Original Trilogy

The Imperial March

When the new Star Wars ComLINKS topic for October 2017 – Favorite Musical Score –  was announced over at Anakin and His Angel I knew I had to jump in and participate. For a while now, I have been thinking about writing a bit more about the music that accompanies Star Wars, the iconic compositions of John Williams that give the original trilogy gravitas and have also influenced other Star Wars composers. It is safe to say – and really a no-brainer – that without the music of Williams, Star Wars would be much different. But I will leave a larger conversation of the music of Star Wars to another person, or at least save it for another occasion. For now, with the ComLINKS topic in mind, I am excited to share my thoughts/feelings on Favorite Musical Score in Star Wars. And, of course, it’s “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).”

The word “theme” is appropriate here because, let’s face it, I consistently return to The Empire Strikes Back to discuss my favorite aspects of Star Wars. It should really come as no surprise, then, that my favorite score would also come from my favorite Star Wars film. Naturally I love Star Wars across the board, but my deep affection for The Empire Strikes Back – embedded within me as a child – is the true grounding of my Star Wars adoration. That being the case, the issue at hand is not that my favorite musical score comes from The Empire Strikes Back, but rather, why is this particular score from the film’s soundtrack my favorite and not another?

To be entirely blunt, “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” is my favorite score because it is established as the de facto anthem of the Galactic Empire. As a child, I was fascinated by the Empire, having a “Casterfoian” (google “Casterfo”) interest in the baddies of the Star Wars universe. While I knew the Empire was evil, and I celebrated the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope with the Rebels, The Empire Strikes Back introduced me to a different way of viewing/experiencing the Empire. No longer were they simply the bad guys with a massive moon-sized space station but, instead, they were the bad guys who had Probe Droids, Super Star Destroyers, Imperial Walkers, Snowtroopers, TIE Bombers, and more. Even though they took a big hit in A New Hope, these baddies were anything but knocked out, and still had the means to level a crushing blow to the Rebel Alliance on the planet Hoth. And, to top it off, the Empire now had distinct piece of music – doubling as the theme for the villainous Darth Vader – to capture their harsh, galactic reach.

To this day, the raw power of “The Imperial March” continues to captivate and hold me not only because it originates in The Empire Strikes Back, but because I have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. As a child, I was unaware that the piece was influenced by Chopin’s “Funeral March” and Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War.” And yet, today, I am equally captivated by these pieces, all thanks to my childhood enjoyment of the Empire/Vader’s powerful anthem. Plus, this is also the case with a number of others scores from Star Wars, my enjoyment of these leading me to a more profound appreciation of other classical pieces.

At the same time, while “The Imperial March” is laced with childhood meaning and has led me to its musical influences, it also continues to be a piece that, quite frankly, captures me and takes hold each time I hear it. The repetition of the strings in the opening riff, crisp and dark (thanks to it being in a minor key), captures my attention until the brass presents the iconic melody in the fifth bar, gripping me with its clear-cut strength and power. Having washed over me like a wave in a storm, there is no escape. The moment I hear the opening to “The Imperial March,” and the iconic brass melody which serves as a leitmotif for Empire and Vader has begun, I must continue to listen. It would be wrong to turn around, to stop the March from moving forward. And so, no matter the situation, I will always let “The Imperial March” continue…

…which is, in a very real sense, the point of the piece. “The Imperial March” is aptly named because it perfectly encompasses the forward progress of the Galactic Empire, a progression which is difficult to stop. The Empire, wounded as it was at Yavin IV, continues its march of terror, death, and destruction. And, of course, Darth Vader spearheads the Imperial march across the galaxy, hunting down those who wish to stop the Empire. But it cannot be stopped, it will not be stopped, and it is futile to even try.


This post is part of the Star Wars ComLINKS series. Check out more Star Wars ComLINKS over at Anakin and His Angelswcomlinksbanner1

Haikuesday: Cloud City

Anoat Sector
Gas giant on the Ison
Home to Cloud City


Lord Ecclessis Figg,
Creator of Cloud City.
Maintained from EU.


Mining colony;
Casino in Bespin’s sky;
Cloud City has wealth!!!


Famous casino:
Pair O’Dice…no, I did not
just make this place up.


Planning to visit?
City climate is controlled,
wear what you want to!


Rey’s Survival Guide –
Cloud City postcard in it
says: “Wish You Were Here”

Haiku Addendum:
That’s right, tourists can purchase
Cloud City postcards.

Haiku Addendum:
That’s right, post-stamped mail is used
in the Star Wars “verse.”


Bespin’s Tibanna,
the gas used in “drives,” “turbos.”
Hot commodity!!!


Tibanna Supply,
disrupted by mining droids.
Sir Corto seeks help.


Carbonite frozen
Tibanna is easy to
galactically ship.


Han Solo lowered.
Leia shouts, “It will be cold!”
“I know,” he responds.


Image and music.
Vader is pure evil when
Solo is frozen.


The City’s Baron
Lando Calrissian, one
handsome looking man.


The Admin’s Palace,
home to the City’s Baron.
A Battlefront Map!!!


Apex Overlook,
luxury plaza in the
heights of Cloud City.


If you’re Apex bound
you’ll probably see Nobles
who are exiled.


Noble Court member
Elenzia trains allies
at the Overlook.


Lounge for the wealthy,
the Paradise Atrium.
Voras hangs out there.

Haiku Addendum:
Voras the Hutt, leader of
Ivax Syndicate.


The Shadow Market,
home to shadowy figures
such as the Kouhun.


Working in the clouds,
Ugnaughts do grueling labor
and play with droid heads.


I have to be frank:
I like the Bespin Wing Guard
uniform design.

Haiku Addendum:
If ever I cosplay I’ll
be a Bespin Guard.


Elayah Mordu,
a former Wing Guard member.
She freelances now.


