by Yohan J. John
[Warning: This essay will feature major spoilers for the latest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens.]
I had two reasons to watch the latest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, as soon as I was able. Firstly, I knew that despite all the talk of spoiler warnings and respect for “the fans”, I would have to basically avoid the internet until I managed to see it. (There's always some kill-joy on your facebook feed who gets a kick out of giving it all away, or an oaf who does not know what a spoiler is.) Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to join in the conversation. One of the great things about a pop cultural juggernaut (such as Star Wars, Pope Francis, or the FIFA World Cup) is that a lot of people —friends, family, strangers in bars, members of the chatterati — will be talking about it. Pop cultural mega-events are like Rorschach tests: whether we enjoy them or not, we feel the urge to project onto them our emotions, our theories, our politics, our ideals. By virtue of their popularity, these events bring us together and draw our attention to a common focal point, at which point we can share our projections with each other.
In his book Finite and Infinite Games, James P Carse defines finite games as those that are played for the purpose of bringing play to an end. Infinite games, by contrast, are played “for the purpose of continuing the play”. When we think about games we typically think about the finite sort: their end goal is some victory or end state, at which point the game is over. Wars take the form of a finite game — they aim to bring an end to the adversary's 'play'. Debates takes this form too; their goal is to silence the opponent. A scathing critical review is meant to remove a work of art from the field of aesthetic play. But real conversations, by contrast, are infinite games. Their goal is to enlighten and entertain all the participants. A conversation is an occasion not only to look at a topic, but also to look through a topic, treating it as a prism that can be pointed at self, other, and world. A good conversation never comes to a definitive end; it is simply held in abeyance for a time, to be revisited later or carried on by new participants. The road goes ever on.
What follows are some impressions gleaned from the Star Wars Conversation, and some ideas for how we might carry on the infinite play and entice more people to join in. I'm not sure this will add up to a coherent essay, so feel free to skim, as you would a listicle or an annotated reading list. And by all means, contribute to the conversation in the comments section.
1. Star Wars as a global phenomenon
Even if you're not a fan of science fiction or blockbuster movies, you will have come across news items discussing the international box office performance of the new Star Wars movie. Perhaps you saw the picture of stormtroopers on the Great Wall of China, poised to invade one of the world's biggest pools of eager consumers. You may have read about how The Force Awakens was 'on track' to beat Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time. You may also have read that these breathless accounts of ticket sales don't correct for inflation. The Force Awakens may be far less of a phenomenon than the original 1977 film, and, at least in the US, nowhere near as popular as Gone with the Wind was, way back in 1939.
All this is noteworthy I suppose, particularly if you are interested in the economics of the movie industry. But if Star Wars does beat Avatar (or Gone with the Wind), does that make it a 'better' film? Or one more worthy of our attention? Would you change your mind about it based on its performance? It strikes me that the bean-counting box office discussion doesn't really led anywhere (but Disney's hype-machine may disagree).
Star Wars is a saga about the struggle between good and evil in a galaxy populated by wildly diverse sorts of humans, aliens and robots. And yet much of the talk about the Star Wars phenomenon seems narrow-minded and provincial — where are the stories of Star Wars screenings in Peru, or Slovakia, or East Timor? What's it like to be a Star Wars fan in Angola? Why don't the journalists who talk of international box office success ever talk to the actual people standing in line at the box office? Perhaps I just haven't googled around sufficiently, so if you have come across anything along these lines, do paste links in the comments section.
2. Star Wars as a moment of collective relief
“From the off, JJ Abrams’s film sets out to shake Star Wars from its slumber, and reconnect the series with its much-pined-for past. That it achieves this both immediately and joyously is perhaps the single greatest relief of the movie-going year.” – Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
This excerpt (selected by Metacritic) perfectly captures the mood of the positive reviews. The Force Awakens is no mere movie. Like at least one of its characters, the movie is a newcomer born into a rather complicated family of heroes, rogues, villains, and buffoons. During the gestation period, the waiting room teemed with anxious members of the extended family (i.e., the fans), who hoped that at the very least the child would be spared any inheritance from the buffoon side of the Star Wars gene pool.
