Some thoughts on “Star Wars,” both the original 1977 film, and the trilogy(-ies):
OBI-WAN AS THE DRIVING FORCE
The story of “A New Hope” (1977) moves forward in four distinct phases.
The first phase involves Obi-Wan Kenobi. He’s not only the most mysterious character in the early stage of the story (or the first act), he’s the one whose “secret identity” drives the plot forward. Artoo has a message for him; how does he get him this message? Stage One: Get Obi-Wan the secret message.
The second involves getting Obi-Wan off of Tatooine. Luke has a hand in it, but a very minor one, and the droids are literally just along for the ride. Obi-Wan is responsible for everything else that happens, from evading the Stormtroopers looking for them, to making the deal with Han Solo. Stage Two: Leaving Tatooine.
The third involves recuing the Princess. To be honest, Leia doesn’t play much of a role in the plot. She’s sort of a human McGuffin, but nonetheless important to the third act. Stage Three: Rescue the Princess.
The fourth requires the Rebels to blow up the Death Star. This is the final, high-stakes act of the film, its climactic moment, and represents a natural progression from the first phase (which is more personal and character-oriented) to the last (which involves literally the fate of the entire galaxy). At each stage of the story, the stakes are increased, affecting more and more characters, so that when Luke takes that crucial shot at the Death Star portal, the pressure to save everyone (and release tension) is enormous. Stage Four: Blow up the Death Star.
All four phase correlate with the proper structure of any four-act screenplay and constitute a beginning, middle and end.
Luke Skywalker actually plays a minor role in all of this up until the moment Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to Darth Vader’s killing blow. He’s a kid, a farm boy who has no idea what is going on in the galaxy. The droids come to him by accident; he’s forced to go looking for an errant Artoo, who leads him, somewhat randomly, to Obi-Wan. Luke drives nothing in the story, he is not a major actor. Only when Obi-Wan decides to sacrifice himself does Luke come into his own – and only then because he’s forced to.
The other characters in the story are basically supporting actors to Obi-Wan. Han Solo does not behave heroically until the very end, when he decides to go back and help Luke fight the Death Star; Princess Leia exists only to record the message delivered to Obi-Wan and, later, reward Luke and Han for blowing up the Death Star; Artoo and Threepio, while witnesses to the entire story, basically receded into the background, affecting nothing; Chewy is only Han’s right-hand man; and Darth Vader is just the bad guy, whose only consequential action is cutting down Obi-Wan and, in the process, forcing Luke to grow up and make his own decisions.
The central character in “A New Hope” is Obi-Wan; the entire story revolves around A) finding out who he is; B) learning his backstory; C) his presenting Luke with Anakin’s lightsaber; and D) propelling Luke forward into adulthood and enabling him to use the Force for the greater good. The other characters, lovable as they are, play only second-to-third-tier roles.
ANAKIN IS QUI-GON’S SON
The biggest mystery in “Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” (1999) is the lineage of Anakin Skywalker – specifically, who is his father?
My theory: Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson, is Anakin’s father.
The basis of this idea is not even suggested in the film; I’m only reading between the lines. But there are plenty of lines to read between.
First, Qui-Gon himself is portrayed as something of a rogue Jedi (and we all know that Jedi are monkish characters sworn to uphold the Jedi Order – marriage and sexual relations with other humans and/or species are strictly forbidden). Qui-Gon’s actions are determined only by the Force. He shrugs off the dictates of the Jedi Council if they come into conduct with his own interpretation of the Will of the Force. Obi-Wan, his padawan learner (or rookie Jedi) points this out several times, and Qui-Gon himself suggests he’s quite open to making up his own mind on important matters. (Sidebar: Is Qui-Gon a Sith? I don’t think so. I think he’s just in tune with the Force.)
So we have a rogue Jedi whose decisions are adaptable to the Will of the Force. Isn’t it possible that Qui-Gon landed on Tatooine at some point before “Phantom Menace” and, for whatever reason, had relations with a slave woman named Shmi, who gave birth to a son? Qui-Gon could easily have followed the reasoning that the Force required it to happen. He would have gone off on his own adventures, either promising Shmi he would return for their son, or simply keeping that decision to himself, until the proper time. What I’m saying is, Qui-Gon intentionally sired a child on Tatooine and then left him there for a number of years, forgotten, yet protected from the Jedi Council.
It is convenient that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, fleeing the planet Naboo, find Tatooine nearby and decide it’s the best place to hide. Qui-Gon seems to know how to find Anakin, working as a slave-apprentice (a role he will have all his adult life) for a disgusting merchant-bug. Qui-Gon seems to recognize Anakin, though he never explicitly says so, and Anakin takes to him immediately. When he realizes Anakin is strong in the Force, Qui-Gon instantly wants to take the boy away and train him as a Jedi. Why? Because Anakin is his son, and Qui-Gon thinks he will “bring balance to the Force.”
None of this is spoken in the film, but there is a scene between Qui-Gon and Shmi that is suggestive in what they don’t say. Indeed, Shmi even tells Qui-Gon that Anakin was a “virgin birth,” that there “was no father.” Well, this is A) impossible and B) too much of a Christ reference to make sense in the context of “Star Wars.” (The saga is a lot of things, but a Christian parable it is not.) This story is not about Jesus; it’s about Qui-Gon retrieving his son from exile and putting him squarely in the middle of the action.