I’m a big fan of
the Storm IV Twin-Pod Cloud Car.
One hella cool ship.


Skywalker takes a
sky walk and learns about his
sky walking father.

I can’t help but think
that Rey’s Cloud City postcard
is a subtle hint…

If right, I’ll say this:
Yes, YES, my brain is better
than everybody’s!!!!!!!!


Hanging upside down
from the City’s bottom side
is really unsafe.


In the City’s bowels,
Owacchi’s betrayers live.
Vile pirate scum.


Following Endor,
an Iron Blockade locks down
City and Sector.


The Iron Blockade,
led by Adelhard and Bragh.
Their own “Empire.”


Destroyer orbits.
Captain Tystel seeks help to
Protect Cloud City.


Name: Kars Tal-Korla,
well-known local miscreant.
Scourge of Cloud City.


Hired by Lobot,
“The Scourge” captures Borgin Kaa,
Imp sympathizer.


A Broken Blockade.
New Republic and Wing Guard
work to clear out Imps.


Lando with Lobot,
the friends discuss victory
and a baby gift.


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

Darth Vader (April 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge

With the arrival of Force Friday II on September 1, 2017, “a global fan event celebrating the launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi products,” I felt the desire to jump back into the Star Wars toy/collectible conversation once again by doing something special. For those of you who regularly read this site, you know that I don’t often discuss Star Wars products, having only done so a handful of times in previous posts (you can search the site for them if interested). Given the understandable excitement surrounding the new, soon-to-arrive Star Wars film, Force Friday II is a way and a day for fans of all ages to begin adding The Last Jedi merchandise – action figures and Black Series figures, Lego sets, Funko Pops, etc. – to their collections. And, in the spirit of Force Friday II, and as a way of adding to the excitement surrounding it, I thought I’d share the details of my very own Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge, a giveaway challenge that I plan to extend long after Force Friday II is over.

The Giveaway

For the past month, I’ve collected Star Wars toys with the sole intention of giving them away. Thanks to an over-abundance of toys associated with The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Star Wars Rebels being on store shelves, and the need for stores to clear their shelves for The Last Jedi merchandise, all of the toys I have purchased have been on clearance. As a personal rule, I never buy any Star Wars products at full price, and purchasing toys on clearance has actually maximized my ability to give away even more! 

So, all that being said, here is the moment of truth, the details about how my Star Wars Toy Giveaway Challenge will work. In short, I am giving all of those toys that are pictured above to Toys for Tots, a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children in families that struggle to purchase gifts at Christmas time. Once the Christmas season rolls around, I am taking all of the toys I have collected – the those pictured and others I’ll be purchasing –  to a local Toys for Tots drop-off location so I can, in a small way, help children from low-income families add to/create their own Star Wars collection.

And the Challenge is for you to do something similar.

The Challenge

Here’s the thing: I am blessed to live in comfort, with the ability and means to spend some of my disposable income adding Star Wars “stuff” to my already massive collection of, well, “stuff.” But the thing is I don’t need every item that is produced with a Star Wars label, and there are many children who come from families that struggle financially. While there is a tendency to judge these families, and particularly their parents, I refrain from it and have no time for it. Love and compassion are non-negotiable for me, especially when children are involved. In wanting to give away Star Wars toys to families in need, who struggle during the Christmas season to provide gifts for their children, it is my hope that I can bring some small bit of happiness to some of those kids. Star Wars has been, and will continue to be, a massive part of my life, of my self-identity and joy, but what I want to do – what I will continue to do in the future – is give away Star Wars toys so that children in need can experience that same joy.

My hope and challenge to you, my magnanimous reader, is that you will follow suit and do something similar. Whether you go out and buy one Star Wars toy, or ten, or twenty, or a hundred, I hope you will stand in the toy aisle at a store, pick up a Star Wars action figure or Lego set, and say “I don’t need this but there is a little girl or boy out there who deserves it.” Or maybe you will pull something out of your own collection to give away. Or perhaps you know a family in need and are willing to take them shopping, to buy the gifts – any gifts, not just toys! – for their kids at Christmas time or for a birthday.

Oh, and this needn’t be limited to Star Wars toys either. While I intend to give away Star Wars toys because they reflect something I love, there are so many other toys representing different franchises that kids would love to play with! The point of this challenge is, quite simply, to spread some love, and if you do that by giving away non-Star Wars toys to kids in need then I say more power to ya!

It is also my hope that other blogs and podcasts – be they Star Wars oriented or not – will challenge their readers/listeners to give away toys to children in need. And if you don’t have a blog or podcast, then I hope you’ll challenge people on social media, or in your non-online life, to participate. 

Lastly, if you do participate, tweet me a pic (@ImperialTalker) of the toys you plan to give away using the hashtag #TalkerToyChallenge. The more visible we are, the more we can encourage others to join in!

Ben Kenobi: Desert Father

Theory: Rey is the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Since The Force Awakens hit theaters, the idea that Rey is related to Obi-Wan  has picked up quite a bit of steam among pockets of Star Wars fans. I’ve not only seen this theory show up across the interwebs, but I have a handful of close friends who are pretty adamant that Rey is directly related to Kenobi. On the surface of things, I’m really not surprised by this theory. If one doesn’t believe Rey is a Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi does feel like he should be the next likely choice. Plus, it is a rather easy leap to go from Skywalker to Kenobi, particularly since Kenobi makes an auditory appearance during Rey’s Force Vision sequence in The Force Awakens. At one point during the Vision, we hear Kenobi say “Rey” while, at the end of the Vision, Kenobi can be heard saying “These are your first steps.”

What could Kenobi’s words to Rey mean!?!?! What do they imply about his relationship with this curious orphan from Jakku? Only time will tell, but for some people his words to Rey are at least partial proof that she is directly related to the former Master of Anakin Skywalker and guardian of Luke Skywalker.

