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hilzoy fangirl said on March 5th, 2012 at 4:08 pm

So… LBJ shot first?

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LBJ shot first in more ways than one, which in all actuality is kind of disgusting.

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malakim2099 said on March 5th, 2012 at 4:48 pm

One of the few good things about the prequels is that the intent is CLEARLY there, perhaps a bit too blatantly so. :)

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If allegory was Lucas’s intent he certainly seemed to gloss over the important details. There’s hardly any of this The Way Things Used to be talk in the original trilogy.

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GoatToucher said on March 5th, 2012 at 5:35 pm

This seems a it of a stretch to me. A bit of a one note interpretation that doesn’t account for the rest of a fairly expansive (even just in the original three movies) universe. What are all the principal players allegories for? The death star and the destruction of Alderaan? Who are the alliance meant to portray? How does the Force enter into all this?

I mean, if you go in for the Death of the Author and all that, then the movies mean whatever you want them to mean, but if you give some credence to authorial intent, then it really is a modernized version of the Republic serials of Lucas’ childhood, just as he has always claimed.

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I find this account plausible (and I’ve been disgusted before by the idiocy of almost any collection on pop culture works*).

But with British Peter Cushing vs. plucky American heroes, I had thought there was a “fight against tyrannical British empire” aspect to the film–a thin gloss on the American revolution. (With two notable exceptions: Alec Guiness and James Earl Jones, who are on the wrong sides if we split Empire/Rebellion according to accents.)

(Though the Death Star has a certain aspect we might call My Lai-ness or Napalm-ness, which doesn’t fit into the American Revolution.)

Or was Lucas trying to distance us from the object of our hostility in playing with those accents?

*I once was working on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and I swear to god, this one guy wrote an essay about how the secret of the film was “slow-acting LSD” that the doctor had been dosed with before returning home–no aliens at all since that would be ridiculous!

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My question then is, what do the Jedi represent?

I’m not asking this because I think it torpedoes the theory, I’m just curious what the jedi would be in this scenario, because as much as the Rebellion takes down the Death Star, there’s an idea that the Jedi guarded things before the Emperor killed them. My best guess is that they were supposed to be the independent judiciary (goes with the robes, I suppose), but maybe they were some specific political element that splintered or consumed in Nixon’s election of 68 or 72.

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I’m not sold on the whole analysis though it might be; weirder things have been made, and allegory often does rely on very timely references.

That said, Re: Tales to Enrage, I would say the Jedi would simply represent the honorable and stately lawmakers of old, the founding fathers through the FDRs, whose gravitas and even-handedness allowed order to prosper in the Republic.

Then Lucas read Lensmen and thought they were pretty cool I guess.

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People here are asking about what individual objects in Star Wars match to in the real world, but I don’t think that there’s a 1:1 match-up. The Death Star isn’t any specific evil event; it’s just to show how awful the Empire really is. The Jedi aren’t anyone in particular; they’re a reminder of the good times: “before the Empire, we had these really moral and great guys watching over us, and now we’ve got these murdering ass-hats.”

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I think you are just overthinking star wars

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I don’t doubt that what you’re saying is there. Though it’s taken a beating in recent years (and not undeservedly so), Star Wars is a fairly timeless classic and a lot of parallels can be read into it, not the least the zeitgeist of Lucas’s Vietnam era political opinions. However, I don’t think it’s a 1:1 comparison. I think Star Wars, with its Rebels, Jedi, Sith, and Empire can stand for all sorts of political movements and ideals, including idealism vs. cynicism, order vs. chaos, the past vs. the future, democracy vs. fascism, dynamism vs. entropy, I could go on, but I think you get the idea. It’s what makes the story relatable regardless of who you are or where you come from. Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong that it’s there or that it heavily influenced the work, but it doesn’t have to be that. You don’t need to know about Watergate or anything of the sort to enjoy Star Wars.

I will say that one of the few things I liked about the prequels, which did feel timely for me during the Bush era but was apparently aimed at Nixon and Vietnam, was the line, “So this is how democracy dies: to thunderous applause.”

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Michael P said on March 5th, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Joe Queenan wrote a piece to this effect.

