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Byron Keith Taylor: Short Stories

Star Wars Prequels Blog

Posted on March 31, 2016 with 0 comments

Hello! I decided to re-post a blog I wrote in defense of the Star Wars prequels. It is interesting to look back on it because I still stand firm in my beliefs after I originally proclaimed them to be noteworthy despite their faults.

 

The Star Wars prequel trilogy is underrated because it actually compliments the original trilogy as a modern myth that incorporates the same elements as ancient myth: love, compassion, hate, friendship,and family.George Lucas' epic Star Wars saga has now been around for almost thirty-five years and it does not seem to slow down. The offshoot computer-animated TV series, “Star Wars: Clone Wars” has brought the mythos of Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker's quest for peace and stability in “a galaxy far, far way to a whole new generation of post-baby boomers and Information Age buffs. There has been much speculation as to why the classic Sci-Fi Fantasy series has endured for so long, but most cultural scholars agree that it is because of its classification as modern myth. This discussion will explore the roots of Mr. Lucas' grand creation as well as a reflection of human interacting with each other from ancient times to now through the language of myth.

In order to do the saga any justice, the prequel trilogy will be briefly analyzed to show that they collectively give us archetypes through which we can see classic examples of myth. Mr. Lucas decided to continue his “Space Opera” with what is now known as “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope,” but in true Wagnerian fashion, he chronologically went back to the origins of the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker even though the story of his redemption through Luke Skywalker, his son, was already told in the original trilogy. Therefore, “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace” will be looked at firstsince it sets the stage for the entire saga.

 Mr. Lucas, a former anthropology student in college, was exposed to myths and the works of famed mythologist Joseph Campbell, whom he eventually met in later years. This must have had a profound influence on the film maker: “Yes, I consider him a mentor,” Lucas said at a recent New York press conference. “He was an amazing scholar and an amazing person. When I started doing Star Wars,I re-read Hero with a Thousand Faces. After Return of the Jedi, somebody gave me a tape of one of his lectures. I was just blown away by that. He was much more powerful as a speaker than he was as a writer.” (Persall, 1999.) However, the Hero's Journey concept that Mr. Campbell created in his book,Hero with a Thousand Faces” was only faithfully followed as a blueprint in Lucas' “Episode IV,” the  first Star Wars film that was released in 1977; since then, much has been written about Campbell's influence on Luke and company, but not the much-maligned prequel trilogy.

As aforementioned, “The Phantom Menace” is the first film to be examined not for Campbell's take on it (the scholar did not live to see it), but under the microscope of world mythology. There is quite a number of archetypes in the film. First, Anakin Skywalker is known as “The Chosen One” because ofhis miraculous Virgin Birth: SHMI: “There was no father, that I know of...I carried him, I gave birth...I can't explain what happened” (Lucas, 1999). The Christian symbol here is clear. If Anakin were to become a Christ-like figure of the Force, then he was expected to redeem both Sith and Jedi as well asrepair the rift that was caused over a thousand years ago when they warred against each other in the Old Republic.

The blood sample that Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn surreptitiously takes from Anakin's arm is symbolic of Christ's blood as a role in determining his divinity. Only Jesus' blood could wash away the sins of humanity, thereby establishing a New Covenant between humans and God; only Anakin's blood could prove that he could wash away the stench of sin that the Jedi-Sith wars left in the galaxy as a Savior who could “balance the Force” and save humanity from its own eventual self-destruction.

Anakin's precocious nature is also reminiscent of Christ who was able to debate with holy men at an early age. He is a slave like Moses once was, but is freed by the intervention of a mentor (Qui Gon, for the time being, is like God to him). Roger Ebert, famed film critic of the Chicago Sun Times was obviously in on Mr. Lucas' insistence upon including Biblical archetypes in “Phantom Menace” when talking about the Podrace (a Ben-Hur chariot race homage?): “Why is Qui Gon so confident that Anakin can win? Because he senses an unusual concentration of the Force---and perhaps, like John the Baptist, he instinctively recognizes the one whose way he is destined to prepare.” (Ebert, 1999.) And like John the Baptist, Qui Gon Jinn had to die for a greater cause: to help usher in a new Light into the world. 

