An Unanswered Question from The Phantom Menace

Well, here there be an invitation to pain. I’ll be stunned—yes, stunned—if anyone/everyone who comments stays on topic. Let the games begin!

At the outset I have to give credit to The Clone for this question, as he ponders some interesting angles having to do with everyone’s favorite Space Saga. I was fairly dismissive of the question, citing numerous factors—all of which I’m remaining silent about due to the fact that I don’t want to bias potential comments/answers to this question.

Does Anakin’s High Midichlorian Count Constitute a Performance–Enhancing Drug?

The Clone maintains that it does, in fact, constitute a PED on the basis that it enhances his natural abilities above those of a normal being (regardless of race/species). To quote Qui–Gon:

He can see things before they happen. That’s why he appears to have such quick reflexes. It’s a Jedi trait.

Now, this is undeniably an advantage to a being regardless of age. While Anakin may not knowingly manipulate the Force at this tender, untrained stage in his life, he nevertheless has an innate ability to react to events quicker since he can see things coming before they actually happen. He may consider it instinct, but it’s really a Force–based ability.

So Is It An Unfair Advantage?

The main counterpoint to which I doggedly return in conversations with The Clone is that it’s not so much an unfair advantage as something by which the playing field is leveled. As Anakin notes, he’s the only human that can do it. Is that true or just vain braggadocio? I suppose that’s left up to interpretation; Qui–Gon may be gently trying to play a hunch about Anakin at that point as he plies him with the follow–up line that he “must have Jedi reflexes.”

However, isn’t that really what a PED is? Something by which you ‘close the distance’ between yourself and your opponents, and possibly overtake their own natural abilities, in an effort to win. Most importantly, you’re supplementing your own innate abilities as a human being.

To wit, on a level playing field of age and fitness, I might be unable to outrun Usain Bolt naturally due to my own physical limitations. However, if I supplement my training to ‘close the distance’ in our abilities with a PED, I can. Or I can recoup from injuries quicker, build more muscle mass to help the Steelers win Super Bowls in the 1970s or whatever.

Still…

I can’t escape the fact that the kid wasn’t injecting himself with midichlorians. And, midichlorians are a part of all life; they just manifest in greater numbers and with deeper Force connections within other beings. And besides, who’s to say another racer didn’t have a latent Force ability? They just may not have had a connection as strong as Anakin’s.

In other words, Anakin did nothing to change his midichlorian count, nor to knowingly enhance it. Therefore, he’s not “enhancing” himself, therefore it’s not a PED but rather a natural characteristic.

I say that I’ve got a logical counter–argument, of a rather iron quality.

What say you?

Doors Week: Introduction

At the gentle prodding of my conscience, my good standing as a fan(atic), my honored title as pre-eminent James Douglas Morrison Scholar and The Clone’s ability to get under my skin with the occasional tweet pretending Oliver Stone’s movie biopic is anything but insane propagandistic 1960s hippie nonsense, I’ve decided to dedicate this week to blogs about The Doors.

Please be clear about something: when I love something or someone, I love them without reservation. I don’t see a need to dwell on the negative or to critique something harshly; either I love them or I don’t. Simple as that.

Why on earth would I want things to be more complicated?

Perspective

Does it mean I rob myself of the ability to be critical at all? No.

It’s a fair statement to say that The Soft Parade is the hardest album for a non-fan to hear for obvious reasons, but it’s still The Doors, there are more songs on it that I love than I don’t, and even the songs that aren’t all that great or might be incongruous with the album’s flow still have a place because they have a sound that I like.

This is no different than saying that my friend can be an assh***, but I see other qualities that compel me to love him.

That analogy is specifically apt if you’re going to be a Doors fan beyond your teenage years. Let’s be clear about this: despite the giant mountain of mythos, Jim Morrison was a human being. I’ve written about him and his flaws before; I feel like I understand Morrison as well as anyone could who didn’t know him personally. I’ve read nearly as much about him as I’ve read about Star Wars.

You wouldn’t think there would be that much about him, but there is. I suppose it’s waning as the hippie generation dies out and those of us who carried the torch for his mythology have grown up a little wiser and perhaps a little more aware of the dangers of hero worship.

