Another Way George Lucas Schooled Us All

Shadows of the Future

George Lucas, and his team, have always been a bit ahead of the curve in terms of marketing and showmanship. I realized recently how far ahead as I thought about the Shadows of the Empire campaign in the 1990s. He gave us a preview of the future just ahead of the Internet’s breakout changing of the world and our interactions with it.

For those that don’t remember, Shadows of the Empire (henceforth SOTE) was the sort-of-sequel that fit in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. At the time, it was referred to as the movie without a movie. There was a comic book pseudo-adaptation, a video game (N64!), a novel that served as a novelization, and even a complete soundtrack. Heck, there was a poster by Drew Struzan.

Ben Burtt even helped write an operatic piece in an alien language for a climactic moment that was supposedly adapted from an ancient opera in the Star Wars universe.

And though I know some will roll their eyes, Lucas worked in the ship “The Outrider” and Swoops into the Star Wars Special Edition as a nod to the officialness of the work.

The movie without a movie

I’m on to the thought now that SOTE showed the forthcoming tangential importance of an actual film. In the landscape he saw coming, the box office success of a film is a secondary concern. The idea of the film is what hooks us.

The story could be related in an abstract way. You didn’t need to see SOTE to understand what was happening. SOTE was purposefully done that way, and I think because they saw what was coming. Lucas wanted to know how far he could push things.

The inheritors of that legacy have capitalized on it indeed.

I haven’t seen Jurassic World yet, but I know everything I need simply by observing the toy aisle with my kids. The ancillary materials give away enough to the audience that they can construct their own version of the story mentally. In a sense, the story has become an oral tradition again.

Look at the recent leaks of the Star Wars Episode VII action figure line. The names on the figures and how they’re packaged pair with rumors or interviews you’ve heard and you’re already writing the movie in your head.

A Wider Way to Tell the Story

From a different perspective, though, SOTE also allowed purposeful deviations in storytelling. This is certainly something we’re now missing.Everything “needs” to be contained, tied in and restricted.

Look at the 1977 comics adaptation of Star Wars (“Episode IV” to the young punks); it’s vastly different from the final film. Look at the novelization; it’s still got Blue Squadron.

People used to be OK with these variations! They are what drove our imaginations and, in a sense, said it was OK to play in that world without having to worry about officially sanctioned sources. We were our own Expanded Universe.

What happened to us?

Different interpretations used to be highly valued. Now people argue with fervor over “which interpretation” is the official one. It’s why I enjoy head canon and mourn the loss of poster art. Reading the comics adaptation helped flesh out the film, and any gaps you wondered.

Of course, I also still wish they made new radio dramas. Oh well.

Some Questions

I am left in Limbo on the question of “officialness.” Is SOTE still regarded as accurate, or is it now “legends” materials?

Is disregarding it key to making room for Rogue One and Episode VII? If so, I’m really glad I still have my original-run CD.

Cha-Ching!

Flashback Blog: I Must Obey My Master

Yep. I’m still in the process of reclaiming my old blogs from their old origin points to protect them from being locked away from me for good. I’m also very tired and going to sleep pretty much immediately after I post this.

This time, I decided to nab another one that explores the nature of the Dark Side, but also Anakin/Vader’s dependency on Palpatine/Sidious. It’s something that, as a fan, I’m always interested in trying to peg down just because of the subtextual complexity laid down in that relationship.

So here are my thoughts from 2005, just a few months after Revenge of the Sith was released.


I Must Obey My Master

Originally published on August 24, 2005, at the original kessel korner.

There is something over which I have pondered for more than twenty years. In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader, on the forest moon of Endor, declares, “I must obey my master.” In light of the events revealed in Revenge of the Sith, I think finally know why.

Now, you must know that I am not pulling this from any official source. So don’t take my word as ‘canon’, unless like me, it makes the most sense for you. 🙂

I have always wondered why Vader must obey his master. It just didn’t make sense; Vader offered Luke the opportunity in The Empire Strikes Back to overthrow the Emperor. (As a side note, I loved the parallel moment in Sith when he made the same offer to Padmé.)