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highlyverbal said on March 6th, 2012 at 12:26 am

“…was advocating for the armed overthrow of the United States government (under some hypothetical contingencies)”

FTFY.

“…but I suspect the idealist that Lucas used to be is a little bit sad about it.”

Yeah, idealists hate it when their worst fears are avoided! You’re not really suggesting that Lucas would be a happier person if Nixon had suspended Congress but his art was regarded as more highbrow?!

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So, John, basically you are saying that Star Wars underlying message would today be really topical and relevant? Because I am seeing a lot of what was happening in the Nixon era being repeated nowadays, in topic like erosion of civil liberties, perpetual war, militarization of the U.S. police and so on and so on.

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Rob Brown said on March 6th, 2012 at 4:52 am

In case the symbolism isn’t blatant enough, should I mention that the ending of ‘Jedi’ (in which a bunch of foreigners/aliens with primitive weapons overwhelm a technologically and numerically superior force through use of cunning, ambushes and a superior knowledge of the local area) was originally planned to be the ending of ‘Star Wars’ before budgetary constraints forced him to move it?

It would have worked a lot better if Wookiees were the ones to do it as originally planned, instead of Ewoks. But since the Viet Cong weren’t midgets and since they were not literally using rocks and slings against their enemies, when I watched it I didn’t feel so much like “Wow, look at how these guys are doing so well against a technologically superior enemy!” as I did “This is fucking stupid. The stormtroopers should not be getting curb stomped like this.”

Wookiees would’ve been better since while still technologically inferior to the Empire, they weren’t still using sharpened sticks and rocks, but bowcasters. Also because if a Wookiee were to get the drop on a stormtrooper, then the Wookiee would have an edge in a hand to hand fight, whereas with Ewoks it’s just…I’m sorry, I can’t suspend disbelief to that degree.

Having a message is fine, and I do agree with this message (“You might not be as much of a superpower as you think you are, and if you throw your weight around too much then you might regret it”) but it shouldn’t get in the way of the story, and in this case I think that ROTJ suffered from the message getting in the way of the story by making the bad guys look pathetic. This is not something you want to do to a bad guy, as all the comic book fans here will tell you. Doom, Magneto, Luthor, Joker…what makes stories involving them good reading is that they are not pathetic at all; on the contrary, they’re pretty hard to beat.

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Rob Brown said on March 6th, 2012 at 5:21 am

One of the few good things about the prequels is that the intent is CLEARLY there, perhaps a bit too blatantly so.

Yes. I mean, Palpy’s power grab is obviously supposed to be symbolic of the way the Bush administration expanded executive power and perhaps of the fear that they might say it was necessary for a third term because “We’re at war! We can’t change horses in mid-stream! Terrorists!” and that nobody would stop them. And Anakin paraphrases what W said about either beign with the U.S. or the terrorists.

The problem is that both Palpatine and Anakin are just evil for no apparent reason and for a far-fetched reason, respectively.

Palpatine’s doing all this because he wants power and because he wants to wipe out the Jedi. But why does he want power? Why does he want to wipe out the Jedi? Examining a villain’s motivations gives that character depth, makes the story better. Just saying “He’s evil” is a copout. How about a Motive Rant or something?

Anakin doing a 180 from being a good Jedi to being a completely evil Sith who slaughters children and Force chokes his own wife just because “Well, Palpatine said that he could keep my wife from dying and I’m just going to assume that he isn’t lying to me because why would he ever do that, and so I’ll do anything he tells me no matter how horrible, and MWAHAHAHAHA I’M EVIL NOW, DIEDIEDIEDIE!” It’s bullshit. There are all kinds of reasons that could’ve been used for his turn.

Maybe he blames the Jedi for his mother’s death; “You forbade me to see her, to keep in contact with her! If I had known she had been kidnapped, I could have arrived on Tatooine in time to save her! But no, I can’t be attached to my OWN MOTHER because that would keep me from being your idea of a good Jedi! Well now she’s DEAD, and YOU are responsible!”

