Some Speculations on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Some Speculations on “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”

One of the things I like about the Star Wars movies is that they reward thought. If you pay attention, there are a lot of details in the films and those details fit together in ways that add depth to the galaxy in which the story is set. This is in stark contrast to so many other films which don’t reward thought — such as The Tuxedo or the film version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which actually have the remarkable property of revealing entirely new levels of stupidity the more you think about them. Which, I suppose, is also an achievement in its own way.

What’s especially nice is that none of these details are dwelt on or spotlighted; they’re just there. That means Star Wars is one of the better examples of filmed science fiction, since it doesn’t waste time in elaborate explanations of its universe, it simply presents that universe as a going concern and expects the audience to pick up the details as it goes on.

I did a previous essay, speculating on various aspects of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Like that, this piece approaches the Star Wars films as source material for roleplaying games. That means what follows is chock-a-block full of spoilers. I’m going to assume everyone reading this has already seen all the films and is familiar with the various revelations made along the way. Those looking for advice on whether or not Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the sort of film they’d like to go see should go to any one of the hundreds of regular reviews the film has received. This discussion presumes those reading are familiar with the film and are interested in analysing it for what it tells us about the universe it’s set in. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t want anything spoiled, you should stop reading now.

Star Wars as Serial

It’s no secret that Star Wars is based on the cliffhanger movie serials that flourished from 1912 to 1956. The text scrolling towards infinity that opens each movie is taken from the chapter openings of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). And the most recent film features a character — the clone leader working with Obi-Wan Kenobi — named Commander Cody, which I take as a deliberate tip of the hat to Commando Cody, who appeared in the serials Radar Men from the Moon (1952) and Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe (1953). A nice acknowledgment of sources.

However, to work as a serial, it should be possible to watch the six movies in numerical/chronological order. As I pointed out in my previous essay, this was already difficult because the introduction of Yoda in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, with the gag that the annoying little green alien turns out to be the great Jedi master, is completely undercut by having Yoda appear in Episodes I and II. As it turns out, that’s the least of the problems, since Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith undercuts (or blatantly telegraphs) almost every major revelation in the latter episodes.

Remember the big revelation of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back? The moment where Darth Vader tells Luke “No. I am your father.” An absolutely stunning moment. Well, if you watch Episode III before Episode V that revelation has no impact at all. Episode III makes it blatantly clear that Vader is Anakin Skywalker and that Luke is his son. Instead of being surprised, you’re left wondering why it took so long for someone to get around to telling the kid. Okay, Yoda hints at it, but Obi-Wan (Ben) just flat-out lies.

Or the exchange between Yoda and the spirit of Obi-Wan earlier in the Episode V:

Obi-Wan: That boy is our last hope.
Yoda: No. There is another.

Instead of sitting there wondering “Who? Who is this other?”, after seeing Episode III you will instead be sitting there wondering what’s wrong with Obi-Wan. I mean he was there at the birth alongside Yoda. He knows who the other is. Why has he forgotten? Does being dead degrade the memory? And the big revelation of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi that the other is Princess Leia and that she is Luke’s twin sister is, of course, rendered completely moot.

At the moment, it seems the only way to really watch Star Wars is in the order in which the films were made. Start with Episode IV: A New Hope, then Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Then swing back to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones and end with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Rather than working as a traditional serial, Star Wars is more like a Quentin Tarantino film. It’s like Pulp Fiction (1994); it starts in the middle and ends in the middle, with the chronological beginning and end of the narrative occurring along the way.

Now this isn’t a big deal if you’re mining the movies for background information. From that perspective, it really doesn’t matter what order the films are best viewed in. But it does come across as a failure of craft on the part of George Lucas. Ideally, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith should have ended with certain mysteries preserved and the impression that Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker were different people. Sure, the audience would have known the answers to the mysteries and that Vader and Anakin were one and the same, but that should be because they’re familiar with where the story goes, not because the film goes out of its way to answer all the questions.

Or, perhaps not. Once Episode III: Revenge of the Sith comes out on DVD, I’ll sit down and watch all six movies in numerical order. I’ll see how the later episodes unfold in light of the earlier ones. Perhaps they’ll work in a different way, with things like the revelation of Luke’s parentage having a sense of suspense and tragic inevitability rather than surprise. We’ll see. But, for the moment, I’m feeling somewhat disappointed.

Republic and Empire

One of the joys of the prequel trilogy is watching Palpatine’s plot unfold. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so many years involved with games in which players think “planning” means talking about making a frontal assault before launching it rather than just attacking without any discussion, but I really like Palpatine. Oh, sure, he’s evil, but at least he knows how to go about achieving his goals.

One of the things I noticed in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is Palpatine’s aides — a bald-headed woman (whom I’m informed is named Sly Moore) and a male with white horns or tentacles (who I’m informed is named Mas Amedda). These are the same aides he had in Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Mas Amedda (at least) is also seen assisting Chancellor Valorum in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. They are both obviously part of the Senate bureaucracy. As such, it makes sense that they should transfer over to working with Palpatine when he becomes Chancellor. However, the fact that keeps them on right up to the point where he declares himself Emperor (and, possibly, beyond; we really don’t see the capital planet Coruscant again after Episode III) suggests he’s very confident of their loyalty. Which, in turn, suggests something about how Palpatine came to power.

In the real world, Joseph Stalin (1879 – 1953) gained power by becoming the General Secretary of the Communist Party. While this title came to be synonymous with “leader of the Soviet Union”, it originally meant little more than what it said: “secretary”. You know, the person responsible for organising meetings, keeping the minutes, preparing official correspondence, overseeing the membership rolls, and so on. None of the other party members wanted the position because it involved all the mind-numbing trivia that goes with running any sort of large organisation. Stalin, however, realised that while the position required a lot of work, it also allowed him to exercise a great deal of hidden control. As General Secretary, it was Stalin who set the agenda for meetings, deciding what would be discussed and — perhaps more importantly — what wouldn’t be. Controlling membership rolls allowed him to stack party branches with his allies and to fill administrative positions with those who supported him — or, at least, didn’t oppose him. The General Secretary was the bottleneck through which all decisions passed and that gave whoever held the position a great deal of quiet and unobtrusive power. Stalin once said “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” And Stalin always made sure it was either him or his people who counted the votes.

Another real world example is J. Edgar Hoover (1895 – 1972) who became head of the FBI in 1924 and held that position until he died. Though unelected, he wielded sufficient power that even successive Presidents were afraid of him and reluctant to go against his wishes. While Presidents and members of Congress (or, in the Star Wars universe, Chancellors and Senators) may come and go, the bureaucrats go on forever. For an amusing take on this phenomenon and how it affects the political system, one cannot do better than the British television series Yes, Minister (1980 – 84) and its follow-up Yes, Prime Minister (1986 – 88).

