I really enjoyed Star Wars when it came out. In the summer of 1977 I was ten years old and had read the novelization and the Marvel comics adaptation before I actually saw the film in the theater — at Grauman’s Chinese, in Hollywood. It was the loudest movie I’d ever seen. I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Over the decades, especially in light of the prequels, I, like many folks, have cooled on the Star Wars franchise. It’s kind of quaint to me now — a series of kids’ movies with their place in history, but nothing to get too worked up over. Still, it’s part of my cultural mythology, and so, a few days ago, my mind wandered into “Star Wars” territory. Not for the first time, I reflected on the following:
They Just Don’t Make Sense
If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, there are a number of things that just don’t make sense if you view the films in episodic order:
- Obi-Wan Kenobi deliberately and blatantly lied to Luke Skywalker concerning his origins and connection to Darth Vader. Two movies later, when Luke calls him out on this, Kenobi glosses it over with “…what I told you was true… from a certain point of view,” and Luke is, astonishingly, okay with that.
- Why doesn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi acknowledge that C-3PO is obviously the droid Anakin Skywalker built as a child?
- In the prequel films, we see Jedi and Sith lords dueling with blinding speed, super-human dexterity and Force-powered telekinesis. In “Revenge of the Sith” Obi-Wan and Anakin exhibit all of those talents in their own climactic battle. Nineteen years later, when Anakin and Obi-Wan have their final battle, they move like slugs in comparison to their former prowess.
- There is no one in the galaxy as supercharged by the Force as Anakin Skywalker. And yet, he fails to sense his own children, even though one of them is living with his half-brother in Anakin’s own dead mother’s house, which just happens to be no more than a few hours away from his former master’s home… and the other is being presented as the daughter of a prominent member of the opposition Senate.
As reasonable people who recognize that the “Star Wars” films are not documentaries, we could chalk this up to young George Lucas not having the slightest clue that he’d actually get to make five other “Star Wars” movies, so continuity was not as much of a concern.
But for fans… for fans, finally seeing the real story played out in all its bargain-basement Shakespeare tragedy, woodenly-acted, CGI trainwreck glory, well… the story presented in the “Star Wars” movies just doesn’t make sense. Unless you think of it like this:
Behind the story arc of the “Star Wars” films is a Jedi conspiracy bent on eliminating the only person who stands in the way of their dominion of the galaxy, Senator Palpatine, and to destroy the Sith cult entirely. The two people who execute this plan across an entire galaxy and over the course of more than twenty years are Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi… with some help.
The End Justifies The Means
Let’s look at the state of affairs at the end of the six “Star Wars” films:
- Emperor Palpatine, apparently one of only two Sith lords (counting Darth Vadar) and outwardly the strongest, is dead. There is no representative of the so-called “dark side” of the Force.
- The only Jedi left in the galaxy, Luke Skywalker, is the son of the strongest Jedi the galaxy has ever produced.
- Luke Skywalker, hero of the rebellion, has considerable influence and power in the new republic that is poised to regain control of the galaxy, and he’s mentored by the spirits of three powerful Jedi, including his dad, the most powerful of them all.
At the end of “Return of the Jedi” — a title that says it all, really, and was originally, and rightfully, to be called “Revenge of the Jedi,” I believe — the Jedi / “light side” is in total control of the Force in the galaxy… and their most powerful living member is in a perfect position to build a new Jedi order with no opposition.
Eliminating the representatives of “the dark side” and setting up a ruling class deeply indebted to the only living Jedi (and his apparently latently-powered sister) was the goal of the Jedi — specifically, the long-lived Jedi master Yoda, who naturally took the long view — once they discovered Anakin Skywalker. No cost — not the loss of the entire pre-Imperial Jedi order, not the murder of several children, not the obliteration of an entire planet… certainly not a mere twenty-odd years of Imperial rule — was too high a price to pay to ensure the order and stability of an entire galaxy of worlds under a new, Jedi-influenced order.
But What About Darth Vader?
I’m going to spell it out as simply as possible:
Anakin Skywalker was faking it.
He never “went over” to the “dark side,” because such a concept really has no objective meaning to the Force, which is simply “an energy field created by all living things (apparently accessed via a high concentration of midi-chlorians in the blood) that binds the galaxy together.” Any notion of “light” and “dark” must be dogma.
