Thursday, November 20, 2014

Head of the Jedi Council, A Character Explore

So let’s talk about the protagonist of second prequel, Jedi Master Yoda.

Yoda still isn’t the focal character, but he is the one who shows the deepest arc. We see a lot of Anakin and Obi-Wan, but how are they different at the end of the film from the beginning? They stay who they are, but it is Yoda who changes.

Yoda starts the movie sad. He realizes the Dark Side has been outmaneuvering and clouding his vision, as he admits privately (but not publicly of course; he couldn’t shake faith in the Jedi institution.) He teaches the younglings --

-- a moment for the younglings here. Younglings is a great word, like midichlorians. It sounds silly and completely against the numinous feel we associate with the Jedi of the Original Trilogy. Yet if you try to break down what’s behind something sublime and underexplained, that is often what you get. “What was Yoda doing before the Clone Wars, we wonder?” “He was training the younglings.” “Oh. That sounds boring.” “You asked.” --

-- and looks bored. His friend and protege Obi-Wan comes to him with a really obvious question and is generally being a patsy, Anakin (the figure of prophecy) is whiny and ignoring his teachings, the galactic polity is falling apart and he doesn’t know what to do.

This climaxes right after Anakin slaughters the sand people who took his mother, and we see Yoda sitting alone in his sad little meditation room, looking helpless and lost. The scene works on the level of him reacting to Anakin’s turn, but also on the broader level of feeling like you’re losing without an enemy to fight.

We can all sympathize with this. Life is hard and often out of control. We see so much that is wrong going on in the world, but we have no idea what we can do. Bad things happen to good people, and we don't know why. It is a despair anyone can fall into, but especially a directionless liberal democracy.

And then Yoda is given an enemy. And the power to fight it.

He takes the Clone Army that Obi-Wan discovered, flies off to Geonosis to fight the Droid Army and rescue his friends who are in danger.

How does it feel? The look on his face is… pure awesome. Now he’s in the field, giving orders and being taken seriously. He’s commanding lasers that blow stuff up, flying in on gun ships. In the most crude display of power he whips out his light saber and goes to town on Darth Tyrannus. The whole sequence is really fun, and audiences (including myself) cheered for the joy of it.

(If Yoda suffers from epistemic impotence at the beginning of the film, then at the end… one can’t really ignore that the light saber is the most blatant scifi phallic symbol since “rockets”.)

Problem is, the whole thing is a bad idea, right?

Remember that the audience doesn’t know anything that the Jedi don’t know during the course of the film (besides the long term doom), but we can tell it’s a trap. It is patently clear that the Sith have been manipulating the creation of the Separatist movement and that the Clone Army was created under very suspicious circumstances. Everything about the situation glows “danger”.

Yoda has just picked up and encased himself with the weapon that the “good guys” at the beginning of the film were worried about using. But hey, it was an emergency. And the attack of the clones is a serious threat. But just because it was a serious threat doesn’t mean that the Clone Army isn’t a weapon secretly programmed to kill them when they least expect it, as we find out in Episode 3.

The best line that gives this all away is what Yoda says at the end of the movie about the events that have just transpired.

The shroud of the Dark Side has fallen. Begun these Clone Wars have.

Is there a more wrong statement in the entire sextology? The shroud of the Dark Side is very firmly in place and the Jedi have absolutely no idea what’s going on. But he’s made the mistake that because he found an enemy, that they have The Enemy. Darth Sidious is successful because he doesn’t try to trick the Jedi (and his apprentices) into fighting people they really have no differences with (as we see in most movies about false conflict), but he tricks them into fighting their legitimate opponents on his terms.

None of the problems that Yoda is worried about at the beginning of the film (clouded vision, Anakin’s attachment issues) have been resolved. At this point they’ve been forgotten even. This is not a coincidence or "bad writing" suddenly forgetting various plot points it raised before. Rather it's a way of illustrating how the allure of power and clear cut enemies distract us from our real problems.


I said that Jar Jar Binks is the protagonist of Episode 1, and that doesn’t just mean change over the film but that the story of the film is his story. Jar Jar’s story is about the induction of colonized cultures into the Republic. So what then is Yoda’s?

Episode 2 is the story of how a peaceful liberal democracy can be tricked into becoming a fascist dictatorship. It’s also the story of how a quasi-buddhist monk can become a militarist who leads his people into a fatal war.

(Episode 3’s protagonist, the person who changes over the course of the story and who’s story mirrors the world, is... Anakin Skywalker, of course.)

As fans we let a collective groan loose when we think about the Clone Army. How could they be so dumb as to take this army that they know what ordered under false name? And I’m sure Yoda thinks about that too. What does he say to it?

We get a parallel question answered when Chancellor Palpatine accepts his emergency powers.

It is with great reluctance that  I have agreed to this calling. I  love democracy... I love the  Republic. The fact that this crisis is demanding I be given absolute power to tule over you is evident. But I am mild by nature and have no desire to destroy the democratic process. The power you  give me I will lay down when this crisis has abated, I promise you.

And that’s not a lie, from the galaxy’s greatest politician. The crisis never ends. You never have a world without conflict.

Yoda must be thinking the same thing as those Senators. Sure, he’ll investigate the Clone Army more closely when the crisis ends. But right now there’s fighting to be done, Jedi to save, and no time to worry about procedural niceties like “where did this superweapon come from?”

Except you were wrong Yoda. And now everybody’s dead.

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