So, by the time of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the bureaucrats have ensconced themselves in positions of power and are the ones really running things. Palpatine even tells us as much:

Palpatine: If I may say so, Your Majesty, the Chancellor has little real power. […] The bureaucrats are in charge now.

Just as an aside, one of the interesting things about the Sith in the movies is how they all get better mileage out of telling the truth than by lying. Palpatine does it. In Episode II, Count Dooku tells Obi-Wan there’s a Sith Lord secretly controlling the Senate. Even Darth Vader’s revelation about being Luke’s father. It’s just that the heroes are reluctant to believe them. The Sith deceive not by lying, but by withholding information. By contrast, it’s the various heroes are who are occasionally rather loose with the truth.

We don’t know how far along the concentration of power in the hands of bureaucracy was when Palpatine arrived on Coruscant as the new Senator from Naboo. I’m inclined to think it was the usual level of petty privilege and empire-building one finds in any large administration; the sort of thing that can be annoying, but which can be overcome by effective leadership. Palpatine, however, recognised it as a path to power and seems to have gained control of Mas Amedda (and, presumably, others) allowing him to wield a great deal of control over events behind the scenes. He could tie up legislation in endless red tape and derail discussions with points of order. He could even indirectly influence the appointment of Senators — those who could be brought around to his way of thinking would find their proposals and initiatives progressing smoothly through the system; those who couldn’t would find their effectiveness limited. Since governments like those who get things done, members of the first group would be rewarded and re-appointed by their home systems; those of the second would be recalled and replaced. After a while, Palpatine would have a vast base of support within the Senate while appearing to be no more than a mild and inoffensive Senator from a small and distant system.

That such a base existed is obvious from the films. When Palpatine deposes Chancellor Valorum in Episode I he has no apparent difficulty in being nominated as a replacement and in winning the subsequent election. Part of that would have been a sympathy vote in reaction to the Trade Federation’s invasion and occupation of Naboo, but a large part of it had to be genuine support. Perhaps Palpatine’s base was not enough to get him elected without the addition of a sympathy vote, but a sympathy vote would not have been sufficient all by it self. By Episode II, the base has grown; which makes sense, since, as Chancellor, Palpatine would have been in an even better position to reward supporters, discredit opponents and to quietly corrupt the uncommitted. As we see in that film, once the proposal is made, Palpatine is voted his Emergency Powers without difficulty. And in Episode III that base seems to have grown to become a majority; when Palpatine declares himself Emperor, there’s thunderous applause. Doubtless, this reflects not only the growth of his own base, but also the removal of the Senators who would have formally represented the various systems that joined the Separatists.

Still, it’s worth noting, that for all the support he enjoys, Palpatine still uses cat’s paws in the first two episodes to initiate his moves. He manoeuvres Queen Amidala into calling for the vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum and Representative Jar Jar Binks into proposing that he be given Emergency Powers.

Another quick aside. In my last essay, I described Jar Jar as a “Senator”. Turns out that he’s not. He’s actually described as a “Representative”. Since the Galactic Republic doesn’t seem to be a bicameral system, that probably doesn’t mean that he’s a member of a House of Representatives or Commons in contrast to the Senate. Instead, it seems that while each system or region has one Senator, major groups within that system have Representatives who act as assistant- or vice-Senators, observing and advising the main Senator and able to act on the Senator’s behalf when the actual Senator is not available. A minor point, perhaps, but I think it’s worth noting. Especially if someone wants to run a game centred on the Old Republic Senate.

While there is a certain dramatic irony in having the heroes do the things that ultimately bring about the fall of the Republic, Palpatine’s manoeuvres do bring up the question: why doesn’t he just have one of his supporters initiate these moves? Two reasons suggest themselves.

First, while Palpatine may have control of the bureaucracy and various Senators, he doesn’t have wide public support. If an action proves sufficiently unpopular it could backfire on those seen as sponsoring it. Thus, Palpatine and his supporters need fall guys — Amidala and Jar Jar — who can take the blame in case things don’t work out. It’s not until Episode III that Palpatine is secure enough in his power to dispense with the cat’s paws and to announce the creation of the Empire himself.

Second, there seems to be a strong division between the public and private life. People seem to be willing to do and support all kinds of things privately, but want to project a different public image. It’s all about appearances. And, in fact, that’s one of the themes running through the series. In Episode I, Queen Amidala pretends to be one of her own handmaidens. In Episode II, Padme and Anakin pretend to be refugees and in Episode III they keep their marriage secret. Darth Vader’s armour disguises the fact that he’s Anakin Skywalker. Three of the four Sith we encounter have two identities — Palpatine/Darth Sidious, Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader — and I’m willing to assume the fourth, Darth Maul, also had another name, it’s just that it was never revealed.

It’s this sort of duality — some might call it hypocrisy — that allows corruption to grow. Basically, the Galactic Republic seems to have fallen because it allowed its public life to become just a facade. No doubt, most people saw this as a sign of sophistication and Realpolitik — no-one could really support and live by all the ideals and principles they publicly espoused; all that was just for show. Or, as the Romans used to say, “the forms must be observed”, no matter what the underlying reality. But the overall effect of such attitudes is corrosive. Certainly, it weakened the system enough to allow Palpatine to bring about the collapse of the Republic.

From the Army of the Republic to the Forces of the Imperium

One of the surprises of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is that, against all expectations, it wasn’t Darth Vader who changed sides. It was everyone else. Throughout the film, we see various Jedi happily leading large numbers of Clone Troopers against Separatists fighting against the central government. In Episodes IV to VI, we see Darth Vader leading large numbers of Stormtroopers against a new group fighting against the central government. He’s stayed the same, while the surviving Jedi, Obi-Wan and Yoda, have gone from leading the Troopers to supporting those fighting against them.

Of course, that was after the Troopers turned against them. It’s interesting to note that the Jedi were exterminated by being fragged by their own troops, not unlike what happened to American officers in Vietnam.

About forty minutes into Episode III there’s a scene where Anakin meets Chancellor Palpatine at a theatre where he’s watching an aquatic ballet. The scene is interesting because it takes place after the battle of Coruscant, the final stages of which we saw at the beginning of the film, yet you’d never know it if you hadn’t seen the earlier part of the movie. All the people seen in the background act normally, as if it’s just another night at the opera. I know as I was watching the sequence, one of the things that went through my mind was “What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know there’s a war on?!”

Now, the behaviour of the citizenry of Coruscant may just have been an example of them keeping a stiff upper lip; of not allowing the Separatists a moral victory by having their lives disrupted. But, then it occurred to me, other than bits of debris from the space battle raining down onto Coruscant, there’s no reason why any of the citizenry need to be aware there’s a war on. The entire conflict is being fought by proxy.