Disney and JJ Abrams — the foster parents of George Lucas's beloved yet mutation-prone cinematic family — seem to have managed this and more. The Force Awakens hits the nostalgia jackpot. It has the distinctive look and feel of the original Star Wars trilogy — the warmth of the characters, the famously grubby “used universe” aesthetic, the cute bleepy-bloopy droids, and the simplistic good-and-evil plot that made the original trilogy so compelling for children of all ages. (I mean this as a compliment: creating a stimulating work of art for the young at heart is nothing to sniff at.) And of course, the Force is strong with this one. (Perhaps too strong. But I'll get to the Force in a minute.) The Force Awakens also seems to have allowed fans to get over the trauma of Lucas's execrable prequels. There is no trace of Trade Federation bureaucra-sci-fi or Jar-Jar-Binkery. (For a hilariously profane but well thought-out evisceration of the prequels, I recommend watching the Red Letter Media reviews on YouTube. Not for children or the faint of heart though.)
I definitely enjoyed The Force Awakens, but I was left wondering whether this was all that fans expected from the Star Wars universe. I used to think of myself as a Star Wars fan… until I encountered fandom on the internet. Who are these people? The impression I get from mainstream articles is that science fiction and comic book fans are some kind of amorphous hive mind: an omnipotent, omnipresent, invisible demi-god that must be periodically appeased by Hollywood. Poor George Lucas inadvertently became an apostate when he foisted his prequel trilogy upon us. It was as if he had not bothered to read his own gospel! The director of the new sequel, JJ Abrams, seems to have tread carefully in the sanctum sanctorum of the Fan-Mind, serving up a reverent offering that established his respect and solidarity. He even seemed to acknowledge the prior sins of the series, beginning the film with the line “This will begin to make things right.”
But will it? I've now seen The Force Awakens three times, and even though I enjoyed the film each time, I was able to see why there might still be something missing. The initial reaction of elated relief (itself a hallmark of our age of retromania) may well give way to a more nuanced critical approach even among devoted fans. And I suspect that this will occur because the new movie indirectly reminds of what George Lucas did right in the first place.
3. Star Wars as Remake, Reboot and Remix
The Force Awakens is at its heart a faithful re-working of the plot of the original 1977 Star Wars film, with a few visual and thematic elements from The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi thrown in for good measure. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It seems to have satisfied most fans hoping for classic Star-Wars-y vibes.
In an excellent article for The New Yorker, Bryan Curtis neatly captures how the new movie “makes it once again possible to think about George Lucas as a man of imagination, of conviction, and (minus Jar Jar Binks) of taste—as a brilliant appropriator rather than an average one.” The original films are often described as a pastiche of Flash Gordon films, samurai movies, westerns, and bits and pieces of classic science fiction (particularly Frank Herbert's Dune, from which Lucas may have borrowed the idea of blending sci-fi with religion — as we all the desert setting, the gigantic sandworms, and even the concept of spice). Critics differ, however, on whether this pastiche should be seen as opportunistic plagiarism or inspired postmodern collage.
The Abrams version of Star Wars is also a pastiche, but the bits and pieces it sticks together are snipped from the Star Wars universe itself, rather than from the far larger universe that Lucas drew from — world cinema, classic science fiction, and mystical religion. The Force Awakens adhered so closely to the plot and aesthetic of the original films that it cannot but remind us that Lucas himself did not really do this. Each of Lucas's Star Wars movies introduced the viewer to some new galactic vista: the deserts of A New Hope, the icy wastes of Empire Strikes Back, and the jungles of Return of the Jedi. Even the prequels, in their scatterbrained way, attempted to do this with their underwater city and lava planet. Abrams on the other hand doesn't seem to be interested in taking any risks — he does not introduce us to any hitherto uncharted corners of that galaxy far, far away.
