my Patreons are reading a few out-takes which I couldn't fit into the original post (about another thousand words or so)
How far is Anchorhead from Mos Eisley?
Why is Leia not more sad when her planet blows up?
How long is Leia on the Death Star?
Is it, in fact, only a movie?
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
May The Source Be With You: Extended Edition
my Patreons are reading a few out-takes which I couldn't fit into the original post (about another thousand words or so)
Saturday, May 28, 2022
May The Source Be With You (2)
What did Luke Skywalker know of the Force?
Luke seems to be aware of "the wars" (i.e the Clone Wars) and of the existence of the Jedi. When Ben says "I was once a Jedi Knight the same as your father" Luke does not reply "What's one of those?" But he is unaware of the Force. When Ben mentions it, he simply responds "The Force?" In the novel, his "face twists in confusion" and he says "A force? That's the second time you've mention a force."
This is more than a little odd. If we assume that the Jedi didn't show off their powers too ostentatiously; and that most of their Force usage was about exerting a strong influence over the weak minded (as opposed to, say, chucking Force lightning around willy nilly) then it would be perfectly possible to know about the Force, without believing in it. This is Han Solo's position: he must know that there was once a large and influential order of mystics in the universe, but he doesn't believe that they could really perform miracles. Luke is more in the position of a person who knows what the Knights Templar were, but has never heard of Jesus Christ. Owen might have tried to keep the existence of the Force hidden from Luke while he was growing up (Herzeleide prevented Parsifal from knowing about the grail knights) but surely he would have learned about it from the wider society?
Do we know if there were schools on Tatooine, incidentally? Has Luke studied history? Can he even read and write?
Why was Luke so sad when Ben died?
Luke seems to be emotionally wrecked by the death of Ben Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader: more so than he was by the deaths of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, and indeed, more than Leia was by the destruction of her entire planet. Why does he react more strongly to the death of a man he only met a few hours ago than he does to that of the only parents he has ever known?
Now, I am not completely certain that the question is valid. When he realises that Owen and Beru's lives are in danger, Luke leaps into action (even though it is, according to Ben, too dangerous) to try to save the. When he discovers that they are dead he spends several minutes grieving at the burning homestead; and then returns to Ben, who tries to comfort him. ("There was nothing you could have done, had you been there.") Luke then makes a life-changing decision (to go with Ben to Alderaan) and the next time we see him he is more or less back to normal.
When Ben is killed, he similarly leaps into action (shooting wildly at storm troopers); grieves for a few minutes ("I can't believe he's gone") is comforted by Leia in exactly the same terms ("There wasn't anything you could have done") and immediately resumes his normal demeanour. George Lucas has treated the two bereavements in the same way: using cinematic compression to reduce the grieving process to a few short scenes. But that still makes Ben's death and the deaths of Owen and Beru of equal importance.
From a narratological point of view, this is relatively easy to explain. Luke meets Ben about 30 minutes into the film; his death occurs 60 minutes later. From the audience's point of view, they have been together for a very long time -- two thirds of the movie, and half its entire running length. By contrast, Owen and Beru are introduced about 15 minutes into the film and killed only 20 minutes later.
Furthermore, Lucas cunningly inserts a three minute scene in between the Millennium Falcon's escape from Tatooine and its arrival in the Alderaan system. Star Wars is modelled on the old movie serials, and there is a distinct sense that one episode has ended and a new one is beginning. This scene pointedly begins with an in media res tableau: Threepio and Chewbacca are already some way into a chess game; Ben has been teaching Luke how to use a lightsaber for some time. This set-up becomes a new status quo: by the time they are trapped on the Death Star they are a family group; not six people who recently met.
Lucas uses the same narrative trick after our heroes escape from the Death Star but before they arrive on Yavin IV: Han talks to Leia about his pay; Han and Luke talk to each other about Leia. ("Do you suppose a princess and a guy like me...?"). This serves to establish Leia as "one of the family". Before the final battle, she is clearly treating Luke as a friend and comrade, not a plucky peasant who saved her from the bad guys some 22 minutes ago. (The deleted scene between Luke and Threepio on the Landspeeder would have served a similar purpose.)
So: as long as we are treating Star Wars as a movie Luke's reaction to the death of Ben presents no problems: Lucas knows exactly what he is doing. But if we want to make sense of it as an historical text several possible in-universe explanations present themselves.
1: Ben tells Luke that he will have to learn the ways of the Force if he is going to go with him to Alderaan. After his family are killed Luke says that this is indeed what he wants: to learn the ways of the Force, go to Alderaan, and become a Jedi. So it is surely possible that, before setting out to Mos Eisley, Ben takes Luke back to his home and spends some days teaching him about the Jedi. This is more satisfactory than Brian Daley's explanation: that at Obi-Wan uses Jedi mind powers to "open Luke" to the Force more quickly than would normally be possible.
2: It is also possible that Luke and Ben met with hazards or hold-ups on the trip from Ben's home to Mos Eisley. They could have been attacked by tusken raiders, by Jabba's goons, by pirates or bandits, or encountered some other peril. This could easily have resulted in an adventure lasting several days or weeks. Friendships can form quite quickly on camping trips.
3: When we cut back to the Millennium Falcon after the destruction of Alderaan, Chewbacca and Artoo are already several moves into their chess game, and Luke has been doing his exercises for some time. Han joins them in the mess and says
"Well, you can forget your trouble with those imperial slugs...I told you I'd out run them .... Don't everybody thank me at once."
This is a very odd thing for him to say: they made the jump to hyperspace some time ago and settled down for some R&R: why would Han waltz in and announce something which happened half an hour ago. (Foster spots the problem and changes the line to "You can stop worrying about your imperial friends: they'll never be able to track us now.") The scene would make far more sense if Han were referring to a subsequent attack by Imperials: one we have not seen. The Falcon flew out of Mos Eisley and (for some reason) ended up in a different part of the Galaxy. We rejoin it after several more adventures, when our friends are are close to Alderaan. This is part of my "head canon" because I want there to have been a time when Luke, Ben and Han got to bounce around the universe, having fun and being heroes, before everything turned dark.
However the true explanation of Luke's possible over-reaction to the loss of Ben Kenobi may be hidden in very obscure corner of the secondary canon.
Someone To Watch Over Me
Ben says that he understands that Luke is a very good pilot: but in the radio version at least, Luke sees that this is only true from "a certain point of view".
"I remember that, when you saved Windy and me. And then you showed up again today, and you know about my piloting. Ben you have been sort of keeping an eye on me, haven't you?"
"Let's just say that I have kept abreast of your progress."
