Friday, September 17, 2010

The Malevolence Trilogy: Episodes 2-4


What strikes me as this series gets going for real is how much time we have to follow characters and subplots. A great luxurious heaping of precious time. We are freed by the television format of the burden of developing the main characters, providing backstories, drawing the major themes together, and for that reason can dig more subtley into the less epic developments in lives and lifetimes. This is particularly true for those characters that are the centerpieces of the saga--Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Emperor Palpatine, etc. We jump in medias res into the wartime work of Anakin and Obi-Wan. The entire series is an elongated, expanded take on one of their modes on the saga--the wartime mode. By the time the series is finished and we conclude these wars with Episode III, Anakin and Obi-Wan's story will be dripping with tragedy and poignance.
In the meantime, we are afforded time to slowly and subtley reveal the varieties of thought and activity that lead to the dark side. The black shadow of vader is cast from the first scene in Star Wars: Episode I, and our job is to notice the seemingly innocuous statements and actions that in fact lead to Vader. This series refuses to comparmentalize Vader and Anakin. Ahsoka tells Plo Koon Anakin is "one of a kind", and this uniqueness tends to bleed into both characters. In many episodes one sees Anakin standing or gesturing like Vader, or standing on the bridge of a Republic cruiser in the same fashion he later does so on an Imperial cruiser....of the same design! Indeed, the middle episode here closes with Anakin and R2-D2 and Ahsoka standing and looking out of the bay window of a cruiser, in an almost exact replica of the closing shot of Episode V (The Empire Strikes Back), with his son taking his place and his daughter taking Ahsoka's.
There are many examples; I will point to but a few. First there is the ambiguity of Anakin's talents. They in the end of this episode saga do indeed succeed in their mission, but he loses many men along the way, partially because of his arrogance. "Master, you can do it, but everyone else is getting shot down." This is a common theme in the series--what are the burdens and responsibilities of being the best? Anakin plays high stakes games always--flying these ships before they're ready, taking a shortcut through a nebula filled with massive prehistoric flying beasts, attacking a dangerous ship head on. This is why he wins...both as the hero and as the villain. What is the difference between the two? Not much. In the meantime, the beauty of the visuals is so overwhelming that we are not emotionally prepared for the devastation of 'you can do it, they can't.' We are momentarily floored, and thus all the more floored by the beauty when it returns. This is the sacred alternation in Star Wars--beauty alternating with horror. Beauty--"You have to trust me," says Anakin, as Padme leaps across the gap between two trains. Horror--what happens as she continues to trust him, in the films.
I want to remind the viewer to look, as always in the Star Wars universe, for the metaphorical implications military and other banal forms of speech. For example, when Grievous orders his droids to flee for "separatist space" he is betraying the ideal fascist organization of space into noncontinuous space. Later, Padme remarks that her attempt to negotiate a treaty with the banking clan (it turns out to be a trap) is a failed mission. Of course--like any mission to negotiate peace with a banking clan! The structure of the Republic cruisers includes two bridges--a smart symbolic gesture against tyranny that is lacking in the cruisers later incarnation under the Empire. Before a kiss, Padme ominously tells her future Vader to 'stop talking'. This is the kind of bad advice Ahsoka, who is always grilling him, does not give, and it hints at Padme's tragic weakness. The whole rescue scene in fact, is a foreshadowing of Anakin and Padme's son rescuing their daughter in Episode IV: A New Hope., complete with the tractor beam and the kiss on the run. These connections are designed to show us what went wrong in the first case, right in the second case--subtle, because they are so close. Other connections remind us not to hold on to our first impressions or limited narrative windows into our neighbor's character. For example, General Grievous drops in on Obi-Wan Kenobi and says: "Hello there." This is an exact echo of Obi-Wan's line dropping in on Grievous in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. What on first viewing seemed like an inappropriately cheeky version of buddhistic detachment is revealed to be a ritualistic appreciation of a circle returning (and closing, with Grievous' death).

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