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May 27, 2012

Ewokophobia: Part 2

Ewoks are so cute and kid-friendly. It’s obvious they were only included in Return of the Jedi to sell toys.

ewok village

"Bring me the head of the one they call Solo. I wish to drink wine from his skull."

The Shameless Star Wars Apologist has to concede at least one thing in this argument: the Ewoks were indeed very cute.

However, we’re having a little trouble figuring out what their cutest trait was. Was it the big puppy-dog eyes? Was it their cute, teddy bear shape? Was it their willingness to feast on human flesh? Was it their bizarre religious fanaticism centered around C-3PO? Was it the way their shaman wore that skull on his head? Or (this one gets my vote) was it their apparent willingness to kill stormtroopers without a second thought?

Couple that adorable, religious-zealot bloodlust with a unicorn and you got yourself a hot-selling toy. Someone get Hasbro on the phone!

See, for all the wailing and moaning about something cute ruining Jedi, there seems to be an unwillingness to acknowledge what appears to be a bit of a darker (albeit fuzzy) underbelly to these creatures. They’re not 100% cute and kid-friendly. Maybe you’d have a point if the Ewoks had whisked our heroes away to some Willy Wonka-esque candy factory and defeated the stormtroopers by showering them with rainbows and hugs. But that didn’t happen.

Regardless of the not-so-cute actions of the Ewoks, the other side of the argument goes that there’s simply no place for cute and fuzzy in a universe populated with so many grotesque and frightening creatures. How could teddy bears exist in a galaxy populated with slug-like Hutts and slobbering, clawed Rancors?

Well, it stands to reason that somewhere and somehow in a galaxy filled with so many planets and so many types of creatures, evolutionary processes will find a way to produce a few cute and cuddly ones. They’re not all going to look hideous and revolting.

Consider Chewbacca. He’s just a tall Ewok. In fact, George Lucas is on record saying that the Ewoks were created by re-imaginging Wookiees as a smaller race. Nobody complained about Wookiees being, if not cute and cuddly (and able to rip your arms off) at least non-hideous and non-grotesque.

A galaxy that can produce Wookiees can also produce Ewoks. And hey, if that sells toys and annoys fans, blame Charles Darwin.

May 13, 2012

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi master, mentor, serial liar.

What is up with Obi-Wan lying to Luke? First, he tells him his dad died. Then he tells Luke his father wanted him to have the lightsaber when he was old enough. Can’t the guy ever be honest?

Luke and Obi Wan

"So, Luke, did I ever tell you about that huge fish I caught?"

At first glance, it seems Obi-Wan is indeed full of creative twists on the truth, to put it politely. Just in the first few minutes after Team Luke arrives at Obi-Wan’s house, we have numerous questionable statements or assertions not supported by the events of the prequels. The biggest one involving the fate of Luke’s father is later addressed in Jedi so that won’t be touched here, but there are other questionable statements about Anakin’s lightsaber and the role of Luke’s uncle, Owen.

LUKE: No, my father didn’t fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.

BEN: That’s what your uncle told you. He didn’t hold with your
father’s ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved.

And then later….

BEN: I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did. […] Your father’s lightsaber. You can tell it belonged to your father because the initials D.V. are engraved into… er, never mind. That’s… um, just forget about that part.

“So, let’s get this straight,” says the non-apologist viewer of Star Wars. “Thanks to the revisions in the prequels, Obi-Wan is now telling Luke another lie about his father wanting Luke to have the lightsaber. How was that possible when, as we clearly see in Sith, Anakin had no idea Luke even existed?”

Before we get into why Obi-Wan isn’t necessarily lying, let’s consider what this dialogue originally meant to the viewer in the pre-prequel era.

These bits of dialogue serve the purpose of showing us that there are off-screen interactions between the characters in question and give us a vague glimpse into some background info on the characters. When Star Wars was originally released, we assumed Obi-Wan had discussed Luke’s future with Anakin. That seems the most reasonable conclusion but that’s not the only possible explanation for Obi-Wan’s comments.

Without doubt, the prequels change the context of Obi-Wan’s comments, but before and after the prequels, this dialogue is vague and alludes to things we don’t get to see. Just because Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith didn’t explicitly clarify all this doesn’t mean Obi-Wan is lying or that this is a plot hole.

As with many things in the original trilogy, you have to be willing to let go of your initial ideas about what all this was. We now have the whole story albeit not all of the specific details to explain Obi-Wan’s comments. Does that make it a plot hole? No. It wasn’t a plot hole before the prequels and we weren’t shown what it all meant, and it’s not one now just because some of the details have been clarified. You need to consider it in light of the events we know now and bridge the gaps with new assumptions to replace the old assumptions.