Abreast of your progress. The 2015 Marvel Comic series (which is regarded as canon) included a sub-plot in which Luke, in the months following the Battle of Yavin, returning to Tatooine and discovering the journals of Ben Kenobi. (This partly accounts for his increased knowledge of the Force by the time of Empire Strikes Back.) The journals provide a pretext for some flashbacks to the time when Ben and Luke were still living on Tatooine. The twelve year old Luke is portrayed as being very like the Anakin of Phantom Menace. Uncle Owen spots that his is the only homestead which has never been attacked by Sand People or fingered by Jabba's racketeers; and realises that Ben must be protecting it. When Luke crashes the family skyhopper in a Beggars Canyon escapade, Ben arranges for the Jawas to give him a box of skyhopper parts -- which Owen returns. (Owen himself subsequently replaces it with a similar gift: their relationship is considerably more affectionate in the comic than it is in the film.) After this incident, Owen travels to Ben's home and explicitly tells him to stay away from his family, which Ben respects. A similar flashback story in the original (non canonical) 1977 Marvel Comic saw Luke and Biggs racing through Beggars canyon, and Luke negotiating the deadly "Diabalo Cut" to save his life: but Obi-Wan pointedly does not appear in the episode.
The canonical comic book ends with Ben continuing to keep an eye on Luke: literally watching over him, from a distance, through macrobinoculars. This motif -- of Ben observing Luke in secret -- also occurs in an episode of Star Wars: Rebels in which Obi-Wan has a final and decisive lightsaber battle with the resurrected Darth Maul.
Veteran American children's book publishers Golden Books specialise in tie-in properties for very-young readers. (They were publishing licensed Disney titles from the 1940s) Their current line includes kid-friendly retellings of all the Star Wars movies, and books with titles like "I am a Jedi" and "I am a Droid". In 1998 they published a fascinating text called Adventure in Beggars Canyon.
The story is a whistle-stop tour of canonical and secondary Tatooine motifs, and not at all badly done, given its target audience. The story tells how a teenaged Luke and his friend Windy go hunting womp rats, crash their Skyhopper in Beggar's Canyon, see off some Jawas, hide from some Sand People and are menaced by a Krayt Dragon. Just when all looks hopeless, they are rescued by a mysterious, cloaked figure, who uses the Force (un-specified) to quieten the monster. He tames three dewbacks, and takes the boys back to Luke's home. He leaves in a hurry when Uncle Owen shows up.
I think that the children's writer (one Jane Mason) must have been using the radio show as a source: it would be very odd for two writers to independently send kid-Luke off on an escapade with Windy, who otherwise exists only in one action (stage direction) in a deleted section of Lucas's original script. It would have been far more obvious to have made Luke's partner in crime Biggs, as in the older Marvel Comic. But perhaps, nearly twenty years after the radio series "Luke and Windy had an adventure" was just a piece of lore which "everyone knows".
The picture-book finishes with the following striking comment:
"The next day, Luke and Windy took lots of tools and headed back out to Beggar's Canyon in Luke's landspeeder. As Luke bent over the skyhopper's engines and got to work, Ben popped into his mind. It almost felt as though Ben were watching over him and always would be."
In the illustration, Ben is, indeed, watching over Luke from a clifftop in the distance.
So: the original movie implied; and Brian Daley and Alan Dean Foster made explicit, the idea that Luke had met Ben before the events depicted in the first movie. However, currently canonical material -- including Rebels and the Marvel Comic -- seem to be quite clear that the two did not meet. At any rate, no such meeting has been depicted in canon. But in the current comic, in Rebels, and in the radio series Ben watches over Luke: and the children's writer realises that Luke is aware of this.
And there you have it.
Luke has always been aware that Ben is with him, even if he has not met him directly. His apparent death severs this life long link; and Luke is bereft and alone. But almost immediately he realises that Ben's death makes no difference. He is still an unseen presence, watching over him, just as he always was.
And you are talking about this right now why, precisely?
In a few minutes, I will watch the first instalment of Disney's new Obi-Wan Kenobi TV show.
The Mandalorian (in particular) and The Book of Bobba Fett (to a great extent) were joyous Christmas gifts to all true Star Wars fans. They only touch on the very edge of the Grand Saga; but they understand -- as almost nothing since 1977 has done -- why Star Wars is The Greatest Film Ever. The Mandalorian in particular recreates that slightly ramshackle, fake-documentary aesthetic of the pre-specialisation Episode IV: droids and jawas meander across the screen, unaware of the audience, taking a long time to get where they are going. The Star Wars universe exists: someone just happens to be pointing a camera in it. Of course, there is a massive Story Arc building around Baby Yoda, Ashoka and the as-yet-unseen Admiral Thrawn; but the TV shows largely function as westerns, gangster movies, and samurai sagas.
The Obi-Wan TV show has a much higher bar to get over. It is a prequel to Episode IV, which we all love unconditionally; and a sequel to Episodes I, II and III, which some of us never loved quite so much.
Some of us felt that the Mandalorian, set in the immediate wake of Return of the Jedi, was everything which The Force Awakens should have been. (And I speak as someone who liked the Force Awakens.) We are all hoping that Obi-Wan will be everything we originally wanted The Phantom Menace to be. (And I speak as someone who didn't hate The Phantom Menace.) If it succeeds, then it takes us back to the Tatooine that we first fell in love with and frees us up to party like its 1977. If it fails, then obviously it urinates on our memories and sexually assaults our childhoods. Again. And of course, the chess pieces are already being set up for the renewed strife between those who will automatically say that it is Woke (regardless of actual content) and those who will automatically complain that its just another film about dead old straight white men (again, regardless of what's actually in it.)
I want to believe that this Obi-Wan is the Obi-Wan of the greatest film ever made; and that this Darth Vader is his adversary and that this Luke is a younger version of the every-man hero I so wanted to be when I was twelve. The new series is under no obligation whatsoever to stick to established backstory: indeed a willingness to say "Actually, we decided to ignore that particular piece of lore because we didn't think it was fun" would be very healthy. But I am very intrigued to find out how the relationship between Luke and Ben is represented.
Brian Daley lampshades the problem.
Leia: You care very much for Artoo Deetoo, don't you.
Brian Daley lampshades the problem.
Leia: You care very much for Artoo Deetoo, don't you.
Threepio: I have grown used to him, even though we have been together for only a relatively short time.
Leia: It is possible to care for someone very much after only a short time.
Friday, May 27, 2022
May The Source Be With You
When See Threepio asks Luke Skywalker if he has heard of Obi-Wan Kenobi (for whom Artoo Deetoo claims to have a private message) Luke replies:
"I don't know anyone called Obi-Wan, but Old Ben lives out beyond the Dune sea. He's kind of a strange old hermit."
When Old Ben rescues Luke after the attack by the Sand People, Luke says:
"Ben..Ben Kenobi? Am I glad to see you!"
Old Ben replies
"Tell me young Luke, what brings you out this far?"
And when Ben dies, Luke is grief stricken:
"I can't believe he's gone".
So: the subject for today's textual analysis is: how well did Luke Skywalker know Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi before the events depicted in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?