 On the other hand, not only Biblical archetypes are present in the movie; the Jedi Council, headed by the Sage of the Star Wars universe, Yoda, is the galactic Knights of the Round Table who test poor young Anakin because he could be their Galahad. Their Grail, only through him, is a balanced Force and Obi- Wan Kenobi, the father figure of Anakin, is the Lancelot of Star Wars who fails to achieve the Grail of success with “the Chosen One” by the end of the prequel trilogy ( more on this later).

 Queen Amidala, Anakin's eventual wife much later in the Star Wars cycle, is the young Kabuki queen who is at times impatient, yet sympathetic to the suffering of her subjects on the planet Naboo. It hasoften been said that Mr. Lucas is an admirer of Japanese films and culture (examples are especially noticeable in Episode IV), but the Kabuki makeup and robes of Queen Amidala are an obvious manifestation of it. Kabuki plays were done as far back as the early seventeenth century and were the entertainment of Japanese people in the same way that movies and plays are to us today; both serve a purpose: they not only entertain but carry the viewers on a ride fraught with myths and legends,modern and ancient. The emergence of superhero movies as today's blockbusters is a prime example.

 Makeup plays a role in the movie also with its most alluring character, Darth Maul. He is not just a horned-headed Satan with a double-bladed lightsaber, but a spirited tribal warrior...and his tribe is the Sith. Now there are only two (a common number in Star Wars): the Sith are now Maul and his master, Darth Sidious who is actually the “good-natured” Senator Palpatine awarded the Supreme Chancellorship at the end. The Sith tribe is powerful and evil. Darth Maul's face tattoos hearken back to African tribes who paint themselves to strike terror in the hearts of their enemies. Palpatine is the two-faced Roman god Janus of beginnings and transitions. When the temple doors of Janus are swung open,it is time for war. He is, in fact, the perfect catalyst for the Clone Wars. A few Americans believe that former presidents have brought about negative changes like war in our government to mythic proportions.

 And finally, what about Jar Jar Binks? This Gungan fool is essential because it is the trickster that brings about change in mythology. Loki, the Norse God of tricks, brought Ragnarok to Asgard because knowingly caused the death of Baldur. Jar Jar, in the next movie, “Attack of the Clones” plays a vitalrole in the change of government: he proposes the election of Senator Palpatine as the Supreme Chancellor with “emergency powers.” Yet, Jar Jar's role is still underrated in the series. Kids know best, though; according to many of them, he is one of the most beloved characters in the prequel trilogy which is why Mr. Lucas did not kill him off in "Revenge of the Sith."

 Amidala is no longer Queen in “Attack of the Clones” but is now known simply as Padme or Senator Amidala; gone are the Kabuki makeup and Oriental robes. Here, she is accoutered in the guise of a simple, but powerful politician. And she falls in love with Anakin. The forbidden love myth is prominent in the Arthurian romances. Lancelot falls in love with Guinevere, King Arthur's wife with disastrous results: she joins a convent and he goes mad; Tristan, nephew of King Mark, and Isolde, the monarch's wife, fall in love with disastrous results: Tristan is mortally wounded and Isolde dies with grief. Mr. Lucas must be well aware of these stories since he uses Padme to warn Anakin of what would happen if they fell in love: disastrous results. And as is shown in “Revenge of the Sith,” she wasright. Love affairs that are doomed from the start are certainly around today; just look at certain celebrityunions that have failed. Joseph Campbell had this to say about marriage: “I would say that if the marriage isn't a first priority in life, you're not married. The marriage means the two that are one, the two become one flesh. 

If the marriage lasts long enough and you are aquiescing constantly to it instead of to individual personal whim, you come to realize that this is true---the two really are one.” (Campbell, 1988).When he marries Padme at the end of “Attack of the Clones,” he succumbs to love but his ambition to become “the most powerful Jedi ever” will ultimately destroy the marriage. The message here is that, as Mr. Campbell said, marriage in any planet is not strong enough to survive greed, selfishness, and ambition.

 Anakin is now the Padawan learner to Master Obi-wan. Yoda warned Kenobi that training “The Chosen One” could be dangerous at the end of “Phantom Menace.” Their relationship is reminiscent ofGilgamesh and Enkidu who were best friends and had many adventures together. This friendship,however, ultimately brought each man to separate destinies. Another famous mythical friendship that parallels the depth of Anakin and Obi wan's is between the Greek warrior Achilles and his cousin,Patrocles which was sort of a master-apprentice one with an unhappy ending. Friendships today can be just as strained as these even in modern times. Of course, it would be remiss to leave out the anthropomorphic C3PO and feisty, little R2D2; they bickered throughout the entire series; regardless,their relationship gives the modern viewer a core message that the best of friends can still get alongdespite their differences. In fact, other than Yoda and Obi-wan, their relationship is the most permanent one in the Star Wars canon.