Rather than the words “reboot” or “remake”, the word “remix” might be the best term for the Star Wars universe. As the documentary Everything is a Remix vividly illustrates, Lucas was a remixing pioneer in the late 70s and early 80s. Can you name an earlier work that combines Kurasawa, cowboys, mysticism, sword-and-sorcery, space-Nazis and warrior teddy bears? By contrast, Abrams's pool of potential samples seems much smaller. Like a modern pop music track that cuts-and-pastes the hook from just one old disco hit, Abrams cleaves to a narrow slice of the original Star Wars universe, adding slick production to a familiar cinematic verse-chorus structure that we already know and love.
Some weeks before The Force Awakens was released, I posted the following on Facebook:
I think that what fans want (and what we might get) is the cinema equivalent of modern musical revivalism. Production techniques are so advanced that we can basically make new recordings that sound just like recordings from past decades. Amy Winehouse's music does this really well: it evokes the soul music of the past without any direct rip-offs or even sampling.
The producers of the new Star Wars movies will probably have the skills to push all our nostalgia buttons…
But what Amy Winehouse also did was inject a spirit that somehow went beyond nostalgia. I wonder if the writers of the new Star Wars movies have spirit and guts. Is the Force strong with them? Or will it be a knob on some control board? “Focus groups demand 63% more Force here, here and here.”
It seems as if my prediction was not too far off the mark —particularly the bit about increased Force.
4. What is the Force?
I get the feeling that the Jedi and their force have increased in power (and decreased in mystery, perhaps) with every movie release. Initially, the Force was described by Obi-wan Kenobi as an “energy field that surrounds all living beings”. But the use of the Force was not necessarily some kind of limitless telekinetic power. After the famous “these aren't the droids you're looking for” scene, Obi-Wan says “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.” When I re-watched A New Hope recently, I realized that this emphasis on strength of mind could have been a very interesting theme to explore over the course of the sequels and prequels.
One of my favorite scenes in the original movie takes place in a conference room on the Death Star. One of the generals — apparently named Motti — ridicules Darth Vader's “sorcerer's ways” and his “sad devotion to that ancient religion”. Motti seems to have much more confidence in the technological wonder that is the Death Star. Vader then begins to strangle him using the Force, and he says “I find your lack of faith disturbing”. A non-Jedi, General Tarkin, then orders Vader to “Stop this nonsense”, and Vader obeys.
This scene would be baffling if the Force were a magical power that Vader could use on anyone. Perhaps Tarkin is not one of the “weak-minded” that Obi-Wan speaks of. And perhaps Motti is weak-willed. Ostensibly, Motti has a lack of faith in the Jedi religion. But we could imagine a galaxy in which Motti's weak-mindedness extends also to his faith in technology — perhaps he is secretly aware that the Death Star has a few weaknesses.
A Jedi religion that is obscure and a Force that is severely limited would explain why Han Solo says “I've never seen anything to make me believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything.” Perhaps the Jedi were originally small in number, and could only use their mind tricks sparingly.
This kind of subtlety (or rather, potential for subtlety) gradually fall by the wayside as we move through Episodes V and VI. The Force becomes indistinguishable from magic, capable of moving inanimate objects. By the time we arrive at episode VII, the Force has grown so powerful that Kylo Ren — someone whose Dark Side training isn't even complete — is capable of halting a phaser burst in mid-air, and dragging a human being through the air.
It seems as if the Force expands in proportion to the pop cultural heft of the Star Wars franchise. This creates a kind of cinematic arms race — every film must feature more wondrous and terrible demonstrations of the power of the Force. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to explore the various ways in which the Force can be constrained or bounded. And if the Jedi faith was just a sad ancient religion, perhaps there were other religions in the galaxy? Other approaches to the Force?