Consider this exchange along with Uncle Owen’s “crazy old wizard” and Obi-Wan’s “I hear you’ve become quite a good pilot yourself” and you have a definite implication that Obi-Wan and Owen have met and talked a few times during Luke’s youth, probably about Luke’s future. And we know that Obi-Wan is secretly keeping an eye on Luke, considering when and how (and perhaps if) to begin training him as a Jedi. Perhaps Obi-Wan tentatively brought up the idea of training Luke, and Owen put his foot down.

BEN: Nice weather we’re having today, eh, Owen?

OWEN: Of course, it’s nice weather. We have two freakin’ suns, moron!

BEN: Ah yes, yes. I see that. Now about Luke–

OWEN: I told you already, I won’t have this kid going off to ruin his life with excitement and adventure and sex with exotic alien chicks! He’s staying here where he’ll have a good life whining and being bored out his skull like the rest of us. Now go on and stay away from him.

BEN: But I trained his father and we fought against the separatists during the Clone Wars. That was a honorable life.

OWEN: And look what happened to him thanks to you and your training. Anakin would have been better off just staying here and not getting involved. No, keep your idealistic crusades to yourself.

BEN: Ah yes, speaking of which… his father and I were very good friends, fought together side-by-side. He told me many times that if anything ever happened to him, that he wanted me to give his lightsaber to a member of his family. I thought perhaps that should be Luke.

OWEN: Not happening.

BEN: Oh but I think you will allow Luke to have it.

OWEN: Nice try, but those mind tricks only work when I’ve sucked down a couple bottles of blue rum.

BEN: Good day, Owen.

Before the prequels, we could only piece together interactions between Obi-Wan and Owen in our imagination. The prequels don’t change that, even by not addressing these comments. They just cast the discussion in a new light and hint at a few more specifics without fully revealing them.

May 11, 2012

The ever-diminishing bad-assery of Han Solo

Oh, the eternal question that has vexed mankind from our earliest days of civilization (i.e., 1977): Who shot first, Han or Greedo?

han_solo_greedo

"Don't mind the gun, Solo. I'm just happy to see you."

Go ahead and answer that question but allow me to follow it up by paraphrasing the preeminent philosopher of our day, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, and respond that, no, the correct answer is “Who gives a shit?”

When George Lucas first unveiled his changes to the original Star Wars film, fans were up-in-arms immediately over the revisions, but in terms of sheer pants-shitting outcry, this one is the granddaddy of ’em all. This is the biggie. This is the one that had the power to send countless grown men screaming and crying back to the safety of their childhood memories where, like today, they were still virgins.

So what was the big deal anyway?

Well, in the original version of the film, Han Solo shoots before Greedo has any idea what’s going on. In the revision, Greedo shoots at Han just a split-second before Han takes him out.

And that is the controversial change, an alteration that occupies about one-quarter second of film time. No really. If you’re not a Star Wars fan, I’m seriously not making this up.

The argument against Greedo shooting first goes about like this. In the original film, Han Solo was a Super Awesome Bad Ass®. Despite having a gun pointed at him, Solo stayed cool and collected, if not downright flippant, traded a few not-so-friendly words with the diminutive green bounty hunter across the table from him and promptly ended the discussion with a Greedo-splitting blast that left the entire cantina in stunned silence. Then, with all eyes on him, Solo casually saunters out with enough attitude to fill ten Quentin Tarantino films, flips the bartender a coin (no tip!) and apologizes for the mess. All in a day’s work. For a bad ass, that is.

So, yeah. That’s some serious tough guy act. Even The Shameless Star Wars Apologist wonders how Solo manages to walk so easily in that scene when clearly he’s packing testicles of galactic proportions. (Perhaps that’s where the smuggling skills come in to play.)

The argument against the revision is that Greedo’s shot justifies Solo’s lethal actions and, therefore, dilutes the pure bad ass nature of Solo’s personality. But that doesn’t matter. Greedo has already provoked and justified Solo’s actions just by sitting down with his weapon drawn and aimed. Whether Greedo shoots at this point or not is irrelevant. The threat is there. The justification for Solo’s actions were in place from the original release of the film.

So how does that one shot from Greedo change anything we learn about Solo in that scene?

• Still cool as a Corellian cucumber, even at gunpoint? Check.

• Still trading tough words with the green bounty hunter? Check.

• Still manages to get his gun out with bad ass stealth? Check.

• Still kills Greedo with one shot? Check.

• Still saunters out like wasting someone was no big deal? Check.

• Still doesn’t tip? Check.

