Pardon me while I geek out a moment.
I haven’t seen the new Star Wars animated movie-TV-pilot-thingie. If you’d known me back in college, or any time before the prequels were released, this would be shocking. I was an elementary school kid when the first Star Wars movie literally exploded onto the scene. There’d never been anything like it before.
I shouldn’t have worried so much, since apparently George Lucas can’t, either.
Ok, yeah, cheap shot, and what follows is, in part, a rant about why the prequels suck. There’s nothing directly game related here, in terms of mechanics or styles. However, I think it does have game-related significance because I will be talking about staying true to your themes, and making things cool. And I’ll be talking specifically about those coolest of military mystics, the jedi.
The lowest point of the three new movies, for me, was from “Attack of the Clones”. Chritopher Lee’s character had captured Obi-Wan. The words “jedi knights” came rolling off Lee’s lips in that incredibly rich voice of his, and a thrill ran down my spine. Jedi knights! The name evoked a fusion of ancient mysticism and the Round Table, of spiritual quests and courage and transcendent vision. I wanted to see more about these awesome jedi knights!
And then, like a dunk in cold water, I realized that the jedi knights were these G-Men in bathrobes we’d been watching through the whole movie.
The problem goes beyond midichlorians and over-exposure. It’s not so much the loss of mystery as the loss of vision and mission that reduced the jedi from mystic warrior-saints to mundane government agents from your standard Tuesday night police procedural. Consider the light saber duels. The new movies understood the importance of these as centerpieces, and each was a rousing spectacle of special effects, stage fighting, and stuntwork. But the fights were not really about anything more than fighters going mano-a-mano, trying to kill one another. Story-wise, they were no different from Amidala and her guards blasting away at droid soldiers. The duels look great, but they don’t mean anything beyond simple conflict. They remain mired in the purely physical.
What am I talking about? Ok, let’s go back to Episode IV’s light saber duel. It’s Vader vs. Obi-Wan as played by Alec Guinness, and, as the “later” fights go, it’s kinda lame. Two old guys shuffling around, banging their weapons together. But the fight works because it gives us clues to the as-yet-unknown past, and because Obi-Wan isn’t trying to kill Vader. He’s competing on a completely different plane. He knows he can’t kill Vader, and he’s not even really trying. He’s just toying with Vader, goading him on. Vader can’t see it; his only goal is to murder another jedi and push the order that much closer to oblivion.
Obi-Wan stops fighting as soon as he knows Luke is watching. He wants Luke to see Vader as a butcher and knows he’ll be in a better position to guide Luke’s development after he’s dead. Vader wins the fight but loses the duel; he doesn’t even begin to suspect that he’s been had until he’s prodding at the now empty robes of the dead Kenobi.
The next two duels of the original trilogy carry this theme even further. In “The Empire Strikes Back”, Luke wants to kill Vader. Vader, however, has something else completely in mind. Killing Luke is the last thing he wants to do. Instead, his desire is to corrupt and convert Luke. The duel is a showcase for how weak Luke is and how little he understands. Vader is constantly throwing Luke off-balance, either by chasing him through dark tunnels, using the Force to toss furniture at him, or making startling revelations about their secret history. In the end, Luke wins the fight by escaping, but loses the duel. His faith in Obi-Wan is shattered and he’s had his first taste of the seductive power of the dark side. When we next see Luke, at the beginning of “Return of the Jedi”, he’s abandoned the calm and humble earth-tones of the
The final battle of “Return of the Jedi” is rife with this theme. While the
And it’s that which made the jedi so cool in the first three movies. Not that they could kill their foes with all sorts of neat tricks, spinning light sabers, or nifty force powers. It was that they operated on a plane above the normal, physical struggle of the conflict of the day, towards the more universal conflicts that are at the heart of every person. In the realm of the jedi, why you were doing something was vastly more important than what you did. In the mundane realm of Han Solo and Wedge Antilles, being willing to sacrifice yourself for the cause is noble, but in the plane of jedi combat, sacrificing yourself while in alignment with the natural flow of love and hope, or the light side of the Force as they call it in the movie, isn’t just noble, but an undeniable and absolute victory. And that’s something we haven’t really seen since Vader decided he’d rather be a father than a Dark Lord of the Sith.