There are any of a number of noble reasons you can throw out there as well. One which I always favored was that Vader defends the Emperor, in part because on a subconscious level he wants to prevent Luke from making the same mistakes he did. That explanation still works in the subtext, but it’s not a strong enough motivator to keep Sidious alive.

Vader is already doubting the ways of the Sith by the beginning of Return of the Jedi. The statement, “It is too late for me, son” points to a conflicted soul, one who is resigned to his fate but unhappy about it. It’s not the triumphant declaration of power that we came to expect from Vader after A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, when he was still a blazing acolyte of the Dark Side.

Despite the conflict, despite the doubt, Vader acts first out of the Fear of Death. And since we know that Vader fears death above all other things, he must do everything in his power to protect…the wellspring of his life.

After Revenge of the Sith, it clicked for me when Sidious told Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis. The Sith want to acheive immortality by unnaturally prolonging life. The one word that Palpatine/Sidious hit on in the “legend” was power. Later, when Anakin turns, Sidious states that “only one has mastered” the secret to immortality, “but together, I am sure we can discover its secret.”*

The Emperor, when he goes to find Anakin on Mustafar, does not turn and look for a new apprentice. It would have made sense, would it not? Especially for a ruthless, self-serving manipulator like Sidious. He had already won. We know that Anakin is damaged goods by that point, and so does he. But rather, he goes to the lava shore and saves Anakin’s life. This is not a tender man, so to see any sort of tenderness does not fit.

Palpatine still needs Anakin, because as weakened as he is, he is still the key to Palpatine’s chance at immortality. After his slash-and-burn fate, Anakin needs Palpatine’s power to stay alive as well. They act like parasites, one feeding off the other.

That is the key. Together, Sidious and Vader are extremely powerful. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I believe that one keeps the other alive.

Even in his weakened state as a zombie cyborg, Vader provides the power for the Emperor to cheat death…to a certain point. The problem is that Vader is no longer the powerful man that Anakin was, and as time marches on he cannot feed the Emperor’s “need” much longer. The Emperor now needs the whole, unspoiled son if he is to unlock the secret forever.

Vader, on the other hand, made three plays for power (Mustafar, Death Star, Bespin) and failed. The sun is already setting on him, and he knows that he has blown his chance at “independence”. He needs the Emperor in Return of the Jedi far more than the Emperor needs him. Vader must obey his master, because otherwise he will die. Without Palpatine, the key to Vader’s unnatural life ends.

“Luke, help me take this mask off.”
“But you’ll die.”
“Nothing can stop that now…”

I am already sure that everyone will tell me that it was the Emperor’s lightning that killed Vader. Being more machine than man, blah, blah, blah. But you know what? People survive Force lightning in the films. While I think still that it brings the house crashing down, it is the removal of the Emperor’s power that ensures Vader’s death. This adds even more nobility to the sacrifice. When he throws the Emperor down that ill-placed reactor shaft, he knows that he is committing suicide to save his son. That is the ultimate sacrifice – not to just throw yourself into harm’s way, but to know that it means your end.

So what was the final moment that pushed Vader over the edge? We all know that. But now, maybe I understand why it was such a difficult decision from the start.

* Give me a break. If I mis-quoted something, I know I was at least in the ball park. I haven’t seen Sith more than five times yet, the memorization will come.


I still think this is a pretty valid interpretation after all these years. Anyone have any thoughts?

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

To wrap up the reviews, we turn to the third film released in the series, sixth in the chronology and a guaranteed fanbase-splitter. Return of the Jedi is essentially the second half of The Empire Strikes Back, which unfortunately gives it the great burden of resolving every plotline opened in the previous. Will Han Solo return? Will Princess Leia return to his arms? Will Luke return to Dagobah to complete his training? Will Darth Vader return with the Imperial forces to tempt Luke again? So there really is a lot of returning involved in the story. The title seems like a natural fit. There’s another level to the title as well, with the return not just of the Jedi through Luke, but the return of the fallen Jedi, Vader. The hero returns from the Dark Side thanks to the loving redemption of his son.

