An Unanswered Question from Star Wars

It’s been a while since I’ve discussed Star Wars, and I seem to be of a mood to ask questions lately, so I’ve got one that I’ve never seen answered satisfactorily. If at all. It’s really a series of questions, because one hypothetical answer just leads to another question.

Why Was Luke Allowed to Fly in the Battle of Yavin?

Obviously, Luke was the hero character. He was going to have something to do with the climactic battle of the film. But his participation doesn’t make logical sense in the context of the plot.

So here are the questions I have about it.

The Alliance May Have Had Limited Ships, but They Had Plenty of Pilots

When we get to the throne room where they receive their medals for bravery and heroism, there are a ton of pilots in the audience. Seriously, a lot. You’d be able to hit one throwing a baseball without aiming all that well.

So why didn’t one of them fly in the final battle? At least one of them had to have been a great pilot. Even if not great, then at the very least “he” predated Luke as a member of the Alliance. He’d been training and preparing for battles, even if not that particular one, for longer than Luke had.

The Star Wars Radio Drama, which was considered an authoritative outside source until the Special Editions contradicted it, offered a scene where Luke was pre-tested before he went into battle. They wanted to make sure he was rated on the Incom T–65 (if you have to look it up, I’m disappointed) and so they had him undergo a rigorous simulation. In actuality, it’s a really fun scene to hear.

But Those Pilots Were Veterans by Comparison!

Seriously, no matter how well a pilot tests “off the street,” you mean to tell me that Red Leader was not just comfortable letting Luke fly one of their prized ships, of which they had a limited supply, but passing over a flier he had worked with previously?

Do you think somebody walked in out of the blue and just hopped in a P-38 to shoot down the zeroes? No matter how good he was, wouldn’t they have said, “well, that’s great, but this mission’s already the equivalent of pissing in the wind, and you’ll likely just cost us a ship early in the game”?

For That Matter, What If He’d Been a Double Agent?

The Empire already proved–and probably had many times in the past–that they were willing to throw people’s lives away on a gamble (the tracking device/sentry ship ploy that got them to Yavin). He may have rescued the princess, but no one would entertain the possibility he was a deep–cover agent? For goodness’ sake, a mercenary brought him along and Leia never interacted with Obi–Wan. For all she knew, it was an act.

Good screening process there, guys.

Conclusion

No one can really answer this satisfactorily, and that’s OK. I’m just trying to work out a question in the same way that prequel haters nit–pick plot points and devices in such a way to justify maintaining their hatred.

But I’d like to see anyone answer this adequately. (I have answers in my head already, I’m intrigued to see where other people’s reasoning takes them.)

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.

Flashback Blog: Star Wars Politics and You

I started this reincarnation of ‘kessel korner’ with a revival of one of its original posts from its days at blogs.starwars.com/kesseljunkie. This is a feature that I’d like to keep going because it’s fun to see how the posts hold up and every so often I want to pull back on a post slated to auto-publish on a certain day so I can re-work it a little bit. That happened for the one scheduled today, so enjoy this. It’s nerdy on a scale that almost makes me blush. Almost.

Meh, it’s all in fun. I remember when I originally wrote it, it was more about the punchline at the end than anything else given George Lucas’ ironic political views.

Note: I did correct a spelling error or two I found when I copied and pasted. But also in re-reading, I thought of an additional point and so inserted it below. It’s highlighted.


Star Wars Politics and You

Empire. Republic. Democracy. Peace. War. Bureaucracy.

For all its grandiose themes of Good vs. Evil and Right vs. Wrong, the actual political structure of Star Wars has never been properly laid out. At least not plainly. So, I want to put the puzzle together here.

Going all the way back to 1977, the irony seemed to escape everyone that a princess was seeking to ‘restore freedom to galaxy’. Perhaps that’s because it was mentioned at the end of the title crawl, just before the rebel starship roars across the screen. Hard to be critical when you’ve just been startled into soiling your shorts.

Lucas leaves us to presume that on Alderaan, there’s a duly-elected, bicameral chamber with a robust system of checks and balances. I’ll presume that to avoid a logic breakdown.

However, Princess Leia’s role was obviously more than that. She mentions the Galactic Senate – and we know from extant sources that she was a representative in it. It’s safe to assume that she’s not duly elected to the role, since her adoptive family are the (benevolent) rulers of her world. So, it’s a political appointment, like an ambassador with voting privileges.

The only later mentions of the political structure of the Empire are that this Galactic/Imperial Senate is disbanded, and the Emperor has given control directly to the regional governors. Grand Moff Tarkin is such a ‘Governor’; so they must be political appointees loyal to the Imperial Throne. Instead of representatives of the planets carrying their will to the Emperor for judgment (Imperial Senate), he installs loyalists to carry his will to the people.

So, from about eight lines of dialogue (including Obi-Wan’s) we are told that the Republic is swept away and the Galaxy is under the thrall of a despotic ruler. So though Princess Leia is apparently some sort of benevolent local power base, the Emperor overrules her, and he’s not benevolent.

I mean, the guy built a weapon capable of destroying planets. That’s not nice at all.

Lucas later laid out that the Empire’s jurisdiction actually suffered limitations in The Empire Strikes Back (Cloud City is small enough to escape notice), but we got no real glimpse at further political structure. With Return of the Jedi, we just learned that centralizing the power of government into one central figure is a bad idea – because if they blow up, then you have to start from scratch.