The Army of the Republic consists of clone troops led by Jedi Knights. The only people outside of the Jedi and the Senate who seem to be involved in the fighting are those actually living on the planets where some of the fighting is taking place, like the Wookiees on Kashyyyk. For everyone else, the war would be no more than something that appears in news reports or which gets blamed for certain goods being more expensive or unavailable. The Clone War is more of an inconvenience than a direct threat.

This seems to be the case even with the Separatists, who deploy droid armies to do their fighting for them. We don’t see any more than a small slice of the war, but since the opening text of Episode II: Attack of the Clones tells us that “Several hundred solar systems have declared their intentions to leave the Republic”, it may be possible that some of those seceding systems were directly invaded by the Jedi and their Clone Troopers, bring the war up close and personal to at least some of the Separatists.

Or, perhaps not. The Jedi were more like police officers than soldiers. They seem to have been pressed into service to lead the Clone Army only because there doesn’t seem to have been anyone else available. This can be seen from how they approach the task. Only Yoda seems to have made the transition to a military role; he acts like a General, directing operations from a secure position. The other Jedi all lead from the front, treating their troops as ancillaries to their own personal efforts rather than military units. And Obi-Wan doesn’t even treat them as ancillaries, they’re back-up. He goes ahead of his troops to Utapau looking for General Grevious. While it may make sense, given a Jedi’s abilities and training, for Obi-Wan to act as a commando, infiltrating enemy positions ahead of the main force, that’s not how the leader of a military operation should behave.

Given that, it’s entirely possible that the Jedi-led Army of the Republic confined itself to countering the military moves of the Separatists, while concentrating on killing or capturing the leaders of the movement. Certainly, in Episode III the Jedi are more concerned with eliminating General Grevious than with defeating the droid armies. To them, the entire conflict seems to be about individuals and personalities, not about widespread disaffection or vast impersonal forces.

It that’s correct, it means the task of occupying the defeated Separatist systems would have fallen on the Clone Armies after the destruction of the Jedi. These armies would have been led by a newly recruited officer class drawn from those systems that remained loyal. And everyone who signed up would have become an officer, since the clones filled all the front-line positions, which would have made recruiting easy. That would be the seed of newly formed Imperial forces and their primary job wouldn’t have been fighting — the war was over — it would have been occupying recalcitrant systems and bringing them into line. Armies of occupation invariable attract petty tyrants — those who enjoy exerting power over others — and bring out the bully in even the most well-meaning individuals. Given Palpatine’s predispositions, these natural tendencies would have been given free reign, or even actually encouraged. After all, if the citizenry hates the occupying forces, the officers of those forces will be that much more loyal to the Emperor, since they know what will happen to them if the Emperor were removed.

The newly occupied systems would have been put under the control of military governors. This would have set up a hierarchical system of local governors, planetary governors and regional governors all answerable to the Emperor. Once established in the occupied systems, this arrangement could be extended into those systems that remained loyal during the Clone War until finally in Episode IV: A New Hope the Emperor could abandon even the pretence of democracy and rule directly through the military hierarchy he had created.

Grand Moff Tarkin: The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I’ve just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away. […] The regional governors now have direct control over territories.

Even though the Empire was declared barely twenty years before Episode IV, the members of the Imperial Forces would see themselves as part of a New Order, which would explain their contemptuous references to the “Old” Republic. A subtle sign of this is the use of titles.

In the Republic, various titles such as Queen, Count and Knight were in use, though they seem to have been survivals of an older time and no longer carried the political power they once did. The Empire doesn’t use any of these titles. They seem to have been swept away and replaced with ranks. This would strengthen the conviction among the members of the Imperial forces that they were part of a “new order”, distinct from the “Old Republic” even though, ironically, the Empire was much more feudal in structure than the Republic, even with all its titles, had been.

It’s interesting to note that in Episode I Tatooine is outside the Republic — Republic credits are not accepted and slavery exists despite the Republic’s laws against it. However, in Episode IV things have changed. Stormtroopers conduct searches through Mos Eisley without anyone batting an eye and Luke talks about going to the (Imperial?) Academy and is disenchanted enough with the Empire to talk about joining the Rebel Alliance. Apparently, the Empire was not willing to accept any systems outside of its control and extended its rule even to those parts of the Galaxy that never were part of the Republic.

Similarly, things seem to have deteriorated economically. Han Solo is a smuggler and, from his comments, it would seem the Imperial navy spends at least part of its time boarding ships and looking for contraband. Han’s problems with Jabba the Hutt all stem from the fact that he dumped a cargo when he thought he was going to be boarded. While there probably was some smuggling in the Republic, it seems to be a much bigger issue in the Empire. The reason is probably taxes: maintaining those large Imperial forces — much bigger and more expensive than the Order of ascetic Jedi Knights could ever have been — would take money and lots of it. Everyone would feel the weight of Imperial taxes and, as Imperial authorities went out of their way to try and collect as much revenue as possible, smuggling would become a growth industry. This may also explain why, in the later episodes, everything looks so old an worn. This may just be a reflection of the fact that Episodes IV, V and VI take place in outlying territories, far from the centres of power, but it may also indicate a general deterioration in the standard of living in the Star Wars galaxy.

It would also account for the Death Star. There would be no need for it as a military weapon. One of the effects of the Clone War would have been to eliminate every other military force in the galaxy, leaving only the Army of the Republic standing. In fact, that’s probably one of the reasons Palpatine launched the war. Not only did the Separatist crisis justify his Emergency Powers, but it also served to eliminate any potential rivals. The Death Star existed only as at terror weapon; a way to intimidate systems into co-operating with the Empire. Which is why, when the Rebel Alliance managed to destroy it, it was such a great victory. Since the Death Star was primarily a psychological weapon, it’s destruction had a disproportionate effect in showing that the Empire was vulnerable and could be defeated.

It also suggests why the Emperor took charge of the second Death Star and the campaign against the Rebel Alliance personally. He had to nip the Rebellion in the bud and show that the destruction of the first Death Star was no more than a fluke — perhaps one that could be blamed on incompetent leadership rather than Rebel resourcefulness. His plan in Episode VI — luring the Rebel Alliance into making a move designed to lead to their own destruction — also reflects Palpatine’s various manoeuvrings in the earlier episodes.

Just in passing, I’d like to note that it’s not unreasonable that the first Death Star took around twenty years to complete. Prototypes often take a long time to get all the bugs worked out and, if the Emperor’s management style was like that of Darth Vader — choking the head designer or engineer to death every time a test didn’t work right or when he didn’t like the decor — the question isn’t “Why did it take them twenty years to complete it?” so much as “How did they manage to finish it in only twenty years?” Also, I assume the second Death Star was already under construction at the time of Episode IV rather than being built entirely in the time between Episodes IV and VI.