How did Greedo shooting first make Solo any less of a bad ass? It didn’t because it didn’t change the underlying situation in any significant way. And until Lucas changes the scene to make Solo plead like a coward for his life or digitally alters Greedo into a little schoolgirl, Han Solo will continue to be the Super Awesome Bad Ass® he always was.

January 25, 2011

Who’s your mommy?

How could George Lucas have screwed up Leia’s backstory so badly? In Return of the Jedi, Leia can remember having been with Padme, but in Revenge of the Sith Padme dies mere moments after Leia is born.

"Do you remember your mother? Your real mother... you know, the one that croaked."

Many hardcore Star Wars geeks left the theaters after seeing the births at the end of Sith wondering if George Lucas had just committed the most glaring and unforgivable retcon in the history of cinema. (Also, some of them left wondering how exactly a baby gets into a lady’s tummy in the first place, but we’ll leave that for another post entirely.)

At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. In Jedi, Leia appears to be perfectly aware of who her mother was and even briefly describes her when prompted by Luke during their discussion in Ewokopolis. How could any of that make any sense if Padme had been dead this whole time?

Such a Jabba-sized paradox was unthinkable and a lot of pants-wetting explanations spilled out across Internet discussion forums afterward. Some tried to explain it as Leia confusing memories of Padme with those of her adopted mother. Others insisted that the newborn infant Leia was able to take away memories of her dying mother. Still others claimed her adopted father Bail Organa must have passed along stories and vacation snapshots of Padme to the young Leia. None of those explanations make any sense, however, and most create more questions than they answer.

The whole issue has since gone on to become one of the most contentious topics on Star Wars discussion forums with comments veering from admirable but ham-handed attempts to defend George Lucas’ decision to outright calls for his head on a silver platter. But believe it or not, there is a perfectly good explanation that involves no re-writing of Jedi and makes sense in the context of the movies.

The Shameless Star Wars Apologist believes Lucas’ intention with the birth scene in Sith was to cast that scene in Jedi in a new light. And the only explanation that makes sense is that Leia had (as a child) tapped into the latent force abilities to which Luke alludes in that very scene. Yes, you read right. Leia gathered memories and mental images of Padme through the force… without even knowing it. She has no other explanation for that other than to assume they are memories.

You don’t buy it, do you?

Well, let’s first look at how much support there is that Leia actually knew Padme in the flesh. She doesn’t outrightly say so in Jedi.

LUKE
Do you remember your mother, your real mother?

LEIA
Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.

LUKE
What do you remember?

LEIA
Just images, really. Feelings.

LUKE
Tell me.

LEIA
She was very beautiful. Kind but… sad. Oh, and she was crazy hot too. I mean, instantly-increase-the-sperm-count-in-legions-of-fanboys hot.

So, no recollections of long strolls on the Alderaanian beaches. No lazy afternoons frolicking in the parks. No shopping trips to Naboo. Just images and feelings, exactly the kind of things Force users can tap into.

There is nothing in the movies that contradicts the possibility of Leia sensing who Padme was through her latent force abilities. In fact, there’s actually a lot there that supports it.

We know that children with a high midichlorian count can unknowingly access Force powers. Qui-Gonn refers to children doing that inadvertently when he talks to Anakin’s mother in The Phantom Menace, and we also learn in the other movies that family members have a special bond (e.g., Vader sensing Luke in Jedi when the Emperor could not; both Vader and Luke figuring out Leia’s real identity; Luke and Leia establishing that spontaneous mental contact at the end of Empire; Luke and Leia swapping spittle in Empire… er, wait… that’s a whole other type of family bonding we’re not going to touch right now; etc.)

We know force users can sense friends and loved ones, future and past. Yoda himself says in Empire that “Through the force, things you will see, other places, the future, the past… old friends long gone.”

So there it is. Lucas re-cast Leia’s memories in Jedi as force-induced. She likely dreamed of Padme as a child (as Anakin dreamt of his mother’s fate) and mistakes those as memories in her adulthood.

Still not buying it, are you?

Part of the problem here is that many of us saw Jedi in the 80s and walked out with assumptions about Leia’s apparent memories of Padme. But, as you can see from the quoted dialog, those were just assumptions. There’s no solid evidence that Leia actually knew Padme in person. The ending of Sith challenges us to let go of those original assumptions about that scene and try to view it in a new way.

Inevitably, some will reject this explanation. But all in all, it’s a richer and more interesting explanation for Leia’s memories than seeing Revenge of the Sith end with Padme and Leia walking off hand-in-hand into the twin sunsets. This new angle adds a dimension to Leia’s character and makes that scene in Jedi a little more cohesive, given that Luke is trying to explain her latent force powers to her as well as that moment where she seems suddenly to understand. (“I know. Somehow, I’ve always known.”)