Perhaps the makers of future sequels will explore this kind of fertile thematic territory, but the current trajectory of the Force does not inspire… a new hope. The brutal assessment of the The New Inquiry's Aaron Brody —that the Force is nothing more than an empty carrier of “narrative convenience” — seems to become more true the further we get from the original film. The stronger the Force becomes, the more empty of meaning it seems to be. The emptiness of the Force (as well as the willingness of the good guys to indiscriminately kill stormtroomers) gives ammunition to left wing critiques such as the one in Jacobin, which declares that “The Jedi and the Sith or the Empire and the Alliance are not really opposing forces; they’re all on the side of jointure. If only a Sith deals in absolutes, then the Star Wars films are a Sith.”
There is definitely food for thought here. Nevertheless, I find myself annoyed by such humorless, po-faced critiques from the Left, since I consider myself to be on the same political side. There is such a lack of joy in this sort of criticism that one wonder why these armchair Bolsheviks waste time watching movies at all — they really ought to be busy Seizing the Means of Production. For all their complaints about the simplistic moral absolutes implied by the Dark Side and the Light Side of the Force, many Leftists themselves have a Manichean worldview in which their faceless, abstract enemies — the patriarchy, the capitalists, the consumers, the religious — have been irredeemably seduced by the dialectical Dark Side.
If you only read arch left-wing reviews of Star Wars, you might come away with the idea that George Lucas was an evil genius who machine-tooled his scripts in order to maximize their potential for slavish fandom and merchandise sales. But investigating the evolution of Lucas's original Star Wars script reveals a far more compelling and complicated process, more akin to happy fluke than devious scheme. The process may have been quite scatterbrained initially, but as far as I can tell, the intentions were pure: Lucas wanted to create a melange of sci fi and mysticism that had a clear moral message.
In 1997, Jan Helander published a fascinating analysis of the development of the original Star Wars script, which Lucas took several years to develop. Surprisingly, I have not come across any articles that point the reader towards this wonderful resource. The analysis illustrates how a grand epic can emerge from humble and incoherent beginnings. Lucas did not simply write his plot according to the chapter headings of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces (though the final product can definitely make it seem that way). He seems to have instead found his way there by fumbling and groping in the dark, gradually discerning a classic narrative form in the mish-mash of ideas he had aggregated over several years. Luke Skywalker, for instance, started life as a “relentless general”, rather than a whiny farm boy. But the most interesting evolution may have been in the spirit that “surrounds and binds” the Star Wars universe: the Force.
In the 1973 Star Wars draft, the phrase “May the force of others protect you” was employed. This was eventually shortened to “May the force be with you.” a greeting that is not very far away from the Christian benediction “May the Lord be with you”. “The force of others” has a strikingly social(ist?) ring to it — at the same time it also harmonizes nicely with the idea that the Force can be used to manipulate the weak-minded. Perhaps the Force could have evolved into a science fiction analogue of such well-known “psycho-social” forces as trust, friendship, love, solidarity, and personal charisma. These forces always have dark sides: demagoguery, personality cults, mob violence, and mass manipulation through advertising, propaganda and public relations. The mental and physical powers displayed by the central characters in Dune are described in very much this way, as the fruits of a multi-generational project to merge psychological sciences with martial art, instinct, and intuition, rather than as an ineffable and unknowable magical power.
Even though I find the phrase “force of others” rich in both religious and political symbolism, I think Lucas made the right decision in shortening it to the Force. This seems to have occurred as Lucas expanded his galactic theology to incorporate elements from beyond European Christianity. His messianic story took on elements from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Judaism. Removing the “of others” part gives the Force a depersonalized and occult quality that is evocative of mystical concepts like Brahman, Dharma and the Tao. The word also evokes the fields of force in physics (which also “surround us and penetrate us”).
The Force seems to have started out as a pantheistic or panentheistic concept: interpenetrating all things, yet hidden from the senses of the uninitiated. It was like the Kingdom of God in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “…the kingdom is inside of you. And it is outside of you”. But “…the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it”. Lucas initially described the Force as being “like yoga … everybody can do it. If you want to take the time to do it, you can do it”. It is therefore unfortunate that the Force now seems to be the genetic inheritance of an aristocracy or a hybrid Brahmin–Kshatriya caste.