If the Clone War resulted in the elimination of all the other military forces in the galaxy, it also explains why the Rebel Alliance was so slow to form. It had only just won a major victory before the beginning of Episode IV. The Alliance would have been made up of various planetary militias, who would have had to find each other and link up. as well as disaffected members of the Imperial military, who found their job of oppressing the various systems of the galaxy distasteful. As with the construction of the first Death Star, it’s not so much that it took the Rebellion twenty years to form and take its first effective action, so much as it is impressive they managed to do it so quickly given the conditions they started from. And, of course, the members of the Alliance would have wanted to avoid using armies of Droids so as to disassociate themselves from the earlier Separatists.

Not that it would have helped. To the members of the Imperial Forces — and, perhaps, many ordinary citizens of the Empire — the Rebel Alliance would appear to be no more than a revival or a continuation of the old Separatist movement. The fact that the Separatists wanted to secede from Coruscant, while the Alliance wanted to take it over and restore the Republic, would be seen as a trivial difference.

While the Clone Wars may have been removed from the citizenry, the war between the Empire and the Alliance was fought directly. Very few proxies here.

Of course this is most obvious in the ranks of the Alliance, which are full of recruits fighting directly. However, it also seems to be the case in the Imperial Forces. While it may be safe to assume that any Imperial forces wearing full-face helmets — stormtroopers, snow troopers, scout troopers, TIE Fighter pilots, AT-AT drivers, etc. — are clones, in Episodes V and VI we seen enough individuals without such helmets in relatively low level front-line positions as NCOs and the like. Jobs that in the Clone War were filled by Cody-level clones.

We aren’t told enough to know why this is the case, but a few possibilities suggest themselves. First, Palpatine may have wanted to get as many non-clones — people with friends and families among the citizenry — into the military as possible in order to broaden his base. Military families tend to support the government of the day, no matter what it is. Alternately, the Empire simply may not have been able to afford to keep ordering Cody-level clones from the Kaminoans. It’s unlikely that Palpatine would have stopped ordering clone Stormtroopers, since they would constitute the one group in the military whose loyalty he could absolutely depend on, but he may have decided that Cody-level NCOs were an expense he could live without. Or it may have been some combination of the two.

The irony, of course, is that by creating a group of petty tyrants such as the Imperial officer corps, Palpatine not only extended his power, he also laid the groundwork for the opposition to it. Eventually, the people of the Galaxy could no longer ignore the abuses of the Empire, it affected too many directly. And that opposition is what ultimately led to the fall of Palpatine and his Empire.

The Jedi and the Sith

One of the things I was hoping Episode III: Revenge of the Sith would do is finally explain what the cause of the animosity between the Jedi and the Sith was. In Episode I we had:

Darth Maul: At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge.

Revenge for what? Given that the drive for revenge is apparently what drives the entire plot, you’d think at some point someone would explain what the grievance was; what wrong the Sith felt the Jedi had done to them. In a film called Revenge of the Sith you’d think Palpatine/Darth Sidious would take time out from his machinations to have a good rant and explain exactly what it is that he’s taking revenge for. If for no other reason than to bring his new apprentice, Darth Vader, up to speed on what it’s all about. Or to tell the smug Mace Windu exactly why it is that the Jedi deserved what happened to them.

But no. At no point in any of the films is this important bit of backstory explained. Which, I guess, means we’re free to speculate and construct our own rationales.

So, let’s look at what clues we have. In Episode I it was established that an individual’s link to the Force was through the midi-chlorians in their cells. When someone is strong in the Force it means they have a high midi-chlorian count.

In Episode II it was implied that Jedi weren’t allowed to love and were probably celibate. This would keep with their overall ascetic philosophy. Yet, the numbers of Jedi, while limited, seem to remain steady. Just think of all the Younglings we saw being trained by Master Yoda. If Jedi don’t reproduce, where do these Younglings come from? The obvious answer is they are recruited from the population at large.

Qui-Gon: Had he been born in the Republic, we would have identified him early, and he would have become Jedi…

This is confirmed by the testing of young Anakin. The tests don’t seem to be improvised; if anything, they seem to be standard. The Jedi are used to testing individuals to determine their ability to use the Force. And, of course, there is the simple expedient of taking a blood/tissue sample to determine what an individual’s midi-chlorian count is.

This means that individuals with high midi-chlorian counts pop up regularly in the general population. These individuals seem to be distributed among all species. While we see more human Force-users than of any other species, that seems to reflect the fact we see more humans in general throughout the films than any other species. There’s nothing to suggest that any species has a greater propensity for being Force-sensitive/having a high midi-chlorian count.

We also know from the example of Anakin that Force-sensitive individuals can and do use their connection to the Force unconsciously and instinctively. Anakin’s reflexes appear faster than normal because he can see things before they happen. And, as shown by the test at the Jedi Temple, he’s also either clairvoyant or able to read minds, since he can identify what’s on the small viewing screen without seeing it directly. This means, Force-sensitive individuals would be faster and more effective than ordinary members of their species. While not as powerful as a Jedi (or Sith) whose training allows them to use their connection with the Force to achieve various spectacular effects, such individuals would nevertheless be superior to most of those around them.

Superior individuals popping up at random in the general population. They sound like mutants. Or super-heroes. It sounds like the basic premise of the X-Men from Marvel Comics.

If that’s the case, then the animosity between the Jedi and the Sith may be the same as the disagreement between Professor X and Magneto: the Jedi believe that superior individuals should serve the greater good; the Sith believe their superiority means they should rule.

Such an interpretation would explain why the Sith want revenge. It’s not for some specific wrong done to them in the past, it’s because each individual Sith would see the Jedi as denying them, personally, their proper position of power and privilege. The Sith resent being forced to hide and to operate in secrecy and they blame the Jedi for that. That’s why they’re angry. Further, they would also see the Jedi as weaklings who allow themselves to be bullied by inferiors. They would hold the Jedi in contempt. Which would make it especially galling that the Jedi are so effective at forcing the Sith to remain hidden and secretive.

It would also explain why the Jedi are celibate. The Jedi appear to be independent of the Senate. They have their own Temple and run their own affairs. Yet they serve the Senate and work as peace-keepers within the Republic. Clearly there’s some sort of arrangement between the Jedi Order and the Republic, probably one going back to the founding of the Republic. If these speculations are right, and the Jedi represent a group of innately superior beings, that arrangement probably reflects an ancient stand-off. The Jedi had power, but the Republic had sheer numbers. Rather than fighting what would surely have become a war of extermination, the two reached an agreement. The Jedi would be allowed to live in peace and pursue their studies in the Force provided they didn’t breed. That way the citizens of the Republic would be reassured that the potential menace of a horde of Force-sensitive super beings would be contained. At some point — perhaps as part of the wars accompanying the formation of the Republic — the Jedi also took on the role of protectors and keepers of the peace. This would have raised their public standing and undercut some of the fear and resentment they might have inspired, but it would not have eliminated it. Only the knowledge that Jedi numbers would remain limited could do that and the only way to guarantee that would be if the Jedi did not reproduce.