Maybe he feels that he’s been treated like a slave. “I became a Jedi because I had nothing, because I wanted my freedom! And what did you do? You took me away and you kept me in your temple, and you began telling me what to do and what not to do, what to feel and what not to feel, what to say and what not to say! For TEN YEARS you had me scraping and bowing and calling everybody ‘master’! I never stopped being a slave, I was just suddenly a slave with a lightsaber! And even now that I’m not a Padawan any more, you still tell me what to do, what to feel, what to say! No more!”

Maybe he feels that the Jedi policies are unreasonable: “How dare you?! How fucking DARE you tell me that I don’t have the right to fall in love, date, get married, do all the things that normal people do, without succumbing to the so-called ‘dark side’! How dare you forbid me from doing what everybody should have the right to!”

Maybe he feels that the Jedi don’t give a shit about his secret wife: “Yoda. I’ve wanted to kill you for a long time, ever since you told me that I should rejoice, that I should be happy, about my wife’s impending death! I CAME TO YOU FOR HELP, AND THAT’S WHAT YOU TELL ME?! I thought as a Jedi, I would be safeguarding the lives of people in this galaxy, I would be making things better, but apparently whenever somebody dies young you feel that we should do a happy dance! I don’t accept that, I don’t accept your sick teachings, I don’t accept the Jedi Order’s continued existence! I’m going to put an end to it, right now!”

Would that have not made more sense?

In the time I haven’t kept up with MGK’s blog here, I found another one which critiques and mocks the “Left Behind” books. (A few people here also follow that one.) There is a lot to critique and mock, but one of the main things is that the villain seems to just be evil for no logical reason.

There needs to be a logical reason for Palpatine to be evil, and there needs to be a logical reason for Anakin to be evil. Not a logical reason for their actions, mind; rather, a logical reason why they would turn into the type of people who felt such actions were acceptable or good or justified.

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P. Angel said on March 6th, 2012 at 5:37 am

@Rob Brown: But even the original trilogy didn’t have much in the way of complex recognisable motivation, and it certainly didn’t have people hanging around making speeches about their motivation.

Instead of that sort of lazy storytelling, it used excellent cinematography instead. Take the famous sunset shot from A New Hope, with that music, and those suns! It gives Luke an emotional depth that’s almost entirely lacking from everything he actually says.

The new trilogy doesn’t have anything like that, and while the story itself is a lot more complex, the storytelling relies much more on dialogue than in the original trilogy. And Lucas simply isn’t very good at writing dialogue.

Also, if you’re citing TV Tropes to back up your argument, you’ve already lost.

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I have no doubt about Lucas’ aspiration to tell a political story — just look at the blatant anti-Bush themes of the prequels– but (as Seavey pointed out in a great essay on Yoda over on Fraggmented) Lucas sucks at communicating his intended messages.

…Which is probably one of the reasons Marcia left him.

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Rob Brown said on March 6th, 2012 at 7:45 am

Also, if you’re citing TV Tropes to back up your argument, you’ve already lost.</blockquote?

Why is that?

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Rob Brown said on March 6th, 2012 at 8:09 am

Accidentally included my question to you in the block quote, as you can see. Anyway, how exactly does linking to a TV Tropes page describing the act of a villain explaining the reason for their actions invalidate my argument?

But even the original trilogy didn’t have much in the way of complex recognisable motivation, and it certainly didn’t have people hanging around making speeches about their motivation.

I don’t see how that qualifies as “lazy storytelling”. Let’s compare Emperor Palpatine to Khan Noonien Singh. Nobody with any taste would call Khan a bad villain, quite the contrary. Khan let Kirk know exactly why he was doing the things he was doing, why he was pissed off, why he was seeking revenge. Was Star Trek II worse for it? I certainly don’t think so. I think it’s an awesome movie.

I have no doubt about Lucas’ aspiration to tell a political story — just look at the blatant anti-Bush themes of the prequels– but (as Seavey pointed out in a great essay on Yoda over on Fraggmented) Lucas sucks at communicating his intended messages.

Lucas is best when he collaborates. When he tries to do it all himself, the movie suffers.

