After a lengthy dry spell, welcome back to Escape Pod, our recurring series in which we choose one thing from Legends and argue for its inclusion in the new canon.
When Obi-Wan Kenobi first stated “if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”, there was next to nothing explaining what that actually meant—even after we’d heard his voice in Luke’s head later in the movie. The rest of the original trilogy implied certain things when Obi-Wan was followed by Yoda and even Anakin Skywalker, recipient of that original warning, in apparent life after death. The prequels provided the first evidence that it wasn’t just a standard Jedi thing, but rather something that had to be proactively learned, and The Clone Wars finally spelled out the whole deal by showing us Yoda’s own Force ghost training just four short years ago.
Our own Mark Eldridge recently did a deep dive into the lore—and more importantly, the principles—of existence beyond death and what it means. In his conclusion, he stressed how important said principles are to the core messages of the franchise:
…the Force ghost mystery takes us to the heart of Star Wars: the selfless choice or the selfish, letting go and finding enlightenment or clinging on and causing suffering. Future filmmakers may be tempted to introduce a form of “dark side” immortality, but should resist the thought, because it would fatally undermine the value system at the heart of a series which was designed to teach these lessons to children.
That’s no hypothetical concern, either. With more than three decades passing between the first time we saw Obi-Wan vanish and when we finally received a full, official explanation, countless fans grew to adulthood without those answers, many of them ultimately creating Star Wars stories of their own, and without a full understanding of this subject, the Expanded Universe was rife with immortality. Most famously, in one of the earliest “modern” EU stories, Palpatine himself returned in a cloned body six years after his death at Endor. » Read more..
Dragon Con is somewhat unique among large conventions in that despite its size it is still entirely fan-run, meaning you don’t really see the industry presence (read: exclusive merch and reveals) that you would at a SDCC, NYCC, Celebration, etc. However it also means that there’s an emphasis on a wide breadth of tracks to cover almost every tangentially geeky topic there is to talk about, from the obvious sci-fi/fantasy titans (Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, etc) to more niche interests such as puppetry or LAN gaming.
The Star Wars team in particular always puts on four days of incredibly high-quality programming and discussions, and as a frequent panelist with the Star Wars track my goal this year was to bring some of that fantastic discussion to Eleven-ThirtyEight. And in a year where the fandom at large has dealt with some serious discussions around toxicity and representation, it seemed fitting to put a focus on one of the more controversial elements from The Last Jedi: Vice Admiral Holdo.
So I now present to you the latest in ETE’s Aggressive Negotiations series: a transcription of the Vice Admiral Holdo panel from Dragon Con 2018, featuring myself and three other panelists unaffiliated with ETE. For those unaware, Aggressive Negotiations are raw, largely unproofed live chats among our staff and occasionally others. They are more off the cuff and unscripted with the goal being to present fandom in its most raw form.
The panel discussion originally took place on Friday, August 31, 2018. This transcription has been slightly edited for clarity.
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The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie. I could gush about it all day. Canto Bight, Rose, D’acy, the duel on Crait, Finn and Rey’s hug, the scene in the novel where Rey and Luke dance, the themes, the emotional release, the technical prowess of it all. Marvelous! But for all that, there’s one scene in which I find no joy.
It feels a little odd. I’m looking at something that’s a technical and choreographic marvel, at something where the actors deliver stunning performances, at something that hits the right emotional beats of a story, both in its own subplot and in the interwoven narrative of the movie as a whole. I’m looking at such a well-executed scene in my favorite Star Wars movie, and I cannot like it. I have never liked it. Not the first time I watched it, not the last.
I don’t like the throne room battle sequence.
It’s purely an emotional reaction on my part, I can admit to that. I dislike the throne room battle on a gut level. And that’s okay, because emotional reactions are a critical part of the conversation around this movie. If we’re not honest about our emotional reactions, we’re not going to get anywhere.
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As Episode IX steadily approaches, a year and a few months away from release, debate around the parentage of Rey has continued almost unabated, arguably intensified by The Last Jedi’s “surprise” revelation. Some fans still seem to want an easy way to connect the dots from Rey to the core family of Star Wars, even indirectly, as if the term “Skywalker saga” was a mission statement rather than a convenient identifier.
Part of this stems from how the information is revealed in The Last Jedi: a terrific anticlimax, prompted by Kylo Ren. Prompted…but not issued. The text of Rian Johnson’s film builds this up and suggests it through Rey’s tendency to look for parental figures wherever possible, even when those whom she latches onto are inadequate in some way. The “reveal” isn’t some fake-out gotcha, it’s a natural progression from what we’ve already been given, albeit couched in Abrams’s typically coy storytelling tendencies in The Force Awakens. We’ve been conditioned to expect reversal, so much so that a greater surprise comes from straightforward progression.
In a way, The Last Jedi fleshes out the thread that can make the sequel trilogy a truly essential addition to the epic of Anakin and Luke Skywalker: a story of individuals within the galaxy far far away interpreting and reconciling the tales that have come before to carve out their own path. And perhaps the best torchbearer for this journey of interpretation, emulation and discovery is someone who is a nobody from nowhere, someone without the baggage that weighs so heavily on the new arch-villain Kylo Ren. Rey, as it turns out, operates very differently from her predecessors, the Skywalker boys. She is grappling with entirely different types of problems – no more or less difficult, but complex in a different way. To that end, the scenarios in which we find each of Star Wars’ three core protagonists when first introduced to them (chronologically) hugely inform their stories to follow, both in nature and resolution. In some ways, Rey is far ahead of the Skywalker boys when we first meet her. In other ways, she isn’t. It is this contrast that helps drive this new generation forward, and helps reshape what it means to be a Jedi with “the most serious mind”, and the appeal of a nobody in the galaxy far, far away. » Read more..
The notion of a Star Wars afterlife takes us deep into the spiritualism of the Force, but we must be cautious, because the Force is a hybrid philosophy. There are elements of various religions, and it is not solely any of them. George Lucas described himself as a “Buddhist Methodist”, and we see Taoism and Buddhism in the ideas of balance and non-attachment, while concepts like the corrupting nature of the dark side and Faustian pacts echo Christianity, not to mention Anakin’s miraculous birth. Carl Jung, whose theories underpinned Campbell’s heroic cycle, was a devout Christian who also saw the value of Eastern religions. There is even an element of Pantheism, a belief system that rejects organised religion in favor of finding god in nature. Relying exclusively on any of these to “unlock” Star Wars means ignoring the others, as well as Lucas’s personal beliefs and experiences. We have to rely instead on the canon itself.
In “Destiny”, the mysterious Force Priestesses explain to Yoda the duality of the Living Force (the world around us) and the Cosmic Force (the arena of destiny, and presumably the Whills): “When a living thing dies, all is removed. Life passes from the Living Force into the Cosmic Force, and becomes one with it.” There is a symbiotic relationship, as Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back: “life creates it, makes it grow.” The material world is not a “lesser” place of sin, but an essential part of the whole. To be mindful of the Living Force, Qui-Gon teaches in The Phantom Menace, is to be aware of the world in the present moment, and to help ease the suffering of others.
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