Jedi also has to concern itself with resolving the rebellion’s war against the Empire since this is the last film. This winds up complicating Jedi by a fair amount, which plays into the fanbase split over it.

Empire is a much more personal story. Jedi has to sacrifice some of its intimacy for the sake of moving the larger background plot along. Instead of getting a resolution scene between Han and Lando, for instance, we all just have to assume that Chewbacca filled him in that Lando had made moves to redeem himself. Instead of a more intimate reuniting between the three leads at the end, it’s couched within a larger celebration scene.

What Works

These are not knocks against the film. In fact, for me it’s what makes it work. The entire story is about resolution and there’s not a plot stone unturned. Vader’s story is both expanded and resolved; everything we knew about him from the previous films is turned on its head when we meet the Emperor (referenced briefly in A New Hope). Though we see him kneel before a hologram in Empire, we actually see someone so unafraid of Vader as to chastise him openly. Moff Jerjerrod actually mouths off to Vader a little bit at the beginning of the film, whereas mere mention of the Emperor makes him practically wet himself.

That was off-putting enough for the producer of the first two, Gary Kurtz, to walk from the production to pursue other projects. According to at least one source I’ve read, Kurtz adamantly disagreed with Lucas diminishing Vader in such a way.

I never had any problem with it. Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films, largely for a lot of these story aspects. Now that it’s couched in the larger saga of all six films, the story works even better. Again, to draw a comparison to the Lord of the Rings book, I imagine that if you read Return of the King without Fellowship of the Ring, certain story elements would be off-putting. Tom Bombadil once again comes to mind.

What Could Have Worked Better

Most everyone loves to knock on the Ewoks, but they make sense in a certain way. If you look at the Emperor scenes, Jabba the Hutt’s court, the battle at the Sarlacc, Yoda’s death, the revelation of Vader being Luke’s father, Luke nearly going to the Dark Side and the intense action of the space battle, Jedi actually skews darker than Empire. The Ewoks lighten the tone a bit and evoke the Munchkins from Wizard of Oz; Lucas has also said that they’re supposed to evoke the Vietnam war, which seems a little insane.

I also like to throw out there that if you really watch the battle, the Ewoks were getting their asses handed to them until Chewbacca jumped in and took over the AT-ST. Just saying.

Matte painting of the Mon Calamari Hangar
Seriously, I know it’s weird. I just don’t like this matte painting, or the one behind Lando in the next few shots. They don’t match the models.

The design sensibilities seem a bit off in Jedi, which is unfortunate. The Rebel cruiser briefing room, for instance, is pristinely clean and sterile. The walls are unmarked white. The uniforms are pressed. This reads inconsistent visually with the rest of the rebel forces we’ve ever seen. The cinematography is a bit off on the indoor “outside” sets as well, especially when Luke talks with Leia and Vader. Whether this is because for those scenes they wanted so much secrecy and so had a skeleton crew, I don’t know. I hope that at some point that question gets answered.

I’ll also say that the matte painting of the rebel hangar drives me insane and I wish they’d “Special Edition” it. It’s always bothered me.

The pacing after the escape from Jabba the Hutt is also disjointed. From the gathering at the rebel fleet to Luke’s departure to see Vader, the story feels a little forced, as if they were struggling with how to get the characters where they needed to be. There are some terrific moments, such as the Speeder Bike chase and Vader sensing Luke’s approach to Endor, but the flow is not what it should be.

Special Edition Changes

The improved Sarlacc is a non-event for me. I could have lived without it, I don’t care that it’s there.

The improved celebration montage is exactly that: improved. I never disliked the Ewok celebration, but the new ending actually brings the entire series together and gives a real sense of the scope of the victory. The musical scene at Jabba’s palace, including the extended fate of Oola the green dancer, is another one of those things that I could have lived without, but I like the sense of fun and whimsy attached to it. Also, as much as I have an emotional connection to the song Lapti Nek, it was a terrible 1980s synth-laden workout song, so I’m not one to mourn its passing.

Three Blue Ghosts
The Real Anakin appears to Luke, not the broken shell who caused him pain and sorrow. I imagine that if I become a horrible person before my girls ever know me, and I find redemption and have the opportunity to show them who I was before I was terrible, I’ll take it.

