Sunday, December 14, 2014

A New Look

Not the same as my perspective, but there's certainly a lot of well researched claims at this (blog? website? medium 2.0 piece?)

“[The repeated patterns] also allow, through variations, an emotionally and intellectually complicating emphasis upon difference and change. The broad pattern of human life, from youth to maturity to death, remains constant, but individual circumstances within the pattern inevitably differ, creating different possibilities and problems.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Darth Vader is Cool

I’ve been reading about the concept of authentic Evil, capital E. Regardless of it’s moral veracity, it’s certainly an interesting literary trope.

We are often fond of shows with good villains. Sometimes it’s because those villains have sympathetic motivations, human details, and understandable logic. They can be so sympathetic that they blur the line between villain and anti-hero. This post is not about those.

Sometimes a villain starts with worldly motivation. They miss their homeworld, or they’re ashamed of their differences, or they’re very attached to keeping their love alive. And they do extreme things to hang onto those, things that we the audience understand are bad. Against the metaphysics of the universe. It’s very human of them, but often weak or even pathetic. We aren’t expected to respect these actions.

And then they lose. Everything.

It’s generally a long process. Sometimes caused by the cruel forces of the world that take away that which we hold dearly. Or even it’s the victories of the protagonists that lead to this stripping away. But regardless, everything they care about - every hope they have for the future - is violently, painfully torn from them.

Anakin Skywalker killed his wife and unborn child (as far as he knows), betrayed and destroyed his order, and lost his normal body. He would live in a black chrome body for the rest of his days, knowing he is responsible for the ultimate tragedies he has suffered. All this for a master he knows cares nothing for him. I cannot begin to conceive of this loss (or the resulting self-loathing.)

When everything is gone, then he can make a choice. He has reached true existential freedom. Nothing he does matters, in that none of his goals can be saved or redeemed. He is beyond status, or class, or hope. He is beyond caring.

Existential freedom is terrifying. It means we are entirely responsible for our own choices. We can no longer blame them on the things we want or forces that motivate us.

That moment of utter despair is a singularity. What emerges after it should have no connection or resemblance to what came before. All that comes is a single, all-encompassing, world-shattering choice.

“evil” little-e is about petty needs and attachments to the world. “Evil” capital-E is about choosing nihilism. Everything the villain cares about is gone, so they destroy the whole world.

It’s only through this authentic Evil that someone can radically remake the world. They do not possess attachment to a person, or their ego, or the respect of others. They are not risk averse. They are infinitely destructive, if that’s what matters to them.

When a villain goes through that, it is awesome.

Anakin Skywalker is a whiny proto-fascist. But Darth Vader is amazing. He cares nothing for what others think of him, or the general racist Imperial structure. He chokes out corrupt incompetents and hires subversive bounty hunters and gets in the thick of battles and comes up with great new plans on the fly. He is totally committed to his cause. (Which isn’t nihilism, but is universal.) And when this happens, his powers as the greatest Jedi finally blossom.

Zod from Man of Steel also falls under this trope. For most of the movie he only cares about his beloved Krypton, and his elitist order within it. When returning to that world is no longer possible, then he becomes a man with nothing to lose (or even gain). That’s also the point when he learns to fly.

Garrosh Hellscream fits this, and this may be the best thing about WOW: Warlords of Draenor. For three expansions fans had gotten sick of him, and his descent into racism and militarism. And he lost the dignity of his people, his city, and his freedom. Another expansion about him seemed abominable.

But instead Blizzard made him cool. He went to war not just with humans, not just with other races, but the whole of his timeline itself. He rejected history as inadequate. He went back in time, killed two gods who would rule his people, and remade the Orcish clans into a competent coherent machine. When he has his final throwdown with Thrall, it is the best, most convincing bit of dialogue that Garrosh has had in five expansions.

He dies. But the authentically Evil villain doesn’t care about their death or life. They only care about the singular choice they have made. When we see them, we find them admirable because they do not care about us.

Ozymandias from Watchmen tried to voluntarily give up those things, so he could become such a creature. But it was voluntary, and inadequate, and his grandiose plans were too caught up in the world as it was. Dr Manhattan had his attachments torn from him, and the freedom he realized was much more austere for it.

The Joker was always authentically Evil, and attempts at his backstory do a great job of showing no matter what sad sack of reasons led to his creation, the only thing that matters is that this being has now been created.

These are horrible people. No, they are monsters. But it is only in being a monster that a character can begin to contemplate the ultimate acts necessary to save the world. The lack of attachment earns our admiration when we see it, and is capable of so much more than all the other characters trapped in the normal system of class and worldly desire.

Who is the best, most authentic Evil villain? Who makes our heart soar for their ability to leave who they were behind?

Picture you are Anakin Skywalker, lying on that medical bed. Your whole life you’ve been training to be the best Jedi, the one everyone is counting on to save them. You’ve been living a double life, caught between your order and your love. And in one day you lost both.