5. The Force Awakens as a metaphor for itself
I came across a particularly perceptive and informative review of The Force Awakens in Forward. Jay Michaelson describes it as
“a Talmudic film, struggling with what critic Harold Bloom has called the anxiety of influence. In addition to simply being a lot of fun, it is a tale whose heroes, villains and filmmakers are all struggling with the past — the weight of the vast Star Wars legacy, with six episodes, billions of dollars, and trillions of action figures in the rearview mirror. Like Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, it is being blown toward the future but can only see the past.”
Michaelson zooms in on what is by far the most interesting aspect of the new movie: the character of Kylo Ren. In Kylo Ren, the movie attempts a level of self-consciousness that is largely absent from the original Star Wars trilogy. Kylo Ren is not simply a remix or rehash of Darth Vader: he's the grandson of the great Sith Lord, and is deeply aware that he is a poor imitation:
“Kylo Ren only wishes he was Darth Vader. In fact, he can’t get it right. He’s haunted by the ghost of a grandfather he never knew, and all too aware that he cannot fill his ancestor’s shoes. Or mask. He’s a petulant child, throwing temper tantrums with his lightsaber. And beneath the anger is a profound uncertainty. […] In a way, Abrams and “The Force Awakens” is similarly haunted.”
Michaelson goes on to discuss how Abrams — himself Jewish — must be well aware that “nothing short of a mystical experience” could live up to the promise of the original films and the expectations of the fans. This places a burden on Abrams that Lucas initially never felt. Lucas only realized the full force of the mythology he stumbled upon when his fans turned on him after the prequels. Michaelson explains that this burden resonates with Jewish experience:
“This is a profoundly Jewish crisis. Not only has it been explored by Jewish figures like Bloom and Benjamin, it is intrinsic to the recurrent sense in Jewish intellectual history of being heirs to an impossibly heroic past. “Yeridat Hadorot,” the notion that each generation is “lower” than the preceding one, is one iteration of it. The veneration of the Patriarchs, Talmudic Sages, and ‘Gedolim’ of past centuries is another. Even the recollection of the glories of the Jerusalem Temple suggest that the lost past haunts us, and yet we come up short. We, like Kylo Ren, are but an echo of the mythic past, yearning to continue its work but aware of how we come up short.”
Only the young characters Finn and Rey are unencumbered by history, largely because they are unaware of it. Michaelson suggests that the film offers a solution that may be more Christian than Jewish — perhaps a new revelation from the messiah-like Luke Skywalker will create on opportunity for a cathartic release of historical tension.
During my second and third viewings of The Force Awakens, I started playing with a similar — though perhaps more cynical — theory of its metaphorical meaning. It seems as if the remnants of the Empire, now known as the First Order, represents Disney — the all-conquering entertainment empire that now owns significant chunks of our collective childhood. The protagonists of the film represent the child-like goodwill inherent in Lucas's original films. Rey and Finn are unburdened by the past even as they reflect it, just like Lucas himself when was cobbling together his space opera from bits and pieces of ideas he loved. But Kylo Ren on the other hand is a self-conscious imitator, weighed down by the feeling that he may never approach the diabolical grandeur of Darth Vader. Kylo Ren represents the dark side of the franchise, which must perpetuate its pop cultural tyranny by symbolically breaking an umbilical link with the past even as it pays obeisance to it. This ritual iconoclasm is enacted in the killing of Han Solo, the lovable rogue who, interestingly enough, once evinced a healthy skepticism of the “hokey religion” of the Force.
Perhaps Han's skepticism is important, and marks out Star Wars as something more than a retelling of Campbell's monomyth. The new film suggests that in 30 years the galaxy has been converted: Han Solo now announces that “it's all true”. Somehow this makes the galaxy a smaller place. Each odd-looking character in Mos Eisley cantina or Jabba's palace once suggested a wholly different kind of Star Wars story — perhaps featuring other “hokey religions”, other quests, and other heroes and villains. But now we seem to be heading towards a culturally purged Cold War galaxy, in which everyone is forced to pick a side: Light or Dark, Empire or Resistance. Google's Star Wars tie-in ad seems to be celebrating this eventuality.