This also suggests that any group or organisation seeking to explore and develop the powers of the Force would need to be affiliated with the Jedi Order. It seems unlikely that the Republic would tolerated any such groups acting independently. A few unattached Force-sensitive individuals would be acceptable — the Jedi could always deal with them if they became a problem — but not any sort of organised group. Another reason why the Sith would resent the Jedi.

This raises an interesting question. If the Jedi maintain their numbers by recruiting Force-sensitive children who appear in the general population, where do the Sith get their recruits from? Clearly, it would have to be from the same source. But the pickings would be mighty slim after the Jedi got through recruiting all the infants with high midi-chlorian counts in an area. Either the Sith are content to take the leavings — those who were either missed or whose Force-sensitivity was considered too low to justify Jedi training — or they would confine themselves to the fringes of the Galaxy, where the Jedi and the Republic are spread thin. After all, as we know from the example of Anakin, even someone with the highest midi-chlorian count ever known could be missed if they’re born on a world outside the Republic.

If the first possibility is correct — the Sith recruiting the Jedi’s leavings — it would be another reason why the Sith want revenge. Each of them would have personally been rejected by the Jedi at some point as “not good enough.” Naturally, that would breed resentment. However, it would also diminish any threat the Sith might pose. After all, these are the guys who were rejected for not being good enough. Unless you assume the Jedi are spectacularly incompetent on a regular basis, then those rejected as not good enough presumably really aren’t good enough.

The other possibility is the more likely. The Sith would normally operate on the fringes of the Republic. The problem here is that the only Sith we see in the films are all based on Coruscant, the capital of the Republic and right under the noses of the Jedi Council. It is strongly implied, though, that Palpatine/Darth Sidious is the exception rather than the rule. And, it’s worth noting, that after the death of Darth Maul — who he may have brought with him to Coruscant — Palpatine recruits his next two apprentices, Darth Tyranus and Darth Vader, from what would be the only source of Force-sensitive individuals on Coruscant: the Jedi Order itself.

The relative scarcity of Force-sensitive individuals would also explain why there are only ever two Sith — “no more, no less. A master and an apprentice” as Yoda put it at the end of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. With the Jedi Order regularly scooping up the majority of Force-sensitive beings into its ranks, the Sith really couldn’t maintain any large numbers. Of course, if the Sith are all megalomaniacs convinced they have a right to rule, as I’ve suggested, they probably wouldn’t work all that well together in large groups anyway. Two at a time may be about as complex an organisational structure as they can maintain. A Master with two or more apprentices would always be worrying that they might team-up against him before turning on each other. Better to have only a single apprentice.

Of course, if there can be only two, an apprentice would always be worried that if their master found a better prospect, they could only take on that new apprentice by first discarding — ie killing — their current apprentice. And that’s what we see happen in the films. At the beginning of Episode III Palpatine manoeuvres Anakin, who he wants to take on as his new apprentice, into killing his current apprentice, Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus. At the end of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi he tries to do the same again, trying to get Luke to kill Anakin/Darth Vader before taking his place. Such an approach would also have the benefit of selecting for the strongest possible apprentice; if a prospect isn’t capable of killing the current apprentice, then they’re obviously not powerful enough to take their place. It’s brutal, but effective.

Darth Vader: Luke. You can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and we can rule the galaxy as father and son.

Another possibility is that, unlike Jedi, the Sith aren’t celibate and take on their children as apprentices. This isn’t the case in the films, where the four Sith we encounter are clearly not related, but it may be the case under other circumstances. One element that hints at the possibility is the name “Darth”. All the Sith referred to in the movies have a appellation beginning with “Darth”: Darth Plagueis, Darth Sidious, Darth Maul, Darth Tyranus and Darth Vader. When Darth Vader first appeared in Episode IV: A New Hope I assumed that “Darth” was a name. Obi-Wan refers to “A young Jedi named Darth Vader” and even addresses Vader as “Darth” during their duel on the Death Star. When Episode I came out with two new Darths, it suggested a pattern where all Sith are called “Darth” and I revised my opinion and came to think that “Darth” was probably a title. The Sith equivalent of “Lord”, which is how the various Sith are also addressed: Lord Sidious, Lord Maul, Lord Tyranus and Lord Vader. More recently, however, another possibility suggested itself to me.

Perhaps “Darth” is a name, only it’s a family name and the Sith originate in a culture that puts the family name first, like the Hungarians or the Chinese. When accepting an apprentice, as Palpatine does in Episode III, the ceremony acts as a rite of adoption, in which the new apprentice is accepted as a descendent of some original founder named Darth Something-or-other. As part of the process, the apprentice is given a new name: “Darth” to show they are now part of the family and an individual name from a culturally appropriate list. It may be that Sith would normally take their offspring as apprentices, but have been forced to adoption because of circumstances. They still carry on using the family name “Darth” as a way of maintaining the appearance of a continuous line of descent and of thumbing their nose at the celibate Jedi.

One difficulty with this idea is that, if the Sith are using “Darth” as a way of indicating figurative descent from a common ancestor, then why are they also referring to themselves as “Sith”? Why would a group of two — who aren’t Simon and Garfunkel or The Captain and Tenille — come up with a name for themselves? The Sith are always referred to as if they are equivalent to the Jedi, a rival order, not just an occasional pair of lonely malcontents. The implication is that the Sith were once such an order and the successive pairs we see in the films are just the remnants of that. If that’s the case, and “Darth” is a family name, then presumably there were other families within the Order, but the Darth line is the only one to have survived. That suggests that the “revenge” the Sith are seeking is for the destruction of that ancient order and, if that’s the case, it’s something that really should have been explained somewhere in the films.

Another issue that isn’t addressed in the films is: what happens to all the Force-sensitive individuals born after the fall of the Jedi? If such individuals are constantly popping up throughout the Galaxy, then an entire generation of them would have come to maturity in the twenty-odd years following the end of Episode III. There are no signs the Emperor is recruiting such individuals to create a Sith Order in place of the Jedi Order he destroyed. Similarly, there are no signs that Force-sensitive individuals are being systematically hunted down and killed.

In Episode IV: A New Hope Darth Vader’s commitment to the Force is treated as a faint relic of an archaic religion. Even Han Solo dismisses talk of the Force as a “hokey religion”. This seems odd, since Episode I establishes that the Force has a material basis — the midi-chlorians — and the Jedi were running around only twenty-odd years earlier, performing amazing feats. This suggests that Palpatine must have been deliberately undermining belief in the Force, suggesting that it was no more than an ancient form of mysticism connected to the Old Republic and not something worthy of being taken seriously by the citizens of his brave new Empire. Fostering such an attitude is inconsistent with hunting down Force-sensitive individuals.