But here’s the thing: I don’t buy it. Actually, not only don’t I buy it, I think it would be a massive mistake for Obi-Wan to be Rey’s grandfather. Do you hear me Lucasfilm – IT WOULD BE A MASSIVE MISTAKE!!! 

Listen, I’m fine with all types of speculation and theories, and say more power to ya if you believe Rey is directly related to Obi-Wan. But keep this in mind: if Kenobi has a granddaughter, that means he had a son or daughter of his own, which means he had sex. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time believing Obi-Wan Kenobi, during his nineteen years in exile on Tatooine, took the time to flirt with someone, let alone have sex with anyone. A relationship of any kind, be it a committed affair or a one-night stand just doesn’t fit who Kenobi is – a Jedi Master, sworn member of his Order and devoted follower of the Light Side of the Force, with a moral obligation to protect the child of his former padawan at all costs.

In fact, in those moments when he was not actively watching over or protecting Luke, Kenobi-in-exile on the desert world of Tatooine should always be viewed as a hermit.

Granted, it is easy to overlook Kenobi’s religious isolation since his early life was massively expanded by the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series. The Obi-Wan who comes to mind for many a Star Wars fans is undoubtedly the younger, more active (and attractive) Jedi Knight/Master who battled Darth Maul and fought in the Clone Wars, not the wizened old man living a life of poverty and spiritual contemplation as he watches over a young boy. Yet, it is important to remember that it is the older Kenobi that informs all of his other iterations. While the stories about his younger life provide interesting and exciting depth to his character, it is his introduction in A New Hope that sets the tone for how we are to view him, and at least in part, how we should view the Jedi Order. 

When the mysterious old “wizard” named Ben first appears in A New Hope, elements of hermitic life bleed off of him. He wears simple and unassuming robes, lives in solitude on the edge of Tatooine’s Western Dune Sea, and he speaks about his devotion to the mystical and mysterious energy field known as “the Force.” For all intents and purposes, Kenobi is meant to be a pop culture re-imagining of a Desert Father.

Beginning their religious practices in the late 3rd Century CE, the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of Early Christianity were ascetics who lived in seclusion – some as hermits, others in small communities – primarily in the deserts of Egypt. Believing it necessary to withdraw from society, these monastics lived austere lives, believing the harsh desert environment would teach them to eschew the need for material possession and tame their ego. As well, the Desert Fathers engaged in numerous spiritual practices – to name a few: recitation of scripture, interior silence and prayer, kindness and hospitality – all with the hope of becoming closer to and united with God.

Menas

Now in the Louvre, this icon of Jesus (right) with St. Menas (left) is from the sixth century and is one of the oldest in existence. That Ben Kenobi happens to look a bit like this depiction of Menas, a desert father, is coincidental, though the resemblance is striking.

Now, it is absolutely worth pointing out that the above paragraph only scratches the surface of the Desert Fathers and their place in Early Christianity. Then again, my intention is not to write an academic treatise on them and the way they influenced Christian monasticism (here is a link to book if you are interested in learning more about them). Rather, my brief description of these ascetics is to highlight the obvious: Obi-Wan Kenobi shares a number of similarities with them, similarities that are clearly present in George Lucas’ seminal film. Again, that Kenobi lives on a desert world is one thing, but that he is also a hermit, a member of once grand religious order, lives an austere life, and is devoted to his “god” (the Force) is reason enough to view him as the Star Wars equivalent of a Desert Father. And, as such, it is imperative that this fact not be undercut by Kenobi’s going off and having “relations” that would take him away from his moral duty of safeguarding Luke Skywalker and, as was added in the 2005 film Revenge of the Sith, his spiritual aspiration of learning to preserve his life force upon physical death. Both are religious commitments which Kenobi is wedded to on Tatooine, duties that he, as a character, would not shun out of a desire for companionship or sexual enjoyment.

Faith in Something Greater

Speeding down the Death Star trench in his X-Wing Starfighter, pursued by the villain Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker does something unexpected: he turns off his Starfighter’s targeting computer. Rebel leaders question Luke’s decision, asking him if something is wrong, but the young man responds simply and directly. “I’m alright,” he states, no further information provided. Nor could he provide explanation if he wanted, as time is of the essence and the reasoning for his decision, quite frankly, defies reason.

Only moments before turning off the computer, the tension in A New Hope’s climactic battle was amplified by conditions outside of Luke’s control. Leading his compatriots – Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter – “full throttle” into the Death Star trench, the farm boy-turned-Rebel pilot soon finds himself alone. Taking a critical hit to his fighter, Antilles is ordered by Luke to pull out of the trench while Darklighter, a childhood friend whom Luke only just reconnected with, is killed. Already filled with anxiety that the audience and Rebel leaders alike could hear in his voice, Skywalker is now faced with the responsibility of destroying the planet killing Death Star entirely by himself.

Anticipation continuing to mount, the distance to his target seeming to close at an incredibly slow pace, Luke suddenly hears the voice of his recently deceased mentor Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi. Speaking from “the beyond,” the old Jedi Master tells the young pilot to “Use the Force.” Confused, Skywalker continues to look through his targeting computer apparatus only to be implored by Kenobi to “let go” and to “trust me.” Finally understanding, he switches off his computer.

TargetingComputer
Luke Skywalker looks through his targeting computer.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

That Luke responds to Kenobi by turning off the computer is unexpected because one would anticipate that defeating the technological monstrosity that is the Death Star should require some form of technological assistance. After all, in order for the Rebel pilots to destroy the Empire’s “ultimate power in the universe” they must travel down a trench and fire their proton torpedoes with precision into an exhaust port that is only two meters wide. In turn, as the climactic battle unfolds, the audience is periodically allowed to witness the targeting system on the Death Star AND the targeting systems on the Rebel fighters, a cinematic maneuver which works to heighten tension. The entire battle is, in a very real sense, a race against time to see which side can be the first to use their technology to target and destroy their enemy, something we are constantly reminded of through A New Hope’s final act.

