This post is going to be something different, an on-going series that I will be continuously updating to answer the haters’ complaints about George Lucas and the Star Wars films.
All the Lucas-bashing reminds me of the way I was bullied as a kid. Between 6th and 8th grade, I was mercilessly teased by pretty much the entire class, because hating on Nick was the “cool thing to do.” Nobody ever rushed to my defense for fear of being attacked in the same way. But Lucas is rich and famous, you say. He can take it. But that is no excuse for being a jerk. Someday, I may become a rich and famous writer, and I certainly don’t want that kind of hatred directed at me. What is entirely indefensible, however, is hating on a guy who has given so much joy to my generation.
The thing is, the hate is entirely unfounded. It’s not as if Lucas did something criminal, like raping someone, or taking an underage bride. There are certainly worse directors out there. Like I stated in an earlier post, a lot of it has to do with nostalgia and unmet expectations, but another big part is the Hollywood system. Lucas has always been an outsider, and over the years, his staunch independence has made for enemies. The big studios have wanted nothing more than to tear this man down. Now, while the Star Wars prequels were not everyone’s cup of Bantha milk, they did earn much critical and commercial success. Over time, however, a small but vocal minority grew, on the big new playground called the Internet, and the larger media quickly latched on to it. A beloved filmmaker failing miserably made for some great headlines, and from there, the whole thing escalated into what I can only describe as a lynch mob.
Personally, I could care less for public opinion. I like what I like, the prequel films included, despite their flaws. In fact, you can say the prequels turned me into a fan. At any rate, it is a mistake to judge a work of art in terms of flaws. Art isn’t science. Instead, we should be looking at the positives, at how the artwork makes us feel, how it stirs us emotionally and intellectually. When I saw The Phantom Menace in ’99, it blew me away precisely because of what it did right. I loved seeing the alien vistas of Naboo and Coruscant, the many space-ships and aliens, and the first ever CGI characters put to film, Jar Jar and Watto and Sebulba. I was thrilled by the pod-race, the three-way lightsaber duel, and I adored the music, especially the operatic “Duel of the Fates,” some of John Williams’ best. These kinds of things you didn’t often see in movies, even in Sci-Fi flicks, which around that time were almost always gloomy and depressing. The Star Wars galaxy was one I wanted to live in, the world of Aliens and Terminator or The Matrix, not so much. But the haters didn’t seem to get the same enjoyment as I did. They focused entirely on the negatives, dissecting each film for anything—and I mean anything—to gripe about.
Acting and dialogue aside, just how bad are these stories, really? Are all the criticisms justified, or does Lucas simply demand a little more attention from the viewer? I aim to answer.
Q: When Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi return from Naboo with news of a blockade, why doesn’t the Senate believe them? What was the point of sending two Jedi to investigate if the Senate can do nothing about it?
A: In an allegorical way, Lucas is critiquing ineffectual government. The Senate doesn’t accept the Jedi’s testimony for the same reason Congress doesn’t “believe” 99% of scientists when it comes to climate change. More importantly, this establishes that there is corruption in the Senate, without which Palpatine could not have seized power. The story of the prequels is the story of a fallen democracy, orchestrated by a Sith Lord. This is his first step to power. By arranging for the Trade Federation blockade of his own planet of Naboo, Palpatine convinces the Senate of the chancellor’s impotence, calling for a vote of “no confidence,” so that he can assume power.
Q: OK, but why then does Palpatine, acting secretly as Darth Sidious, order the Neimoidians to kill the Jedi? If he wants to gain a sympathy vote in the Senate, shouldn’t he want them to escape, to report what they have found?
A: To become chancellor, Palpatine needs to do two things: 1) He needs to create a crisis (the blockade of his home planet) and 2) He needs to prove that the Senate is both corrupt and ineffectual. The last thing Palpatine wants is a quick resolution to the conflict. By killing the Jedi, he is preventing that from happening. Remember, the Neimoidians feared the Jedi would “force a settlement.” If such a thing were to occur, there would be no need for new leadership, as the problem would have been resolved before it even began. When the Trade Federation representative later states, “There is no proof!” this is precisely what Palpatine is relying upon. He wants endless debating and uncertainty, something he can promise “to put an end to,” when he becomes chancellor.
Q: OK, fine, but what is all this talk about the queen signing a treaty? Why would Palpatine want this, if he intends to create conflict?