The Emperor could have fostered disbelief in the Force as an official attitude while he had a secret Task Force hunt down and either kill or recruit Force-sensitive individuals, but there’s no evidence of any such group in the films. In fact, if anything, the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Further, we know that Princess Leia was the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and probably inherited some of his high midi-chlorian count — else why would Yoda consider her the other hope the Jedi had — and she served as a Senator, working in close proximity to the Emperor. Yet he ignored her. She must have shown signs of being Force-sensitive that a Sith Lord would have recognised, yet she seems to have merited no more attention than her actions on behalf of the Rebel Alliance justified.

The Emperor and Darth Vader only become interested in Luke Skywalker after he causes the destruction of the first Death Star. In the opening text of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back we’re told that Darth Vader is “obsessed with finding young Skywalker” and, later in the film, while the Emperor notes that “The Force is strong with him”, his main concern is that “The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.”

Finally, as noted, at the end of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi the Emperor plays Luke off against Vader, suggesting that he’s sticking to the there-are-only-ever-two-Sith arrangement.

The obvious conclusion is that Palpatine is neither destroying Force-sensitive individuals, nor recruiting them into an expanded Sith Order. He seems to be just ignoring them, while playing down general knowledge of and acceptance of the Force. This indirectly supports the notion that the Force-sensitive constitute a mutant-like group within the broader population of the Galaxy. Since the Emperor is a member of this group, he doesn’t want the broader population to realise that they are being ruled by one of these superior beings. Even with his mastery of the Force and vast army of loyal clone stormtroopers, he may fear that, should the population turn against him, their sheer numbers would tell in the end. So he dismisses stories of the Force and the Jedi as exaggerated myths from a time gone by. Also, by keeping knowledge of the Force to himself and his apprentice, he preserves an edge over others.

Similarly, he’s not worried about other Force-sensitive individuals because without training, they may be superior to their fellows, but would present no threat to him. If any do arise that present a threat, he can do exactly what he did in Luke’s case: deal with them personally — either secure them as a new apprentice or try to have them killed.

One interesting possibility is that by following such a policy, Palpatine may actually have been serving the greater ends of the Force itself.

Balance and the Force

One of the elements introduced in Episode I: The Phantom Menace was a prophesy:

Mace Windu: You’re referring to the prophesy of the one who will bring balance to the Force…

Exactly why the Force was out of balance, why it needed to be brought into balance and how this was to be accomplished are questions that were not addressed. In Episode III: Revenge of the Sith an indication of what form this balance would take is finally given:

Obi-Wan: With all due respect, Master, is he not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?

So the Force would be brought into balance by destroying the Sith. While this does fit with what ultimately happens at the end of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, it does represent a rather odd usage of the term “balance” and it is almost immediately brought into question by Master Yoda:

Yoda: A prophecy… that misread could have been.

Yoda is right. Obi-Wan’s interpretation of the prophecy doesn’t make any sense. When Qui-Gon reports to the Jedi Council in Episode I that he had been attacked by a mysterious warrior he believed to be a Sith Lord, he was met with incredulity. “Impossible! The Sith have been extinct for a millennium,” he is told. Obviously, at the time the Jedi Council believed that (i) the Sith were extinct, and (ii) that the Force still needed to be brought into balance. The combination of these two beliefs is inconsistent with Obi-Wan’s interpretation. If he were correct, then the Council would either have accepted that with the extinction of the Sith, the Force was already in balance and the prophecy had been fulfilled or rendered moot; or they would have concluded from the fact that the Force still needed to be balanced that the Sith were not extinct and would have been out hunting for them. Obi-Wan’s interpretation is clearly a bit of wishful thinking prompted by the exigencies of the Clone War.

So what is the prophecy about? In my previous essay I suggested that Anakin is the one who brings balance to the Force by falling in love. I still think that’s basically right, but let me put a slightly more hard-edged spin on it.

We know that Force-sensitivity is caused by a higher than average concentration of midi-chlorians in the cells of an individual. We also know that, even without training, such a concentration of midi-chlorians grants the individual certain superior abilities — they are faster, stronger (an unconscious application of Jedi telekinesis) and probably more insightful and persuasive (unconscious application of the Jedi mind trick). And, from the example of Anakin and Luke (and, probably, Leia as well), we know that a higher midi-chlorian count is somewhat hereditary.

The natural superiority of those that are Force-sensitive would mean they would gravitate towards positions of power. They would become great kings, gang-leaders, CEOs, conquerors and so on. Not all of them, of course, but enough. Given the propensity of those in such positions of power to spread their seed — it’s estimated that the direct male descendants of Genghis Khan (Temujin, 1167 – 1227) number around 16 million worldwide, for example — this means that a few Force-sensitive individuals in one generation would result in a disproportionately greater number of Force-sensitive individuals in the following generation. While specific Force-sensitive individuals might found their own Dynasties and Houses of their legitimate descendants, Force-sensitivity would gradually spread and the average midi-chlorian count of the general population would go up. After a few hundred years, Force-sensitive individuals would be in the majority. After a few thousand, they would constitute the entire population.

Unless, of course, something like the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic had established a compromise in which Force-sensitive individuals didn’t breed. Then, no matter how many new Force-sensitive individuals were added to the mix each generation, the midi-chlorian count of the general population would remain pretty low, even after thousands of years. If the Force is aiming at an entire Galaxy of Force-sensitive individuals, then, from an evolutionary point of view, the Jedi Council and the Galactic Republic are just huge blockages in the pipeline. Hence the prophecy.

Anakin helps bring balance to the Force so that ultimately everyone gets to be Force-sensitive, not just a concentration of Jedi and Sith. He does so by (i) destroying the Jedi, (ii) helping overthrow the Galactic Republic, and (iii) having children. Sure, he does it by initiating a long, bloody, drawn-out process that will cause much pain and suffering to all concerned, but if the Force is sufficiently indifferent to individual health and happiness and concerned with the long-term and big-picture, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to proceed. Sometimes you just have to clear out the pipes and let nature take its course. It’s not pleasant, but it works. In my previous essay I said “a balanced Force may be a luxury the Star Wars Galaxy really can’t afford.” That may still be true, but it may also be something that the Force doesn’t care about. Ultimately the Force gets what the Force wants.

Not quite as nice as saying Anakin brings balance to the Force by falling in love, but in the end it amounts to the same thing.

What Good is the Force Anyway?

Towards the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Padme Amidala lies dying. She’s struggling to give birth to her twin children, but as one of the medical droids attending her says “Medically, she is completely healthy. For reasons we can’t explain, we are losing her.” The individuals the droid is addressing these comments to are Yoda and Obi-Wan.