Truthfully, my experiences of being a devoted fan of Morrison are probably why I get the d–chills so bad when people go all gaga for Obama. Setting aside the everyone’s politics, the cult of personality that gets built up around anyone is just a bad idea.

Ironically, I started truly liking Morrison’s work as an artist again once I stopped “worshipping” him. Or maybe that’s not ironic at all. You get the point.

What’s Left to Say?

After writing a few pieces over the years (and discussing the band to the point of nausea with anyone who would listen), including my final take on Morrison and my last shot at Manzarek, you might wonder if I have anything left in the tank.

I definitely have enough left over for a final set of blogs on the topic, I assure you, including my adult (re-)assessment of Stone’s horribly inaccurate biopic that was ostensibly about the band but was really just a tweeny love letter to what he thought Morrison represented (and by the way, got wrong).

So settle in for the first-ever Doors Week at kessel korner.

It’s Not Arrogance

Sitting down to dinner recently with Korean Cigarette Smoking Moriarty Man (KCSMM), he leveled a rather harsh claim against me that he’s leveled before when we’ve had disagreements. He called me “arrogant.”

To put it in context, KCSMM leveled this claim because, after enlisting a complete stranger at another table to try to get me “admit” I am “wrong” about a matter of opinion, and my basic refusal to change my mind so as to agree with him completely, he called me “arrogant.”

This pejorative was leveled at me recently when I declared a growing appreciation of beer as well, both by everyone’s favorite misanthrope and by Agent Bun herself. This is a hurtful and untrue accusation.

I’m going to take that basic argument, and address it very completely and hopefully put the matter to rest. The basic gist of it all will be “No, Dear Readers, I Am Not Arrogant At All.”

Misuse of a Term

First and foremost is a global misuse of the term “arrogant.” In order for one to be arrogant, one must be “disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner.” This is according to the definition at the Merriam Webster dictionary site; similar and consistent definitions, accounting for necessary variance in verbiage, are avaiable via dictionary sites across the entire Interwebs.

However, the dictionary definition of a term does not limit its misuse. People have seemingly, as a general rule, taken to using the term to mean anyone who is sure of themselves. Confidence, it seems, is now generically frowned upon.

This is consistent, however, with our culture in general. “We” don’t like being told that someone disagrees with us. We’ve been conditioned to believe that no one has the right to tell us what we don’t want to hear. Both Jar Jar Hater and KCSMM have taken to this very blog to claim that no one has any right to tell anyone else that what they’re doing might be a bad idea (though Jar Jar Hater later directly contradicted herself.).

Sticks and Stones

Further, the issue is that it reduces the argument to name–calling and defensiveness. Resisting the urge to take the “just because someone is arrogant doesn’t invalidate their argument” route, I’ll instead hammer at the last refuge of the person who must concede they’ve run out of argument.

The reason that KCSMM has leveled the charge against me in this instance, and before, is because he ran out of arguments to make. Obviously I didn’t change his mind (otherwise he would have gracefully admitted that his arguments had been defeated), but instead of simply being able to say that he refused to change his mind—an important point in this context I’ll be returning to shortly—he hurled the word “arrogant” at me and changed the argument.

So instead of either declaring a draw or saying he had no intention of listening to my arguments in turn, he just kept repeating that I was arrogant since I didn’t change my mind to agree with him. The worst it could be is obstinate, but that would denote I don’t listen or respond to his arguments, which is untrue.

Additionally

I openly discuss a willingness to change and appreciate things in a different light, if not expanding my horizons altogether. This belies the notion that I’m arrogant, as it’s used here, and it disproves the additional theory that I’m stubborn. Arrogant and stubborn people are less likely to open their minds to new possibilities.

Ironically, in the context of his own argument that a refusal to change my mind to agree with his opinion is arrogant, he is arrogant himself. Two plus two is four, regardless of who’s doing the math.

So if the baseline of someone’s argument is that if someone does not change their opinion, they are arrogant. If everyone is arrogant, the word loses meaning. Therefore, KCSMM believes that no one is arrogant.