On this point, it’s worth remembering that Red Leader, commander of the Alliance X-Wing force, and presumably the best X-Wing pilot in the battle, does fire a torpedo shot at the Death Star’s weak spot using his targeting computer. In keeping with the film’s narrative, these torpedoes miss the mark so that Luke could lead his own deadly trench run. And yet, Red Leader’s miss is important for another salient reason: it shows that even relying on available technology does not guarantee success, and if Luke is to be heroic,he will also need to rely on a great deal of luck. Or, something far greater than luck.

Rather than depending upon on his artificially constructed computer to show him the target, or hoping he somehow gets lucky, Luke heeds Kenobi’s words to use the Force, the immanent and mystical energy field that pervades the galaxy. After only a moment of hesitation, Skywalker takes a leap of faith, believing he will succeed by relying on that which, we know, he has only begun to explore. Only days before this moment Skywalker knew absolutely nothing about the Force, nor was he aware of his strong connection to it. Now, at this most critical of moments, when failure is not an option, where the fate of the Rebellion and galaxy rest son his shoulders, the young pilot defies all logic by allowing himself to succumb to the ebb and flow of this mysterious Force. In this unexpected moment, precisely because he gives himself over to something greater than himself – or technology, or reason, or luck – Luke Skywalker takes a giant step forward into a realm of possibility more profound and amazing than he, or even we, could have imagined. And in doing so he becomes the hero he was always destined to be. 

Star Wars Without End

I spend a lot of time pondering the internals of the Star Wars universe – the characters, events, factions, spaceships, philosophies, etc. – but I also spend quite a bit of time thinking about the Star Wars franchise in general. These days, it’s hard not to think about the trajectory of the franchise since Disney – which purchased the franchise from the original creator/owner George Lucas in 2012 – has been announcing and releasing new content left and right. Movies, TV shows, novels, comics, video games, and more are adding to the already rich trove of stories that populate the universe, while an endless line of new merchandise in every shape and form pops up on a seemingly daily basis. Plus, Disney is building two different Star Wars-themed lands where fans can enjoy “being in” the Star Wars universe.

As a lifelong fan of Star Wars, the fact that the franchise is going strong definitely makes me happy, but this also comes with a catch – too much of a good thing isn’t always great. While I am excited there are new Star Wars stories being told and merchandise being sold, there is also a certain amount of burn out that also comes with all of this. Admittedly, it is a bit odd for me to say this since I maintain this site devoted to Star Wars, but it is also the truth – at times, being a Star Wars fan can be utterly exhausting.

Some of this Star Wars exhaustion is a natural symptom of over-indulgence, a symptom which necessitates moving away from the franchise for a while so I can enjoy it more fully another day. Having a site like this where I write about Star Wars certainly adds to this particular form of burn out, and at times, I have to step away from the computer or notebook, giving myself time and permission to not even think about Star Wars.

star-wars-celebration-1140x502
I’ve never been to a Star Wars Celebration, the so-called “ultimate fan experience,” and have little desire to attend one. Perhaps someday I will if I’m feeling adventurous and want to put my crowd anxiety to the test.
Photo Credit : Lucasfilm/Disney

On the other hand, some of this burn out is just a general fatigue associated with having to maintain interest in such an expansive franchise, one that is not going to stop growing anytime soon. Just as I look up at the night sky and have difficulty processing the vastness of space, a similar feeling of being overwhelmed hits me when I think about the vastness of the Star Wars franchise, a vastness that encapsulates past, present, and future. While I can appreciate all that Star Wars has to offer, providing fans of every type with something they will love, on a personal level, the more Star Wars grows, the more exhausted I’ve become trying to keep up with it. 

And so, I have found myself trying to reconcile my lifelong exploration of the “galaxy far, far away” with the continued growth of the franchise and the gambit of ways it is making me feel: overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt out, and at times even uninspired and bored. In other words, I have found myself for some time now in the rather peculiar position of trying to decide how I will continue being a fan of the franchise (talk about first world problems). What do I mean by this? Well, it means I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my relationship with the franchise in general, and the content of the Star Wars universe in particular. It means that because I do not have an endless supply of time, energy, and money – especially money – to devote to a fictional universe that will probably still be growing when I am on my death bed that I have to decide which aspects of Star Wars I will continue to participate in/enjoy and which parts I am just uninterested in/do not feel are worth the effort.

daala
Most people know that I’m obsessed with Grand Admiral Thrawn, but I’m also a huge fan of Admiral Natasi Daala who first appeared in the Expanded Universe novel Jedi Search.
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm/Del Rey

In truth, this isn’t an entirely new approach to the way I engage with Star Wars. We all have our personal preferences and gravitate towards certain things, and I have always been the type of person who likes parts of Star Wars more than others. Even before George Lucas sold the franchise to Disney I was selective about how I participated in the franchise, what merchandise I bought, and yes even which stories I gravitated towards. For example, I can honestly say that while I am well versed in the stories of the now Expanded Universe (EU; now officially called Legends…bleh), there are some Expanded Universe stories I have never touched and know almost nothing about. Case in point: The Old Republic online game. Perhaps one day I will get around to playing The Old Republic or checking out those EU stories I haven’t read, or maybe I won’t.

Like the Expanded Universe I am already treating the “new Expanded Universe,” the Disney Canon, the same way. While I have done my best to keep up with all of the stories being released, it became very apparent early on that it just wouldn’t be possible to do so. This hardly means I haven’t tried my best, but it does mean that I am well aware there are tales I have missed and probably will never experience. Since I have no interest in subscribing to Star Wars Insider magazine, I miss out on the short-stories that appear in each edition. I have certainly read a few here and there, but otherwise I’ve missed most of them and am not rushing out to read them. This is also true of the discontinued Star Wars Rebels magazine, each issue containing a story in the form of a comic. I’m sure those comics are quite fun, and perhaps I will check them out at some point, but for now I’m just not that interested in going out of my way to read them.