Had Luke met Ben before the purchase of Artoo and Threepio?
Since Luke says that he doesn't know Obi-Wan, me might reasonably infer that he does know Old Ben. (At this point he still thinks they are two different people.) This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that they know each other by sight, and are on first-name terms.
"Old Ben" appears to be a nickname, rather than a description: every time Luke refers to Kenobi, that is what he calls him, even though he is only around sixty years old. "Old Ben" seems to be relatively well-known on Tatoooine: when Luke is talking to Uncle Owen about him, he says "I wonder if (Artoo) means Old Ben..." and not, for example, "I wonder if he's anything to do with that mysterious stranger that some people claim to have run across".
"Old Ben" has clearly lived along time in the desert: he knows how Sand People conceal their numbers on the move, and what noises will scare them off. But he is also quite familiar with Mos Eisley, even though it is a considerable distance from his home: familiar enough to know which bars are frequented by pilots. And he carries enough local cash to be able to afford to buy Walrus Man a drink. Old Ben may live alone, but he is not a complete recluse: he has some interaction with wider society.
In a deleted scene, Luke briefly mentions Old Ben to Threepio while they are chasing Artoo in the landspeeder:
"Old Ben Kenobi lives out in this direction somewhere, but I don't see how that R2 unit could have come this far."
This scene exists primarily to tell us how Luke was able to so easily track Artoo through the desert. (Answer: He didn't track him, but he knew roughly which way he was going.) Lucas presumably cut the scene because it was not a question which would occur to most members of the audience. But from our point of view it confirms that the location of Old Ben's home is relatively well known. Ben is not living in complete secrecy. [See Note 1]
When they finally meet, Ben tells Luke that his father was the best star pilot in the galaxy, and adds: "I understand you have become quite a good pilot yourself." So while he does not know Luke well, he has at least talked to other people about him. Perhaps Luke has developed a reputation and Ben has overheard people talking about his Beggar's Canyon exploits in Mos Eisley?
The original Marvel Comics adaptation by Roy Thomas follows the movie script pretty closely. However, Alan Dean Foster's novelisation is inclined to embellish the script with a novelist's and science-fiction reader's eye. (For example, he talks about Jedi scientists investigating the nature of the force; and mentions that while you can't inherit piloting skill, some of the natural aptitudes which make for a good pilot do run in families.) I think that, in studying George Lucas's script Foster must have pondered how Luke and Ben are able to recognise each other and adds a few words to smooth over the join. In this novel, when Threepio asks Luke about Artoo's message, Luke replies.
"I don't know anyone named Obi-Wan: but old Ben lives somewhere out on the fringe of the Western Dune Sea. He's kind of a local character: a hermit. Uncle Owen and a few of the other farmers say he's a sorcerer....He comes around every once in a while to trade things. I hardly ever talk to him though. My uncle usually runs him off. But I never heard that old Ben owned a droid of any kind."
[SEE NOTE 2]
George Lucas didn't write the novelisation, but it went out under his name and he approved it; and while it may not be canon, it cannot run violently counter to the way he pictured his universe in 1977. So: Luke recognises Ben because Ben occasionally visited the moisture farm while he was growing up. Is there anything else we can say?
When did Uncle Owen tell Ben that he couldn't pass Anakin's lightsaber onto Luke?
In the movie, Ben says: "Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it."
The comic book truncates this slightly: "Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough."
How old is old enough to own a lightsabre? It's a lethal weapon, and you presumably wouldn't give it to a child. (Some 1970s comics still carried advertisements for BB air rifles, which, rather endearingly, told kids to take extra chores and tidy their own rooms to show their parents that they were old enough and responsible enough to have a gun of their own.) Anakin is considered too old to begin Jedi training at twelve; and the Younglings we see Yoda training in Attack of the Clones look to be around eight. However, we know from The Clone Wars cartoon series and a deleted scene in Return of the Jedi that padawans construct their own weapons: this is an important right of passage for a Jedi. So Yoda and the Younglings could have been using some kind of non-lethal training weapon.
If we only knew Star Wars from Roy Thomas's comic book adaptation, I think we would assume that Ben has decided that the nineteen year old Luke is old enough to own a sword. Most sensible states would not licence a fire-arm to a person before their eighteenth birthday.
Again, Alan Dean Foster embellishes the scene:
"When you were old enough, your father wanted you to have this...I tried to give it to you once before, but your uncle wouldn't allow it."
A few minutes later (in the novel) Ben remarks:
"You've grown up quite a bit since the last time I saw you."
So Foster clearly intends us to infer that on the occasions Luke recalls Owen throwing him off the farm, Ben had really come to give Luke his father's lightsaber.
Now we need to cast our ears over a fourth version of A New Hope: namely Brian Daley's 1981 radio adaptation. This was approved by Lucas and regarded as canonical or semi-canonical until the Disney reboot.
In this version, when Threepio ask about Ben, Luke replies:
"I don't know anyone called Obi-Wan, but old Ben Kenobi lives somewhere near the Western Dune Sea. He's a kind of local character, a hermit. My uncle made him get off our property once."
[See NOTE THREE
Daley takes on board Foster's suggestion that Ben sometimes visited the Lars farm. But he changes the general "my uncle usually runs him off" to the specific "my uncle made him get off our property once." And he massively expands the deleted scene from the film, where Threepio and Luke are talking about Ben while searching for Artoo Deetoo. In the radio version, Luke tells Threepio that "Ben does live out this way somewhere" and Threepio asks directly if Luke has met him. Luke replies
"In a way...about five seasons ago. My friend Windy and I rode out on his dewback into these wastes."
A dewback is one of the big dinosaurs creature that we see Sand People and stormtroopers using as beast of burden. Luke says that him and Windy fell off the animal, and ended up lost in the desert. Luke heard a voice calling his name:
"It was old Ben Kenobi. Somehow he found us and guided us back to the farm. He told us a lot about what it was like to live in the barren land all alone."
[See NOTE FOUR]
When they get back to the farm, Owen is angry with Ben and runs him off the farm.
"Ben was looking at me kind of funny, like he wanted to say something and Uncle Owen would give him the chance."
In Ben's hut, the significance of this is confirmed. When Ben gives Luke the lightsaber, he says:
"Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it....I wanted to give it to you once before, but your uncle ordered me off your farm and told me never to return."
"Five seasons ago" would make Luke about fourteen, consistent with Foster's suggestion that Luke has grown up since Ben saw him last.
So: the original movie imply that Luke and Ben have some slight knowledge of each other before the film starts; the novel extrapolates a few visits by Ben to Luke's farm to try to hand over the lightsaber; and the radio series adds that the two of them spent at least a few hours in the wilderness together, and had one longish conversation, when Luke was about fourteen years old. Ben knows Luke's name because he is the son of his old apprentice. The prequels embellish this further and tell us that it was Obi-Wan who brought Ben to Tatooine to begin with.