Which brings us to Hayden Christensen’s insert at the end for the 2004 DVD release. I like it and not just to be contrarian as at least two of my friends have accused of me. it rings more true for at least two main reasons. The first is, as a spiritual projection, Anakin is making an effort to show his son what he looked like before he was a hideously disfigured half-machine monster. The second is that, when I “see” relatives who have died, I don’t see them as they were at the end. I see them as the vibrant people of the happy times in my life. I’ve actually blogged about this in greater detail before, in the first blog I ever wrote.

To anticipate a certain counter-argument, Obi-Wan and Yoda knew Luke in life and had a positive influence on him in such a way that there’s no need for them to appear in a way he never knew.

The Final Analysis

As I said earlier, Return of the Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films. It remains so, thanks to its place in the larger story arc formed by all six. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect enough. Williams’ theme for the Emperor is freaking awesome, a perfect zombie horror counterpoint to the gentle serenity of Yoda’s theme. The theme actually sounds like the music you’d expect for the Lord of the Undead.

There are missteps in the middle again, as there were with Empire, but Jedi has some moments of editing wizardry that blow my mind to this day. The Battle at the Sarlacc is amazingly perfect; according to notes from the annotated screenplays, the negative processors sent a note back with the final version that said that one sequence contained more cuts than most films. Much like the Factory scene in Attack of the Clones or the desert truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it holds up as one of the most tightly-edited action sequences ever.

So that’s it. I’ll be taking a break from Star Wars for a little bit now, but I just got a wild hair and promised myself I’d write these this year.

Now I can focus on more important things like beating up on Star Trek fans.

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Sequels usually follow the law of dimishing returns. Look at The Matrix sequels, which went from pretentious fluff to execrable nuisance in record time. Starting from Star Trek II (because honestly, who really wants to start with The Motion Picture?), the next time we got a truly worthwhile Star Trek film was VI; I may have emotional attachment to The Final Frontier and Star Trek IV was an entertaining “expanded television episode,” but the truth is the truth.

The Law of Increasing Expectations

The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the first film to really buck the trend. It not only bucks it, it raises the bar for what a good sequel to be. It’s not just a re-hash of past triumph; the characters go in interesting directions, the villain is given a more robust treatment and the technical craft is refined.

This is not to say that Empire is completely flawless, as many fanboys would like to proclaim. Even hinting this can often lead to heated arguments, if not other fans proclaiming your apostasy. The Party Line is that The Empire Strikes Back is a perfect film. Kevin Smith said so!

The part where Luke is attacked by the Wampa feels unnecessary. The legend of Mark Hamill’s accident that left him so scarred they had to adapt the movie for it notwithstanding, it feels crammed into place. There are many other ways that they could have had Ben appear to Luke, in many other circumstances, and they would have rung just as true and would have gotten us to the meat of the story a bit quicker.

After the thrilling battle with the AT-AT walkers, the pacing suffers a bit in the middle. The story loses a little focus, and while Han and Leia’s love story becomes more Gone with the Wind, it feels like there’s too much time spent getting there. Luke’s time on Dagobah is momentous, but there’s some dawdling while Yoda espouses philosophy like a stoned college roommate.

The only slow part I won’t particularly hound upon is where Chewbacca re-attaches C-3P0’s head. To borrow the words of the director, the scene is supposed to call to mind the “Alas Poor Yorrick” scene from Hamlet. It does, and when viewed through that lens, it’s actually fairly brilliant.

Where It Delivers

What Empire does have is a brilliant ending. The duel is thrilling, the chase is magnificently executed and a lot of the choices are unexpected. There’s an element of complexity introduced that shows more confidence in having mutliple storylines and resolutions; whereas A New Hope is very linear, Empire experiments with more parallels.

It also introduces some truly interesting side characters. Lando Calrissian is on deck and ready to replace Han Solo should the position open. Boba Fett struts onto the scene, with awesome armor and the sound of gunfighter’s spurs when he walks. The Imperial Captains and Admirals add a flavor to Vader that gives him a much more sinister edge than the original, when he was seemingly restrained by Governor Tarkin.

