Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Clone Wars: An Introduction


Why a blog on Star Wars: The Clone Wars? Well, obviously because I think the show is good. Very good. Why good? They continue the Lucasian tradition of throwing new light on old lightsabers, of making the old episodes new by means of additional episodes, in varying genres: comic book, television, film, radio podcast, video games and accessories by which to create one’s own narrative. (My band of Jedi Knights, the Teds, spent the last night of burning man in a group of 8 carrying around glowing sabers. Our charge that night was to battle the Cynics).

The Clone Wars is 66 episodes and counting that take place between film Episodes II and III. The stunningly dark context is that every battle is pointless, since the entire war has been manipulated by Chancellor Palpatine, Darth Sidious, who runs both sides, both armies. As such, our enjoyment of the relationships, virtuous actions, and victories is always tempered, always echoing back at us across the void of Episode III, tinged with the light of the Chosen One’s (Anakin Skywalker) terrible but in the end redeeming journey.

But is every battle pointless? See my review of the first episode, “Ambush”.

In a metaphysical sense, we know Star Wars is right—death will have its say in the end. As an observer of the American Empire, I see an echo of the hopelessness of each of our little wars as well, from Afghanistan to Venezuela coup attempts to our various drug wars. But there are characters in this American landscape we love—Jim Morrison, George Jackson, Bono, Frederic Jameson. Following their stories, even if America dissolves like the Republic in Star Wars, is fruitful for the soul. And so with the episodes of The Clone Wars, which have the time and patience to follow minor characters on major quests, or major characters in minor quests. This is what the world looks like fleshed out. What storyworld is this fleshed out, in the history of narrative? Star Wars veers precipitously towards the complexity of our version of storytelling of ourselves to ourselves—history.

If Lucas tells his story in contradictory space and time across multiple genres, an added advantage of this tendency is the unique properties afforded by each medium. Take, for example, commercial breaks in the television medium. In the age of DVD/Blu-Ray/DVR, of course, many watch the episodes with no breaks. But I find the breaks fascinating—during the first episode the star wars story(ies) give way momentarily to a Batman narrative, and we can imagine both narratives simultaneously, underscoring the narrative multiplicity of the Star Wars universe.

The episodic nature of television is interesting as well, given its presentation. Every Friday night, thousands gather at 9pm in front of their television to watch the same developments in the same story. Although this takes place within the privacy of living rooms, the water cooler talk means that each week these stories are processed culturally, across a wide spectrum, (the wideness of which includes that of age—both children and adults watch the show, which is rare enough).

As for animation, in addition to stunning scenery and a seemless integration of person and planet, action and stillness, it frees us from the necessity of having to use actors who don’t understand the visual and sonic elements of cinema (as, for example, elucidated in Stefan Sharff’s book of the same name). The stylized yet expressive rendered face affords the face more archetypal transmitting power, less bound in the associative distractions of actors and their betraying faces.

So sit down every Friday night and engage the ritual. There are so few in contemporary American life. Here is to the episodic push towards a processing of our time of war and empire, and the philosopher-warriors who fail us.

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