LOOKING BACK TO THE FUTURE OF STAR WARS
By John L. Flynn
“A Long Time Ago… In A Galaxy Far, Far Away….”
Even now, some seventeen years later, those words still strike such an emotional response of awe and wonder in the hearts of audiences worldwide. Without doubt, the most popular space age adventure of all time, the “Star Wars” trilogy mesmerized filmgoers with the exploits of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader, and delighted both young and old alike with the antics of See-Threepio and Artoo-Detoo. Few film series have enjoyed such success, or have had such an impact on the popular culture of an entire generation. And now, the word for which hundreds of millions of fans have been waiting comes that there will be more adventures. Late last year, George Lucas announced plans to produce not only another installment in the Indiana Jones films but also the first three motion pictures in the “Star Wars” saga. By utilizing the refined digital-image “compositing” technology (first introduced by Industrial Light and Magic in “The Abyss,” later showcased in “Terminator Two” and perfected in “Jurassic Park”), Lucas hopes to complete his three prequels between 1995 and 2001. The first trilogy, set some twenty years before the action in “Star Wars,” has remained both a mystery and the subject of rumor and baseless speculation for over ten years. George Lucas himself has kept purposely tight-lipped for fear that some movie-of-the week (like “Battlestar Galactica”) might “borrow” key elements and upstage his project. However, by looking back at the original films, their novelizations and early drafts, tantalizing clues do reveal the future of his sprawling space saga. “I wanted to make a kid’s film that would strengthen contemporary mythology and introduce a kind of basic morality,” Lucas explained his vision in 1983. “Nobody was saying the very basic things; they were dealing in the abstract. Everybody was forgetting to tell the kids, ‘Hey, this right and this is wrong.'”
While in preproduction of “Star Wars,” Lucas wrote dozens of scripts and story treatments. Each were unique in some way, and featured a different perspective of the space fantasy. One of the earliest scripts dealt with Luke’s father and his relationship to Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi. Fearing that the story would bore modern audiences because it focused more on character development than action, George discarded the treatment in favor of another story, which eventually became “Star Wars.” But he never abandoned its precepts. The earlier material became the back story upon which “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” would turn. Lucas also knew he had enough raw material to make several other motion pictures, and envisioned a saga which would take place over a sixty-year period. He has always maintained that the narrative link between the films (and trilogies) would be his two lovable ‘droids, Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio, and that each trilogy would be a complete work unto itself. Those guiding principles and the presuppositions drawn from the earlier films have made certain details about the first trilogy somewhat immutable. By the same token, Lucas’s decision to structure his middle trilogy like a classic work of Greek tragedy suggests that the first trilogy might also have the same dramatic structure. “Star Wars,” like the first act of a Greek play, provides exposition for the major characters, introduces central conflict (which will later be resolved) and ends triumphantly. “The Empire Strikes Back,” like the second act, begins “en medias res” (in the middle of the action), provides a somewhat darker vision of the central conflict and ends with many issues left unresolved. “Return of the Jedi,” the third and final act, resolves all of the conflicts, ties up the loose ends in the denouement and offers some form of redemption or hope. Perhaps “The Clone Wars,” “The Seduction of Darth Vader” and “Fall of the Republic” represent acts one, two and three (respectively) in his new drama.
Central to this analogy is also a tragic figure whose “hamartia” (error, transgression or weakness of character) has caused him to fall from grace. Darth Vader, the evil Dark Lord of the Sith, is clearly this tragic figure. When he first appears in “Star Wars,” he is a most reprehensible character, capable of any abomination. But, by the end of the third film, Vader is portrayed sympathetically as a pitiful old man who has made one too many mistakes in his life. He also emerges as the true hero who, by destroying the Emperor, saves not only Luke but also the Rebel Alliance. Clearly then, his struggles as a younger man (Anakin Skywalker) with Obi-wan Kenobi and the Emperor are central to this tale of fall and redemption, and must form the basis of the first trilogy.