Even though I generally subscribe to the idea that all people have the capacity for unlimited good at their core, I think that’s a little overly optimistic.

Final Note

I know that KCSMM doesn’t really think I’m arrogant. He’s just frustrated by the fact that I’m likely not to change my opinion about a specific set of films we’ve both seen. I don’t know why that would bother him, but it does.

I know also that it has to be very frustrating to try to argue Star Wars with me. The main reason is that I really have spent a large amount of brain juice considering all of the angles. I’ve read literal libraries full of reference material on the films. It’s pretty hard to find an argument I have not considered.

This is not because I’m arrogant, just that on this specific topic I’m disappointingly well–read. It would be like arguing economic theory with Milton Friedman. You might not like his conclusions, and you might never agree with his data. But the guy knows the topic on which he’s speaking, because he’s spent a great deal of time thinking it through and refining his positions through argument.

Besides, I love the prequels. There are people who do not. It’s a matter of artistic opinion.

It shouldn’t matter whether everyone agrees with me, or no one does. I enjoy offering alternative interpretations of things that people may not have considered, hence the blog. Further, since 1999, I’ve found prequel haters are the ones far less likely to listen to conclusions challenging their own presumptions.

So maybe just by virtue of disagreeing with me, Korean Cigarette Smoking Man (and by implication, Jar Jar Hater) is the one who’s arrogant.

AT-ATs of Endor

Recently, Craig baited me into an argument about AT-ATs on Endor, and then felt the need to enlist Jar Jar Hater to his losing arguments.

So here I am, once again setting to rest some things that should not even be questions. I question at times whether I’m the only one who actually pays attention to these films. Can’t wait to see regular commenters fall all over themselves trying to manipulate that last sentence into an opportunity to mock me.

A Different Approach

For this blogument (blog + argument = annoying new psuedo-word!), I’m taking a different approach. I’m going to call out actual arguments and respond to them point by point.

One reason is that it will save me time, another is that it will save you time and the last is that it’s been one heck of a week. I only have so much energy to give.

Argument One: Mileage or Safety Rating?

…whoever decided that the AT-ST was the best transport on the forest moon of Endor was an idiot. Why didn’t they just send down some AT-AT’s and have them fire lasers and ewoks and rebels alike. Especially since it was proven that the AT-ST had armor that couldn’t withstand a tree and the AT-AT has armor that can withstand lasers.

My counter-argument is that an AT-AT Walker is a heavy vehicle. While it can indeed cut through a forest by blasting and crushing its way through the trees, this worked directly against the idea of luring the rebels into a trap.

Think of it this way: the rebels are supposed to think they are catching the Empire off-guard. Palpatine, or whomever is in charge of the military strategy (it’s Palpatine), purposely presents a tempting target to the rebels. “Oh, look at me! I’m a defenseless shield generator! Why doesn’t your small strike team (they fit on one shuttle, after all) come on over and get the fleet over here to attack this lil’ ol’ “unarmed” Death Star?” (Implied: Suckas!)

If all of the area around the back door is recently-scorched ground with a bunch of AT-AT Walkers in a big circle around the target, the rebels will probably call it off or alter their plans.

Also, the Emperor knows that Luke will be lured to this trap as well, and wants to trick him too.

If you want to turn your head around it even more, Solo was planning a straight-forward infiltration with the commando team (he even begins discussing it before 3PO interrupts). The Ewoks were the ones who told them about the back door. So they did, in fact, still catch the Imperials unaware—which is why they got as far as they did in the first place before being captured.

And being a small commando team, they still failed at their primary mission. The ewoks provided the diversion, and indeed the old veteran Chewbacca was the one who actually turned the tide of the battle when he jacked an AT–ST.

Argument Two: Not Really an Argument

[Kessel] had this convoluted theory that maybe if the trees could pierce the armor because it is not made to withstand a slow piercing object. Yes he argued that a tree could pierce the armor of an AT-AT.

I bring this up to correct it. I did not argue that. I said that the AT-STs presumably had similar armor (able to withstand energy weapons to an extent) but that they were lighter vehicles susceptible to force-of-impact destruction.