In turn, even of the new stories I have encountered in the Disney canon (and this goes for the EU as well), I’ve absolutely loved some, really disliked others, and have otherwise mixed emotions about a handful. I thought Kevin Hearne’s novel Heir to the Jedi was rather bland, have been underwhelmed by the novels in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath series, felt the Chewbacca comic series left a lot to be desired, and walked out of my first viewing of The Force Awakens asking myself what the hell I had just watched. On the flip side, I really enjoyed playing the now discontinued Star Wars: Uprising video game, absolutely love the Princess Leia and Lando comic series, was blown away by Christie Golden’s novel Dark Disciple and James Luceno’s novel Tarkin, and have really enjoyed the rich layers being added to the canon thanks to the animated show Star Wars Rebels.

Run2
The Grand Inquisitor, introduced in Star Wars Rebels, is now one of my absolute favorite characters. I am hoping he will get his own novel or comic series.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Rebels Season 1, Episode 14: “Fire Across the Galaxy”

But just because I love one particular story or dislike another doesn’t mean I find perfection/imperfection in everything. I might not love Heir to the Jedi but there are some very good moments in the novel, The Force Awakens has grown on me over time, the Uprising game was fun but also incredibly tedious, and even though I am really loving Star Wars Rebels I’ve been a vocal critic of the overuse of the Jedi and the Force in the series. For me, being a fan of Star Wars is not a zero sum game, a matter of either love or hate. Rather, more often than not it boils down to shades of gray, the acknowledgment that stories that I feel are wonderful still have flaws, and those I believe fall short do have some redeeming qualities. 

None of this is to say that my particular reactions/thoughts on each Star Wars story, or my moments of exhaustion, boredom and dispassion with the franchise as a whole, must be globally accepted. My personal fandom is no more or less important than any other fan, and my subjective experiences of Star Wars need not dictate the experiences others have. Besides, I can think of nothing more absurd than being a fan of Star Wars and lording my fandom over others. No, I am far more interested in sharing aspects of my fandom with others, engaging people in rich conversation about Star Wars. By maintaining this site, my hope is to always do just that: share aspects of Star Wars that stand out to me – the good and the bad, inspirational and discouraging – and open the floor for conversation. 

And that being the case, I have to ask: what are your feelings and opinions on the current state of the Star Wars franchise? Am I the only one who has moments of Star Wars fatigue and boredom, or are there others like me who are out there? If you care to share your thoughts and feelings, leave a comment. 

Transcending Death: The Light

In a recent post – Cheating Death: The Dark – I discussed the hate-filled path Darth Maul traversed in order to survive his horrific wounding in The Phantom Menace. If you have not read the post, or want to refresh your memory, I would encourage you to do so. In this piece I do a 180, flipping the conversation from cheating death to transcending death in order to consider how a Light Sider user can, if they are chosen and deemed worthy, preserve their conscious identity (and bodily form) in the netherworld of the Force. 

As I point out in Cheating Death, the Sith and the Jedi share in having dynamic but also limited understandings of the Force. Just as Darth Maul could not dream of the level of Darkness he would reach in his state of intense hatred, the Jedi also lack full comprehension of what the Light Side offers regarding death. This is not a criticism of the Jedi, though. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that the religious orders in Star Wars – Sith, Jedi, Knights of Ren, Nightsisters, and so on – do not have 100% complete conceptual understandings of the Force. Ultimately, the religious orders believe about the Force is centered around their specific experience of it and, as a result, their respective dogmas directly reflect this experiential knowledge.

A perfect example of the Jedi Order’s limit is the skepticism – nay, the outright denial – that one can preserve their individuality after death. In The Clone Wars Season Six episode “Voices,” Anakin Skywalker describes the Order’s dogma on the subject of life after death quite poignantly when he states, “…everything that we know about the Force tells us that an individual retaining their identity after death is impossible.” To this we can also add Jedi Master Ki-Adi Mundi, ranking member of the Jedi Council, who notes “…the dead are part of the Cosmic Force and lose their individuality.” Even Master Yoda, the oldest/wisest of the Jedi and head of the Council, does not at first believe in the possibility of maintaining one’s individuality after death, expressing his own skepticism when he hears the voice of dead Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Nevertheless, Yoda will come to realize that Master Jinn is speaking to him, opening himself to a possibility he thought impossible. In turn, guided by Qui-Gon, Yoda will begin his own journey towards transcendence.

The journey, though, is not an easy one. Yoda, we find in the last few episodes of The Clone Wars series (starting with “Voices”), must face significant trials to show that he is worthy of retaining his individuality after death. In other words, the great gift of transcendence is not liberally given to all Light Side users. While Jedi Masters such as Mace Windu, Plo Koon, Shaak Ti, and Ki-Adi Mundi are incredibly wise and act with good intentions, they nevertheless are not presented with the possibility of transcendence.

On the other hand, Yoda is chosen to receive the great gift, chosen because he will “teach one who will save the universe from the great imbalance.” Still, even Yoda must be put to the test, and in the episodes “Destiny” and “Sacrifice” he is forced to master himself – his own darkness, hubris, and temptations – in order to prove that he can master transcendence. It is only after passing these difficult tests, coming into a fuller understanding of his own identity and his connection with the Light Side of the Force, that Yoda will begin a long process of training through which he will learn to manifest consciousness after death.

yodadarkside
Yoda is confronted by his own inner Dark Side and hubris.
Photo Credit: The Clone Wars Season 6, Episode, Episode 12 – “Destiny”

Although we are given a fleeting glimpse of this training in The Clone Wars, the training Yoda receives has otherwise never been fully explored – either shown nor described – in any Star Wars stories. The same is also true for Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom we also know is granted this gift of transcendence. While Yoda explains, at the end of Revenge of the Sith, that Qui-Gon Jinn will be Kenobi’s guide in the process, we are not privy to the tests or lessons Kenobi will learn from his former Master.

