Thursday, April 22, 2010

Star Wars

Ok. It’s only been a month and a half since the first entry here at the Movie Wrench. I’ve had a lot of other things to do. As promised, though, I plan to tackle the whole monster that is Star Wars. Before I go too far, I do want it known that I really only like the original film, now numbered IV and called, “A New Hope.” When I saw it in 1978 (I waited a long time), there was no ‘Episode IV’ or any of that at the beginning. Having recently seen the original version on DVD, I was glad to see that I had remembered correctly. I only like the original film because for me it’s the only one that’s actually -fun-. “Empire” gets dark, Luke gets whiney, Han loses a good chunk of his rascality. Yes, we get Yoda and Darth is even nastier but it’s also the beginning of things getting muddled, clarity and emotion getting lost. This is going to be a tough one and I’m going to have to leave out a lot of little things because this is six films and not one. And, to be fair, since not even the original “Star Wars” was fully conceived before it was shot (check out, “The Making of Star Wars” for proof and a fascinating read), I can’t really, totally blame Lucas for making a mess of some of the storytelling. He had to patch things together that he hadn’t foreseen because no one, NO ONE had any idea how huge the franchise would end up being. So, it’s easy for me to look back and nitpick. I admit it. I’m going to do it anyway.

Problem: The movies, as a whole, lack focus. We’re supposed to put our care too firmly on characters that come and go, who are inappropriately changed and, in some cases, barely fleshed out. The real center of the whole story only shows up in the last film (III or VI depending on how you look at it) and by then, it’s too late. The overall arc is fractured.

Solution: Annakin is the center of the whole thing. He should have been from the start but again, Lucas had no idea of his own, huge story. All six films should have been about Annakin’s rise, fall and redemption. There are many things that muddle his story, not least of which are things like the Pod Race and *ack* midichlorians. Star Wars is at its utter best when it just flies by the seat of its pants and explains nothing. When the original film came out, no one knew what a Wookie was, where these planets were, what the Clone Wars were and we didn’t care. We, as an audience, grabbed on and let ourselves be pulled along.

Back to the point. Annakin should be the center. His is not only the story we should be seeing but the focal point on which everything else tips. True, Luke is the eventual savior of his father, but it’s Annakin’s actions that bring about the change in the cycle of the Jedi. Annakin should be the one with clear vision, indeed the ‘chosen one’ that first realizes that the Jedi’s power is waning, that they have deluded themselves into thinking themselves infallible and ignoring the bits and pieces of what’s going on in favor of the ‘greater whole.’ There is some mention of this in the earlier films (I-III) where Mace and Yoda discuss the idea that their sight seems clouded and limited. But it’s only done in passing. More on this later.

Problem: Annakin’s motivation is so messed up, it’s impossible to see his decisions guiding him down the path he follows and all of it making sense. The fact that he leaves his mother alone, as a slave on his home planet seemingly for ten years or more makes us confused as to why he suddenly remembers her in the final movie. His ‘love’ for Padme is so awkward and weird, we can’t even tell if he loves her or is angry with her half the time. We also can’t understand why it becomes so easy for him to turn on the one person that’s been at his side all his adult life. Yes, the ‘seduction of the Dark Side’ and all that, but really, the seduction to do what? There is no real villain for Annakin to fight such that he would need to fall so far. Well, there IS, but it’s utterly unclear.

Solution: Solutions, in this case. First; remove the ‘immaculate birth’ and the midichlorians. Utterly unnecessary. Then, remove the whole slave aspect of things. They hardly seem slaves anyway, more just poor people. The idea that Jedi would take a child from his mother and leave her behind as an actual slave doesn’t portray the Jedi as who they’re supposed to be anyway. Better to have parents who are somewhat distant, perhaps, who don’t understand their son. All of the set dressing of Tatooine is just getting in the way of the set up of Annakin as a fully fleshed character. The pod race wastes a LOT of time. Annakin shouldn’t be proving himself yet or if he does, not in such a way that seems frivolous or silly. His piloting the ship in the final battle in ep. I seems goofy at best. Better to show him as a quiet child who has insights that his new masters miss, evidence that there is vision in him that the Jedi are lacking. This will lead into the crux, his rise and fall later on.

Problem: There is no villain for Annakin to fight, only the Emperor waiting in the wings, pulling strings. Since we see the story out of order, we know the outcome so the motivation and machination -have- to be better thought out. The ‘why’ has to be as interesting as the outcome since there can be no real surprise.

Solution: The ‘villain’ should be the Jedi. My idea is that the Jedi wax and wane or run in epicly long cycles. When Annakin comes along, they have long had peace, have long sat on their laurels. Their greatest time has passed and the Jedi we see are not the Jedi of legend, or, rather, there are very few of their kind left. They are blind, they sit on high seats and can’t see the street levels from their towers. From what little they can see, the people are safe, the greater good is being served. There are a few missions here and there, instances where they might flex their muscles and show off for being Jedi. At the point of time in which Annakin is born, -real- Jedi are nearly all gone. Qui-Gon Jinn is one of the few remaining and has the wisdom to know that something is wrong, even if he doesn’t know what it is. Flashes of insight from young Annakin, moments of that lost Jedi wisdom would work well with what little of his motivation we do see in ep. I.