 Another moment in “Attack of the Clones” that suggests the influence of myths is the shapeshifitng of Jango Fett's partner Bounty Hunter, Zam Wesell. A shape shifter is an excellent person to be inbounty hunting because it is easier for one to trick, trap and kill their prey if they are under another guise. Vampires, werewolves, and berserkers are all effective killers who happen to be shape shifters.

 Of course, what would a myth be without fantastical, over-sized creatures like the ones in the arena thatwere ready to kill our heroes before the start of the first Clone War? Monsters like the crab-clawed“Acklay” can even have more human like forms such as the claw-fingered Dementors in the Harry Potter series. These fictional life forms are actual metaphors for the inner problems that we have yet to conquer. Padme, Obiwan, and Anakin each had a monster to fight.

 When Obi wan fights Jango Fett on the water planet, Kamino, it is as if Odysseus himself were resisting Poseidon on the wine-dark seas. Water is a great symbol in myth. Sinbad had many exotic adventures on it (Obi wan was almost Sinbad-like when he sailed through Coruscant skies); Narcissus drowned in it looking at his own reflection; the Kraken lived in it. Water is another symbol of the unconscious emerging to take the human psyche down. For example, Clarence's dream sequence in Shakespeare's “Richard III” was all about the fear of being killed in the Tower according to the king'sgreed for power. Obi wan lives of course (as he did in Sith) to fightanother day, but soon he has to battle his worst fear: that his own apprentice may not be “The Chosen One.” His trip through the planet core of Naboo in the first film with Qui Gon and Jar Jar in a “bunko” is the “Night-sea Journey”which is when the hero or in this case, heroes are “enclosed in a box or in the belly of a sea creature,”which “is a vital part of his adventure.” (Henderson, 1997). The Gungan-made bunko is quite fish-like in its construction if one looks closely. Perseus made such a journey as an infant in a box with his mother; Moses also made such a journey as an infant in an enclosed cradle.

 At the end of Clones, the Wars have officially begun and Anakin, with an artificial arm courtesy of the Sith Lord, Count Dooku (poison in Japanese), holding Padme's hand in marriage. The chess piecesare set. Act Three, or rather, Episode Three culminates in an epic struggle for dominance. “Star Wars:Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” is the fall of the Hero and rise of the Antagonist. According to JosephCampbell, it was inevitable: “ A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Campbell, 1999). Anakin thought that he was doing that, but was instead, thinking only ofhimself. He could not bear to lose Padme as his dreams warned him. He lost his mother in Clones and he could not bear losing another woman he had loved; after all, his dreams warned him of Shmi Skywalker's death as well.

 The loss of the mother in myth is a major theme. The most ubiquitous Grail Knight in literature,Perceval, lost his mother Herzeloyde while he was seeking adventure away from home, just like Anakin; Theseus and of course, Oedipus lost theirs as well. Once again, Mr. Campbell made a good point: “ The mother is really a more immediate parent than the father because one is born from themother, and the first experience of any infant is the mother.” (Campbell, 1999). Of course, the father myth is just as important in the Star Wars saga, with Luke's discovery that Darth Vader, his worst enemy, is his father.

 However, it is the loss of his mother that propels Anakin to his journey towards the dark side of the Force. When he is confronted by the reality of his dreams which expose the future loss of his wife,Padme, he spirals down the path to the netherworld just as Orpheus did once he lost his belovedEurydice. He made a Faustian pact with the Mephistopheles of Star Wars, Chancellor Palpatine, the Sith Lord soon known as Darth Sidious. The Dark Lord tells Anakin in an Opera theater of all places (a haven of myth unto itself) that “cheating death” is possible by using a “parable” of the Sith Lord, Darth Plagueis, whose apprentice stole the secret and killed him in his sleep (naturally, Palpatine was the apprentice which is why he was an expert in telling the story). The temptation, like Jesus' in the desert, is too seductive for the hero and he succumbs to it eventually. By killing Count Dooku out of revenge early in the film, Anakin opened the doors of Janus, the two-faced god who is Palpatine. One war may have ended but another one begins: the Great Jedi Purge. He may have slain the Tusken Raiders who“walk like men but are monsters” as Shmi's husband said, but the hero become a monster himself.