It is, inevitably, slightly more complicated than that.
Luke delays chasing Artoo Deetoo until the morning after he absconds, giving the droid about eight hours lead. Artoo travels at roughly a human's walking pace, so he can hardly have gone more than 30 miles. Thus, Luke in his vehicle is able to catch up with him in only an hour or two. The encounter with the Sand People must be relatively close to Obi-Wan's home, placing it within, say, 40 miles of the Lars homestead.
Foster thinks that Luke thinks that Owen thinks that Ben is literally a magician. "That wizard's just a crazy old man" is not merely an insult. That further implies that people in the Star Wars universe are not universally skeptical about the existence of the supernatural or mystical forces.
When the comic and the novel agree with each other, but disagree with the movie, it is safe to assume that they share a common source: namely Lucas's penultimate screenplay or the un-edited ur-cut, which still exists in the Lucas vaults but has never been made public. For example:
"You must do what you feel is right, of course."
"You must do what you feel, Luke"
"Right now, I don't feel too good."
"Very well" said Ben Kenobi "That will do for a beginning. Then you must do what you feel is right."
Luke turned away, thoroughly confused "Okay. Right now I don't feel too good."
"You must do what you feel is right, of course"
"What I feel is right? Ben, I'd like to help you, to help her, but is it right to run out on Uncle Own and Aunt Beru?"
"Right now I don't feel too good" must come from Lucas's script, since it is highly unlikely that Foster and Thomas would invent the same embellishment independently. (c.f "You know only a part of the Force; you sense its reality as little as utensile perceives the taste of food".)
Conversely, when the Radio version and the Novel agree with each other and disagree with the movie, it is safe to assume that Brian Daley is using Alan Dean Foster as a source. It is highly unlikely that Foster and Daley would independently change "Dune Sea" to "Western Dune Sea" or "kind of a strange old hermit" to "a local character, a hermit".
There is no example of the comic and the radio series, agreeing with each other against the film.
This is consistent with the idea that Ben lives a relatively short distance from Luke's home. Daley says that Ben is unusal because he travels the Jundland wastes on foot.
Monday, May 16, 2022
Any Colour You Like Provided It's Not Black
"A perhaps more fun question is to imagine, within canon, why the DOCTOR chose to incarnate as a white male, or more broadly, a white male with a British accent."
There is no real sense that the Doctor "incarnates" as a particular race. The implication is that something about their physiology causes them to physically change every few years. They don't seem to get a choice, and are generally surprised, and sometimes disappointed, about who they turns out to be. There has been some equivocation over the years about whether the different Doctors are different beings; or whether they are one person who changes their appearance from time to time. In 325 AD the council of Nicea decided
I would rather frame the question as "How can the Doctor be both a mysterious alien and a British guy who likes cricket and tea?"
And the answer is "They can't be. It's a completely silly and ridiculous idea; as silly as the idea that a box can be bigger on the inside than the the outside; as silly as the fact that the Doctor's life is in mortal danger precisely once every twenty five minutes; as silly, indeed, as the idea that Hamlet speaks his inner most thoughts out loud in Iambic Pentameters." It's a convention of the genre; a thing we accept so stories can happen.
But I can think of other answers, too.
The Doctor had been living on earth for sixty or seventy years when Ian and Barbara first met them. They naturally acquired some of the appearances and attitudes of his adopted planet and retained a lot of those "Edwardian" mannerisms in subsequent regenerations.
OBJECTION: The First Doctor is both an Edwardian gentleman and an alien. Like Susan, they understand some things about Earth and not others. They celebrates Christmas, but don't know what New Years Day is, and have never heard of cricket.
The TARDIS is programmed to blend in with its surroundings. The Police Box form is sometimes said to be a malfunction, but the Doctor has also admitted that they like it that way. Perhaps the Doctor has a built in biological chameleon circuit, and blends in with the people around them. Since they generally go among humans and humanoids, they generally take on their appearances and attitudes. If they spent a long time on Draconia, they would probably become a Draconian, with a liking for Draconian sports and a taste for whatever sweetmeat Draconian kids like to eat.
OBJECTION: We have met many other Time Lords; but never one in an alien form. The first member of the Doctor's race we ever met was a very culturally specific English monk.
We know that Galactus the Devourer isn't really a tall human with purple shorts: he just appears that way to some humans. Skrulls see him as a super-sized Skrull. And I am distinctly enamoured of the theory that when Hobbits meet up with the oldest creature in Middle Earth, they perceive him as an exceptionally jolly and exceptionally silly Hobbit. So clearly the Doctor looks like an English human because we mainly see them through the eyes of English humans. If they had a Thal companion, they would probably look quite different.
OBJECTION: Doesn't work. The Doctor sees themself as having a human shape; the Daleks and Cybermen perceive them as human. Nice idea, though.
We know that there are Greek mathematical formulae on Rassilon's Tomb; that the first Time Lord was Omega, and that the Doctor was known as Theta Sigma in college: which begs the question "Why do Time Lords use the Greek alphabet?". In the days of Usenet a fan named Stephen Moffat suggested that the really interesting question was "Why did the Greeks use the Time Lord alphabet?" He used the same idea when he became a Who writer: it is implied that the Doctor's actual name is Doctor, which is why that word is used throughout the universe to mean a healer, a teacher or a learned person. So, pretty obviously, the Doctor is a posh English human because posh English culture is a kind of Gallfreyan cargo cult. We know that Time Lords drink tea; that they have ranks like Cardinal and Castellan; that they have a collegiate system and even that they regard "24 hours" as a significant time period. So obviously a lot of British and human culture must have been copied from the Time Lords. This is consistent with the idea that "Christmas" is celebrated all round the Universe and isn't simply a Christian tradition. Which explains why the first Doc wished viewers a happy one. Which Moffat was probably quite well aware of.
In Deadly Assassin and Invasion of Time, Time Lords are specifically male (and mostly elderly). They are specifically set in opposition to the all-girl Sisterhood of Kahn. I think it is a pity that this idea got lost, but it did. The first Doctor Who fanzine I ever bought explained that Mondasian prosthetic technology only worked on the male of the species: the Cybermen were really Cybermen. It also said that Susan was a human girl who the Doctor adopted when acting as a personal tutor for an Edwardian family. In those days, fans were allowed to invent canon out of their head.
In all seriousness. I do think that up to now, the Doctor has been primarily presented as a British "boffin". If they became, say, a two-fisted American cop or a patois speaking Jamaican rap artist, that would represent a departure from one of the central tenets of Doctor Who. But I also think that "departing from the central tenet of Doctor Who" is something that Doctor Who does all the time. You might say it is one of the central tenets of Doctor Who.
