Monday, November 10, 2014

Gambling




Gambling is fairly common in movies, not just as a fun pastime guaranteed to lose you money, but as a way to determine a character’s future. The main character (and we, the audience) place everything on one hand of cards or spin of the roulette wheel.


This is mocked by realists, since in real life risking everything you have (or worse, someone else) on a chance event is immoral and bound to end badly. But it works well in stories, because stories have authors who determine the outcome. Gambling represents letting fate intervene directly, giving the author a deus ex machina to radically change how someone’s life goes.


Then what does gambling represent for a character? It represents an acceptance, offering your future up to pure fate and trusting it will take you where you need to go. Sometimes gambling results in the miraculous outcomes that were the only way to escape failure. Other times gambling destroys the subject, but it humbles them and leads them to different avenues of life that they never would have found on their own.


Of course, some characters are defined by their opposition to destiny. Angry tsunderes who defy fate showcase this through changing the rules of the game or interfering with the contest in other unethical ways. But that is for hotheads and maltheists.


Which brings us to the Jedi and the infamous pod race of Episode I. Quigon Jinn decides to risk the entire important mission on whether Anakin Skywalker can win his first race. It’s... questionable to the characters there, even though we the audience know that it will turn out well. (Padme-dressed-as-servant even calls Qui-Gon reckless for it, and Qui-Gon says the Queen trusts in his judgment, which is a special twofer today of both dramatic irony by Qui-Gon yet again and stoicism.) We’ve been so attuned to expect gambling to result in the “correct” outcome for a story, and of course these quasi-buddhist monks trust that fate will take care of them in this unpredictable game.


And it does! They get the hyperdrive macguffin, and the characters can go on their merry way.


So let’s rewind to the scene right before the pod race. Quigon Jinn is sweetening his bartering with Watto, trying to acquire his messiah as part of this race’s victory too. (Quigon never argues with Watto’s right to own people, he just moves on to negotiations over them like property.)





QUI-GON
I'll wager my new racing pod against...say...the boy and his
mother.

WATTO
A Pod for slaves. I don't think so...well, poerhaps. Just one...the mother, maybe...the boy isn't for sale.

QUI-GON
The boy is small, he can't be worth much.

WATTO shakes his head.

QUI-GON
For the fastest Pod ever built?!

WATTO shakes his head again.

QUI-GON
Both, or no bet.

WATTO
No Pod's worth two slaves...not by a long shot...one slave or nothing.

QUI-GON
The boy, then...

WATTO pulls out a small cube from his pocket.

WATTO
We'll let fate decide. Blue it's the boy, red his mother...

WATTO tosses the cube down. QUI-GON lifts his hand slightly; it turns blue.
QUI-GON smiles. WATTO is angry.


Underline added for “holy shit I didn’t remember they actually said to let fate decide until I copied that section for this entry”.


Qui-Gon interferes with the die that fate throws for him, to get the outcome he wants.


There is so much sigh.


The Jedi are supposed to use the Force not only to do cool magic show tricks, but to follow the destiny of the Republic. Yet rarely in the Prequels do we see the Jedi beseech the Force for guidance or take action because of that guidance. Mace Windu and Yoda lament that their vision of the Force has been clouded. Yoda dismisses Anakin’s premonitions as potential lies. The Jedi are never listening, and even when the Force knocks loudly at their door, they find a reason to ignore it.


A series of coincidences land these two Jedi on Tatooine, one of the most miserable backwaters of the Republic, where slavery is openly practiced. They are drawn to a boy there, who asks them to free the slaves.


And this is not a relatively friendly depiction of slavery. This is not Posca, Caesar’s slave from Rome who gets a nice retirement out of the deal. Anakin makes very clear he doesn’t want to be owned, even if he personally likes Watto. The ten year old kid has a bomb in his head to keep him from escaping! This is all done under the auspices of the Hutts, who we know to be cruel lords. The Jedi’s interest in system independence (or perhaps even democracy) and focus on the one particular mission of saving Naboo, override any interest in this problem that fate put in their way.


They ignore the message, but are very interested in the messenger, so they want to acquire this child who has the highest midichlorian count ever tested, like an object or piece of property.


Fate says, what about his mother instead?


Qui-Gon says no.


Imagine what might have happened if Qui-Gon let the die fall as it wanted to, and they simply purchased Shmi out of this. Well, Shmi probably would have been pretty upset to be separated from her son, and would have stayed around to take care of him as a free person. Qui-Gon would have insisted on staying with Anakin and finding other ways to acquire him, which might have led to a full scale slave revolt. This is probably the path the Force actually intended for them. This is why the Jedi return to Tatooine again (in Episode 2), and again (in Episode 4), and again (in Episode 6 where they finally kill Jabba the Hutt, the amorphous symbol of evil and cruelty on that world. Choked to death by his slave’s chains, of course.)

The "phantom menace" would not have been confronted, and the war would not have escalated the way it did. Anakin Skywalker would never have seen his mother murdered by tusk people and would be saved from his first act of genocide.


There are many problems in this pre-Empire golden age, that require the care and attention of the “good guys”, which are worse and more persistent than Trade Federation crises. We never hear any of the Jedi discuss these though.

Because the Jedi stopped listening to the universe long ago.



***


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