Thursday, November 12, 2015

Star Wars Villains

MikeD over at Grim's brings up the discussion of who the good guys are in Star Wars, and links to a not-very-good article about the same at The Federalist.  I am not much interested in the series other that the first three movies, which are episodes 4, 5, and 6 in the canon.  I saw Episode 1 and found it mostly irritating, albeit with some interesting moments.

At one level, I can't believe this needs explaining. The Rebels are the good guys.  The Jedi are the good guys. The music and the costumes didn't give that away?

But, but, but, you say.  Guys who destroy whole planets get instantly accepted back into the Jedi fold just for renouncing evil to be pals with their son?  An hereditary elite gets to play by different moral rules than mere commoners?  Jedi can lie, deceive, and manipulate if it's in a good cause?

Let me explain this to you. The whole morality of the tales is ambiguous and contradictory because Lucas's moral core that he really believes is different from what he would say out loud.  He doesn't know that because he is not very sophisticated, morally.  He tells hero stories.  He is really, really good at that, among the best ever, across genres and decades.  He shows the good guys as good and the bad guys as bad, and can show moments of uncertainty and temptation that are not very complicated.  That's his job.

The Force is sometimes rather Christian, sometimes rather unChristian, sometimes rather Eastern, sometimes more Western, because Lucas has not really thought these things out very clearly.  He wrote the first story with some idea what else he wanted to do in the next two movies, and even vaguer ideas of what had happened in the prequels and sequels.  But there was always a chance that the original Star Wars would not take off and be a stand-alone adventure forever.  As he actually got to make those movies, all sorts of contradictions started arising, and he had to rewrite and rework.  How good people can turn evil is very messy, because he doesn't have the theological grounding to understand that.  So he just does cool story stuff instead.

Related:  In the Piers Anthony Xanth novels, the underpinning of the meaning and magic of Xanth is explained in the first book with a reveal at the end.  A demon is sitting and playing some fully arbitrary game with other demons, and where he sits, magic comes off him and affects a region of our little planet.  A very arbitrary, meaningless universe, complete with demons who are not actually evil evil, just rather unsympathetic to anything but themselves.  There's a bit of slap-in-the-face to Christians in this picture, but as it is only a bit of the book, it did not prevent many young fantasy geeks who happened to be Christians from enjoying it.  Piers kept writing.  As he wrote adventures, the heroes kept needing causes and obstacles, and the obstacles had to be villainous because, well, the heroes were heroes. He likes puns, he likes humor; the evils only gradually became evil.

Until we get to Ogre, Ogre, and Night Mare, where Anthony starts finding himself over his head, with his cute characters suddenly facing real sacrifice, real oblivion, and in spite of himself, a real vision for what evil actually is. No meaningless demons playing mathematical games anymore.  He has to confront what he really believes.  (Don't worry, he mostly runs away from it in fear. Back to puns and sex jokes again in just another book or two.) 

So Lucas doesn't really know what he believes, he just has some things he sort of intuits, and roots for good guys. Trying to discern what the real morality is is looking for mare's nests.  The Good Guys are the good guys, and if that doesn't stand up to analysis, it's not meant to.  It's just supposed to be magic, and heroic, and courageous.  And about as good at that as anyone has ever been.

It's Goethe's Three Questions all over again.


james said...

The "slap in the face" got longer and longer as the series went on. Plus he started to run out of regular fantasy and tried more Greek mythology and couldn't carry that as well. The books and jokes felt forced. After a while I couldn't be bothered.

WRT Star Wars: The Phantom Edit was competent, and I suppose if one edited down the video game commercials and dubbed in some good dialog the others might be OK too.

I probably won't see the new release, but I was glad to see that the writers were chucking the whole "Expanded Universe." Consistency and continuity can be a prison when you're trying to tell new stories. I recall reading a bit in which Niven said he found his Known Universe series to be impossible to write for anymore--pretty much any problem solvable within the framework had been posed and had a solution already, so where's the mystery?

RichardJohnson said...

I never got into Star Wars. I don't believe I even saw the first film through to completion. My lack of interest in Star Trek perhaps predicted my response to Star Wars.

A family friend went to work for George Lucas not long after the release of the first Star Wars film. It didn't take her long to get tired of the Hollywood phonies. After she quit Tinseltown, she carved out an entrepreneurial niche in the arts- not on the other side of the country, but on the other side of the pond.

Grim said...

George Lucas may or may not have been all that great, but John Williams did a fantastic job. As you say, it's really the music that carries the emotional weight of the film. It's one of a few films that you can recall perfectly just by listening to the soundtrack: you'll know what's going on in every scene from remembering the emotional notes that the score picked out for you in the film.

Earl Wajenberg said...

For me, the great appeal of Star Wars was the same as that of Star Trek when it first came out: they put on the screen the pictures that were inside my head. With modern CGI, you can show just about anything on the screen, but not so in the '60s, when I was a kid. Then, visual SF was limited to comic books, "The Jetsons," "The Outer Limits," and occasional episodes of "Twilight Zone." (Across the pond, the BBC was doing "Doctor Who" on a shoestring budget, but I never heard of him.) None of this was visually striking.

Then came "Lost in Space" and I was delighted. After a few months, though, I was irritably wondering why they never pitched Dr. Smith out the airlock and generally not happy with the lack of plot or science.

THEN, a few years later, came "Star Trek." This was SO much more visually realistic. It took a lot of repeated viewing before you noticed the same papier mache boulder showing up on every semi-desert planet they visited (unless the part of the planet was played by a stretch of southern California).

Star Wars was another leap in visual realism. Using heavy costuming and masses of repurposed bits from airplane model kits, he achieved a level of believability that even the CGI revolution hasn't surpassed.

So, for me, it's been all about improving spectacle.