In 1966 it was seriously proposed that Patrick Troughton should play the second Doctor as a Captain Nemo figure in, er, black-face make up. This would have been a terrible idea for several obvious reasons, but you can see where it came from. "William Hartnell was a Mad Professor in a Time Machine; but we don't want to do that again. What other type of character might be wandering the universe getting into scrapes." Troughton implied that the Second Doctor's characterisation came about as a result of an off-hand remark by Sidney Newman ("play him like Charlie Chaplain if you like!") but in fact the idea of the Doctor as a hobo was quite a canny thinking-through of the basic idea behind the character. Sidney Newman wrote the rule-book; and he didn't think that "The Doctor can only be Caucasian" was an unbreakable Rule of Time.
Twenty years later, Newman proposed that Colin Baker's replacement could be, er, Joanna Lumley -- who at that time was still Joanna Lumley. She'd famously played Purdy in the justly ignored revival of Newman's Avengers, and a not entirely un Doctorish elemental in Sapphire and Steel, so it was not a completely silly idea. So evidently the series creator didn't think "The Doctor can be anyone they like provided they are a boy" was set in stone, either.
I think that some fans objected to a female Doctor for sincere canonical reasons. Not good reasons, in my opinion, but I think there were people who honestly thought "We could have a female Thor and a female Captain America and even a female Prime Minister but everything we know of the Doctor means they have to be a Man."
I haven't heard a single objection to the idea of a black Doctor that does not amount to an objection to the idea of there being a black anything, ever. "The Doctor is British so it follows they can't be black" would be an intelligible position, but even racists aren't generally prepared to be quite so openly racist. Instead, the haters consistently claim that the casting of Ncuti Gatwa has a quality they describe as "wokeness"; that it is part of a process called "box-ticking" and that it is a sign of weakness, childishness and effeminacy on the part of the BBC ("pathetic".) This is precisely the same language that was applied to the casting of Mandip Gill as Yaz, to the casting of Lenny Henry as A Hobbit, and indeed, to the casting of Pappa Essiedu as Hamlet.
But, of course they have a point. (Stay with me.)
The casting of a new Doctor -- indeed the casting of a new anything -- does, whatever RTD says, necessarily have a political dimension. It is not, in fact, possible to "just" cast "the best actor for the job". If RTD says that he was bowled over by Ncuti's reading of the audition monologue then I am quite sure that that is true. But he also knows that if he had cast a white male, the British Association of Racists would have been very pleased, and that by casting a black person, he has irritated them very much. And irritating racists is clearly a very good idea.
And if Doctor Fourteen had been another white bloke, a lot of the usual suspects would be writing cross ranty articles about why it's always old dead white males. It's where we are in history.
If Doctor Who casting has been Colstonised then RTD clearly did the right thing. If everything you do is going to be interpreted as a signal, then you had better make sure that the signals you are sending out are the right ones, not the wrong ones. If the only alternative to virtue-signalling is I'm-a-complete-fascust-bastard signalling, than signal as much virtue as you possibly can.
But I am happy to entertain the thought that some of the people who snarl about box-ticking are struggling to express the thought that they wish the thing was less politically polarised than it has become. I am also happy to entertain the thought that some of the people who snarl about Doctor Woke are trying to put into words an unease about that Chibnall's writing becoming too preachy; that Jodie's Doctor is too inclined to make speeches about things which in the past might have been left to the viewer to infer.
But it should be possible to express such a critical perspective without resorting to alt-right dog whistles.
This week, Tony Blair suggested that the extreme centrist Keir Starmer ought to be less woke, by which he appears to mean
Sunday, May 08, 2022
I Grow Tired Of Writing This Article, So It Will Be The Last Time... (2)
So. In Episode Eleven of Season Six of ther Clone Wars ("Voices"), Yoda receives a mysterious spectral message from Liam Neeson, who has spent the previous seventy episodes being dead. (Liam Neeson has form for this. He played Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and had a walk on as God in the still astonishing Rev.) It seems that, as a general rule, when a Jedi dies he goes to join an impersonal, Buddhist after-life in which he is one with the Force. Qui-Gon, on the other hand, has continued to exist as an actual personality.
There is some narrative to-ing and fro-ing: the Jedi Council all lay hands on Yoda like charismatics at a healing service, and then suspend him in an isolation tank. With Artoo Deetoo at his side, Yoda absconds from the Jedi hospital and flies to -- you'll like this -- Dagobah. There he encounters the late Qui-Gon Jinn, who manifests as a cloud of Tinker-Bell-like Pixie Dust. Yoda undergoes a Test under the same tree where Luke faced/will face the vision of Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back. Yoda's vision is a flashback/flash forward to the destruction of the Jedi and the Senate which happened/will happen in Revenge of the Sith. Having passed the test, Qui-Gon sends Yoda on his way to a planet at the exact center of the galaxy "where life first arose". One hates to intrude on fandom's collective grief, but this is also the planet where the Midichlorians originated. It looks and feels like a very trippy computer game, or possibly a Rodney Matthews album cover. Yoda spends most of the next episode ("Destiny") jumping from one floating pink mushroom to another. He encounters a group of floaty masked Force ghosts, who direct him to the next part of the selection process, which involves confronting and mastering his Dark Side.
It turns out that Yoda's Dark Side is pretty indistinguishable from Andy Serkis playing Gollum; but since Yoda confronted and mastered it some time ago, he isn't detained for very long. So in the final episode ("Sacrifice") he is sent off to the planet Moribund, where the Sith originally originated. In the Secondary Canon they came from Korriban and in Rise of Skywalker they came from Exegol, but here they come from Moriband. Yoda meets a giant Balrog which claims to be the ghost of Darth Bane. He was the Lord who first had the idea of allowing the Sith to die out except for a single master who could pass the dark teaching on to a single apprentice. ("Always two there are.") Yoda then has a complex vision in which he fights Darth Sideous, and again avoids falling to the Dark Side. So the Floaty Force Ghosts agree to share the secret of eternal life with him. They also tell him that there is another Skywalker. This is, of course, what Yoda told/will tell Luke in Return of the Jedi. I don't know what Yoda understands by it at this point: he doesn't yet know that Anakin and Amidala are married, so he certainly doesn't know that she is pregnant.
So: what are we to do with this kind of thing?
It isn't, compared with the best episodes of ther Clone Wars, all that much fun. Not many buckles are swashed and few cracks are wised. The story exists purely in order to paper over some admittedly substantial cracks in the Prequel Trilogy.