A: Keep in mind, we do not fully understand all of Palpatine’s machinations. Lucas likes to keep things vague in all his films, especially in THX1138, to maintain a sense of mystery, a sense we are looking at a larger world, one that continues to exist off camera. What we do know, however, is that Palpatine is not prepared for “all out war,” because the clone army he has ordered has another ten years to mature. Most likely, he needs the treaty to resolve the conflict. After all, the invasion is nothing more than a ruse to power. Once that power is attained, he needs to prove himself an effective leader. What better way to do that than to end the conflict quickly and without violence?
Q. The idea of midichlorians is “a clumsy retcon that screws up an explanation we already had.” The Force is no longer magical, it is just a disease.
A. If you type “midichlorians” into a search engine, you’ll find a long list of blogs attacking the concept. Here is a direct quote, “Arguably the worst scene in all of Star Wars. A great example of failing to understand the material you’re making a prequel to. Some bad writing, George…” Problem is, this is a straw-man fallacy, attacking an idea that was never put forth in the first place. So, let’s break this down:
- In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda describes the Force by FIRST saying, “Life creates it. Makes it grow.” So, from as far back as 1980, we are given the idea that physical life forms both create and make the Force grow.
- In Return of the Jedi, Luke says to Leia, “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it.” In this scene, Luke implies that the Force is more than a spiritual belief system, that there is a genetic component to it. If it were entirely spiritual, with no connection to physical matter, it could not have been “passed on” from generation to generation.
- In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon tests Anakin’s blood for midichlorians, and sends the data to Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan remarks, “the readings are off the chart! Even Master Yoda doesn’t have a count that high.” But now here is the important part: Obi-Wan then asks, “What does that mean?” Qui-Gon says he doesn’t know. He could have said, “it means he is more powerful than any Jedi,” but this is not the case. Why? Because midichlorians DO NOT = the Force.
- So, what does the movie actually say midichlorians are? Anakin asks Qui-Gon this question directly, “I’ve been wondering, what are midichlorians?” to which he responds, “Midichlorians are a microscopic life form that reside in all living cells, and we are symbionts with them, life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midichlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force.” Now, where in this explanation does he say midichlorians ARE the Force? Nowhere. Where does he say that midichlorians give a Jedi his powers? Nowhere. All he says is, midichlorians give us knowledge of the Force. That’s it. Nothing more. And for this reason, someone on YouTube wrote, “That little fucking shit ruined the Star Wars trilogy. Fuck him.”
Q: Why did the prequels look so different than the originals? All the ships look sleek and more advanced. Shouldn’t things have improved by the time of Episode IV?
A: OK, there are many things to consider here.
- First and foremost, technology does not always advance with the passage of time. Any historian can tell you the Roman Empire was far more advanced than medieval Europe. While the Ancient Greeks had successfully calculated the circumference of the Earth, 1500 years later, Columbus argued (erroneously) that he could sail from Europe to India by going west.
- The galaxy is a big, big place, the scale of which greatly dwarfs anything we can imagine here on Earth. There are literally billions of stars in any one galaxy, and in Star Wars, potentially hundreds of millions of civilizations. Point being, just as you would not be surprised to find a great difference in technology between modern day subsaharan Africa and New York, you should not be surprised to see it between locations in Star Wars. In fact, the distances between planets should only exacerbate these differences. So, while ships on Tatooine look clunky, those on Naboo may look more refined.
- Technology has more to do with economy than time. Compare cars in Cuba or in Russia to those produced in Japan or Germany. Visiting a communist country, you might feel you’ve traveled fifty years into the past. It is a dark time when the Empire takes over. With restrictions on freedoms come restrictions on innovation and commerce. This makes for clunky spaceships.
- In A New Hope, the Millennium Falcon is called “a piece of junk” by Luke Skywalker, and Leia says to Han, “You’re getting in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.” At the time, we had no idea what a “good looking” spaceship might look like. What would make Leia say the opposite, “Woo-hoo, we’re riding in style!” Now we have the answer. The opposite to “the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” is the Naboo star cruiser, or something like it.
- Cinematically speaking, the more elegant ships of the prequel trilogy convey a more “civilized age,” before “the dark times,” before “the Empire.” Basically, after the Empire took over, everything went to shit.
If you have any questions or complaints about the Star Wars films you’d like answered, please don’t hesitate to comment!