has lost his moral compass. He's been given the tool of "The Force", but doesn't understand it's righteous use. Still yet, from beyond the grave, Obi Wan leads Luke to Yoda. Yoda attempts to coach Luke, who is likely struggling with thoughts of revenge - on Obi Wan's behalf, and for Han Solo, Leia, and Chewbacca, who are currently at the mercy of Darth Vader, a bounty hunter, and an old friend of Han's that has since bent a knee to the Empire. Both Yoda and the ghost of Obi Wan plead with Luke - he must remain and finish his training to better understand what he's using and why. Running off in an act of vengeance will be a terrible error. Though the loyalty to his friends is admirable, unfortunately for Luke both Yoda and Obi Wan were right.

Contrast this scene to the duel between Darth Vader and Obi Wan. Luke Skywalker draws his lightsaber first - Perhaps to Darth Vader's delight, as he goes on to taunt Luke Skywalker about Obi Wan. Luke, contrasted to Obi Wan, makes no attempt to diffuse the fight. Both Luke and Vader are focused on the same thing - laying waste to the other. Again, contrasted to Obi Wan, Obi Wan was only struck when he wanted to be. Otherwise, no injury was sustained. He was at peace, focused, and clearly in control of the situation.

The wanton, unfocused melee only ends when Luke loses his hand. At the revelation that Darth Vader is in fact Luke's father, Luke escapes the situation. He then gets a mechanical graft to replace his missing hand. Remember this, it's important later. What's worse, the bounty hunter Bobba Fett has delivered Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt.

Luke's outfit has changed in Return of the Jedi. He no longer has his white garb from the first film, or even his rebel uniforms from the second. He is clad in black, bearing a more prominent resemblance to the enemy he has taken up arms against instead of the moisture-farming teenager we met in the first film. In an attempt to free Han Solo from the crime-boss Jabba the Hutt, Luke delivers ultimatums.  Crime bosses being crime bosses, they aren't much for tolerating disrespect - especially when the goons are watching. Luke is then at the mercy of Jabba the Hutt's vicious pet, which Luke bests. Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca are taken to the desert, to face execution via the Sarlaac - a wild beast that devours anything within reach of it's gaping maw. Luke offers Jabba a final chance, and verbatim, two choices: "Free us, or die".

We can see that Luke is at a pivotal development in his struggle, he runs risk of becoming another Darth Vader, embodiment of force and coercion.

Contrast this to Yoda, or Obi Wan. Obi Wan in particular, who faced off against a greater evil and initiated no threats, or violence. Luke may very well be heading towards the dark side of the force, by fighting evil with evil. A battle ensues, so on and so forth.

After a conversation with the apparition of Obi Wan, Luke comes to the revelation he's not alone. He has a sister, and it's Leiah (aaaawkward). There is a light disagreement between Obi Wan and Luke, regarding the fate of Darth Vader - should Luke engage him? Obi Wan believes so, Luke doesn't. This seems contradictory to what we've examined about Obi Wan. But, consider what Obi Wan considers a confrontation, from his duel with Darth Vader aboard the Death Star. It is a confrontation of the mind, not a confrontation of violence. Obi Wan won. Why not Luke too?

Luke turns himself in to Imperial forces, and it naturally catches Darth Vader's attention. Luke attempts to reason with his father, but, much like the State of the real world, Darth Vader hears none of it, even rejecting the fact that he is an individual and a person cursing Luke's use of his name, Anakin Skywalker.  Luke Skywalker is taken aboard the Death Star, where he endures a spiritual tug of war, with the Emperor playing the role of "Devil on the Shoulder", successfully taunting a vulnerable Luke towards violence. Much like the State Apparatus of the real world, the Emperor sews strife where there otherwise would be little conflict, if any at all.