In the final seconds of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas pulled out of thin air the idea that Qui-Gon has taught Yoda how to survive being dead; and that Yoda is going to pass the secret on to Obi-Wan. This was itself a fairly contrived attempt to ret-con a small gap in the plot of the Original Trilogy. Obi Wan says that if Darth Vader strikes him, Obi-Wan, down then he, Obi-Wan, will become more powerful than he, Darth Vader, can possibly imagine. Vader is surprised when Alec Guiness's body vanishes. This is emphasised in the comic, the novel, and the LP versions, and was presumably a stage direction in the ur-screen-play. Ben's words to Vader are never followed up. When Yoda dies, his body also evaporates; and we see his Ghost, along with the ghosts of Ben and Luke's Father together in the final seconds of Return of the Jedi. I think Lucas, at that stage, rather intended us to forget the broad hint that Ben's death was unusual and treat dying, vanishing and Force ghostliness as a normal part of the Jedi career path. Yoda's remark at the end of Revenge of the Sith confirms that Ben was indeed a special case, and that dead Jedi don't habitually hang around outside their protege's space ships encouraging them to switch off their targeting computer's. But it's a pretty huge plot point to be resolved in a single line. The cartoon episodes are a valiant attempt to give the ending of the film, and therefore the entire saga, a little more coherence.
Is this kind of plot-hole filling a worthwhile exercise? Some people might think that if you go to the trouble of setting your cartoon in the big blank space between Episode II and Episode III then you owe it to your viewers to fill the space up with Stuff; and that resolutions to dangling plot threads are very much the kind of stuff you ought to fill it with. Other people might say that if George Lucas decided to leave a big blank space in the middle of his composite artwork then David Feloni ought to refrain from scrawling graffiti on it.
This kind of thing arguably compounds the problems inherent in prequels. We know that Vader / Anakin was a good Jedi who was consumed by the Dark Side of the Force: we didn't particularly need three films showing us that fall in slow motion. We knew that Ben continued to talk to Luke Skywalker after he died: we didn't particularly need a new scene which tells us "That's because he had acquired a secret Talking-To-People-After-You-Die power." But knowing that, we didn't particularly need an hour and half of cartoons saying "Finding out the secret, finding out the secret, here is Yoda, finding out the secret."
What these episodes do, fairly successfully, is add significance to the problematic scenes. I suppose one could say that they apologise for them, or in the jargon, redeem them. Yoda's revelation about finding the secret of immortality comes out of the blue in Revenge of the Sith. It is narratively too easy. Eternal life is the kind of thing that sons of God lay down their lives for; not a knack one learns in the same spirit as a new Yoga position. The cartoons show us that Yoda had to go on a full-on Vision Quest to learn the secret. He refuses the quest, meets a mentor, descends into the underworld, faces a number of tests and temptations and rises again with the Boon that will Save the World. So the secret of the Whills was not a random plot device but -- from a certain point of view -- the pivotal point on which the whole saga turns.
"Qui Gon Jin has revealed to Yoda that he must manifest his consciousness after death if he is to preserve the Jedi order" yells the melodramatic narrator. The Floaty Force Ghosts say that Yoda needs the secret because "he is to teach one who will save the universe from a great imbalance". Anakin's destiny is to kill the Emperor; Luke's destiny is to bring Anakin back to the light so he can kill the Emperor; Yoda's destiny is to train Luke so he can bring Anakin back to the light; Ben's destiny is to send Luke to Yoda to be trained... No-one can fulfil their respective destinies if Yoda doesn't learn how to do immortalling.
I like the parallelism between Dead Qui Gon sending Yoda and Artoo to Dagobah; and Dead Obi-Wan sending Luke and Artoo there in Empire Strikes Back. Luke thinks there is something familiar about the place, but it turns out that Artoo has been there before.
We have noted before that Star Wars is presented as a fairy tale; and fairy tale needs a story-teller. There is a long-cherished fan theory that the person telling the story is, in fact, Artoo Deetoo and that he is not always a reliable narrator. Artoo is portrayed as being the barer of the secret plans (with a Secret Mission, no less); and the one who travels alongside Luke to destroy the Death Star, and alongside Anakin in all of his big missions; a close confident of Amidala; an endless source of increasingly unlikely gimmicks and gadgets as the saga progresses. So, naturally, Artoo would spin the story so that he was Yoda's companion on his most important voyage. I don't "believe" this theory, any more than I "believe" that Jar-Jar Binks is a secret Sith Lord. But I am quite sure that Dave Feloni is aware of the theory - just as the Beatles became aware of the Paul-is-Dead hoax - and that he deliberately plants clues for the fans to find.
END OF DIGRESSION
We get a certain amount of new, er, Lore. Qui-Gon says that there are two different Forces: the Living Force, which resides in each living thing in the universe and the Cosmic Force, which is the sum total of the Living Force of everyone who has ever lived. The Midichlorians mediate between the Living and Cosmic sides of the coin. Lucas's early, inelegant scripts for what was still called Ther Star Wars talked confusingly about the Bogan Force and the Force of Others and various other sub-Forces. Qui-Gon, who didn't learn enough mystical stuff to manifest as a Force Ghost is represented by little shiny sparkly things -- which I think are supposed to represent the particles of the Living Force which were left behind when his body died, but have remained separate from the Cosmic Force. Jedism doesn't seem to be in a strict sense pantheistic: the Force is not mystical or supernatural, but a component of the physical universe. There have to be Midichlorians, otherwise we might start to think that the Force was literally God or the Soul.
So, then. A great secret Yoda has learned, and passed it onto Obi-Wan he has. When Revenge of the Sith first came out, I said that this felt like the pencilled-in sketch for a different film. Two competing heresies, passed down from master to apprentice, submerged in the monolithic but moribund Knights of the Holy Space Grail. When the time is fulfilled both the Whills and Sith will reveal themselves and one or the other will take over the Order and therefore the Universe. A far from uninteresting idea for a space fantasy epic; but not the space fantasy epic that Lucas in the end made. It does not magically come into being just because Yoda says "An old friend has found the path to immortality". And it doesn't become any solider because we've seen Yoda playing at Joseph Campbell three weeks running.
It seems to me that there are two ways you can do this stuff. You can look at the existing lore, cartoons and computer games and all, and use them as a plot-creation engine. You can, in effect, ask "Granted Ashoka and granted Luke Skywalker and granted Admiral Thrawn, what would happen if....." The cross-over sequences in the Mandalorian and the Book of Boba Fett may have offended the continuity-averse, but they seemed to me to be stories which are worth telling "What if Vader had an apprentice before his fall; what if she were still living; what if Luke met her?" is a valid and interesting question; and it would still be a valid and interesting question even if Ashoka were not, minute for minute, the longest-standing character in the Star Wars saga.
But the Yoda material is not building new stories from the components of existing ones. It's creating new stories in order to patch holes in old stories, and so far as I can see the hole is not patched. (On no possible view could Darth Vader have known Qui-Gon's secret teaching, so how could he possibly retain his consciousness and attend the Ewok bonfire party with Ben and Yoda?)
And we know the answer. Lucas wanted us to see Yoda and Obi-Wan at the end of Return of the Jedi because it was a nice scene to end the movie on. He wanted to show Luke's Father, back when Luke's father looked like Sebastian Shaw because he wanted to make the point that Luke's quest had succeeded and his father had been redeemed. And then he went back and retrospectively added Hayden Christensen to the cameo, because, well, why wouldn't he? Qui-Gon wasn't there because Lucas hadn't dreamt him up yet. It's more like
So: anyway. There is my model of good Canon versus bad Canon.