Similarly, George’s fondness for the work of classicist Joseph Campbell (in particular, The Hero With a Thousand Faces) reveals a common narrative thread that runs through the stories of both Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin. Campbell wrote that heroes in every culture share a common journey that begins with a Separation from home, family and familiar surroundings in what he terms the “call to adventure.” [Some heroes refuse the call, but are later forced by circumstances to take the journey anyway.] And while everyone knows that “a Jedi craves not these things,” these heroic figures are often called upon to undertake a dangerous journey or unknown risk. Their journey into the heart of darkness leads to an Initiation, in which they gain valuable insight about the nature of the universe and themselves from an older mentor. That insight helps them deal with a confrontation with the dark father, wounding, and often dismemberment. Heroes who survive the ordeal are awarded great treasure (in either a physical or spiritual sense), and Return with their treasure to empower or control other men. “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” clearly follow this path.
Whereas audiences are aware of the final disposition of Darth Vader by the close of “Return of the Jedi,” Anakin Skywalker’s journey as a tragic hero begins nearly twenty years earlier in “The Clone Wars”…
THE CLONE WARS
Episode One: “The Clone Wars.”
“For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic . . .” Having completed his training as a Jedi Knight, under the tutelage of Jedi Master Yoda, young Obi-wan Kenobi faces his first test as a warrior in the Clone Wars. Audiences know this for a fact because Ben has told Luke that he once “fought in the Clone Wars,” and that he (like Luke) was a “reckless” pupil under Yoda. Leia, in her holographic message, confirms Obi-wan’s story: “General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars.” Ben evidentally rises quickly in the service of her father Bail Organa, Viceroy and 1st Chairman of the Alderaan system, and is awarded the rank of general before he is thirty-five or forty. His rank also includes the command of young warriors anxious to become Jedi Knights. In one of the earliest drafts of the screenplay for “Star Wars,” Lucas introduced a general who commanded a group of young boys (aged fifteen to eighteen). Although first reluctant to accept the task, the general instructs the boys to fly one-man “devil-fighters” against superior enemy forces. Kenobi admits to Luke that Darth Vader was “one of my brightest disciples . . . one of my greatest failures,” so it is possible that Obi-wan first meets Anakin Skywalker while he is training the others. Perhaps Anakin is, as Luke has been told by Owen Lars, merely “a navigator on a spice freighter,” and only later becomes “the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunnin warrior.” Ben’s decision to train the edler Skywalker would haunt him many years later; but in his younger, more reckless days, the prospect of instructing a young Jedi must have seemed very tempting. Anakin heeds the call to adventure, and follows “Obi-wan on some damned-fool idealistic crusade.” That crusade undoubtably concerns eliminating the threat to peace in the Republic caused by the Clone Wars.
Meanwhile, in “the bright center of the galaxy,” on the capitol city-planet Aguilae, the young, ambitious Senator Palpatine promises “to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.” He plans to use the current crisis, notably the Clone Wars, to be elected President of the Republic. But some members of the High Council, which governs the Republic, are dubious of Palpatine’s claims, and seek to block his election. These senators include Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and others (who will eventually form the Rebel Alliance). Numbered among these professional diplomats is likely to be the future wife of Anakin Skywalker and the mother of Luke and Leia, call her Lady Arkady (or Arcadia, since Lucas has a tendency to pair couples or siblings with the same vowel or consonant). While this notion is purely speculative, it is founded on one or two facts. Luke and Leia are noble-born, and Leia is taken “to live as the daughter of Senator Organa, on Alderaan” by her mother. Clearly, a relationship, professional or otherwise, exists between her and Bail. Both See-Threepio, who was programmed as a protocol ‘droid, and Artoo-Detoo probably make their first appearance in the series as two robotic, bumbling bureaucrats because George originally envisioned them that way. Their adventures just begin as they leave Aguilae in the company of Bail Organa, Lady Arkady, and the others.
When Palpatine is narrowly defeated for the Presidency (as was an ambitious young Richard Nixon, upon whom the senator is modeled), he abandons all conventional means, and seizes power “through subterfuge, bribery an terror.” His first threacherous act is to order to destruction of Organa’s party as they return to Alderaan, with specific instructions to make their deaths appear the result of an enemy raid. “Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce,” he later succeeds in his goal to be elected President of the Republic. So, it is clear that Palpatine controls (or influences through his powers as an evil sorcerer) many Council representatives and numerous guilds (possibly the spacing and mining guilds) within the Republic. His inevitable emergence as Emperor and the dissolution of the High Council are well- documented in the novelization, Star Wars.