So anyway, for some it’s a terrible plot hole gaping where their childhood memories used to be. For others, it’s a new facet to a scene we thought was very straightforward when we first saw it.

January 20, 2011

Not so tough now, are ya, Vader?

"You can kiss the dark side of my ass, Vader."

Darth Vader is so lame in Jedi. At the end of the movie, he provokes Luke into attacking him but then is overpowered by Luke swinging his lightsaber around like a lunatic and leaving himself wide open.

That’s true. Vader misses several opportunities to slash Luke into two whiny halves at that moment, but let’s remember what Vader is really trying to accomplish at that point. Is he trying to kill Luke? No.

During their duel in Empire, Vader tells Luke that together they can defeat the Emperor and rule as father and son. At that point in Jedi, Vader is ostensibly carrying out the wishes of the Emperor in trying to goad Luke to enough anger that he’ll slip over to the dark side. But secretly, he’s planning to overthrow his master and intall himself in the Emperor’s sit-n-spin with Little Luke by his side.

The Shameless Star Wars Apologist maintains that Vader was overcome by the intensity of Luke’s anger which, combined with an effort to not hurt Luke, led to his fall.

This, by the way, is not such a farfetched theory. Think carefully about what Palpatine does when Luke successfully batters Vader to the floor and ginsus off his robotic hand. Is the Emperor upset? No, he’s absolutely giddy and, convinced that Luke has gone over to the dark side, reveals his true plan, to kill off Vader and take on Luke as his new apprentice. (“Strike him down and take your father’s place by my side.”)

The whole let’s-get-Luke-to-join-our-club thing was a ruse. The Emperor was planning to kill Vader, exactly the same way Vader had planned to kill his master.

So, yes, it’s partly right that Vader foregoes opportunities to cut Luke down, but that was intentional.

January 6, 2010

Are you a good Anakin or an evil Anakin?

"He must DIE, Mr. Thorn!"

"Yippee! I won the podrace... and now we celebrate by feasting on the blood of orphans."

There is no excuse for making Darth Vader shout “Yippee!!!”

First of all, I’ve seen the Star Wars movies countless times and Darth Vader never once shouts “Yippee!!!” He does mutter it under his mechanical breath after the destruction of Alderaan but hey, can you blame him? That planet blowing up was, like, soooooo awesome.

Presumably this gripe refers to the moment in The Phantom Menace when Anakin, ostensibly a child at this point in the story, expresses his joy, as we might logically assume in a manner appropriate to, you know, a child. A child which is, need I remind you, what he is.

Apparently some viewers feel Anakin needed to be darker, more sinister, or in the inimitable words of Patton Oswalt, “like some Damien Omen kid, like evil and killing people with his mind and shit like that.”

But how would that make any sense? We see at the end of the entire saga that Vader is redeemed by his son. That implies that Vader was good at some point in his past. You’d find a redemption story more believable if he was evil incarnate from birth? No, of course not. Pure evil couldn’t be saved. It wouldn’t make sense.

And not only would it not make sense, but it would make for a very unsatisfactory ending. Why then would a purely evil character care enough about his own son to betray his master? The entire story would fall apart. A good, childlike Anakin is the foundation of the story. Remove that and it all topples and everything else is rendered less credible or cartoony.

January 5, 2010

Character assassination

"You know, Padme, they say sex with your boyfriend's mentor builds character."

"You know, Padme, they say sex with your boyfriend's mentor builds character."

What the Star Wars prequels need is a soul. They need characters you care about and real character development.

There was plenty of character development in the prequels, but people were so fixated on the stuff they didn’t like that they ignored the good things.

One of the Shameless Star Wars Apologist’s favorite moments in all of the prequel films is the scene in Revenge of the Sith where Obi-Wan tries to get Padme to tell him where Anakin has gone and, in the process, figures out that Padme is pregnant. That whole scene is one of the best character moments in all the Star Wars films—quiet and understated and you get revelations about each of the characters that fundamentally change their relationship as well as changing the course of events to come.

And then you have the weird, drawn-out moments where Anakin and Padme are shown thinking about their lives and what’s going on.

And Palpatine trying to pull Anakin to the dark side by telling him lies about the Jedi, playing on his fears and uncertainties.

Those are all great character moments where you get a real sense of the connections between these people and how they affect and manipulate each other. There’s a lot to like about the prequels in that regard but too many nerds crying in their Mountain Dew about Jar Jar and midichlorians can drown that out.