Using existing material to create new stories: Good.
Making new stories to patch holes in old stories: Bad.
Ther Clone Wars is mostly good canon. Go watch it.
Monday, May 02, 2022
I Grow Tired Of Writing This Article, So It Will Be The Last Time (1)
I want to talk about the last four episodes of Season 6 of ther Clone Wars.
Ther Clone Wars is a Star Wars cartoon series. It originally ran from 2008 to 2014. A final Seventh Season came out in 2020; which led directly into a new cartoon called The Bad Batch .
Season 1 - 6 took place in between Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Season 7 ran more or less alongside Episode III. The Bad Batch takes up the story where Revenge of the Sith leaves off, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Republic.
It must always be referred to as Ther Clone Wars to distinguish it from an earlier, 2003 series of animated shorts which was just called Clone Wars.
Nearly everyone agrees that Star Wars Episodes I, II and III ("the prequels") were not very good. The level of not-very-goodness is disputed. Some people think they were a bit of a disappointment and not nearly as much fun as the original trilogy. Some people think that George Lucas raped their childhoods. But everyone with even a passing interest in Star Wars accepts that they are, and I am awfully sorry to use this word, canon.
You may very well think that Phantom Menace spoiled A New Hope and that Jar-Jar Binks was not particularly funny: but if I tell you that in ther Clone Wars the Jedi Council on Coruscant gives Anakin a Padawan named Ashoka, you know what a padawan is, and where Corsucant is, and what I mean by the Jedi Council.
It may be that when Princess Leia says that years ago Obi-Wan served her father in the Clone Wars, you still imagine an army of Jedi Knights fighting against an army of Clones. It may be that you imagine Jedi as Knights in Shining Armour rather than Samurai. It may be that you think that that version of the Clone Wars would have been more fun. But I don't think that anyone who is still interested in Star Wars remotely doubts that Lucas's backstory, clunkily expounded though it might have been, is what really happened.
I grant that this may be a No-True-Scotsman fallacy: everyone who likes Star Wars 'believes in' the prequels, because everyone who doesn't believe in the prequels long ago stopped liking Star Wars.
Ther Clone Wars went a very long way to reconciling those two contradictory feelings. We might even say that it redeemed the Prequels. Maybe the kid-friendly animated format allowed Lucas to loosen up and offer us what is essentially "Revenge of the Sith, only fun." Or maybe he just sub-contracted his world to creators who were less jaded about it. At any rate, ther Clone Wars gives us a series of heroic, swashbuckling war stories in which Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ashoka fight endless thrilling battles against Christopher Lee and General Greivous, with light-sabre duels and space dogfights and literal cliffhangers, but with a mounting sense that Anakin's destiny is a bit on the Dark Side.
The cinematic prequels were not movies so much as exercises in back-story management. The cartoon series is much more in the realm of Lucas's original vision -- Flash Gordon with Politics.
A young Republican officer starts talking about the need for authoritarian rule; Obi-Wan says that this is not the Jedi Way, but Anakin thinks he may have a point. The officer's name, is, of course, Tarkin. The Third On The Left in the Jedi Council ("Plo Koon") goes off on missions and quests. A Young Boy falls in first with a group of clones and then with a group of Bounty Hunters: he turns out to be the son of Jango Fett. (This is why Bobba tells Cadd Bane, the gunfighter/bounty hunter in the live action Book of Bobba Fett "I am not a little boy any more".) Darth Maul recovers from his death and briefly becomes dictator of the planet Mandalor. Obi-Wan has a dalliance with a Mandalorian duchess, who meets a tragic end. It may be she first gave him the nick-name Ben.
Some people like this kind of thing; sone people find it a bit annoying. It is not that surprising that a Star Wars cartoon contains references and quotes from the Star Wars movies; but we may not have been expecting Star Wars live-action shows to quote from and refer to the cartoons. I suppose animation is regarded by many people as a junior art-form. For a long time cartoon spin-offs of movies were disposable fare for Saturday morning kids slots. Who now remembers Bill and Teds Excellent Adventures and the Real Ghostbusters? Gene Roddenbury took the animated Star Trek rather seriously, but that didn't stop the BBC putting it in the Scooby Doo slot.
I saw someone complain on Twitter recently that in order to understand the significance of the Dark Sabre in the Mandalorian you first had to watch several hundred hours of cartoons. (In fairness, they may have meant that some Star Wars fans talk as if that was the case.) This is not literally true; you could watch the whole of Clone Wars and Rebels in sixty or seventy hours. And you certainly don't need to go back to the cartoon to follow the live action show. Everything you need is explained right there on screen: the Dark Sabre is a kind of Mandalorian Excalibur. The person with the sword has the right to rule the planet.
Does knowing that there are several other stories about the Dark Sabre that you have not watched necessarily make this one less fun?
Does having watched several other stories about the Dark Sabre necessarily make this one more fun?
Is the Lord of the Rings a better book once you have read the Silmarillion and know who Turin and Turgon and Even Beren Himself were? Is it exactly the same book whether you know who they are or not? Or does the reference to off-stage-lore completely ruin the book for you and make you chuck it aside in disgust?
Will I get the jokes in Guards, Guards if I haven't read all forty one Discworld novels? Is there any point in going to see Dune if I haven't read Frank Herbert's son's nineteen prequels?
Is this, in fact, exactly the same essay I wrote about Doctor Who last week?
What Kind of a Star Wars fan are you?
1: "I didn't realise that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies."
I have a colleague who remarked that they have been greatly enjoying the Mandalorian despite never having seen a Star War before. She doesn't see it as part of a saga: she's just enjoying it as cowboys in space.
I see R2 Units and X-Wings and Jawas. She sees, presumably, Robots and Aliens and Space Ships.
2: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies, but I don't think that it matters."
I watched Frasier without ever having seen an instalment of Cheers. From time to time a character from the old series turned up in Seattle. It meant there was the odd in-joke I didn't get. I didn't feel the need to go away and watch the previous series (although I understand it's very good) but neither did I say Kelsey Gramer hates me I have to go away and watch two hundred hours of comedy set in a bar before I understand why Dr Crane has a son by previous marriage.
3: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and I think that is all part of the fun: I positively enjoy collecting all the story elements and spotting the connections."
Ooo, Sir, me, me, me, me, me!
4: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and this ruins it for me."
Some people are completists. Some people feel that they can only watch this series if they watch all the other series as well. But they don't want to watch all the other series. So they are cross with this series for mentioning the old shows, and cross with the old shows for existing. And possibly cross with the new show for existing as well.
People who take this view often pretend that when people talk about ther Clone Wars they are actually talking about the 1980s Droids and Ewoks TV shows.