Here’s an analogy: the AT-AT is an M1-Abrams and the AT-ST is a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Argument Three: There WERE AT-ATs There.

One of them is used to transport Luke to Vader.

It’s always been there. You can easily extrapolate that there is more than one on the planet.

Go get your VHS copy. It’s there in all its stop-motion and then full-sized not-quite-accurate forced-perspective glory behind Luke and Vader glory.

See the screen caps, with helpful guide:

ATAT drops off Luke
Well, here’s one shot with an AT-AT.

 

Now, to expand upon the point from above, imagine these big, lumbering vehicles.

They would take time to get to the battle, a battle which the Imperial military thought it could handle easily.

If you watch closely the Empire does whip on rebel ass until Chewbacca turns the tide and the rebels trick the Imperials into letting them into the structure to destroy it.

AT AT Comes to Rest on the Forest Moon Called Endor While Dropping Off Luke Skywalker
Stop Motion. Matte Paintings. Back lighting.

I mean, the Empire is wailing on Ewoks until Chewie has his hands on the controls of a chicken walker and starts blasting other walkers apart.

So why doesn’t the Empire send the AT-ATs after the fact to exact vengeance?

Simple answer: through the chicanery of Han Solo, the first hint the Imperials had about their precious base going up in flames…was their base going up in flames. Also, the film was nearing the two hour mark, which in Star Wars land means there will be opportunities for you to make it up in your head.

Like I did!

Argument Four: I Know My Star Wars, Thank You

AT AT Set Piece on the Forest Moon Called Endor in Return of the Jedi When Luke Skywalker Talks to Darth Vader
This is an argument for “Special Editioning” a background.

I bring this up because of something Jar Jar Hater said in her turn arguing:

Remember that strategic command on Endor is directly overseen by the Emperor, who even hides this from Vader

No, he doesn’t. He orders Vader around. Vader was obviously given command of the fleet in Empire, bungled his second chance at Sith succession, and so the Emperor spanked him and took direct control. This is the classic blunder of many an evil leader in history, yes. They’re too intolerant of short-term failure because they fear weakness.

But he didn’t hide it from Vader at all.

Argument Five: Secrecy Kills, Not Lack of AT-ATs

The base was supposed to be a secret. Now, building a Death Star in secret on the Forest Moon Called Endor will require stationing, supplies, quartermasters, etc. Therefore, the Empire couldn’t station a whole bunch of resources there prior to bringing the fleet there for the trap.

So you could make the argument that possibly, building the Death Star in secret was the first mistake. I question that, above all else.

Conclusion

After all, you’re an Imperial Machine run by bureaucrats and brute force that hands out mandates on the whim of insane leaders, like North Korea or New York. Why bother hiding it? Why not just announce to everyone, “Hi there! We’re building another, Mother-F***ers, and we’re putting a shield generator around the shield generator of the shield generator’s shield generator, and building it near a highly-populated planet with a large civilian population that we’ll torture and kill if you try to stop it.”

It lacks subtlety, but I’ve always liked to dream big.

What are your thoughts?

Luke n’ Carbonite

Recently, regular blog commenter and occasional influencer Tom (who really deserves a proxy vote at any meeting of the Convocation) asked the question, “Why does Luke need to be frozen in Carbonite?”

The stock answer is, so the lil’ scamp won’t cause problems on his way to the Emperor. You have to imagine that a Force-talented individual, who happens to be either the Son of the Chosen One or the Chosen One himself, depending on how you read the prophecy, and who doesn’t want to be delivered to the Emperor might cause some serious headaches.

But alas! I thought about it for a minute and there are more intriguing motivations. Taking hints from the text, there are  other possibilities at play, which I think can add real layers to the film. None of these stand alone as “reasons” but rather what my old acting teachers would have called “objectives in service of the super-objective.”

The Super-Objective

The Super-Objective for Vader, of course, is to fulfill his “Destiny” and become the Chosen One, the ruler of the galaxy, the final arbiter and executor of the Force’s will in the galaxy. Sure, his interpretation of it while he’s the Man in the Suit is skewed toward a darker interpretation of the prophecy, but were he to take his place as the true Lord of the Sith, he’d fulfill it “from a certain point of view.”

  1. It’s part of Vader’s mandatory Sith power play against the Emperor;
  2. It’s insurance against the Emperor betraying Vader (ties into #1);
  3. It prevents easy rescue attempts (obvious);
  4. Vader can exert some sort of mental influence on Luke while frozen in carbonite (I’ll get to where I got that whacky idea later);
  5. Vader could hide Luke and claim he was dead (ties into #1).

Tying Them Together

Luke, trapped in the carbonite, is no longer able to use the Force as he’s in a state of suspended animation. This keeps him unable to thwart Vader’s plans to (ostensibly) deliver him to the Emperor. All well and good, but why not just knock his punk ass out and put him in some of those awesome energy binders that incapacitated Obi-Wan in Episode II?

There’s likely another motivation Vader has. Yes, he says in front of a bunch of people that he’s taking Luke to the Emperor. But there is such a thing as subtext. I know that for me, if there’s no possibility of another reading of the text, there’s no need to come back to the book/film/show. And I like to think I return primarily to entertainment that offers something additional when I revisit.

Additional Points

Vader had other motivations. Going back to some of the thoughts I’ve postulated before, and of which I’ll likely post a further examination at the implicit behest of The Clone, Vader was ready for his “big moment” on the Death Star before a couple of torpedoes thwarted his ambitions.

It’s not like he no longer wanted what he wanted by the time Episode V rolls around. If anything, he wants it more.

So, he’s figured out he has a son. He’s smart enough to know that he’s got an even better shot at dicing up Old Man Palpatine with his son by his side. After all, Luke is the direct offspring of The Chosen One (or, again, possibly The Chosen One himself). The kid’s got power and skills.

He’s also smart enough to know Palpatine would love nothing more than to toss his crispy behind out and start fresh with an undamaged Skywalker. Return of the Jedi proves that point as Sidious is ready to toss Vader onto the trash heap when Luke drops him like a punk.

About Carbonite

We know that carbon-freeze is used to put things in suspended animation. Cloud City’s facilities are geared for industrial output, leading to the concerns that the “crude” facility would kill Luke. So they test on Han and then get everything set to drop Luke into the pit. We know Luke will live, and be unable to escape.

However, as was established in the novelizations and various adaptations based on the original script, Luke would still have been aware of things. Han characterizes his time in carbonite as a personal hell in a scene cut from the final film, the infamous “sandstorm scene” on Tatooine (and I believe the dialogue was in at least one official adaptation):

“No, I’m thinking a lot about it. That carbon freeze was the closest thing to dead there is. And it wasn’t just sleepin’. It was a big wide awake nothing!”

Luke, in stasis, can’t be found. He can be spirited away and hidden, where Vader can train him and turn him to the ways of the Sith. Think of it: Vader can have a telepathic “conversation” with Luke while he’s in a sort of living Hell. What better offer could Vader make, when Luke is ready to break, than to offer him release from this prison if only he would turn?

That’s where I came up with Number 4 in the list above. It’s an interesting possibility, at the very least, and far more thematically consistent with the the series than some of the horse-poop other “fans” put out there.

Hidden from Sidious

At a bare minimum, Vader can hide Luke in the literal sense. If Luke is in stasis, his “signal” in the Force becomes subdued. He’s harder to detect. For goodness’ sake, the Emperor and Vader didn’t even sense his coming when he was out and living free on Tatooine, while Vader was in orbit (this ties into another topic I’ll be touching on soon enough).

Conclusion & Conjecture

So upon this closer look, given that there are other ways for Vader to deliver Luke to the Emperor, freezing Luke in Carbonite is actually a step from Vader to put the balance of his relationship with Sidious back in his favor.

He failed to parlay the Death Star into a final advantage, but figures Luke gives him an insurmountable one. His plans for Luke in Empire therefore take on a greatly layered quality in this examination.

Is it authoritative? Not at all. It’s a guy on the Internet playing “English Major” with a story point in a film.

But you have to admit that it’s a more interesting way to look at it. More interesting than face value, that’s for sure.