 Incidentally, the Tusken Raiders could be the equivalent of the anthropomorphic Minotaurs that heroes like Theseus killed; creatures that appear with human traits but actually are not.Anakin's betrayal of Jedi Master Mace Windu was his initiation into the Sith Order. His  “mistreatment” at the hands of the Jedi Council turned him into a Mordred of sorts: a traitorous son of a father (Obi-Wan). As promised, the Grail motif turns up at this moment in the discussion. Obi-wan thought that the galaxy's problems would be all over once he defeated General Grievous; he thought that he achieved the Grail, but instead was dealt a blow with Anakin's spear of betrayal; he was givena Fisher King wound from which he would never heal, just like Lancelot in John Boorman's film,“Excalibur.” It is here where Obi-wan truly leaves behind his child-like optimism about Anakin's  potential of being the “Chosen One. In the original story of the Grail, the Fisher King was wounded byburning his fingers on a salmon roasting on a spit and cooling them by putting them in his mouth; thus,he was was “wounded by a fish.” (Johnson, 1977.) The taste of the salmon changes him forever, but he is still wounded: “All men are Fisher kings.” (Johnson, 1977.) In other words, all men have come across an unbelievable situation that starts the path to what Jung called his “individuation” or spiritual enlightenment. The realization that Anakin has become the new apprentice to Darth Sidious wounds him and he bleeds all throughout the series from that moment on until his former friend'sredemption in “Return of the Jedi.”

 Now Anakin was Klingsor, the ousted Knight from the order of Grail Knights in Wagner's last Opera, “Parsifal” who sought to destroy them and is now a very powerful sorcerer who has become a great threat ; yet he is also Kundry, a woman who is torn between serving the Grail Castle(the Jedi Council building in Coruscant) and Klingsor who is bent on destroying it and all it stands for.In other words, Anakin's personal struggle, like Obi-wan's Fisher King wound, is with his anima (his feminine side in Jungian terms represented by Kundry as Light fighting the Dark.) It is much easier to be Klingsor and accept the idea that his master holds the key to “cheating death,” thereby saving his wife, so he agrees to serve Mephistopheles at the cost of his own soul. Anakin's inner struggle with his anima makes “Revenge of the Sith” the most psychologically complex Star Wars film other than “TheEmpire Strikes Back.”

 The Great Jedi Purge resembles the real-life purge of the Knights Templar by the Church on October 13, 1307 which, as the “Da Vinci Code” book stated, stigmatized the number 13 as unlucky. Yoda feels the death of each of his Jedi colleagues, including Mace Windu, and realized that he was in danger himself. After defending himself from two Clone Troopers, he jumps on a member of the original trilogy's shoulders: the lovable, 7'4 inch tall Chewbacca. This is significant because “Chewie” is one companions to Anakin's son and future hero of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker. Here, the friendship motif shows up again.

 While Jedi Grand Master Yoda battles the newly crowned Emperor Palpatine, Obi-wan smuggles himself in Padme's ship and finds Anakin fully embracing the Dark Side on the volcanic planet,Mustafar. A very pregnant Padme is Force-choked into unconsciousness by her husband who clearly is drunk with jealousy and rage: two emotions that ironically were supposed to help save her since they comefrom the dark side. Yoda fails to kill Palpatine, but Obi-wan wins his duel by maiming Anakin in the bowels of a Dantean Hell. The fallen hero in myth is shown in examples like Hercules who was killed by a poison robe given to him by his jealous wife, Deianeira; it burned and maimed him. The legendary strong man was then reassembled as a God in the heavens. Anakin's rebirth as the Darth Vader we all recognize in the black helmet and suit occcurs simultaneously with Padme's death while delivering her twins, Luke and Leia.

 Life juxtaposed with death was also seen in the film “Excalibur” where Uther and Igraine conceived the future King Arthur while the Duke of Cornwall died in the High King's camp. John Boorman, the film's director, likens his retelling of the King Arthur legend to myth as adolescent fantasy: “It's very basic to adolescent fantasy---look at Star Wars---to have the notion of a young boy who is suddenly chosen, picked out to be a leader or king. Almost all little children are drawn to the fantasy that they were foundlings and that their real parents come from some extraordinary background. Star Wars hit on these things and tapped into something perenially popular.” (Boorman, 1981.)