It may be a sort of a narrative Fear of Missing Out: if I can't have it ALL, then I want NONE OF IT. It may be a kind of moral principle, that all stories should be self-contained and if a story is not self-contained it is breaking the rules. Some people were cross with ther Batman because it didn't show the origin of Bruce and Commissioner Gordon's friendship, but kind of assumed you already knew.
We should, not of course forget that there is also
5: Somewhere in between.
This category includes nearly everyone reading this, and indeed, nearly everyone in the world.
There is no doubt that Star Wars has become quite complicated. Before The Force Awakens, Lucasfilms was rather pragmatic about the Universe. All stories were canon, but some were more canon than others. (There was primary canon and secondary canon and tertiary canon, with the movies at the top and the holiday special at the bottom and most of the novels somewhere in between.) Since the reboot, there are only two kinds of story: "happened", and "didn't happen" with everything that did happen fitting into a fairly coherent timeline.
This creates a rather sprawling narrative architecture: if you took a step back and tried to take it all in with a single glance, your brain would quite probably turn into to processed peas. Perhaps that is the real difference between the Type 4 Star Wars fan (who hates lore and canon) and the Type 3 Star Wars fan (who revels in them.) One prefers a perfectly formed work of art that you can see and appreciate the shape of; the other prefers a huge baroque maze that you will get lost in. Oedipus Rex versus The Faery Queene; The Go-Between versus Ulysses; G Minor Tocata and Fugue over The Ring Cycle.
It is no secret which side of the fence I come down on.
Perfectly sensible adults who read proper books and watch proper movies have claimed to be confused by the fact that Episodes I, II and III came out after Episodes IV, V and VI. Oh these whacky space fiction fans who don't even count like we do! I wonder how they would cope with the fact that the cartoon, which fills in the big blank space between the fifth and sixth (by which I mean the second and third) movies started twelve months after the second (by which I mean the first) trilogy was complete.
We are not talking about crossovers. There have always been crossovers. Scooby Doo met Batman: amusing people have pointed out that Batman met Alien and Alien met Predator and Predator met Terminator so Terminator and Scooby Doo share a setting. That's neither very interesting nor very funny. Batman gatecrashed Superman's radio show before World War II; and Stan Lee treated the Fantastic Four as part of Spider-Man's supporting cast before Philip Larkin had discovered sexual intercourse. But we are still talking about separate narrative units which happen to allude to each other. No-one was ever really suggesting that the Fantastic Four and Milly the Model made sense as a single narrative. Someone has tried the experiment of reading every Marvel Comic in order and pretending it was one big story. But that was never how they were meant to be read.
Alastair Grey's novel Lanark is divided into four parts: the first part describes the protagonist in a kind of allegorical purgatory; the second and third parts show his realistic life in 1960s Glasgow; the final part resumes his posthumous odyssey. As a kind of jape, the index lists the books as Part 4, part 1, part 2 and part 3, in that order: but he notes in his epilogue (which comes in the middle) that lots of books are intended to be read in one order but eventually though of in a different order. Godfather Part II, which embeds a prequel inside a sequel, springs obviously to mind. There is also a quite good little movie called Citizen Kane.
This is why there is no sensible answer to the question about the correct order in which to read the Narnia books. You should read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe first, but eventually think of the Magicians Nephew first. The question "What order should I read or watch them in?" only really applies to the very first reading; and there is really no such thing as a first reading. We all know who Luke Skywalker's dad is and what Aslan is an allegory of and who Rosebud was before we start.
Many years ago I proposed that Star Wars should be thought of, not as a straight narrative line but as a spiral. My idea was that the Prequels to some extent changed the meaning of the Original Trilogy; and that both "meanings" could exist in your head at the same time. When Obi-Wan tells Luke that Vader killed his father, he is both telling the truth and lying; when Luke kisses Leia, it's both a flirtatious snog between two teenagers and a slightly creepy moment between two siblings.
I expressed that thought as a swirly flow chart in which Star-Wars-Once-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back is a different movie from Star-Wars-Before-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back; and The-Trilogy-Before-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels is a different set of films from The-Trilogy-After-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels.
The addition of more material -- a third trilogy and two stand alone films; four cartoon series; two live action series and more on the way -- turns my elegant spiral into a knotty web. A big ball of wibbly wobbly lore. Mapping out how the cartoons relate to the TV shows would be quite beyond my capacity; and don't even mention the comics...
It is possible to imagine someone watching the entire Star Wars canon, never having seen any of the movies before, in strict chronological order. It is also possible to imagine visiting them in a padded cell once they were finished. First Phantom Menace, then Attack of the Clones, then the first six Seasons of Clone Wars, then Revenge of the Sith, then the Bad Bunch, then Rebels, and then (if you are quick), the original trilogy itself. (If you are not quick, you'll have to squeeze in Obi-Wan after Rebels but before Rogue One.) I suppose a true chronological reading would require you to watch Season Seven of the Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith simultaneously, via some sort of split-screen effect. Maybe some film school dude could edit them together as a project: I believe there is a linear edit of Citizen Kane in existence, and there was a TV series re-editing the Godfather in historical sequence. I'd rather like to see it again. Don't get me started chronological Bibles.
If you were watching The Whole of Star Wars In Order for the first time, you would come to -- say -- Episode One of The Bad Batch and notice that some attention is given to a young Jedi Padawan who escapes when the Clone Troopers execute Order 66. (His mentor is the lady of Asian appearance who sits on the Jedi council in Phantom Menace.) "I wonder who that character is" you would say "I bet he is going to turn out to be important later on". And you'd be right: he grows up to be Kanan, who teaches Ezra about the Force in Rebels. But this is arguably not how you are meant to view the scene. It is certainly not how most people first experienced it. Bad Batch came out in 2021 and Rebels ended in 2018. So arguably, the "correct" response is "Oh wow -- Kanan when he was a little boy!"
But perhaps "intention" and "chronological readings" break down in this kind of narrative web. Perhaps all that matters is that there are little cross-temporal links between the different formats. Perhaps the fact nearly everyone gets some connections and hardly anyone get all of them is the core fact about the aesthetic. The object of the exercise is not to catechise us about every previous appearance of the Dark Sabre, or to try and remember when Rex transitioned from being a background grunt to being a major character, and if he is going to appear in Obi-Wan. Perhaps the object is that we don't -- can't possibly -- get every reference. Perhaps that is what creates the compelling illusion that what we are watching is not just a story, but also an historical text.
I: Phantom Menace
II: Attack of the Clones
Clone Wars Seasons 1-5
III: Revenge of the Sith
Clone Wars Season 7
The Bad Batch
IV: Star Wars
V: The Empire Strikes Back
VI: Return of the Jedi
The Book of Boba Fett
VII: The Force Awakens
Resistance Season 1
VIII: The Last Jedi
Resistance Season 2
IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)