On the other hand, the central conflict of the Clone Wars remains a mystery. Few details surface in the books, and even fewer details are revealed in the three films or the earlier drafts of the screenplay. Since Owen Lars deems the wars as “some damned-fool idealistic crusade” (as paraphrased by Ben Kenobi), the struggle must be one of conscience rather than clearly defined lines of a political or military objective. Thus, when Kenobi and his young apprentice Anakin leave (on instructions from Bail Organa), they are undertaking a holy quest. Their crusade is defined only in terms of good and evil. And since a clone is a genetic duplicate grown from human cells, the Jedi Knights are either struggling to preserve that technology or prevent it from being perverted by others (possibly Senator Palpatine) into some terrible weapon.
Obi-wan (O.B.-one) might even be some sort of clone designation, identifying the first clone of a man with the initials O.B.14–a designation that Kenobi has long since replaced with the name “Ben.” Perhaps, as the Jedi Knights grew fewer in number (through sickness, disease or other natural causes), scientists in the Old Republic were forced to clone their warriors. When news and valuable information about that technology first surfaced, other groups (with sinister motives) may have sought out those scientists to increase their own numbers. The Clone Wars may be nothing more than a struggle to control that powerful secret. And in the end, fearing that the technology might once again be used for evil, the secret of cloning is forever destroyed by the Jedi.
The first film is climaxed with the rescue of Viceroy Bail Organa and his party by Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, and the destruction of those evil forces which have threatened the peace of the Republic. One clue to the identity of those evil forces lies in the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back by Donald Glut. When Boba Fett is first introduced in the novel, he is described as wearing “a weapon-covered, armored spacesuit, the kind worn by a group of evil warriors defeated by the Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars.” Perhaps, like “Star Wars,” this prequel ends with a dramatic space battle and the triumphant return of its victors. President-elect Palpatine reluctantly rewards Kenobi and his young apprentice with medals, and Anakin Skywalker finds favor with both Lady Arkady and the former senator. “The Clone Wars,” like the first act of a much longer work, provides exposition for the major characters (Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, Lady Arkady, Bail Organa and Senator Palpatine), introduces two important conflicts (one, dealing with the Clone Wars, which finds resolution, and the other, concerning the future of the Republic, which awaits resolution) and ends triumphantly. Issues such as Palpatine’s political machinations, Kenobi’s fallibility as a teacher, and the budding romance between Anakin and Arkady remain purposely unresolved until the next film. Central to the unfolding drama is the reckless, young protagonist whose noble soul and innocent nature will be tested by extraordinary circumstances. Separated from his friends and family, Anakin faces Initiation, his first real test as a hero.
THE SEDUCTION OF DARTH VADER
Episode Two: “The Seduction of Darth Vader.”
“Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, then appear those evil ones who had greed to match . . .” Some time has passed since victory brought an end to the Clone Wars, but in that time boredom and complacency have exacted a terrible toll on the Old Republic. Corruption, bribery and terror have reduced the High Council to all but a devoted few, including Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, while a massive bureaucracy, too large and not very effective, maintains control over the various star systems. Even the one-great Jedi Knights have been supplanted by Palpatine’s own Sith Lords and their elite guard. “Like the greatest of trees, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside,” Lucas reveals. The portrait that George Lucas paints of the Republic under Palpatine is not a favorable one, and its dark decline casts an even darker shadow on the lives of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi. Typically, the second act in a Greek drama begins “en medias res” (in the middle of the action) and provides a somewhat darker vision of the central conflict with many issues left unresolved at the close. This middle story also represents the climax, or turning point, in Anakin Skywalker’s life. Like all great mythological and literary heroes, he faces his first real test under fire as a warrior. Joseph Campbell refers to this stage metaphorically as “the belly of the whale,” and suggests that, like Jonah, the test of a true hero is one of courage. He further concludes that only by shrugging off fear, anger and aggression (what Yoda deems “the dark side of the Force are they”) does a hero survive to the next level. Not adequately prepared (by Obi-wan) to face this trial (no doubt orchestrated by Palpatine), Anakin apparently succumbs to his fears, and calls upon the quick and easy allies of anger and aggression to see him through. On Dagobah, Yoda warns Luke not to embrace these emotions: “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-wan’s apprentice.” Ben Kenobi later reveals Luke’s “father was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed.” While little is actually known about Anakin’s courtship and marriage to Lady Arcady, their eventual union produces Luke and Leia. Impatient, reckless and disappointed in his own failures, Anakin leaves his wife and friends to pursue a new course of study under Palpatine–long before his wife’s pregnancy is revealed. Twenty years later, Kenobi explains to Luke that “when your father left, he didn’t know your mother was pregnant. Your mother and I knew he would find out eventually, but we wanted to keep you both as safe as possible.” Obi-wan, a trusted friend and confidant, agrees to kept her secret safe, and much later helps her hide the children. “To protect you both from the Emperor, you were hidden from your father when you were born,” Ben continues his tragic tale to Luke. “I took you to live with my brother Owen on Tatooine . . . and your mother took Leia to live as the daughter of Senator Organa, on Alderaan.” The actual events (of the birth and relocation of Luke and Leia) will probably occur in the third film, but the plan itself (like a page torn from Mallory’s L’morte de Arthur) takes seed here in the sacred trust between the knight-errant protector (Obi-wan) and his good friend’s wife.
Since Skywalker is such a “powerful Jedi” (according to Yoda), his youth and inexperience are not so easily exploited by Palpatine. But promises of wealth, position and power from the evil sorcerer help gradually turn Anakin to the dark side. A rift eventually forms between Kenobi and his former apprentice, and Obi-wan is forced to take action. “When I saw what had become of him, I tried to dissuade him, to draw him back from the dark side. We fought . . . your father fell into a molten pit,” Ben tells Luke in Jedi. Their climatic struggle over the “molten pit” probably ends the second film, leaving (in typical cliffhanger form) the final disposition of Anakin in question. “When your father clawed his way out of that fiery pool, the change had been burned into him forever–he was Darth Vader. . .Irredeemably dark. Scarred. Kept alive only by machinery and his own black will.” Audiences already know his fate, that he survived the pit, but to Kenobi and the others, his death appears certain. When Obi-wan retrieves Anakin’s light sabre (which he will one day give to Luke) from their private battlefield, he bids farewell to a good friend. Unbeknownst to Kenobi, below him in the fiery pool of death, a scarred hand reaches up for life. Anakin Skywalker may well be dead, but Darth Vader lives . . .
This deadly struggle between Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker may well form the central conflict in the middle film, but its background story must be equally compelling. Like Indiana Jones’s search for the “Lost Ark” or his last crusade to find the “Holy Grail,” much of the action in this character-driven story could be centered around a quest for some great energy source. In George Lucas’s second screenplay for “Star Wars,” completed in January 1975, the primary focus of General Skywalker, Luke Starkiller and Darth Vader was the possession of a Kiber Crystal. [The Kaiburr Crystal was a powerful energy source which gave the owner “such powers over the Force that he would be all but invincible.”] Since Lucas rarely discards ideas, the inclusion of a “maguffin” which drives the story seems logical. Obsessed with possessing the powerful red crystal, Palpatine has dispatched his Sith Lords (including Anakin Skywalker) throughout the galaxy in an effort to find the mythical gem. Anakin’s discovery of the gem might also fuel the growing tension between he and Obi-wan Kenobi. But like Skywalker’s final disposition, resolution about the back story could also wait until the third film.
FALL OF THE REPUBLIC
Episode Three: “Fall of the Republic.”
“Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office . . .” The implication of George Lucas’s words from the novelization of Star Wars suggests that Palpatine himself faces a struggle with his own forces to maintain control of the galaxy. By this third film, the fall of the Republic is imminent, and chaos and anarchy are at hand unless the Emperor can demonstrate the awesome power of the Dark side. Possession of some great power source, like the Kiber Crystal, is one way; the other is to commit some outrageous abomination that will strike fear and terror into the hearts of those who seek to control him. He chooses to do both.