A lot of the dialogue in ANH, as Harrison Ford told Lucas when they were shooting, was bad. It got MUCH better in ESB and ROTJ. Also, everybody’s performances were better in Episodes V and VI.

This was very likely because while Lucas wrote and directed ANH, he delegated at least some of those duties in the next two films. Irvin Kirshner directed ESB and Richard Marquand directed ROTJ. The screenplay for ESB was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan after they were given the basic story from Lucas. The screenplay for ROTJ was written by Kasdan and Lucas.

Now I wasn’t even one year old when ANH came out, so I sure as hell don’t remember what people were saying about it in 1977. But after multiple viewings of it over the years, it always seemed to me like any shortcomings as far as the dialogue or the way Lucas had his cast perform were overshadowed by the fact that audiences were getting their first look at this really cool universe with lightsabers and X-Wing fighters and droids and all of that good stuff.

By 1999, though, there was no such novelty because everybody had seen lightsabers and droids and aliens of all shapes and sizes, and they knew what to expect in a space battle. They couldn’t help but focus on the acting and the dialogue more than they had in the past, and they didn’t care for it. And wouldn’t ya know it, Lucas wrote and directed all three prequels.

If Lucas had written the basic story and then handed it over to other, more capable directors and screenwriters, the prequels would’ve likely been a lot better received.

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The Unstoppable Gravy Express said on March 6th, 2012 at 10:47 am

Wait, you’re telling me that if the prequels were better written and directed… they’d have been better movies??

(head explodes)

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But even the original trilogy didn’t have much in the way of complex recognisable motivation, and it certainly didn’t have people hanging around making speeches about their motivation.

But the OT doesn’t really need them, because of the story it tells. It’s characters aren’t doing complex things. They’re bad guys blowing up planets and kidnapping princesses or their heroes rescuing princesses and defeating the bad guys.

The PT has characters changing. The “good guy” becoming evil or the rise to power of the Emperor (though that one we can likely go with “power hungry” and call it a night) but Anakin’s story has no motivation. “My mother died, so I shall now go kill a bunch of children” really needs more than it got.

(Which is the reason for Cartoon Network’s The Adventures of Space Hitler as a Boy series to try to make us care about his fall)

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I think it’s much simpler than all this. Star Wars was made in the middle of the 70s, the most politically charged, anti-establishment era for movies, in which practically every film (and certainly the vast majority of SF films) had an underlying “fight the power!” message. I think Lucas simply absorbed that mentality rather than having a really bold political statement to make on his own; plus, with the obvious influence of Flash Gordon, Tolkien and Kirby (particularly the Fourth World series) on Star Wars, it’s pretty much a given that the baddies would be an evil empire. It’s just that the 70s was an era when filmmakers were highly self-reflective, and willing to consider the idea of a pseudonymous America that had fallen into fascism. If Star Wars had come around in the 50s, for instance, the threat would have been more “external”; creeping insurrectionists, perhaps, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and the supposed Communist menace), or simply a nasty foreign army who had always been dedicated to destruction, a la Sauron. And that’s not a criticism; part of what makes Star Wars the movie it is was its ability to tap into the zeitgeist. But Lucas was nodding along with the political filmmakers of his day rather than trying to say something new, IMHO.

This makes it ironic, of course, that Star Wars was appropriated by Reagan’s administration and transformed into a hollow symbol of America’s supposed awesomeness in smashing an “evil empire” of communism, even though that makes no fucking sense when mapped onto world politics of the time; the USSR was a crumbling shadow of its former self, America was far from a plucky bunch of rebel underdogs, and there was no death star to blow up, unless you felt like triggering a nuclear holocaust that would destroy human civilization (which apparently a disturbing number of people were willing to do). See more recently the new Battlestar Galactica, which is obviously politically charged, but which makes no sense considered as a straight metaphor for 9/11, as conservatives tended to at first; America wasn’t nearly destroyed by an overwhelming horde of technologically superior Muslims, unless I missed something.

Conservatives have a bad habit of tracking themselves onto the “underdog” in any metaphorical scenario (as well as a lot of real-world political rhetoric), even when they couldn’t be more obviously the “overdog”.

