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It Was I: Darth Sidious and the Power of Narrative

If you think that Emperor Palpatine’s greatest weapon is the lightning he can fire from his fingertips, you’re wrong. If you think it’s his Death Stars, or his legions of faceless stormtroopers, you’re wrong. If you think it’s his compromised, captive Chosen One, that’s also not quite right. The greatest weapon wielded by Darth Sidious is narrative, or to be more precise, the narrative.

To celebrate the anniversary of the first (story-chronological) installment of the Skywalker saga, I looked at how The Phantom Menace presents Darth Sidious at his most brilliant and cruel, as he fashions a frustrating and dysfunctional narrative for the heroes to be locked in, a conflict that they cannot understand or comprehend but must fight in anyway. The spectacular, multi-story conclusion to that film is nothing but a byproduct for the villain, who has already achieved his objective by the end of the second act.

As we now careen towards the conclusion of the Skywalker saga with the impending release of The Rise of Skywalker and the apparent return of Darth Sidious in some form, it is worth looking at how the Emperor operates, what his modus operandi is, and how that has not only affected but in some ways controlled the direction of this epic tale, including the sequels so far that he has (seemingly) not had a hand in.

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“The Same Eyes in Different People”:  The Heroic Cycle, the Sequel Trilogy, and the Star Wars Saga

Thirty-six years ago, a movie cut from the image of its protagonists—together again, alive, smiling, and dancing—under the wavering torchlight of hundreds of bonfires and surrounded by the celebratory revel of a hundred sentient bear-creatures to a shout of familiar end credits music and blue lettering.

And, with that, the Star Wars movies were over.

Done.

There was never going to be another Star Wars movie again. The heroes had suffered but had triumphed. It seemed that good had conquered and even converted evil. Two characters were in love and another had found his place in the universe. Nobody was dead except the bad guys, and even then, one of them had redeemed himself in the process. The audience was satisfied and dissatisfied in equal measure. Everything was as it should be.

We had attained as close to a happily-ever-after as we, and the characters, could hope for.

Thirty-six years and five more saga films later, that’s not the case.

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Press B to Join the Dark Side – On Jedi Gaming in the New Canon

The first gameplay footage from Jedi: Fallen Order dropped recently, and it was…well, if I had seen it when I was twelve, I would have been very excited for this game. Most of the issues I have are things that you can see anywhere else on the internet, issues with out-of-date mechanics and unengaging combat. Instead, here, I wanted to talk about something different, how the game seems lackluster as a Star Wars story.

The developers have made a few things very clear about the game. It is a linear, story-driven, Jedi action adventure RPG about a Padawan who survives Order 66. A story we’ve all heard before—but just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean you can’t explore it from a new and exciting angle. You could explore the conflict between the dark and light as it relates to what he must do to survive conflicts with his Jedi teachings.

Except, they aren’t. The devs have said there is no light/dark moral system. There are no consequences to running into every situation swinging your lightsaber like a madman. It sounds like the game pretty much forces you to play that way. The devs also say they liked that the character was on the run because it meant that they could have you go into situations and kill without thinking about it. So rather than using the moral dilemmas involved in being a Jedi forced to fight stormtroopers who are essentially lawmen doing their jobs, we ignore that and go straight to being an indiscriminate killer.

The thing that puts me the most off of this game is the use of the Force in the trailer. For someone who never even completed their Padawan training, you do some crazy things with the Force: picking people up with your mind; running faster than blaster fire; even stopping blaster bolts in midair. Abilities we have seen used rarely, and when they are used, it’s by incredibly powerful individuals.

So why does this game have a Padawan that is freely using powers that most Jedi Masters struggle with? Simple, the game is a power fantasy. Most video games are power fantasies, with the story written around the fantasy rather than a story being written, then a game built around the story. There is nothing wrong with this; I’ve never complained about any game doing it before, so why does it rub me the wrong way when this particular game is a power fantasy? Is it possible that the Jedi and the Force are anti-power fantasy?

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Galaxy’s Edge: Exploring Unknown Narrative Regions

Part of the appeal of the Star Wars narrative is the fact that it tells a story too grand in scale to be limited to a single medium. While books, comics, video games, and even virtual reality experiences have already added to the vast and varied narrative tapestry that is the Star Wars franchise, Galaxy’s Edge represents a foray into uncharted narrative regions.

A Fixed Chronology

In most instances where a property has been adapted into a theme park attraction, it’s removed from the property’s narrative chronology. One example is Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, the previous Star Wars-themed attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Each journey on Star Tours is unique, because the adventure is comprised of multiple randomized scenes that may take place in any corner – or at any period of history – in the Star Wars galaxy. Passengers on the Starspeeder 1000 might encounter characters and locations from any of the Star Wars eras, and they may be out of order: the first scene might take place with Finn and the Millennium Falcon on Jakku, while the next scene might occur during the events of The Phantom Menace on Tatooine. As a result, it is obvious that Star Tours is not “canon”, since characters and events separated by decades appear side-by-side or non-chronologically. Read More

Rules of the Game: The Malevolent Heart of The Phantom Menace

As The Phantom Menace turns twenty it has encouragingly ushered forth open reappraisal, new discussions, and even admiration for much of the creative work that went into one of the most accidentally incendiary films of the modern era. As someone who loved it as an impressionable, Anakin-aged nine-year-old in 1999 this is music to my ears. I have for much of its lifetime found it to be a curiously easy watch, rather than the repellent slugfest many of its loudest critics label it. As I’ve grown older I’ve appreciated more and more some of George Lucas’s flourishes that were imperceptible or just “part of the furniture” to my younger, less-developed critical faculty. I am also more than aware of the film’s many transgressions and faults. I understand completely why the film doesn’t work for so many, and why it was upsetting or frustrating.

In an odd way though, many of The Phantom Menace’s mistakes form part of its appeal now for me as an adult. While on the surface it is a children’s storybook of a film and is (relatively) less mature than what is to come, this belies a story that is steeped in some of the noir traditions that would become more obvious in Attack of the Clones, and as mentioned in Sarah Dempster’s excellent anniversary piece, is the beginning of the end of the galaxy far, far away’s Belle Epoque. Beyond that, with respect to what may be in store for us with The Rise of Skywalker, it is also the best showcase for one of the silver screen’s most diabolical and terrifying villains: Sheev Palpatine. Read More