The Force Awakens invite us to go back and reassess Lucas's moral and ethical compass. The original trilogy never really explained what made the Empire evil or the Rebel Alliance good. There were subtle clues though — the Empire's minions were largely human, whereas the Rebels included a few weird-looking aliens. And some of the deleted scenes pain a picture of the Empire as a kind of nationalizing Soviet force. The prequels were more ambitious: they bumbled their way towards political allegory. In showing that the Empire was born from a politician's conjuring up of a phantom menace in order to centralize power and militarize the state, Lucas seemed to be making thinly-veiled allusions to the era of the Iraq War and the Patriot Act. As far as I can tell, The Force Awakens is totally disengaged from current affairs and evinces a somewhat sociopathic lack of empathy. Several planets are destroyed but no one seems to mourn. (At least Obi-wan looked shaken when Alderaan was destroyed in A New Hope.) Reactions to Han Solo's death seem strangely muted — Leia doesn't seem that sad, and no one is shown consoling poor Chewbacca. Moreover, the former stormtrooper Finn — supposedly turned off of violence — seems to have no qualms about killing large numbers of his former comrades-in-arms.
Perhaps the only way to save Star Wars from itself is to take more seriously what Kylo Ren did: we must sacrifice the holy cow (or Unholy Han) of what we think we want from Star Wars, and see if something new emerges from the ashes. Perhaps we can have the warmth of the original Star Wars trilogy, the production values and fresh new characters of the sequel, and even a small dose of the ethical DNA from the prequels. Perhaps that DNA is what really needs to surround and bind a wholesome narrative galaxy.
It might be healthy for the Lucas's heirs to ask themselves if they have any real moral, religious, or political interests. Only a deepening engagement with realistic moral issues can elevate Star Wars from the fantastical to the genuinely mythic. (I've suggested elsewhere that Battlestar Galactica moves in this direction.)
6. Star Wars as a blockbuster morphing into a myth
I've never really looked into it, but recently I realized that fan fiction incorporates an element of the mythological tradition that is often neglected: the idea that myths belong to the collective, and are kept alive by active engagement. From this perspective, retelling, rebooting, and remixing are not signs of creative decay, but the hallmarks of a living, evolving tradition. A true infinite game, pursued purely to perpetuate itself.
James P. Carse writes in Finite and Infinite Games that “Myth provokes explanation but accepts none of it”. Joseph Campbell's monomyth idea was one such explanation — and proved particularly useful for Hollywood screenwriters. (It's worth watching Campbell's TV show with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth.) But a study of mythology can also lead us in the opposite direction, to what we might call a “poly-myth”.
The Indian poet and scholar A.K. Ramanujan wrote an essay called “Three Hundred Ramayanas”, which explores how the Ramayana — one of the great epics of India — morphed and grew as it was retold hundreds if not thousands of times in different places in South and South-East Asia. Each version was free emphasize different facets of the story, or even alter its ethical and moral lessons to suit local tastes. Jain versions of the Ramayana, for example, attempted to rationalize some of the more fantastical elements — in one, the race of monkey warriors is replaced with a clan of celestial persons who use the monkey as their banner. Perhaps George Lucas was attempting a similar rationalization when he introduced the much-maligned midi-chlorians — a tribe of Jedi mitochondria — in the prequels as sci-fi style 'explanation' of the phrase “the Force is strong with this one”.
Will we ever have three hundred Star Wars? Not three hundred sequels and prequels — Disney would love for them to continue to be popular for centuries — but three hundred different, inconsistent interpretations? Copyright law might get in the way of competing cinematic versions. But there are ways around this. Characters can be renamed and backdrops changed. A steampunk Star Wars might feature a Luke Railwalker, lonely apprentice in a clanging old factory. The creative process might be assisted by concepts from software development, like versioning and “forks“. Another thing that might get in the way of a future 'Three Hundred Star Wars' essay is the desire to curate and venerate a fixed canon. I admit that it's nice to have a central narrative that everyone can agree on. This is what facilitates the very conversation that I hope to contribute to with this essay. But a canon can also be a way to shut out alternative voices and points of view. Perhaps a balance can be found — a central campfire around which we can all gather to listen to one great evolving story, surrounded by smaller fires where side-plots, tangents and experiments can be explored. We can split up into groups, exploring roads less traveled by, and then return to the fire to compare notes.