Yet, all of this is okay. The Force is mysterious, and some of the sacred teachings, artifacts, and rituals that go hand-in-hand with it should be equally mysterious. Just as Sith and Jedi alike are not privy to every aspect of the Force, the same is also the case for fans of Star Wars. In fact, I would suggest that the training Yoda and Obi-Wan receive never be fully explored, lest we water down the sacred mystery of transcendence through over-explanation or take away from each fan’s imagination. Besides, what we do know is that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi did learn to manifest consciousness after death, proof that their training, whatever it entailed, was successful.

But while Yoda and Kenobi completed their mysterious training, we also know that Qui-Gon Jinn did not. In “Voices,” Master Jinn explains that he was killed before his training was complete, before he had fully learned to manifest his individuality after death. While his concious identity was preserved at death, enabling him to speak from the beyond as a manifestation of the Force, Qui-Gon is unable to appear in bodily form to those who are still alive. As we are well aware, appearing in bodily form to the living is something which both Kenobi and Yoda are able to do. This is precisely because their bodies quite literally disappeared when “death” arrived, transported along with their consciousness to the netherworld of the Force. Thus, the pinnacle of one’s training, the pinnacle of transcendance, is the capacity to “exist where there is no future or no past” in both mind and body.  

kenobistruckdown
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s body disappears as he is struck down by Darth Vader.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

On this last point, it is worth mentioning that what existence is like for Qui-Gon, Kenobi, and Yoda in the netherworld of the Force is outside of the realm of comprehension. There are simply no words – not here or in any Star Wars story – that can capture what it truly means to exist once one has reached transcendence. Certainly finite language can be used to give hints; after all, even Buddhists understand that all suffering will cease once Nirvana has been reached. But what transcendence actually feels like on a subjective level, what existence means for one who now inhabits the netherworld of the Force, that can only be known to the individual whom has entered the new state of being. And because of this, I hope the existence which Qui-Gon, Kenobi and Yoda achieve is kept a mystery to other characters in the saga as well as fans.

The Audacity of Solo

I’ve been thinking a lot about Han Solo lately. No, not the Han Solo movie that is being made, but the man we first meet in A New Hope. From his first appearance in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Han Solo is established as a cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, self-involved, loner whose only priority in life is himself. After all, from a purely symbolical angle, there is a reason his last name is “Solo” and it is hardly coincidental that a bounty hunter named “Greedo” confronts the Captain. Time and again throughout A New Hope, these qualities are reinforced, Solo’s words and actions proving that his instinct for self-preservation can only be superseded by the desire for a little extra money. As we know, the only reason Solo agrees to help free Princess Leia from the clutches of the Empire is because she is rich. 

I could, of course, go on and list every moment Captain Solo acts self-involved and greedy in A New Hope but I really don’t need to. You’ve all watched the film enough to know that, at his core, Han Solo embodies all of these qualities. But what makes these qualities stand out even more is the backdrop of A New Hope, the overarching story about a small band of Rebels struggling to free the galaxy from tyranny and oppression. From the very start of the movie, we know what these Rebels are up against: a massive, technologically powerful Empire that will stop at nothing to maintain complete control over the galaxy. The juxtaposition between Rebellion and Empire is clear and obvious as A New Hope unfolds, and is made all the more poignant when we see the size of the Empire’s Death Star battle station and its planet destroying capability. 

hansoloanewhope2
Solo, speaking with Luke Skywalker, loads his reward while the Rebels prepare for battle.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

When the narrative-arc of A New Hope finally leads the audience to the Rebel’s hidden base – which the Empire has been  searching for – setting up the battle that will determine the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo wants nothing to do with the Rebels or the mammoth task that awaits. But this is hardly a surprise, he had only ever been in it for the money. In fact, it is fitting that while the Rebels scramble around a hanger, preparing to fight for their survival and for the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo is standing in plain sight with the money he was promised. Approaching Solo, Luke Skywalker implores the smuggler to join the Rebel cause, to lend his skills as a pilot to the fight that is about to begin. Solo’s reply fits his character perfectly:”What good is a reward if you ain’t around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station is not my idea of courage. It’s more like, suicide.” In a sense, this single line encapsulates the greed and self-preservation of Han Solo, his need to take care of himself. Implored by the hero of the story to join the Rebels, Han Solo flatly rebukes Skywalker, proof that he values himself and his money more than the lives of others, even those he would call friends. 

So, the climactic engagement begins, the Rebel allies fighting against all odds to destroy the Empire’s planet-busting battle station. As one would expect, the Rebels fail time and again to destroy the station, leading to the final “attack run” led by the young Skywalker. A wing-man killed, another abandoning the attack due to damage on his fighter, and his droid partner destroyed, Skywalker finds himself alone as he speeds down a Death Star trench to deliver his payload of torpedoes. Just as Skywalker is about to be destroyed by the villain, Darth Vader, a shot rings out that destroys one of Vader’s own wing-men, a shot fired by Han Solo who comes flying in from above. Solo’s sudden presence disorients Vader’s other wing-man, the pilot slamming into his leader and causing the Dark Lord of the Sith to careen off into space. The path cleared by Solo, the young Skywalker fires the heroic shot that, only moments later, causes the battle station to explode. 

hansoloanewhope3
Han Solo comes to the rescue, guns a blazin’ as he excitedly announces his arrival.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

I have often thought about the fact that Solo – cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, selfish – arrives at just the right moment to help Skywalker defeat the Empire. Narratively it makes perfect sense, just the right amount of tension building until, out of nowhere, the suave smuggler – whom we thought had given up on the Rebels – swoops in to assist the film’s young hero. But what we don’t get in the story is the reason for Han Solo’s change of heart, his internal thoughts about why he puts himself at great risk – something so counter to his life philosophy – to help Luke and the Rebels. Then again, I think it better that Solo’s change of heart not be over-explained. In a way, it is far more powerful to imagine what Han might have been thinking, for each audience member to fill in the gaps for her/himself. 