Think about that. Yoda, who we are repeatedly told is the most powerful Jedi of them all, who has a midi-chlorian count second only to that of Anakin Skywalker, in whom the light side of the Force is presumably more powerful than any other creature in the Galaxy, stands by and watches as Padme dies. All he can offer, referring to the twins, is:

Yoda: Save them, we must. They are our last hope.

Why doesn’t he use the Force to try and help Padme? Why do he and Obi-Wan just stand there and watch as the medical droids struggle to deliver the babies and preserve Padme’s life?

Two possibilities occur to me. The first is that Yoda — and, by implication, Obi-Wan as well — are really cold, Machiavellian bastards. If the children are the last hope the Jedi have, then the best way to hide them until they reach maturity is to keep the Emperor and Darth Vader completely unaware of their existence. To do that, having the dead body of a seeming still-pregnant Padme would be useful. Once the two Sith Lords hear about her death and funeral, they will assume that any child she was carrying died with her. The children can be safely raised by foster parents because no-one will be looking for them. From that perspective, a dead Padme is much more useful than a live one. Yoda realises that and that’s why he doesn’t make any effort to try and use the Force to save Padme’s life. It’s cold and heartless, but Yoda’s got the big picture to consider.

The other possibility is that Yoda doesn’t do anything because he can’t. That’s not the way the Force works. This is actually the more likely explanation, since Obi-Wan doesn’t try to do anything either. Nor does he argue with Yoda, suggesting that Yoda should intervene. Obi-Wan also realises that there’s nothing the Force can do. It’s all up to the medical droids.

Thinking about that, I realised that at no point in any of the films do we see the Force being used to heal. When various characters — who are mostly Jedi — loose limbs, the missing appendages are replaced with cybernetic substitutes. No-one uses the Force to reattach the severed member or to coax the body to grow a replacement. I know the Star Wars roleplaying games have listed healing Force powers, but there doesn’t seem to be any support for that idea in the actual films.

Well, no; strictly speaking, that’s not entirely true. One Force-sensitive character does suggest that it would be possible to use the Force to save Padme’s life and to preserve life in general. Unfortunately, it’s the chief bad guy:

Palpatine: He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying. […] The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.

Now, Palpatine may well have been lying. After all, he was trying to bring Anakin over to the Dark Side. And, at the end of Episode III he doesn’t use the Force to help preserve the badly injured Anakin. He relies on technology — a medical capsule, droids and cybernetic replacements — just like everyone else. So, it’s possible that not even the dark side of the Force can be used for healing.

So, what is the Force good for? We have seen characters use it to move objects telekinetically, block and deflect blaster bolts, influence the weak-minded, perform amazing leaps and sense objects, events and presences otherwise beyond the range of their other senses. Force-sensitive individuals have preternaturally good reflexes because they can see events before they occur and, sometimes, they have prophetic dreams. That seems to be pretty much it. The Force helps make one a great fighter, but doesn’t seem to be of much use beyond that.

Perhaps that’s why Yoda is constantly counselling others to accept death and loss. It’s good advice because not even the Jedi can do anything about them. It’s just that, with all their great abilities in other areas, Jedi are likely to feel that they should be able to do something and to be angry and guilty when they find they can’t. For all their great powers, the Jedi have to deal with the same limitations as everyone else.

Politics

The Greek thinker Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) once divided systems of government into six broad types, based on how many people got to participate and on whether the results were good or bad. The scheme looked like this:

good bad
rule by one monarchy tyranny
rule by a few aristocracy oligarchy
rule by the many democracy anarchy

Of the good types of government, Aristotle ranked monarchy as the best, since it was the most focused and efficient. A monarch wouldn’t waste time and resources in discussion, exploration or trying to reach compromise. They would simply determine what needed to be done and would proceed to do it. The worst of the good forms was democracy. In a democracy, things would inevitably get bogged down in debate and negotiation, issues would get sent out to committees to investigate and nothing would get done, no matter how urgent or necessary, until a clear majority of the population could be brought around to agreeing on them.

When it came to the bad forms of government, he ranked them the other way around. There the worst was tyranny because the same qualities of speed, efficiency and focus that made a monarchy so effective at doing good, made a tyranny equally effective at inflicting harm. The best of the bad forms of government, by contrast, was anarchy. There the same inefficiencies and impediments that would slow a democracy down, would limit the amount of harm that an anarchy could do.

Now, down the centuries, many people have interpreted Aristotle’s ideas in many different ways, but to me what it’s all boiled down to is: unless you have some way of guaranteeing that a particular government will always be good, you have to assume that any particular government will sometimes be good, sometimes be bad, and usually be somewhere in the middle. That means, when deciding what type of government you want, you need to pick not the one that will bring the greatest benefit when it’s good, but the one that will do the least harm when it’s bad. You want the government that is the most survivable when it all goes wrong — because, in the long run, things will go wrong.

For those that read my previous essay, yes, this is another version of the same sentiment expressed by Sir Winston Churchill as “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all of the other forms which have been tried from time to time.”

I mention all this because it occurs to me that Star Wars presents two bad forms of government. An anarchy in the form of the Republic in Episodes I to III and a tyranny in the form of the Empire in Episodes IV to VI and invites us to compare and contrast them. The case isn’t biased by presenting the good form of one and the bad form of the other, both are pretty bad. We have the muddled mess of the Old Republic versus the bloody brutality of the Empire.

Of the two, I must admit I end up preferring the Old Republic. One may despair at how the Senate failed to deal with the Naboo crisis in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but that pales into insignificance when one considers the absolute horror of how the Empire casually destroys the entire planet of Alderaan just to demonstrate the power of the new Death Star battle station in Episode IV: A New Hope. The Old Republic may be frustrating, but the Empire is serious scary.

After the Empire

While on the subject of politics, it would be interesting to see where the Star Wars Galaxy goes after the defeat of the Emperor in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. While I have no doubt that the Rebel Alliance would try to establish a New Republic, I doubt they would succeed.

After the decay of the Old Republic, the Separatists, the Clone War, the Empire and the Galactic Civil War, I think that most systems would be very slow to trust any sort of new central authority, no matter how well meaning. While they may pay homage to the idea of a united Galaxy, it seems more likely that each system and region would end up primarily looking out for its own interests. It would be like Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire; no matter how much various regions may have missed the unity of the old system, none of them were prepared to give up any of their autonomy to a new central government.

Of course, the break-up of the Star Wars Galaxy may be more like periodic Times of Trouble that afflicted China between Dynasties. A relatively short period of division and jockeying for position before the Galaxy reunites under some new coalition.