The Emperor’s first action is the resurrection of Anakin Skywalker as Darth Vader. Through a montage of scenes, the scarred and corpse-like features of the one-great Jedi are covered by a “bizarre black metal breath screen,” black robes, a flowing black cape, and “black armor–armor which, though black it was, was not nearly as dark as the thoughts drifting through the mind within.” Perhaps, his fellow Sith lords assist him by calling upon the power of the Crystal, or perhaps, Palpatine is alone responsible for his rebirth. In either event, Darth Vader emerges as the ultimate weapon of the Emperor, “more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.” One he is fully restored and operational, the Dark Lord helps the Emperor “hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights.” “Having exterminated through treachery and deception the guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy.” Palpatine’s plan to terrorize the numerous star systems has only just begun.
Meanwhile, Obi-wan has managed to escape the slaughter by returning to Dagobah to confess his failure to adequately train Anakin Skywalker with Yoda. Audiences already know how well-informed and knowledgeable the Jedi Master is, and while he may possess an amptitude for mind-reading and clairvoyance, it is somewhat logical to assume that Kenobi would seek out his council. “Most important lesson have you learned! Now a great burden you carry,” Yoda responds to the Jedi’s self pity. When news of the Emperor’s outrageous abomination reaches them on Dagobah, they have but one goal in mind: the rescue of Lady Arcady and her two children. Revenge is simply not a proper emotion for Jedi Knights, and no matter how tempting the destruction of Vader and Palpatine may be, Yoda and Obi-wan must transcend their anger to look at the whole picture. Luke and Leia represent the future of the galaxy, and their safety must be paramount. “The Emperor knew, as I did, if Anakin were to have any offspring, they would be a threat to him,” Ben explains to Luke.
Slipping through the Emperor’s hostile defenses, Kenobi manages to rescue Skywalker’s family. Leia and her mother then go to live on Alderaan, in the safety of Bail Organa’s family, while Obi-wan delivers Luke to his brother Owen Lars, possibly stopping first on Dagobah to bid Yoda farewell. (When he arrives on Dagobah, Luke tells Artoo- Detoo “there’s something familiar about this place,” suggesting that he has some childhood memory buried deep in his subconscious.) Kenobi then settles on Tatooine, not far from his brother’s moisture farm, changes his name (to Ben) and awaits the day when the young Luke will heed his own call to adventure. The film ends on a hopeful note. Even though the Republic has fallen to a greedy and corrupt politician and his sinister forces, a new Republic will someday emerge from the ashes of the old.
The story of Anakin Skywalker comes full circle by the close of the third film. In fact, when Darth Vader first encounters Obi-wan Kenobi in “Star Wars,” he says: “The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” But though his journey as a hero, from separation (as an innocent) to initiation (as a warrior), is seemingly complete, Anakin’s character still awaits redemption and return. His wounding and dismemberment (in the molten pit) at the hands of Obi-wan Kenobi provide only a temporary resolution. When Anakin emerges as the Dark Lord of the Sith, he taken the wrong treasure. He has embraced the power of evil, as possibly amplified by the Kiber Crystal. And as often befalls a tragic hero, who has taken the wrong treasure, he is punished for his actions. Only much later does Vader learn the real treasure (to be won) is the inner courage that his son demonstrates before the Emperor. For it is that singular act of courage which redeems him, and gives him the strength to destroy Palpatine.
Not too long from now . . . in a neighborhood theatre not that far away, most of the questions that have been raised by the first three films, their novelizations and this article will find resolution in George Lucas’s next epic trilogy. The same space saga, which once mesmerized audiences with the exploits of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, See-Threepio and Artoo-Detoo will again delight a whole new generation of fans with the future adventures of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi. Few film series in the history of motion pictures have enjoyed such success, or generated such devoted enthusiasm. And now, as preparations get under way on a brand new trilogy, hundreds of millions of fans will begin that final countdown to opening day in 1998 or 2001. May the Force be with us all until then.
Reprinted with full permission