 The Force, as the spiritual glue that holds together the struggle between the Jedi and the Sith, and tells his then-apprentice Obi-wan to “be mindful” of is living presence and the small lecture that he gives young Anakin makes mention of a symbiosis between the midi-chlorians, which are “microscopic life forms living together for a mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force.” (Lucas.) Christ once said “The kingdom of God is within you” and “May the Force be with you” is perhaps a reference to the Christian salutation, “May the Lord be with you.” All has a spiritual and religious purpose in the Star Wars universe, just like ancient myths do.

 The lightsaber, like the katana sword of the samurai, is the soul of the Jedi. Obi -wan scolds Anakinfor almost losing his lightsaber while chasing Zam in “Attack of the Clones” because the sword is his life. He later tells his son , Luke, in Epsiode IV that it is a weapon of elegance. The colors of the bladesbear significance because they reveal the character of their users. Red is the Sith color while Blue and other hues are the Jedi colors. The role of tricksters in mythology was discussed earlier, but a story told by Joesph Campbell about the West African trickster god, Edshu clearly shows the role that colors can play regarding conflict: “One day, this odd god came walking along a path between two fields. He beheld in either field a farmer at work and proposed to play the two a turn. Her donned a hat that was on the one side red but on the other white, green before and black behind (these being the colors of the four World Directions: i.e. Edshu was a personification of the Center, the axis mundi, or the World Navel); so that when the two friendly farmers had gone home to their village and the one had said to the other, “did you see that old fellow go by today in the white hat?” the other replied “Why, the hat was red.” To which the first retorted, “It was not it was white.” “But it was red,” insisted the friend, “Isaw it with my two own eyes.” “Well, you must be blind,” declared the first. “You must be drunk,”rejoined the other. And so the argument developed and the two came to blows. When they began to knife each other, they were brought by neighbors before the headman for judgement. Edshu was among the crowd at the trial, and when the headman sat at a loss to know where justice lay, the old trickster reveled himself, made known the prank, and showed the hat. “the two could not help but quarrel,” he said. “I wanted it that way. Spreading strife is my greatest joy.” (Campbell, 1949.) It appears that the “Phantom Menace” itself is a myth archetype, played in this case by Darth Sidious.

 As for the Jedi being the “guardians of peace and justice” in the galaxy, Anakin and friends resembled at times Jason (the motherless leader) and the Argonauts (comprised of famous warriors),especially in Episode II where they were airborn in their gunships fighting their Separatist enemies. It is the only film where we see the Jedi together for the first time together in battle. The Golden Fleece in Episode II is Count Dooku himself because his capture would stop the continuation of the CloneWars since he was the Separatist leader.

 Overall, the Star Wars saga is a continuous tale of conflict replete with mythic archetypes which is what gives the cycle longevity because there are characters who are given a multi-dimensional framework in which to act. The prequel trilogy does not deserve the critical treatment it has received over the years simply because it gives another examination of myth beyond Joseph Campbell's concept of the Hero's “monomyth” or journey. Upon closer scrutiny, one would be able to see that George Lucas' world is much larger.

 

Works Cited

 

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with A Thousand Faces. pp.44-'5. Princeton, NJ:

 Princeton University Press, 1949.

 Campbell, Joseph, The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. pg. 6, 151, 207. New York,

 NY: Doubleday, 1988.

 Ebert, Roger. Rogerebert.com. Phantom Menace Review,1999.

 http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article

 AID=/19990517/REVIEWS/905170301/1023 

 Henderson, Mary. Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. pg.82. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1997.

 Johnson, Robert A. He: Understanding Masculine Psychology. pg. 9. New York, NY:

 Harper & Row, 1977.

 Kennedy, Harlan. EXCALIBUR. JOHN BOORMAN---IN INTERVIEW.

 www.americancinemapapers.com/files/EXCALIBUR.html

 Lucas, George. Star Wars: Episode I: THE PHANTOM MENACE Illustrated Screenplay. pg. 61,108.

 New York, NY: Del Rey, 1999.

 Persall, Steve. Folkstory.com. http://www.folkstory.com/articles/petersburg.html. 1999.