By way of conclusion, here are a few ideas I would consider using for narrative fuel. I think the Force might benefit from a dialogue with Taoism. The concept of balance suggests that the Dark and Light sides of the Force do not always have to represent good and evil in the western sense, but may be more like yin and yang. Yin and yang are not equal and opposite forces locked in a static battle. Instead they ebb and flow, transforming each other and transforming into each other. The famous ying-yang symbol can actually be read as a diagram illustrating this pattern of flow. Moving clockwise from twelve o'clock, the black yin increases, and when it reaches its maximum at six o'clock, it gives birth to the seed of its own opposite — a white dot of yang. Then the process proceeds in the opposite direction.
We can use this idea to inject some dynamism into the saga of the Jedi. Perhaps the Jedi knights were not all wonderful people. Perhaps crazy old Ben Kenobi's memories of the Jedi order were colored by rose-tinted blast shields. Imagine that instead of a “more civilized” era, the Old Republic has actually become decadent and decrepit: the wealthy are the only real 'citizens', pampered by slaves and droids, while the rest struggle on the margins. The Jedi are a disorganized and fractious religious order. Some members — including Yoda perhaps — become so frustrated by the corruption and the denominational squabbles that they heads off to isolated monasteries to clear their heads. A member of the Senate becomes frustrated by the disarray in the Republic, and enlists a group of young Jedi to clean things up. People and planets begin to rattle their chains, resisting the increasingly fascist demands placed upon them. The activist Jedi, who start out motivated by what they think is the Light Side of the Force, become increasingly tempted to use violence. Technological advances allow for increasingly powerful star destroyers manned by clone stormtroopers who can “push reforms” and serve as “boots on the ground”. Some of the reformist Jedi knights set out on a quest to rediscover legendary Jedi techniques that they think will aid their cause. This leads them to the Dark Side, which grows out of a willingness to resort to violence and manipulation in the service of some abstract “greater common good“. In this way good intentions motivated by the Light Side end up leading to the Dark Side. From the tumult of the Jedi Reformation emerges the future Emperor Palpatine.
One can easily re-work elements from the existing prequels at this stage. We can imagine The Phantom Menace beginning in the midst of a light-saber-and-explosion-filled battle between Jedi factions, which causes Obi-wan, a young activist Jedi, to crash-land on the planet Tattooine. There he discovers Anakin, a charismatic but troubled teenager. Anakin shows promise but seems constantly attracted to the darker, more manipulative sides of the Force. Obi-wan ignores all this in his youthful desire to reform the Jedi religion, and trains the boy even though Yoda advises him not too. Eventually the boy meets the future Emperor, and they devise a way to cure the Republic of corruption, indolence and vice, thereby 'restoring' order (rather than balance) to the Force. But the cycling of the Force-chakra never really ends, and even the brute force of the Empire cannot cling on to a static order. Just when the galaxy seems drowned in darkness, a new hope arises, like a solitary candle flickering in the night…
I don't really know where to go from here, so I'll let others take up the conversation now.
May the force of others be with you!
The first image was taken by me in Kottayam, a town in Kerala, India (where I was born!). Some family members and I saw The Force Awakens there on Christmas day — it happened to be 'first day first show'. I have no idea what “All Star Wars, All the Time, Anywhere” is supposed to mean.
The image of Luke and the Hero's Journey is from a page on the Salt Lake ComicCon website: Star Wars and the Hero's Journey.
I apologize if there are lots of typos in this article… I'm about to get on a plane and I don't have time to proof-read properly! 🙂