Then came…The Phantom Menace. Glorious, politically specific jewel of the crown, The Phantom Menace served to confirm a few things and pull the curtain back on a few others. They were:

  1. Senators were not elected – they were appointees;
  2. Queens can be elected;
  3. The people were underrepresented, as the chancellor was a position
    filled by a vote of appointees, not elected officials;
  4. Bureaucracy ruled the day;
  5. Jedi are actually a part of the government;
  6. There is a court system; and
  7. Wait…queens can be elected?

Senators were obviously appointees because that was the only way to make sense of the situation. The Galactic Senate made law on a scale that applied to all planets; the planets themselves had sovereignty, and thus jurisdiction over local matters.

The duly elected rulers of the planets would then appoint someone who spoke on their behalf . They served to express the will of their planet.

This theory is supported by Palpatine’s (supposed) obeisance before Amidala. If you notice, he gives her no instruction – just advice. He is bound by her decisions. This is further cemented by the fact that it’s Amidala calling for the vote of No Confidence in Chancellor Valorum. If Palpatine is an appointee, it makes sense that the person who appointed him carries more weight in the Senate when there in person. It’s like when Jaques Chirac visits the UN – his ambassador just shuts up and lets him roll.

So in essence, the Galactic Senate is the UN.

To that point, the Supreme Chancellor is a position filled by one of those representatives; note that the people of the Galaxy have no direct say as to who wields executive power there.

So, let’s address the idea of an elected Queen. Easy. She’s a President. They just call her Queen. The US government is a prime example of how this works. ‘President’ = ‘Chief Executive’. Apparently, in the case of Naboo, ‘Queen’ = ‘Chief Executive’. (I just hope that they also elect Kings too, because otherwise the Naboo should attend sensitivity training and stop being sexists.)

We’ll get to the bit about Jedi in the government later.

Palpatine and Amidala discuss a court system at one point, which takes us to Attack of the Clones.

In Attack of the Clones, things get fleshed out a bit more. This time, Amidala is the Senator – and she confirms that she was an appointee (score!). So there you go. It’s brief, but the dialogue is there when she and Anakin arrive at Naboo.

Further, this role is filled because Palpatine, as Supreme Chancellor, has to abdicate his role as representative of Naboo. This would make sense. Naboo still has a specific voice in the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor has an opportunity to operate without obligation to one planet’s agenda. It’s never clear as to what happens when Palpatine is no longer SC – does he go back to Naboo? Resume his role in the Senate? Since we never see Valorum again, I think it’s safe to assume that Supreme Chancellors retire and become lobbyists.

The supreme irony is that people in the Senate refer to liberty and democracy – when they are obviously not even elected.

The courts are a joke, not because the Trade Federation isn’t behind bars. But they have been tried in the Supreme Court three times. Apparently there is no concept of double jeopardy in the Star Wars Universe. You must just keep trying someone in court until you get the result you want. Ugh. [2010 Note: In re-reading, I realized that the dialogue could have been short-hand that they tried them on different charges three times, resulting in three trials in the Supreme Court. Though it still doesn’t answer whether the court system on a galactic scale would have required appeals up the ladder through some sort of judicial system on a planetary basis (which seems unwieldy), perhaps the term ‘Supreme Court’ is simply shorthand for a ‘Galactic Court’ that operates like our own International Criminal Court.]

Still with me? Good. I’m almost done.

In Revenge of the Sith, we really delve into the Jedi and their role in the government. In the first two prequels, they are revealed as special operatives – they are actually used to strike fear into the Trade Federation. So, though we know the Jedi to be noble, they have set themselves up for what they become by the time of Sith.

They are the Thugs of the Old Republic.

Think about it. Their loyalty is ostensibly to the Senate, but they continually do the will of its leader. This was true with Valorum – he used them as his ‘negotiators’ at the beginning of Menace in an attempt to subdue the Federation. To wit, the line: “I knew it…they’re here to force a settlement.” [Emphasis Added]

This makes them political pawns. When someone gets out of line, the Senate/Chancellor sends some Jedi to go smack them back into line. Why is that so bad? Because the whole point of the Senate was to allow peaceful resolutions to situations; but apparently, when that was undesirable, go rough up the troublemakers and make them behave. This is made worse by the fact that a system like that only works if you can guarantee that the Senate and/or Chancellor are benevolent in their wishes.

Presumably, this is one of the reasons why Dooku left. I cant say I blame him.

So what’s the point? I know I’ve rambled on for a bit.

The point is that George Lucas, for all his thinly veiled references to modern day American politics, has actually set up a potent warning about…the UN. Namely, the dangers of having an appointed body accountable to none but themselves, who elects their own chief representative and sees fit to make law without chance of a referendum. Power should be kept out of its hands at all costs.

But without power, it cannot even adequately arbitrate disputes. To wit, look at the UN’s handling of…well, anything. Their solution is to pass toothless resolutions of disapproval and make weak sanctions.

So that creates situations in this world relatable to that galaxy far, far away. When an entity (Trade Federation) infringes on another, the joint body can do…nothing of consequence. Eventually, something has to give, and either the joint body’s available enforcers (Jedi) are sent in, or more power must handed to the joint body (UN/Galactic Senate) until it becomes dominant and truly starts to rule.

And then, all you need is a new Chancellor. A strong Chancellor. And we can have…peace.