Of course, who doesn’t love Yoda? A wise muppet, brought to life not only through technical expertise but the subtler interactions from Mark Hammil. I could muse a bit on how a fictional character speaking in fortune cookie feel-good sayings seems to have shifted the spiritual beliefs of an entire generation, but that’s another topic for another time.

Special Edition Changes

I’m not a huge fan of the Wampa insert just because they didn’t get the lighting right. The other changes, especially the expansion of Cloud City, I welcome. And the mystery of Luke’s 1997 yell as he fell? To quote a poster from my old days at the starwars.com message boards: “Best Un-Change Ever.”

The other small changes took a little adjustment. Of course, no one was going to complain when they fixed the problem of reversed film with Admiral Piett at the end. Digital trickery saves the day! (Now if only they’ll do the fix for Obi-Wan’s braid in The Phantom Menace and Threepio’s eye wires in A New Hope.)

The Final Analysis

What they had the sense to do with Empire was to finish strong. The audience walks out of the theatre wanting more. In a sense, that’s how Attack of the Clones mirrors this one: exciting open, wandering middle and thrilling end.

But that wandering middle does get to me. I’m no enemy of exposition, but what really makes the middle of Empire a sticking point for me is the part where they’re stuck in the slug’s belly. Not so much being detoured into the cave, but the forced point of making it a worm’s belly that suddenly they have to escape to further the plot along. Seems to me that there should’ve been a lot of other possibilities there.

And of course, even though it’s been played into the ground, The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) remains one of the greatest musical cues in the history of anything.

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode IV: A New Hope

This is the area of the reviews wherein I’m likely to start getting into some disagreements with those who may read it and fondly recall growing up with memories of the Original Trilogy the way I did. But the whole point of this is to be honest and stop looking at these films, no matter how iconic, through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.

A New Beginning

The greatest strength of this film is that everything old is new again when you watch it. It ages well. Unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the styles are timeless and the technology nebulously referenced; like the real world, people here don’t care so much precisely how something works, they just care that it does.

The plot is very linear and progresses from point A to B to C to D with such conclusiveness that you don’t care for any leaps that it might take in logic. There are now-legendary scenes that were cut that fleshed out Luke and the political situation in the galaxy in such precise fashion that you see he really did have those ideas from the start.

Most importantly this is the film that redefines moviemaking for an entire generation. By taking older effects methods and perfecting them, Lucas and his team created a world so believable and interesting to watch that you could turn off the sound and just enjoy the visual story. It’s like a silent film, only who would want to rob themselves of such a terrific score, not to mention the immersive aural experience?

While the world may have known of John Williams previous to this film, Star Wars‘ theme will always remain his most enduring legacy.

Created In The Editing Booth

There’s a big reason the editing team got an Academy Award for this. It redefines how to tell a visual story. And according to newly released material, they taught Lucas a thing or two as well. The thrilling ending was edited by Richard Chew, adapted from a much-less-thrilling style that mimicked Lucas’ chase through the tunnels at the end of THX-1138.

It was a lesson Lucas seems to have struggled with on every one of the following films until Revenge of the Sith.

Special Edition Changes

Han fired first. It’s not that big of a deal.

The rest of the changes were cool, though obviously the first tentative steps into a new digital realm until they re-tooled them for the 2004 DVD release. I maintain that had the changes been held until then, and looked as they do now, they’d have gone over much, much better.

The remaining beef with Han and Greedo’s “sloth draw” is that it wasn’t staged that way and no fancy editing is going to make it look intentional unless they go back, make Greedo stand instead of sit, and play the scene more like Lee Van Cleef gunning down the father at the beginning of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. And until Lucas is dead, that change may happen still.

The Final Analysis

Much like the later film Die Hard, what this film lacks in polish it more than compensates through a vigorous desire to entertain. Like Revenge of the Sith, nothing really doesn’t work here, with the exception of the somewhat-laborious wandering through the desert at the beginning. But it’s a small sin and the rest of the film more than makes up for it.

Yeah, hard to find too much wrong with this film. Everything just works.