But what we should not lose sight of in our personal speculating is the reality that in choosing to help Luke and the Rebels, Han Solo acted selflessly. Putting aside his penchant for self-preservation and ignoring the reward he was given, Solo had the audacity to give his life to a cause greater than himself. In doing so, Han Solo became a hero. 

And so, as I think about Han Solo, I cannot help but consider the lesson we can learn from his act of selflessness. After all, as a form of modern-day myth, it is not enough for Star Wars to just entertain us. Rather, as myth, it is necessary for Star Wars to show us how we must live as part of a community and world, as part of something greater than ourselves. And what Han Solo teaches us is exceedingly necessary, especially in our consumer-driven and selfie-obsessed culture. Just as Han has a change of heart – putting his riches and life aside for the sake of others – so too must we do the same in our daily lives when the opportunities arise. We can, each one of us, be a hero, going beyond ourselves to assist our local communities, our nations, and our world. It is not enough to just sit back and enjoy the spoils of life and only look out for ourselves. No, like Han we are called to use our individual skills and join the cause of destroying the “Death Stars” of our time: homelessness, poverty, hunger, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, warfare, genocide, nuclear proliferation, and more. 

The First Droids

When this month’s Star Wars ComLINKS topic – Favorite Droid – was announced over at Anakin and His Angel, my mind initially went blank…for days. As I thought about the topic, about what droid in Star Wars is my favorite, I just couldn’t come up with an answer. I really wanted to contribute to the topic, to give my two cents on which droid I love the most, but the harder I thought about it, the more difficult it actually became to settle on one.

This difficulty really boiled down to a rather basic dilemma. Basically, I have never given the topic of “favorite droid” much thought before writing this piece. While droids are an indelible part of the Star Wars universe, my personal enjoyment of droids has rarely gone deeper than surface level appreciation. This isn’t to suggest I never engage in any thoughtful contemplation of droids and their role(s) in the canon of Star Wars stories. Nor am I suggesting that I don’t have any especially fond appreciation for individual droids. As a matter of fact, I really love Chopper’s attitude, the absurdity of WAC-47, the adorableness of BB-8, would be thrilled to have my own battalion of battle droids, and am particularly fond of HK-47 and his penchant to”burn holes through meatbags…”  Rather, all I am saying is that I don’t get as excited about droids as other fans of the franchise (check out The Astromech Journal to see what I mean), and because that’s the case, no one droid really stands out above any other.

Nevertheless, there is a caveat: R2-D2 and C-3PO occupy their own, special status in my personal “droidom.” While I could have chosen them as my favorite droids, for me these two transcend the confines of mere favoritism. Artoo and Threepio will always and forever occupy the pinnacle of my fascination with Star Wars droids, a pinnacle that no other droid can ever hope to reach. And the reason for this is obvious; Artoo and Threepio were the first droids we ever met in the franchise, setting the bar high for all other droids  (especially those with independent personalities like BB-8 and Chopper). But there is more to this fascination and love. Brought to life in A New Hope by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and the late Kenny Baker (R2-D2), these two droid companions are also the very first characters we meet in all of Star Wars, a fact that often feels overshadowed by the endless cacophony of Star Wars stories. For the greater part of A New Hope‘s opening act, Artoo and Threepio drive the film forward, they are the main characters and are, at times, the only “beings” present on screen. Taking us on a journey that begins in space and descends to a desolate, wind and sand-swept planet, the two droids – who add a bit of humor through their bickering –  will only pass off the “main character torch” when they arrive at a lone homestead where a young man named Luke lives with his Aunt and Uncle. And, well, from there you know the rest.

r2-and-3po-desert
R2-D2 and C-3PO stranded on a desolate world.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The first droids we ever meet in Star Wars, the first characters we ever meet in Star Wars. And yet, what truly stands out about Artoo and Threepio, what cemented these two in my heart and mind as a young Star Wars fan, is that until we finally meet Luke Skywalker these two droids are the hope represented in the film’s title. Again, with the cacophony of Star Wars stories in circulation, this is easy to overlook  but necessary to remember. For the better part of A New Hope‘s first act, R2-D2 and C-3PO are the “only hope” for a galaxy terrorized by a galactic empire. While it is obvious that the young Skywalker is the hero of the film, the “new hope” for the galaxy, so too are all those who willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, work for the common goal of destroying the Empire’s Death Star. In this way, A New Hope is not a film solely about one young man who will become a hero, but is a collection of individuals – humans, aliens, and yes, even droids – who through their actions radiate a message of hope not only to the galaxy, but more importantly, to you and I. 


This post is part of the Star Wars ComLINKS series. Check out more Star Wars ComLINKS over at Anakin and His Angel.

swcomlinksbanner1

 

Lando Loiters in a Marketplace

In my last post – The Force Awakens Without Lando – I noted my disappointment that Lando Calrissian did not make an appearance in The Force Awakens while the other main characters from the Original Trilogy were included. I’m not going to rehash that entire post here, but I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t done so. I will point out that in the post I acknowledged that The Force Awakens was a good movie even though Calrissian was missing from it. And besides, I am hopeful that he will be appearing in Episode VIII and/or IX.