 Luke is much like an evenly balanced scale throughout his time spent on the second Death Star, requiring only the slightest tip in balance to embrace the way of Obi Wan, or to embrace the ways of the dark side. To our surprise, it is not the Emperor who taunts Luke into a fit of aggression. It is Vader, who makes a deep, cutting threat against Leiah. Luke bursts with a fury that we haven't seen, even from the villains of the story - to remove Darth Vader's hand, exposing the wiring and machinery that is beneath Darth Vader's black shell. This causes pause in Luke, as he examines his own hand. Both Luke and Vader are losing their humanity to darkness, by giving in to evil. When Luke refuses to further engage or entertain the Emperor's evil, and Vader is clearly to weakened to continue, the Emperor intervenes, engaging Luke. Luke is unable to fight back, essentially forced into a similar position as Obi Wan. Darth Vader then intervenes, using the last of his strength to save his son. Lessons are learned by all, and we've witnessed character growth.

Long winded, maybe. But to highlight the success of the initial trilogy, I felt compelled to talk about what made it great. It wasn't the lasers or the spaceships, or even the detail of the universe this story takes place in - it was the principles of the Jedi that defined the series. It became a time honored classic, and ultimately went on to define other sagas that depicted the struggle of right and wrong, or good and evil, a struggle all of us can relate to in some way.

Then, the prequel trilogy happened. You'll notice I've got less to say on the prequel trilogy. There is little to analyze, and much to criticize.

The Jedi here are unrecognizable from the Jedi of the original trilogy. Foolish, arrogant, violent, and tools of the state. Charging into a fight lightsabers ablaze is the rule, not the exception. No question of methods, no moral compasses. They even seem to delight in the melee and use of force, holding weapons at the necks of their adversaries.

If that's nothing to glare at then one has to wonder how Obi Wan and Yoda of the prequels somehow turn into the wise Jedi of the original trilogy. Maybe it was their major errors.

Characteristically, they're no different than the Sith that they claim a moral superiority towards. The conflict is bland. It's team red vs team blue, indistinguishable from the next save for minor aesthetics.

The big enemy for the first film of the prequel trilogy is the Trade Federation. Their great act of evil? Collecting payment for unpaid goods. I expect to be paid when I provide product, service or labor. I imagine merchants are the same way.

Throughout the trilogy, the enemy evolves into secessionists, with their proper noun changed to "Separatists". This is their only crime elaborated on at length. As the enemy evolves into this, the warfare grows more aggressive, with Jedi leading the charge, with a ready-made, mass produced army of clones right behind them.

The prequel trilogy only begins to gain it's merit towards the end of it's final film, upon the revelation that all major contributors to the conflict were being manipulated towards evil by a Chancellor who desired to be an Emperor. But of course, this doesn't dissuade the Jedi from perpetuating evil - seeking to confront the Emperor in an armed conflict, operating under the assumption that violence is their only chance at victory.

At the Emperor's victory, he recruits a younger Anakin Skywalker into becoming Darth Vader. Vader is tasked with eradicating the remaining Jedi - even the children, to achieve peace for the new Galactic Empire.

Despite the violence and aggression leading up to this point, all major characters privy to the situation are scratching their heads wondering how Anakin could come to the conclusion that butchering people, even kids, is just fine.

So effective was the Galactic Empire that it's even the envy of real world Sith Lords. Why not? Emperor Palpatine used a young, confused man to murder innocents - not dissimilar to the means endorsed by Darth Kristol's think tank. You gotta understand, Emperor Palpatine was just a misunderstood one-man patriotic think tank who really, really loved his government. He'd sing the anthem in between showering and brushing his teeth every morning. He'd even wave a flag before executing Jedi. So it's okay. Right? Right?!

 What does this mean for the new trilogy? It's an ideal time to re-examine elements of the original trilogy, and the righteous struggle against cruel and corrupt power. I'm not optimistic this will manifest, but I hope I'm wrong. Flashy, loosely-defined violence dotted with hints of political intrigue doesn't challenge the sanitized mind of a viewer so it's safe territory. Questions of the individual and the state aren't acceptable - Questions about who should rule are just fine, questions about what those who rule do aren't. Questions on the necessity of a ruler are heresy.

Bundle all of this up, throw some Mickey Mouse ears on it, and inject a dose of Disney induced political correctness, then we may have an inkling of what to expect from the resurrection of a story that lost it's way long before Darth Mickey acquired the rights to Lucasfilm.

Oh. Yeah. Copyrights to respective owners. Not sure if I should credit Lucasfilm or Disney.

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