Archive for The Works

Breaking Ranks – In Defense of “Filler” Episodes

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As season three of Star Wars Rebels reached its finale, it was once again plagued by the criticism that it had contained too many “filler” episodes. This usually referred to any episode of a vaguely comedic nature, or more broadly, any which did not focus on its two central story arcs – Thrawn vs. the Rebellion, or Maul vs. Ezra.

The argument implies that these episodes, whether it be the adventures of Iron Squadron or AP-5’s musical number in space, are somehow of lesser status, and are written only to fill in a gap in the schedule while we wait for the “real” story to continue. It’s a criticism that has been leveled at the series since the beginning. It is also entirely misplaced.

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“He Is” – Bendu, Bombadil and Balance

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Comparing anything in the Star Wars galaxy to the works of JRR Tolkien is a tricky business, and one we should be cautious of. Though George Lucas did once cite The Lord of the Rings as an influence, thematically they are very different works, and Tolkien and Lucas drew their core inspirations from very different places. When it comes to Dave Filoni’s work on The Clone Wars and Rebels, though, the situation is a little different.

Filoni is a self-confessed Tolkien fanboy, who has talked often of the professor’s influence on his work. He even gave Ahsoka some of Gandalf’s lines in Rebels season two (“I have questions – questions that need answering”), as Ahsoka dropped in and out of the story as the old wizard does in The Hobbit. In a recent interview with Fangirls Going Rogue, Filoni revealed that his main influence when creating the character of Bendu for season three was in fact the notorious Tom Bombadil from The Fellowship of the Ring.

Bendu is generating a great deal of interest as the internet struggles to decipher Luke Skywalker’s cryptic words in the trailer for The Last Jedi. Bendu does, after all, claim to be “the one in the middle,” a new perspective on the Force. Attempts to argue that the character is a sign that Lucasfilm are laying the groundwork for a more “grey” approach, however, risk clouding the true meaning of the character, and overlooking some unsettling truths about him. For a fuller understanding, it helps to look at the character of Bombadil, and work towards Bendu from there.

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Selfish Love: Why the Jedi Were Right About Attachment

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It’s a common take: the Jedi were wrong to forbid “attachment,” and Luke proved this by saving the galaxy through his love for his father.

Themes are always open to interpretation, and my reading is a little different. I’d argue that the Jedi were, broadly, correct, and whatever the flaws in their approach, I firmly believe George Lucas meant for us to view his story as a warning against the jealousy and greed that arise from becoming overly attached.

What is “attachment”?

The key is to understand what is actually meant by “attachment” in Star Wars. Anakin explains it in Attack of the Clones:

Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion – which I would define as unconditional love – is central to a Jedi’s life. So you might say that we are encouraged to love.

Attachment, here, is one manifestation of love – one tied up with “possession,” and separated from the selflessness of compassion. Yoda reinforces this in Revenge of the Sith:

Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is. (…) Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

“Jealousy” is used here in its true sense. It is not the same as “envy,” which is wanting something that somebody else has; “jealousy” is the fear that somebody or something in your possession will be taken from you.

The influence of Buddhism on Lucas’s thinking is well documented, and echoes of its ideas are undeniable here. In Buddhist terms, attachment can be defined as “exaggerated not wanting to be separated from someone or something.” Compassion is the selflessness of “wishing others to be free from suffering.” To traditional Buddhists, attachment is the path to misery, because change is inevitable; to gain peace, we must accept change and learn to let go. » Read more..

Tales from the Journal – On Storytelling and “Canon”

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“Originally, I was trying to have the story be told by somebody else; there was somebody watching this whole story and recording it, somebody probably wiser than the mortal players in the actual events (…) the stories were actually taken from the ‘Journal of the Whills’.”

George Lucas – Star Wars, The Annotated Screenplays

The Journal of the Whills occupies a strange place in Star Wars lore. Initially part of George Lucas’s early drafts and referenced in the novelization of A New Hope, it then disappeared from Lucas’s work almost entirely (though he did return to his “Journal” notes during pre-production on The Phantom Menace, and considered referencing a “Shaman of the Whills” in Revenge of the Sith). The idea has seen a resurgence of a kind recently, though, with its reference in the novelization of The Force Awakens and with Baze and Chirrut, the mysterious “Guardians of the Whills”, in Rogue One.

Though Lucas did not make the Whills an explicit part of the story, instead developing the idea into the Force, the concept of the story being recorded in an ancient Journal, from which he is retelling it, is something he never quite let go of. In 2005’s The Making of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas revealed that the story was told to the Keeper of the Whills by R2-D2, 100 years after Return of the Jedi. The ongoing use of the introduction “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” – a modern “once upon a time” – reminds us that Star Wars is a fairy tale, a myth that is being retold to us, and that this is how we should look at it.

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Putting the “War” in “Star Wars”: Rogue One, genre and the future of the franchise

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“It’s called Star WARS”Gareth Edwards

The success of Rogue One with critics, fans and at the box office will have come as a huge relief to Lucasfilm. Not only does it show that the series can succeed without centering on the saga of the Skywalker family, it also indicates that the wider audience are open to the idea of entirely new kinds of Star Wars films. Rogue One has been lauded both for its gritty vision of war, and for its morally grey portrayal of the Rebel Alliance.

For fans who follow Star Wars outside the films, and have read Battlefront or seen the Clone Wars “Darkness on Umbara” arc, the idea that you can tell a “gritty” war drama in this world is nothing new. Rogue One, to us, might not seem like a radical departure, but to the eyes of the general viewer it is something entirely different. It is a bold move for a franchise to make after forty years, and seven films which have stayed fairly close to the same format: despite some aesthetic and tonal differences between and within the episodic “saga” films, they are all essentially mythic “hero’s journey” space fantasy tales, with a visual language that is part Flash Gordon, part Kurosawa. The risk of shaking up such a familiar format after all this time shouldn’t be downplayed.

The furthest the films went in terms of playing with genre before now was during the first hour of Attack of the Clones, where the paranoid thriller of Obi-Wan’s film noir-inspired investigation into an assassination attempt is intercut with old-fashioned courtly-love melodrama: all lakes, flowers and fireplaces. The jaggedness of this contrast, though, is one of the things AotC receives criticism for, and in any case, it returns to a more traditional Star Wars feel for its final act. Rogue One is something new – it is resolutely attempting to tell a story in another genre, the “war movie,” but set within the universe of Star Wars. » Read more..

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