Anakin seems awfully excited about leaving Tatooine to embark on a great adventure, but he’s also sad about leaving his mother. Why isn’t the question of her abandonment dealt with more in the story? I hate to say it, but that is probably because it was supposed to happen. Qui-Gon couldn’t possibly show up with a wife (Obi-Wan would never stand for it!), and I theorize that that was part of the deal all along – Qui-Gon would come back for the boy, and the boy alone. Unfortunately, the separation caused the child mental anguish that would later transform him into Darth Vader.
For me, this theory makes not only a lot of sense but explains a lot of Anakin’s future development. If Qui-Gon was a rogue Jedi, then so was Anakin – he was destined to go rogue, it was in his blood. Also, Anakin, in addition to making a terrific warrior, seems to have an affinity for those in authority, quickly aligning himself with a dictator. Darth Vader himself is nothing more than a hatchet man for the Emperor, killing Jedi and murdering co-conspirators – in other words, a slave. We see the two halves of Anakin’s ancestry expressed in the actions of Vader.
I could be wrong, but this makes the most sense to me. Qui-Gon is Luke’s grandfather. (And if you look closely at Luke’s grooming and costume at the end of “The Force Awakens,” he looks just like his granddad.)
THE INFLUENCE OF STAR WARS
“Star Wars” might not be the most emotionally deep or profoundly intellectual story of our time, but it is one of the great stories that’s still talked about – and told – 40 years after it burst onto the scene in 1977.
Think about it – when I was an 8-year-old kid, “Star Wars” was not only around but the hottest thing in the universe. There were books, toys, albums, posters, TV shows, and, yes, movies made from George Lucas’ epoch-defining creation. It influenced everything you saw. My friends and I played “Star Wars” at each other’s houses. Anybody who had the latest “Star Wars”-related merchandise – notebooks, lunch boxes, action figures, and clothes – was instantly the coolest kid on the block. To quote Bill Murray, it was “Star Wars – nothing but Star Wars – all of the time!”
Today, 40 years later, I am going to see a brand-new “Star Wars” movie (“Rogue One”) on the big screen. I feel like a kid again. With all that’s going on in the news right now (tensions with China and Russia, political skullduggery and uncertainty), I could use the escape. (Whether “Rogue One,” with its images of war, betrayal and violence, offers much of an escape, remains to be seen!) We’ll see Darth Vader on the screen once again, as well as Grand Moff Tarkin and the Death Star, along with old heroes from the Rebel Alliance. If a time machine exists, it’s called “Star Wars” – what once was old, is new again.
I know “Star Wars” isn’t Shakespeare. I know it’s not the Bible. I know it was not written by a Mark Twain or an Ernest Hemingway or a Marcel Proust. It is, however, the oldest and best-loved modern-day “fairy tale” of my lifetime, and I’m 47 years old. “Star Wars” has had an impact on popular culture – in the United States and the world – for going on half a century. Did anyone in 1977 think for a moment that 40 years later, people would still be in love with “Star Wars”? Well … I kind of think so, yeah!
There are many ways “Star Wars” has had such a lasting impact on culture, literature, music, art, etc. When people went to see the first movie Back in the Day, they had a lot to digest, consider and talk about. There was so much that no one had ever seen before. A golden robot. A giant dressed all in black. Lightsabers. The very names, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. A Wookie. The Millennium Falcon. A “death star.” And, of course, the Force. It was the great WTF moment of cinema.
I know the movie was strictly intended as fun entertainment, but for the first time, we got a glimpse into true cinematic world-building. The only previous example of this was “Star Trek,” which had already been canceled on NBC. Not even Kubrick’s sensational “2001” could touch the enormous galactic mythology that “Star Wars” merely suggested. There were whole worlds filled with characters whose backstories seemed to dwarf, at least rival, Homer or the Bible itself. Best of all, we could fill our own imaginations with their adventures. How did Darth Vader end up behind that mask? How did Han end up owning the Millennium Falcon? What was the true nature of the Force? All questions for kids like us to answer.
It’s possible, I know, for some people, many in my own age range, to dislike or feel indifferent toward “Star Wars.” That’s fine. To each his own. I kind of feel sorry for them, though, and I don’t often say that. I think it’s great for people to like and pursue their own interests, as long as they don’t condescend to me and mine. Saying “I feel sorry for someone” because they don’t like the same books, music or movies I like, is the very definition of condescension. Yet I can’t help it in the case of people who are “Star Wars”-intolerant.
My dad was one of those people. He slept through the first “Star Wars,” the first time I saw it. I guess it just wasn’t for him. Again, that’s fine, but “Star Wars” was one way that Dad and I could have bonded when I was young. I loved it, but Dad was indifferent, even hostile, towards it. He didn’t see what I saw in it, and I think that’s kind of a shame. “Star Wars” has a lot to say about the relationship between fathers and sons … especially relationships that aren’t so good, that need mending. Our relationship definitely needed some work, and “Star Wars” might have, at one time, been a positive step in that process. Dad, however, just wasn’t interested. To him, it was kids’ stuff.
Sure, it’s kids’ stuff, especially when you talk about the Ewoks. (For the record, I dislike Ewoks – Jar Jar is far more interesting.) But it has something to say about the differences between adulthood and youth, and about the people who come into, and sometimes leave, our lives. Those people can make a lasting impact; how they influence us, can determine how we go forward and influence others. All that is more is wrapped up in “Star Wars,” which doesn’t always have the greatest dialogue you’ve ever heard, but does somehow make a statement about how old grudges – and the possibility for redemption – are handed down from one generation to the next. I think that’s the biggest thing we all keyed in on when we first sat down with our popcorn to watch the first “Star Wars” in the summer of 1977 – that we were watching the first truly spiritual movie. That spirit lives on.