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Rob Brown said on March 6th, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Wait, you’re telling me that if the prequels were better written and directed… they’d have been better movies??

(head explodes)

Aw crap, I blew up another person’s head! :(

Anyway, I really meant more “If Lucas didn’t write and direct, they’d have been better.”

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John 2.0 said on March 6th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Yeah, I’ve heard the Star Wars as Viet Nam theory before and I don’t buy it. I think England in WWII is a much better fit, what with the big dogfight at the end to prevent death from the sky and fighting stormtroopers and all (And those X-Wing flightsuits are British racing jumpsuits not Russian space suits).

I’m sure the 70′s did have an effect on the film’s tone, as did Lucas’ friendship with more obviously political filmmakers. But Star Wars IS a throwback. Whatever his strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker, Lucas isn’t subtle. When he wants to make a political science fiction film it looks like THX 1138.

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There needs to be a logical reason for Palpatine to be evil, and there needs to be a logical reason for Anakin to be evil.

True for Anakin (and thank you for all the lovely illustrations as to why), but personally I always bought Palpatine with just “power hungry”. Apart from that being a long-standing villain motivation, he’s the kind of guy that wouldn’t deign to tell any of the other characters his deeper motivations even if he had them. At the very least, he wouldn’t be honest about them.

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Rob Brown said on March 7th, 2012 at 10:13 am

True for Anakin (and thank you for all the lovely illustrations as to why), but personally I always bought Palpatine with just “power hungry”. Apart from that being a long-standing villain motivation, he’s the kind of guy that wouldn’t deign to tell any of the other characters his deeper motivations even if he had them. At the very least, he wouldn’t be honest about them.

Yeah, he was pretty secretive. Still, I wouldn’t mind knowing why he wanted power, because most people who want power want to do something with it. As far as we can tell, Palps just wants power for power’s sake.

I don’t doubt that there are people like that in the real world, who would love to rule the world or a piece of it just because it would feel good for them. But I think they’re the exception to the rule. While knowing Palpatine’s motivations isn’t necessary for a good story (I consider ROTJ a good movie overall, and we didn’t find out a whole lot about what drove him in that one) I’m nevertheless curious about what they were.

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For an idea of what Lucas might have been envisioning for the Jedi, wiki up ‘First Earth Battaltion’ and ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’ (the book, not the movie.)

Spoiler for the book: The first half of the book is pretty funny and light. The idea of the First Earth Battalion is pretty ‘far out, man,’ in a kind of groovy, Grateful Dead, counterculture way. Then you see the picture of the screaming Iraqi in an empty shipping container. Book gets dark real fast after that. The short form is that the Jedi of the First Earth Battalion fell to the Dark Side and went Sith. Basically.

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My takeaway with Palpatine and the Empire in general was that they wanted order. The type of order that only a strong-arming government that rules through fear can achieve. My memory may be fooling me, but I believe it’s even mentioned at one point.

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Rob Brown said on March 8th, 2012 at 6:17 pm

@Jack: That’s mentioned as a justification, sure, but I don’t know if that was his primary motive. I mean, war is pretty chaotic, and he not only started one that last at least three years, but–in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”–kept it going by working with Dooku to keep everybody on both sides angry and suspicious of one another. (As you can read here.)

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Rob,
While I can certainly appreciate the chaos of war, if his side wins, he gets to enforce order. Whole ends justify the means thing. Granted that it’s not exactly a strong motivation, but if you were willing to settle for just anything, there you go.

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@John 2.0: Again, you have to remember that “the big dogfight at the end” wasn’t Lucas’ planned ending; it was cobbled together when his original ending (Luke inspires the Wookies to revolution against the Empire that’s been enslaving them, and they blow up the Death Star) was deemed infeasible.

(In fact, quite a bit of what we see was cobbled together in post-production; the original film as shot didn’t have the Death Star closing in on Yavin at all. That was all added with ADR and editing in order to give the Rebels a “race against time” to make things more suspenseful.)

The original ending, as Lucas planned it, was an allegory for minorities and the dispossessed taking down the corrupt and oppressive government, and was far more political.

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