Friday, November 14, 2014

Enter the Sith

The Star Wars movies employ a remarkable economy of characterization. Almost everyone who is part of the plot falls into either one of two groups: they are characterized ridiculously in depth and we know a ton about them: their history, how they form friendships, what they want, how they see themselves OR we know almost nothing about them and they reveal very little about themselves as an individual. The former is most epitomized by the decision to have three whole movies about Darth Vader, after he already dominated the three movies of the Original Trilogy.

But the characters who receive little individual attention, are still extremely vibrant cariacatures. They most of all stand for something. They are metaphors more than people.

Which is fine. Metaphors are useful. And in this case, can be extremely educational.

Having picked the Jedi apart, I’m going to spend the next three posts analyzing the three Sith Lords of each movie. (The Emperor in Episode 3. Anakin deserves much more.) And it’s going to use a specific format, that will give away a lot of my thesis here. So here goes.


Episode I.

Who is Darth Maul?

He is the phantom menace.

(Now you do a match for all three movies. Did I just blow your mind?)

“Hold on Blue. The only thing Darth Maul says of substance is

At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge.

But Revenge is the third movie.”

Well, do the Sith care about revenge for past injustices done to the Sith?

I mean we have this line. But what else do we have? In the movies, is there even any description ever of what the Sith and Jedi fought over and what happened?

Also, these are Sith, bloodthirsty immoral creatures. They repeatedly cackle as their own allies die, or as they betray them. At no point does any Sith show pain for another Sith dying. But we are to believe they’re upset at something that happened to some Sith many generations ago? Sidious, really?

Seems unlikely doesn’t it.

What does Maul want revenge for then?

Pity his silence gives us so few clues. All we know about him, besides his silence, and that one line, is that he is obviously alien.

In fact, as far as archetypes go (Old Ben Kenobi is the Wizard, R2D2 is the Robot), one could say Darth Maul is the Alien. He’s got these bizarre tribal tattoos, horns, creating a very demonic aura.

What else does Episode I say about aliens?

Episode I is the story of the “multicultural” Republic absorbing an alien culture (the Gungans aka Jar Jar). It represents business as normal for the Republic and the Jedi, with only some episodic problems to fight off. Managing the out of line corporations, treating with the natives, but otherwise it's very “End of History” stuff (Francis Fukuyama’s opus is the best book to read towards understanding the Prequels.)

Episode I is the story of absorbing an alien native culture into the white human male dominated Galactic Republic.

And the figure of the Alien says he wants revenge.

Even under modern liberal capitalism, a lot of the absorption of native cultures is going to go badly. For some segments, it’s going to go very badly.

Lucas is not at all subtle in employing his racial stereotypes. Jar Jar is the minstrel figure. Chewbacca is the 70’s blaxploitation figure. And Darth Maul is the sixties black power figure.

(In fact the similarities between Chewbacca and Darth Maul are astounding.)

He does not speak to the white human Jedi. (The fact that he speaks to Sidious is more telling than keeping him mute the whole time. It says he could speak, and is choosing not to, whereas the other two Sith banter and taunt.) During the duel, he and Qui-Gon are separated by a force field, and while Qui-Gon meditates, Maul scrapes his lightsaber against the invisible wall, like a prisoner rattling the cell bars.

He is angry. He is the Gungans and Ewoks who are not happy how integration went. And he very much blames the Jedi. 

He is also being manipulated by Darth Sidious who could care less what happens to him. But aren't we all.

(If we are to reference the EU, Darth Maul belongs to the race called the Zabrak. They have two sects, one of which more peaceably assimilated into the Republic, the other of which is known for being more aggressive. Two Zabrak of the former sect sit on the Jedi council and you can see them if you look closely. Guess which subspecies Darth Maul belonged to?)

The Jedi, understandably, are terrified of him. There’s a real horror of the Other the first time Qui-Gon encounters him. In the climax, Maul forces them into a confrontation and focuses on the Jedi, because Maul does not give a fuck about killing Amidala or helping the Trade Federation’s pathetic plot.

But... he's still a distraction. His death is part of the plot orchestrated by Darth Sidious that advances his own agenda. The Alien is nothing like the real threat. The line with the most dramatic irony in the entire movie is when Yoda and Mace Windu wonder if Darth Maul was the Master or Apprentice, right as we get a shot of Chancellor Palpatine.

But don't worry, Obi-Wan disposes of him quite thoroughly.

1 comment:

  1. I think this implication was almost certainly unintentional (he's probably supposed to be more of a ninja-type silent assassin), but it's always bothered me how characters referred to Darth Maul.

    OBI-WAN : What was it?
    QUI-GON : I don't know... but he was well trained in the Jedi arts. My guess is he was after the Queen...

    He calls Darth Maul "it". Later, in The Clone Wars (which Lucas worked on), people keep referring to his brother ("Savage Opress", natch) as a "monster" and his people as "barbarians".