Sunday, October 3, 2010

Season I, Episode VII: Duel of the Droids

“We’re all droids here,” says General Grievous, but there is self-hatred in this acknowledgement; he proceeds to have R2 dismantled on an operating table, in a disturbing droid parallel to Nazi experimentation. Grievous is the image of self-loathing, in particular the self-loathing of a once-great warrior who has become—literally, here—part of the machine.

However, in a storied Star Wars tradition, it is the capitalist character, the Trandoshan droid scavenger Gha Nacht, who is the enemy of both good (Skywalker) and evil (Grievous, who kills him). The capitalist, after all, exists nihilistically beyond—or we should perhaps say before—good and evil.

R2-D2 is the centerpiece of the episode, which makes this episode resonate more centrally with the film saga, since R2 is the glue that holds the saga together. To set the tone for this, there are evocative images of the saga, such as Ahsoka kneeling down before R2 as Leia did in Episode IV. Most hauntingly, there is Anakin’s desperate desire to find his droid. It echoes his imperious command at the beginning of Episode IV, as Darth Vader: “I want those droids.” R2, whom the Jedi have discounted and discarded, is saved by Anakin, out of the devotion of love and friendship. This is indeed a form of attachment, forbidden for the Jedi, but it is a healthy, unneedy attachment, the kind that will be incorporated by Anakin’s son into the new Jedi Order. And thus R2 redeems that faith, EVEN AS HE OPPOSES HIS SAVIOR later on, by becoming Luke’s copilot against Vader. R2, then, is part of Anakin’s redemption, precisely in helping to defeat Anakin. True devotion can necessitate opposition, and R2’s devotion to Anakin’s principles rather than Anakin himself is what redeems Anakin in the end.

I will note here that Star Wars always takes pains to remind us how much is going on outside the frame, especially the trajectories outside the frame of background characters in the frame. A battle droid hands another battle droid a nondescript box and says: “Take this upstairs and be sure not to drop it.” And that’s it. No other reference to the box for the rest of the episode.

Addendum: Star Wars meaningful design of the episode—the empire/republic symbol. The symbol of the nobel Republic becomes the symbol of the self-serving empire, as we know. These circular symbols appear at control consoles around the universe. Droids like R2 stick their levers in the center of the circle to manipulate nearly everything—access to rooms, shields, weapons systems, trash compactors. The upshot is that there is no way to manipulate this world outside of its semiotic system. To access the city or its vehicles, one must plug into the symbol, even if you’re overriding or hacking the system.

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