As the films progress and Annakin’s training commences, he will learn to see wider and farther and it will be his growing dissatisfaction with what the Jedi are doing about the real problems of the real people of the Republic that will frustrate him and give Palpatine the niche in which to insert his claws. The seduction will be that, with greater power, not the failing ones of the Jedi, Annakin might do more good, might bring back the greatness of both the Jedi but the Republic. The wars that are erupting, and which are generally being used to distract the Jedi from the real problem are something Annakin could want to end, with real power, as a real wielder of The Force. Palpatine, knowing Annakin for what he is and represents, his clarity of vision and power with The Force would want nothing more than to corrupt the tool that would allow the Jedi to rise again. Also, the need to do good, to correct a very corrupt and broken system that is the Republic and knowing that it would take more than just one man to do so would be a lot better conflict and motivation than what was given in the films. Being able to see the bigger picture and to know that the Jedi are part of the problem, that he alone understands makes for a more understandably frustrating confict and makes it easier to understand why he would look for something, anything to help him in his task. It also underlies the real power of the Dark Side and makes Palpatine seem far more interesting and insidious than an old man with lightning bolts. This conflict would make Annakin more heroic so that when he does fall, it’s something the audience feels as opposed to sees.

Problem: The connection between Annakin and Luke is shaky at best. We know Luke cares, but there’s no real reason why. “He’s my father,” is all well and good, but is fairly thin a motivation. We know it because Luke says so, but there’s nothing other than that when it comes down to it. It’s all very noble and all rather hollow. And there’s something nearly totally built into the movies that remains untapped that would work better than what was depicted.

Solution: There is a pivotal, crucial scene in ep. IV, something that’s been ringing in my head since I first saw the movie. The moment when Obi Wan hands the light sabre to Luke is the most, or -could be- the most important scene in the whole story. Luke is not the chosen one. He is the first step for the Jedi -if- they rise again and start to regain the position they once held, restart the cycle, etc. Annakin sees what’s happening to him, that he’s been corrupted, that the job he thought he was doing by reaching into the dark side of The Force has made it impossible for him to do what needs to be done. It’s his last flash of clear insight, to realize what has been done to him and who is behind it. He’s falling down a hole and only at the end does he look up and realize it. And because he’s got insight, vision, he realizes that there’s only one way to correct this. He no longer has the strength and purity to put himself on the path. Killing himself would end all hope. The taint on his soul has thrust him from his position. The Dark Side has its grip on his heart forever unless something changes, Annakin will be its tool and a tool of Palpatine. So, somehow, as the last act he can commit in the name of the Light, he gives his light sabre to Obi Wan and begs him to give it to his son. Luke, he sees, is the path to his redemption, the only way he can get out from under the Emperor and the Dark Side, the only way to destroy his own master. If this act pays off, it will release the hold Palpatine has on the Republic and, hopefully himself. To me, giving up the light sabre to Obi Wan to hold for his son was an act of desperation and hope. THAT is the new hope.

Luke, in receiving the weapon from his father, might also be receiving the spark that ignites his acceptance of The Force as well as a fraction of the sight and vision necessary to chose and understand the path that’s been offered to him. In dreams, perhaps, or far away visions, he feels the torment of his father calling out to him. Driven by that, he then follows that same path but in a much clearer sense than he does now. Other scenes have more weight; when Luke fights ‘himself’ at the tree on Dagobah, how more horrifying is it to see him face his father and by using a weapon directly against him, realize that he is the villain? Luke’s is a more personal trial; to save his father’s soul. There are hints of this in the movie, “There is good in him; I feel it,” but no evidence to this effect, just the payoff at the end. Far better for us as the audience to see this goodness, to know where it comes from and what it is than to just allude to it and assume it’s there.

Problem: Luke becomes a very annoying character very quickly in the second film. Instead of being a hero of any depth, he becomes shallow, narrow minded and fails at almost everything he attempts.

Solution: Use the motivation above to instill a driving need for him to succeed and really, don’t make him so stupid, so blind, so unwilling to try and do things. Instead, it should be Yoda whose eyes are slowly opened at last, bit by bit by the wisdom instilled by Annakin through his son. Obi Wan, too has some of the wisdom of his teacher though not enough of it was passed on before Qui-Gon died. Qui-Gon was wise enough to sense the potential in Annakin but not wise enough to be the ‘chosen one.’ His position is still important, just to right of center. Yoda was once, perhaps, the chosen one himself. And perhaps if he was, training Luke can be his redemption, a last achievement before he just rolls over and dies in the last movie. Knowing that he had put things right, that now, at the final moment he can see what was clouded from him or so long would make a more powerful scene and ending for his character. It would also be a reflection for Annakin’s story arc, and that of all six movies as well.

This has been a long entry so far, and there are a lot of smaller points to fix. For example, remove Jar Jar. That one is an easy call. Make the Clone Wars more interesting, perhaps by having the Jedi trying to clone themselves, or even having already done so in an attempt to broaden their power and, supposedly, to keep more of the Republic in balance when instead, it’s the start of their downfall, a muddying of their power. (When there was only one movie, there was speculation that Obi Wan was in fact a clone and that his name was really OB-1. I find this has even more possibilities than his just being Annakin's default teacher and friend.) I could go on and on but I think the major point is here, that a stronger, narrower, more tightly focused central story arc was necessary in the Star Wars films, that motivation was something that was roughly thought out at best and that Annakin should have been the center of the whole deal. Discuss away.