So why, might one ask, am I discussing Lando once again? Is there more to be said about his absence from The Force Awakens? No, not really. Instead, I wanted to extend the conversation on Lando by turning to the 30-year period of time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. So far, only a handful of stories have taken shape (across various mediums) which have begun to populate this New Republic/Rise of the First Order era. And yet, of those stories that have begun popping up, two characters in particular have been noticeably absent from this era: Luke Skywalker and (you guessed it) Lando Calrissian.

A while back, a guest post from Michael Miller considered Luke’s absence from this era of stories, and I definitely think you should check out what Michael had to say. In the meantime, I’ll cut right to the chase: I find it incredibly odd and definitely confusing that Lando has been such an incredibly minor – and at times blatantly absent – character in the this particular era of the Star Wars timeline. Now, I say this with the full awareness that Lando has popped up in a few post-Endor stories (I’ll come back to these momentarily). Plus, it’s important to note that Lando has been given a great(er) deal of attention in stories that take place before Return of the Jedi. Notably, in the show Star Wars Rebels, Calrissian has made a couple of fun cameos and Lando was the main character in a five-part Marvel comic series aptly named Lando. In fact, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Lando series was one of my favorite story-arcs added to the Disney canon, perfectly capturing Lando’s personality, vocabulary, demeanor, and overall style.

Yet, even though Lando is the star of his own comic series and has a spattering of appearances on Rebels, I am left to wonder why he is not a more noticeable and active presence in the stories unfolding in the weeks/months/years following the Battle of Endor. Like I said, he has shown up here and there, but these moments are few in number and relatively shallow.

For example, in Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline, set 24 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Lando sends a message of support to Leia as she deals with the fallout of the Galactic Senate learning that she is the daughter of Darth Vader. A kind gesture on Lando’s part, to be sure, but nothing he actually says in the message is detailed, nor does he factor into the novel in any other way. 

In the four-part Shattered Empire comic series, set in immediate aftermath of the Battle of Endor, Lando actually appears in Issue #001 and #003. In Issue #001, Lando participates in the battle (flying the Millennium Falcon) and is present for the celebration which immediately follows the Rebel victory, chatting it up with Han Solo and other soldiers. Nothing new or surprising there. On the other hand, in Issue #003, Calrissian leads a New Republic into the Battle over Naboo, stopping the Empire’s operation to destroy the planet. Pretty awesome, I have to admit. Besides, it makes perfect sense that in the days, weeks and months after the victory at Endor, Lando would continue to serve as General in the Rebellion-turned-New Republic. However, his very next chronological appearance on the Star Wars timeline makes a lot less sense…

battle-over-naboo-2
General Calrissian takes command of the Battle over Naboo.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: Shattered Empire, Part III

In July 2016, Lando was part of an update to the game Star Wars: Uprising. While I eagerly welcomed his addition to the game, hoping that his arrival would add a dynamic new layer to the game plot/story, my enthusiasm quickly turned to utter confusion and disappointment. Allow me to explain. When one initially meets with Lando in the Longstar Marketplace on the planet Burnin Konn, Lando lays out his profitable reasons for sneaking into the Anoat sector (which serves as the location for the game and is under Imperial blockade) and is willing to cut you in on the deal. In turn, Lando gives you a job to raid the Imperial base on Nar Hypa, a moon orbiting the planet Mataou, a mission which yields some basic materials, credits, and trophies (which can be used to purchase other goods). Excited to discover what would come after my first “Lando Job,” I quickly became discouraged when I realized Lando was not going to immediately send me on another run. Surely, I figured, if I waited a day a new mission would be ready for me…and I was right! Logging into the game a day later, I was greeted by an in-game message that “Lando has a job for you.” I eagerly scooted over to the Longstar Marketplace, sought out Lando, and was presented with the EXACT SAME MISSION! The same map, Imperial forces spread out in the same places, and a similar payout. Since Lando was introduced into Uprising, his “jobs” are always the same. And, to make things even more ridiculous, Lando just keeps standing around the Longstar Marketplace. One would presume that at some point he’d make his way to the Carbon Score Cantina… 

landomission
The “Lando Mission” description.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: Uprising

Now, unless one counts some credits and a handful of in-game material as meaningful, Lando’s presence in Uprising is, to put it bluntly, entirely pointless. That is, it is pointless as of right now. While Lando’s inclusion in Uprising currently lacks any significant purpose, I am hoping that his role in the game will be expanded, especially considering the game is set in the days/weeks/months following the Battle of Endor. In short, since a (former?) Rebel/New Republic General was able to infiltrate the Imperial blockade of the Anoat sector, making his way to Burnin Konn, one would think (and hope!) that he would have plans to provide aid to the forces fighting Imperial oppression in the sector. Of course, Lando might also end up indefinitely loitering in Longstar Marketplace, his presence having no outward effect on the overall goal of breaking the Empire’s blockade and freeing the sector. Honestly, at this point, who knows what will happen with Lando in the Anoat sector.

Then again, who knows when or how Lando will show up again in a post-Endor story. I’ll be sure to update this post the next time he does.


Addition: On September 22, 2016, the game developers of Star Wars: Uprising announced that Uprising will permanently shut down in November 2016. As someone who consistently played the game since it came out, I am naturally disappointed although not surprised. The game failed to live up to a number of expectations, and while I enjoyed the lore which it added to the rich Star Wars canon, game play consistently fell short, particularly given its repetitive nature which I detailed (in part) with the “Lando Missions.” 

In light of this development, I am left wondering what this will mean for Lando Calrissian, Perhaps, even though Uprising is shutting down, a novel or comic will be written that completes the game’s primary story – the liberation of the Anoat sector – with Lando taking on a larger, more central role. Or, perhaps he will simply be stuck in limbo, continuing to stand around the Longstar Marketplace on Burnin Konn while the New Republic defeats the remnants of the Empire at Jakku. I suppose only time – and more stories – will tell what Lando’s role will end up being.