Monday, 29 October 2012

The Truth about Star Wars

By Daniel Dobrowolski

Star Wars; a franchise that has had one of the largest impacts on the world of speculative fiction. It consists of six films, the original and the newer prequel trilogies, and yet it is the prequel trilogy that is considered largely inferior by a surprisingly large number of Star Wars fans. When you take a closer look, however, perhaps it’s not so surprising that this is the case.

After all, the originals were produced over forty years ago, at a time when the Space Opera genre had only just begun to be taken seriously, a time when nothing quite like Star Wars had ever been seen before and a time when certain clichés like a definitively good and evil set of characters and a plot revolving around a one-dimensional Bildungsroman-style main character were actually revered. No wonder, then, that the original Star Wars films became such classics.

When one is able to set aside the dispositions of those who dote upon the words of the stubborn middle-aged man defending his childhood favourites, the prequels begin to take a different light. One reason for this is the far greater complexity with which Anakin Skywalker’s character develops as compared to Luke’s.

The originals tell of how Luke grows from a promising youth to a well-trained Jedi – that’s really all there is to it. By contrast, Anakin’s character goes through a number of complex stages in his journey from an equally promising, morally astute youth to the cold, almost completely heartless Sith Lord, Darth Vader. This is most effectively summarised with Yoda’s rather proleptic warning during his first meeting with Anakin, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” It is Anakin’s forbidden love for Padmé that generates most of this fear as, in Episode III, he has a vision foretelling her death. His overwhelming desire to protect the ones he loves is an example of how, despite having the best intentions, Anakin manages to become swayed towards the Dark Side.

Another significant step in his story is in Episode II where he journeys to a village of Tusken Raiders in order to find his mother. He finds her in pain and dying, and in revenge for her death he slaughters the Tuskens mercilessly, “like animals.” Despite the fact that they aren’t human and he does act in revenge, there is no denying that he has committed a severely wrong act. He has been brought closer to the Dark Side.
There is, however, a grey area when it comes to how good Anakin really is at any one moment in time, which truly emphasizes the richness of his character. His loyalty to the Jedi can be seen at a number of points, for example, when he hesitates in killing Count Dooku, despite under the direct command of Chancellor Palpatine. When Palpatine reasserts his order, Anakin nevertheless obeys, where a wiser Jedi might have refused him. Even far into Episode III, Anakin is the one to inform Mace Windu that Palpatine is a Sith Lord, only to save him when Windu refuses to let him live and stand trial. The progression of such a character (despite having been portrayed by an adequate-at-best actor) in a complex world with a collapsing political system makes an exciting tale for the rise of the Sith Empire.
Despite this, some might argue that Skywalker isn’t necessarily the protagonist in Episode I, after all he isn’t introduced until 45 minutes into the film. The whole trilogy, however, is 7 hours long, with a large part of it containing Anakin, a large enough part to make him undoubtedly the main character. This does not mean that he is the ‘majority character’ though, as the prequels bring to light multiple character storylines - a successful trait in many a work of speculative fiction, for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and A Song of Ice and Fire series. This enables a more comprehensive outlook on the fantasy world in which the films are set and a more detailed depiction of the events that take place. The originals, by contrast, ‘hug’, far more closely, the view of Luke Skywalker; this, coupled with the lack of complexity about his character, is a prime reason for the lesser enjoyment one might gain whilst watching them.

Having said this, there are dozens more reasons that one might give to explain just why the prequels are as good as they feel to watch, least of all the stunning special effects and intense action important in any science fiction and action film, and hundreds of counterarguments for the flawed criticisms that someone might make of the films. In the interests of brevity, however, I would encourage the reader to look past their prejudices and view the prequels for themselves and for what they really are - enjoyable films and a trilogy verging on greatness.

1 comment: