Sunday, November 16, 2014

Interlude: Knowledge is Power

 A one post pause before finishing up the trilogy of "Who are the Sith?"

*** had a post a while ago speculating that everyone in Star Wars is probably illiterate. It was a good attempt at noticing broader patterns in the six movies, but since it wasn’t tied to any broader conclusion it missed the forest for the trees. (Or at least the implied conclusion would be that the movies were “bad” or that the populace of that universe was ignorant, neither of which is really true.)

We see a great deal of oral culture in Star Wars. We see a great deal of technological dependence in Star Wars. In order to draw a dichotomy between these, the middle ground (of things like non-electronic literacy) get left out. This is “unrealistic” in some sense, but useful for continuing the themes of the movies. (If you asked Lucas, being a fan of McLuhan, he would probably say literacy falls on the latter side of that divide.)

The most blatant of these scenes are the ones around Obi-Wan finding the planet Kamino. This detour is entirely irrelevant to the broader plot of the movie, so its inclusion has a great deal of symbolic significance.

Early on in Episode 2 Obi-Wan is hot on the trail of an assassin who attempted to kill Senator Amidala. He talks to his contact, a very down to earth short order cook (alien, low class), who recognizes the dart Obi-Wan found as from the planet Kamino. And so the Jedi Master is sent in the direction of that planet.

But the Jedi archives show no such planet. At this point every audience member realizes that the archives were tampered with, by another Jedi.

Obi-Wan doesn’t though. He cannot conceive of the electronic archives being wrong.

We get a third scene then, where he talks to Yoda and some “younglings” about the problem, and they talk about it for a while until they finally figure out maybe this planet actually exists.

An interesting puzzle. Gather round the map reader, younglings. Master Obi-Wan has lost a planet. Find it, we will try...

This isn’t some brilliant piece of deduction though. His friend on the street started off by telling him the planet exists. Obi-Wan could simply believe his friend, but instead gets almost fooled by obviously wrong archives, because of his dependence on technology. (The populace isn’t illiterate or dumb. The commoner alien knows that Kamino exists.)

(These scenes could have been written with the opposite message. A fellow Jedi could have lied to him, but the archives showed the unfibbable answer. Babylon 5’s Interludes and Examinations has this scene but thematically in reverse, after all. The message here is deliberately technologically-skeptical, with the correct side being "trust in a friend.")

And the point isn’t just that the Jedi records were infiltrated, but that dealing with this is so hard for him.

Have the Jedi become over-dependent on their technology? Nah, they’re monks in touch with the universe…

Make an analysis of this blood sample I'm sending you.

Wait a minute…

I need a midichlorian count.

All right. I've got it.

What are your readings?

Something must be wrong with the transmission.

Here's a signal check.

Strange. The transmission seems to be in good order, but the reading's off the chart...over twenty thousand.

For the second time on this blog: Qui-Gon can not recognize the incarnation of his galaxy’s Christ figure without a blood scanner.

Midichlorians are not simply some dumb concept that Lucas invented because he was out of ideas. They are a representation of what happens when you demand scientific certainty instead of taking things on faith.

Midichlorians are Qui-Gon as a doubting Thomas, demanding to feel the holes in Christ’s side with his own thumbs, instead of trusting his faith. Midichlorians are Obi-Wan being told by his friend that his answers lie on the planet Kamino, but wanting to check with the archives to be sure.

Midichlorians sound terrible, and every Star Wars fan reels the first time they hear of them.

But the Jedi are without faith now. They still pursue the words of prophecy, but with no understanding of what they mean. Nor any desire for understanding.

Is this the Jedi way?

Luke looks up, then starts to look back into the targeting device. He has second thoughts.

Let go, Luke.

A grim determination sweeps across Luke's face as he closes his eyes and starts to mumble Ben's training to himself.
Luke looks to the targeting device, then away as he hears Ben's voice.

Luke, trust me.

Luke's hand reaches for the control panel and presses the button. The targeting device moves away.

(over speaker)
His computer's off. Luke, you switched off your targeting computer. What's wrong?

(over speaker)
Nothing. I'm all right.

Underline added because, yeah.


So back to that plot hole from the Tor article that many fans question: why, a mere thirty years after the Jedi were the sole armed forces of the Galactic Republic, does no one believe in them anymore?

Because no one really believed in them then either. The Jedi had given up genuine belief, for scientific certainty. And science and technology are not wholly pointless! They are generally useful. But they have real limits.

Once the Empire had control of the apparatus of the state, they could lock down these archives and divert courses of scientific study as they liked. The Force may be hard to forget, but midichlorians certainly aren’t sticking in the public consciousness for decades.

“I just don’t see it, Blue. Yes over six movies there can be lots of signs of technology failing people. But Is Lucas really trying to make some grand general statement here, when Yoda mocks Obi-Wan for having lost a planet?”

Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

What is the Force?

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