Anakin was not seduced into evil by Palpatine. Anakin — and Yoda, and Obi-Wan — recognized that Palpatine was a very powerful enemy, possibly more powerful than anyone but Anakin himself. Palpatine needed to be taken down, but more importantly, circumstances in the galaxy needed to become so awful that people would pine for the days of the so-called Republic — days that were part of living memory for most adults. So Anakin allowed himself to become Darth Vader, and played that role for close to twenty years, until his own necessary martyrdom.
The Thing That Clued Me In
When I was in the middle of my free-form thinking about Star Wars the other day, the thing that sent me down this path was the final duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. I mentioned it earlier — the difference between their fight at the end of “Revenge of the Sith” and their fight in “Star Wars” is absolutely inexplicable… unless you realize that it was a sham with several goals:
- Move Obi-Wan Kenobi into the spirit world, where he would be come “more powerful than you could possibly imagine” and be in a position to psychologically manipulate and mentor the conspiracy’s puppet, Luke Skywalker, no matter the time or place.
- Give Luke Skywalker a visceral, personal, complex and powerful emotional connection to Vader, so that his eventual Stockholm Syndrome would be that much more of an influence on his actions.
- Cement Skywalker’s hatred of the Empire and commitment to the future new republic.
- Inspire Skywalker to develop his own latent power with the Force — something Kenobi would still have to take a direct hand in during “The Empire Strikes Back” — so that the human gun would have the firepower to be useful when the time was right.
Resolving Other Problems
I just explained why Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi fight like a couple of uncoordinated children playing with sticks in “A New Hope.” Let’s look at some of the other inconsistencies I mention above:
- Why does Luke accept Obi-Wan’s weak excuse for lying about Luke’s parentage? I think this must partially be due to Skywalker’s psychology. Luke is an orphan who, despite being raised by his Aunt and Uncle, never felt connected to anyone until he fell in with Obi-Wan. “Old Ben” introduced him to a whole galaxy of adventure and personal potential. The idea that Kenobi could be a manipulative monster fanatically, ruthlessly committed to his cause and willing to say or do anything… that’s just not acceptable to Luke Skywalker’s fragile, optimistic psyche. Also, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Obi-Wan (aided by spirit Qui-Jon?) used the Force on Luke to get him to go along with whatever Obi-Wan said.
- Why doesn’t Obi-Wan acknowledge that he knows C-3P0 and, for that matter, R2D2? I think this one is obvious. He doesn’t want to come anywhere near the truth of things.
- In a way, C-3P0 offers a clue to his connection to Anakin Skywalker and, in doing so, suggests his ultimate loyalty: remember, C-3PO claims to be expert at “human-cyborg relations.” Not “human-droid” relations. His builder, Anakin Skywalker, is the cyborg in that equation. Bonus: could the risk of C-3PO’s memory wipe being imperfect be why the droid was dismantled in the cloud city during “The Empire Strikes Back,” I wonder..?
- Finally, the reason Anakin Skywalker doesn’t sense the location of his kids should be obvious: he did know where they were, but kept this knowledge buried to hide the truth from the Emperor: The boy was being groomed to become an assassin, and then to stand as the living representative of Anakin, Yoda and Obi-Wan in the new republic. The girl… well, she was too involved with the public face of the political opposition to the Empire to be of much use. As we’ve seen and determined, the conspiracy is not above sacrificing relatives and loved ones to the cause. Physically and psychologically torturing her was hardly worth thinking about.
Now You Can Enjoy The “Star Wars” Series
With all the pieces in place, you can finally enjoy watching the “Star Wars” films in episodic order without having your suspension of disbelief shattered again and again.
What’s that? You want a second opinion? Try this.
What’s This All About, Really?
I love storyworlds with deep, rich, complex, interweaving arcs. I’m such a fan of long-term continuity, all of my own storyworld creations are threads in a larger weave that covers billions of years and the entire multiverse. It’s possible my subconscious drove me to make sense of “Star Wars” because the childhood fan in me is a little disappointed at how the six films turned out.
Doing so has been a fun exercise, and a reminder I’m alerted to again and again when I study storyworlds and franchises: make sure the pieces fit together, and don’t lose sight of the big story.
Let Me Have It
Okay, the time has come. I know there are some very… energetic… fans of “Star Wars” who follow my work. It’s possible some mega-fans might even find this post while bopping around the Internet, and might take exception to my explanation of how to make sense of the “Star Wars” saga. I welcome your comments!
One thing, though — remember that I’m only dealing with the six “Star Wars” films, here. You can’t make an argument that depends on outside sources like the comics, novels, video games, television shows, or amusement park rides or anything. Okay?
Okay! Your turn: what do you think of my attempt to make sense of the “Star Wars” films? Leave a comment on this post!