I hypothesize what you would think, is exactly this:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Until December Ends

And that was November, folks. Against all sanity I accomplished my goal of blogging every day about a Star Wars Prequel Trilogy scene (or some such related).

There's still so much more to say! But for now at least, I don't think I am committed to the breakneck speed of posting every day. Put this in your feed and expect to see something here when I am particularly bored or some such. If you're curious about a particular character or scene, ask me to break it down!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Many thanks to my inspirations (mostly, SMG), and to the readers who told me how amused they were.

Trust in the Force.

The End (part 1)

A friend linked me to a funny tweet about how the upcoming new movies will end.

While tongue in cheek, it did remind me that the final shot of these trilogies is probably one of the first things the authors think of. The final shot of the Original Trilogy is a funeral pyre, and Force ghosts, and Ewoks singing Yub Nub with the rebels, which is a great view of the ending elements and joy of the Light Side of the Force.

How do the Prequels end?

Beru and Owen Lars holding Luke to the sunset. This is the same sunset and view that Luke looks to early in A New Hope as he ponders how small his life is and how great the wide universe is. It’s a very epic shot (with soaring music), and this shot captures that magic while paralleling it. This final shot is perhaps the most stirring single shot of all three movies.

Which fits many of the other design choices we see in the final third of the movie. We suddenly have shots aboard Imperial cruisers and good guy space ships and they look a lot more like what we are used to from the Originals, than the ships we were seeing for most of the Prequels.

The set design is saying a thing. It’s saying “okay, now we have moved into the next era, the one you saw before, remember all this?” After the climactic moment, everything, even hallway decor, changes.

So a key point here: the artists of the Prequels did not suddenly forget how to make things look like the old movies. They knew how to make stirring shots, how to evoke the sacred, and not the overly artificial pablum we see so often instead. The Prequels were not a failure of skill.

Now the shroud of the Dark Side has fallen, and now there is finally a chance to fight it. Now noble children like Luke and rural families on impoverished planets enter the picture. Coruscant and Jedi temples and midichlorians and chrome spaceships were a phase and now they are over.


So I guess bonus question: given everything we know about the story of Star Wars, and how the last shot of each trilogy has been powerful, what do you think the last shot of Episode 9 will be?


Okay I have two more in me. First, I want to talk about light sabers some more.

The light saber is one of if not the iconic image of the Original Trilogy. Yet part of its power is that it is used so sparingly. Only three characters ever wield a light saber (and the fact that for the first two movies Luke wields Anakin’s old light saber is deserving of analysis all on its own), and duels are fairly scarce. In fact in the three movies there is more time spent on effete robots arguing with tribally-coded aliens than there is spent in light saber duels.

It’s special. And we value things more the less we see them. In the real world this often leads to bad implications of people denying themselves good things in order to retain specialness, but in art the symbol is more powerful and the inefficiency loss is less real, so we can stick with this value-through-scarcity thing as a somewhat okay thing. It would be very hard for Lucas not to have recognized this.

And so we get the most blaring shot from the trailer of the Phantom Menace.

After Episode 1 came out, some friends of mine did a skit about light sabers. If a two bladed saber was cool, then an elephant wielding three blades must be even cooler. And thus they christened Darth Pachyderm, with a sword in each hand and one grasped by his trunk. They then theorized that this would lead to Darth Porcupine with… you get it. Good times, everyone laughs.

The thing is this is exactly what happened.

First in Attack of the Clones, we get a giant colosseum scene with dozens of Jedi each fighting with their own light saber, each waving their own glowing phallus around. Yoda goes to town and shows us his own wild ninjitsu with a light saber, which audiences loved.

They took the logic “If one light saber was cool, then two are even cooler” to the logical conclusion of “more more!”

Where does it end, if not with Darth Porcupine?

Remember, the top two were spinning.

Guys, I think Lucas is in on the joke.


Which is saying what then? The same thing as midichlorians and the decadence of the Republic and the whininess of Anakin Skywalker.

If you take something holy, and demand more of it, what you get does not have the same feeling. You can not simply ask for “more Star Wars.” Which can be fairly nihilistic, but it also means parsing what you actually liked and pursuing that.

Figure out what you like. Some might say “the three act structure and a Cambellian hero myth”. That’s more fundamental, but you can get that from many many more movies than Star Wars.

Some might say it was the dialogue, but that’s hard to believe. One of the most biting comments about movie dialogue ever was by Harrison Ford speaking of the script in A New Hope, “you can type this shit, George, but you sure can't say it.”

As fans prepare for JJ Abrams final three movies to end the… nontology?... there’s a lot more theoryizing about what they “wanted”. Since the Prequel Trilogy was very clean and had lot’s of CGI, there’s a demand for a return to the dirtier, rustier aesthetic of the 70’s movies and less CGI. But is that any more likely to be the thing people actually loved about Star Wars?

Was what you liked “light sabers”, or their sacred feeling? If the latter, see how to incorporate the sacred into your life. If the former, you are a fundamentalist who should be satisfied with midichlorians and porcupines.