Any color you like

"But with my blade all washed-out, I can't even see... how am I supposed to fight?"

"But with my blade all washed-out, I can't even see... how am I supposed to fight?"

Why can’t George Lucas standardize the color of the lightsabers across all the episodes?

It’s surprising how often this earth-shatteringly important issue comes up—why do the appearance of lightsabers in the original trilogy differ so much from the appearance in the prequels?

The changing appearance of the lightsabers had a lot to do with how you were seeing it and the environment, the angle, the lighting around it, etc. That still seems the simplest and most satisfactory answer, but if you require a more concrete explanation, then consider that sabers age and need maintenence to keep them in good condition. When Obi-Wan turns over Anakin’s lightsaber to Luke, it has been sitting there unused for over 20 years.

Think about how your computer or microwave oven might perform after 20 years of disuse. Perhaps that original blue seen in the prequels has grown dull over time due to the aging of the components in the weapon.

What happens on Tatooine, stays on Tatooine…

"Bye, Threepio. Hope to see you around. Maybe we can get together and freeze some smugglers in carbonite or something."

"Bye, Threepio. Hope to see you around. Maybe we can get together and freeze some smugglers in carbonite or something."

If Anakin was born on Tatooine, built C-3P0 and knew R2-D2, how come he never acknowledges these things as Darth Vader? It’s not realistic.

First of all, how or why do you think he should react to all these things? If he even still recognizes Threepio or Artoo at all, he probably doesn’t care at that point. And what’s he supposed to do? Buy them a drink and reminisce with them about the good ol’ days?

Not only is he a vastly different man at that point, but there’s approximately a 20 year gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Do you remember all the people who passed through your life 20 years ago? And consider that in the Star Wars universe, droids are fairly common things, nothing special. It would be a little like you remembering what kind of refrigerator or blender you had 20 years ago. (Think hard. Can you remember either of those? Would you recognize them today?) Further, would you get all nostalgic and emotional about seeing them again. Very unlikely.

When The Phantom Menace came out, there was a lot of needless wailing and crying about the problems that details in the prequels introduce, but none of them were really problematic at all. One of those frequently cited “problems” was that if Anakin were born on Tattooine, why does he not seem to acknowledge or remember it in A New Hope when he’s capturing Leia.

Umm… because maybe he was a litle preoccupied at the time. The task at that point for Vader is to retrieve the stolen Death Star plans, not to reminisce about a time and place he likely wanted to forget anyway.

Oh, and possibly because the scenes in A New Hope would play something like this:

“Comander, tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans, and bring me the prisoners. I want them ALIVE… oh and did I mention that I grew up here on Tattooine? Yeah, lovely place, lots of fun memories and… oh! The pod races. Sigh…”

So, to some extent, prequel characters recognizing each other would seem a bit of a stretch anyway. The whole issue is nullified by time and memory.

Waiting for Yoda

"Um... Obi-Wan, you think you can give me a hand here?"

"Um... Obi-Wan, you think you can give me a hand here?"

Why did Obi-Wan wait so long to tell Luke of Yoda? Why didn’t he tell him before going off to face Vader?

Knowing what Obi-Wan knows, that he can still communicate with Luke after his own death, it actually wouldn’t make much sense to waste time telling Luke about Yoda. It makes sense that he would return in Empire to direct Luke when the time is appropriate.

Besides, there really isn’t any moment where Obi-Wan could have told Luke about Yoda once they had arrived at the Death Star. When he rushes off to release the Millennium Falcon, there is a sense of urgency and little time for talk. He needs to get the Falcon free so they can escape and quickly. He hardly has time to tell Luke about Yoda. So, the idea that he wouldn’t necessarily spill it all there makes sense in the context of the story.

Some fans argue that Obi-Wan must have communicated with Luke in the years leading up to Empire, but there’s no evidence for that. Not only does that argument lack evidence but Luke looks very suprised to see Ben again.

And what if, for sake of argument, Obi-Wan had appeared prior? Perhaps he had his own reasons for waiting. Perhaps Luke wasn’t mature enough or maybe Obi-Wan and Yoda disagreed on whether he was ready or not (possible considering the disagreement between them later on.)

By the way, the behind-the-scenes answer is that George Lucas came up with the idea of Yoda because he had killed off Obi-Wan and had to create a new Jedi to guide Luke. Obi-Wan didn’t tell Luke about Yoda before rushing off in A New Hope quite simply because Yoda didn’t exist yet. However, Lucas couldn’t have introduced Yoda if it didn’t seem realistic that he should be introduced at this time (regardless of the actual storytelling mechanics behind it all.)

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