Either way, though, I think the Star Wars Galaxy is in for a rough few hundred years. Mind you, such a period is rich with possibilities for a roleplaying campaign and would be perfect for the rise and spread of free-range Force-users as described above. Like I said: the Force always gets its way.

Unresolved Issues

With Episode III: Revenge of the Sith being the last Star Wars movie for the foreseeable future, there are still a couple of loose threads that remain unresolved.

Boba Fett

First is Boba Fett. I’ve never really understood the popularity of this character. When he was introduced in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, he seemed interesting enough, but not especially so. He was another bounty hunter. He just happened to be the one who captured Han Solo — well, okay, that suggested that he was a little smarter and better than the other bounty hunters, but not exceptionally so.

That changed with Episode II: Attack of the Clones when we learnt about his origins. Boba Fett, it turns out, is “brother” to all the clone troopers in the Galaxy. That gives him a certain significance. But there’s more.

In Episode I: The Phantom Menace we’re introduced to Anakin Skywalker, a young boy unusual because he has only a single parent (a mother). Around the age of nine he meets some Jedi and ends up losing that parent.

In Episode II: Attack of the Clones we’re introduced to another young boy with only a single parent (a father), Boba Fett. Around the age of nine this young boy also meets some Jedi (actually, one of the same Jedi: Obi-Wan Kenobi) and ends up losing that parent.

This creates a parallelism between the two characters, Anakin and Boba, almost as if they are slightly different versions of the same idea. Such parallelism usually means that the two characters will be used to comment on one another. It’s like an experiment and its control: we see how the slight differences between the two (one raised only by a mother and adopted by the Jedi, the other raised only by a father and left abandoned by the Jedi) lead to their different histories and fates.

Given that, I was interested in seeing what Episode III would do with Boba Fett. How it would develop this parallelism. Unfortunately, as you all doubtlessly know, Boba Fett doesn’t appear at all in Episode III — though another interesting parallel between him and Anakin is hinted at. When Palpatine tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis who “could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life” the set-up of the shot and the way Palpatine is looking at Anakin suggests that he might have been the one responsible for causing Anakin to be conceived by the midi-chlorians. In Episode II it’s established that Palpatine is the one responsible for arranging for the Kaminoans to grow the clone army. That means he’s also indirectly responsible for Boba’s existence, since part of the payment to Jango Fett for providing the genetic samples from which the clones were grown was the creation of Boba Fett as a son. So Palpatine may be the hidden force behind both Anakin and Boba coming into existence. A sort of mutual shared grandfather.

Boba Fett’s next chronological appearance is in Episode V. His interaction there with Darth Vader is interesting. Throughout the rest of that film, Vader casually kills any subordinate who has displeased him and arbitrarily changes the terms of deal he made with Lando Calrissian, yet he relates to Boba Fett almost as if with an equal. He reassures Fett that Han Solo “will not be permanently damaged” and, later, when Solo is about to be carbon-freezed, that “The Empire will compensate you if he dies.” It’s almost as if Vader recognises that Fett is a distorted reflection of himself.

And, in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Boba Fett gets eaten by a Sarlacc. A rather sorry end for the character, who (if memory serves) doesn’t even get a line of dialogue in that movie.

Somehow, I just feel that there should be more. But that may just be me. When I noticed the parallelism, I was interested in seeing where it was going to lead, but, it seems that it doesn’t lead anywhere. Which is a pity.

Princess Leia

No, I’m not going to complain about Leia saying she can remember her real mother in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. when, as we see in Episode III, her mother dies within minutes of giving birth to her. Leia’s the daughter of Anakin Skywalker. The Force is strong in her. Obviously she developed an empathic bond with her mother while still in the womb. That’s why she says all she can remember is “Just… images, really. Feelings.” After the various other sensing abilities displayed by Force-sensitive individuals, that’s not all that big a reach.

The reason I bring up Leia is that, like Boba Fett, her story feels incomplete. When she first appeared in Episode IV: A New Hope her function seemed straightforward enough. She was the beautiful princess who needed to be rescued and who served as a love-object for a simple farmboy like Luke to aspire to. She was a prize. Okay, that sounds really sexist, but that’s the way the story worked.

However, as we learned more about her background in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Leia acquired some unexpected dimensions. It turns out that she’s another example of parallelism, only this time the character being paralleled is Luke. Consider: both Luke and Leia are the children of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. Both were taken away shortly after birth and raised by foster parents. Both developed adversarial relationships with Darth Vader without realising he was their father or having him realise they were his children. Both become important parts of the Rebel Alliance and both are considered the last hope of the Jedi by Obi-Wan and Yoda.

The differences between the two are equally interesting. Luke is male, Leia female. Luke was raised by struggling moisture farmers on a distant, backwater world; Leia grew up amidst power and privilege as a princess on Alderaan and a member of the Imperial Senate. While Luke only yearned for a life of adventure until circumstances dropped one in his lap, Leia went out and lived it. She became an important part of the Rebel Alliance and seems to have had encounters with Darth Vader, in at least one of which she bested him — Vader’s comment “You weren’t on any mercy mission this time” in Episode IV hints at such. Leia seems to have fought the Empire with diplomacy and guile, while Luke confronts it as a fighter, piloting X-Wings and becoming a Jedi Knight. In the end, it’s Luke alone who confronts the Emperor and he’s the one who reconciles with the pair’s father as Vader/Anakin lays dying in a Docking Bay aboard the second Death Star.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we get to see Luke’s adventures — the original Star Wars trilogy is very much about the adventures of Luke Skywalker — while Leia’s adventures are only alluded to. This makes sense in terms of action and spectacle — X-Wing dogfights and lightsabre duels are much more visually interesting than diplomacy or negotiation — but the impression is that Leia led a very exciting life right up to the moment when she appeared in the first film. After that, it’s almost as if she passed a baton to Luke; as if there’s only so much adventure the Skywalker twins could have and, if Luke were to have his moment in the sun, she had to fade into the background.

The overall effect is that Leia’s story feels incomplete. As with Boba Fett, there’s a great set-up, but no follow through. None of it seems to lead anywhere. This is only accented by the developments in Episode VI where Leia starts to come back into her own. She infiltrates Jabba’s palace disguised as Boushh the bounty hunter and, later, kills Jabba. Finally she learns that she too is Force-sensitive and, potentially, as good a Jedi as her brother Luke. Then it all stops. Somehow, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. It feels unfinished, as if there should be just a bit more to it. Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me.

In Conclusion

As with my essay on Episode II: Attack of the Clones this hasn’t been a traditional review. Instead it’s been a collection of ideas and observations of the sort of things that can be gleaned from the Star Wars movies and which can be used to spark inspiration for a roleplaying game. And not necessarily even one specifically based on Star Wars or even space opera. There’s a lot of meaty goodness there which can be drawn on and used in all manner of games and settings.