Monday, May 23, 2005

Obi-Wan is a neo-con

Spoilers ahead. Forewarned, you are.

I can imagine John McLaughlin asking his roundtable:
Is Obi-Wan Kenobi,

A: a neo-con
B: an aristocrat
C: an idealistic democrat (small d)
D: a political survivor
The correct answer is...A!

Or not. Palpatine lied to Anakin, accusing the Jedi of wanting to rule the Republic, but of course the Jedi were committed to the Republic and its ideals of freedom. Obi-Wan is no exception and realized the great danger in Palpatine's power-grab, how "democracy" was dying with each successive amendment. I hate the word "democracy" because in its pure form, it's the strict rule of the majority. The Republic's very name shows it isn't a true democracy, but we'll use it loosely.

Semi-major quibble: has the governing body ever been referred to as "Congress"? I always heard it referenced strictly as "the Senate," whether Galactic or Imperial.

I just take the movie as a movie. There's much horse dung about the alleged underlying anti-Bush theme, but Lucas had already developed Palpatine's history by Episode I. Besides, the concept of the absolute ruler gradually acquiring power through subterfuge is as old as our Greeks. One of the Greek models of history was a tyrant (from "turannos") who would forcibly seize control of society to restore order, when society and its government had become so complacent that they degenerated into chaos. After he was overthrown, the people would be free -- and would degenerate all over again.

The Romans had the same concept of an absolute ruler who was needed to keep order. Julius Caesar is their most famous example of a dictator, but not the first. From "Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts":
To provide for quick action in times of emergency, the Roman Republic 500 years before Christ provided for a temporary king, so to speak. The senate could appoint someone to supreme control over Rome for a specified period of time, someone whose word, while he was in office, was law. For that reason, he was called a dictator, from a Latin word meaning "I have spoken." Usually, he was to hold office for six months. In 458 B.C. (according to legend), the Roman general Cincinnatus was appointed "dictator" to meet the threat of an advancing army. He marched off to war, defeated the army, returned, and resigned instantly. Cincinnatus had been dictator for sixteen days.
Liberals (especially French movie-goers at Cannes) are gushing about Lucas' anti-Bush statements. Some conservatives blast Lucas for selling out to Hollywood. Others who are neither liberal nor conservative, but wary of the federal government's growing powers, also point to the supposed similarities between the Emperor/Vader and Bush. One of my best friends has pointed to the exchange between Anakin and Obi-Wan as Bush's "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists" line:
Anakin: If you're not with me, you're my enemy.

Obi-Wan: Only Sith deal in absolutes!
To repeat, I took Episode III as nothing more than an enjoyable, terrific movie. Not an allegory, not social commentary, but the amazing completion of an amazing saga. Certainly it has moral and political themes, but I doubt that Lucas is commenting on current times.

I decided to wait until today to see it, judging that Sunday at 6 p.m. wouldn't be too busy. The Force had given me much wisdom. I took my mother, who also enjoyed it thoroughly. My uncle was supposed to come but was feeling a bit sick.

Four stars. Letter grade: A. I rank it with A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, just behind The Empire Strikes Back. None of the previous movies affected me quite this way. Perhaps I'm the schmaltzy sort, but I found it just gut-wrenching when Anakin drew his lightsaber against the younglings. I began to tear a little when my mother gasped, "The children too?!" I don't know if anyone else has said this, but I thought the entire slaughter, with valiant Jedi being cut down, was a cross between "The Godfather" (Michael "takes care of all family business") and "Clear and Present Danger" (when the American soldiers were being gunned down).

Warning: Jar-Jar does appear, but at least he doesn't speak. Thankfully. But I was hoping, as someone somewhere envisioned, that Mace Windu would pull out his wallet made out of Gungan skin, the one with "Bad mother******" emblazoned on it. Perhaps a wrapping for his lightsaber handle? "Hey Palpatine, I want you to see my lightsaber's handle... Can you read that?"

Matthew Stover's novelization, which I've previously read, contains much material that isn't in the movie. I wonder how much is what Lucas and Stover added, and how much was filmed but not included. Hopefully Lucas will have an expanded DVD that includes/restores any cut footage.

The novelization has the exchange between Anakin and Obi-Wan as:
Anakin: If you are not with me, you are against me.

Obi-Wan: Only Sith deal in absolutes! The truth is never black and white.
In the movie but not the book, Anakin says that the Sith aren't evil, "from my point of view." Obi-Wan ironically retorts to the effect that Anakin is blinded to their evil. So now who's dealing in absolutes?

Hayden Christensen's makeup was excellent. Anakin's dark countenance from the very start of the movie showed that he was on the verge of the Dark Side. I felt his lines with Palpatine could have been delivered with more emotion. At least at the end, exploding (before he started sizzling, literally) toward Obi-Wan, he spoke with appropriate anger. But as I feared, Hayden was a bit wooden at times. I wrote before that I blame his part in Episode II on bad dialogue, not his bad acting. This time, however, Hayden has to share some of the blame.

Natalie is a good actress but didn't have too much to work with, principally just the latest bad love lines from Lucas. Compare "It's only because I'm so in love / No, it's because I'm in love with you" to Leia and Han's farewell just before he was encased in the carbonite. "I love you!" was met with Han's "I know" smart aleck reply.

The sappy line I always liked is from Episode II, "I've been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life." Alas, in both movies, it's a shame that the Anakin-Padme romance by itself doesn't elicit anything. While I found it tragic, especially the irony that he helped destroy the Republic to save her, only to kill her, there's no tenderness. Not even a hint of lust: when Anakin and Padme kiss, it's almost as if Natalie said, "Hayden, make it quick, and I'm allowing only one take." Frankly, their acting together is reminiscent of Jennifer from my 3rd grade class. She was so afraid of boy cooties that, when our class skipped around to a song from "Hansel and Gretel", she refused to hold my hand directly. She would pull her sweater's sleeve a few inches past her fingertips, and that she'd permit me to hold.

I'm not suggesting they should have had heavy smooching or simulated intercourse to "prove" their love existed, but when Anakin startled awake from his dream, he was sleeping so far apart (and she was sleeping on her side, her back toward him) that he might as well have been on the far side of the galaxy. Likewise for when she was brushing her hair: he was several feet away, leaning against a wall (which is when they had the "in love" dialogue). So much for a couple in love, forced to spend months apart at a time!

In a way, I'm glad this completes the first (as far as timeframe) trilogy -- how many more of Lucas' sappy love lines can we endure?

Ewan MacGregor and Ian McDiarmid were excellent. With the movie emphasizing lightsaber action, I was pleased to see McDiarmid get his share, not just the Sith lightning -- and he did it well! The special effects were top-notch all-around, particularly with the intense lightsaber battles. And Samuel L. Jackson, one of my favorites, was pure Samuel. Mace Windu was tough, no-nonsense, and kick-ass. The novelization explains Windu's fighting style of vapaad, and his amethyst lightsaber compared to Jedi blue and green, or Sith crimson. He had Palpatine, he had him, until Anakin interfered.

What disappointed me was that Qui-Gon Jinn was reduced to a mere mention. In the book, he actually appears to Yoda, the first Jedi to achieve the mystical spiritual form. Yoda realizes how powerful Qui-Gon really was, and in reversal of their previous relationship, Yoda becomes his apprentice. I'm not sure why Lucas didn't get Liam Neeson to do a cameo. Perhaps like Leonard Nimoy with Star Trek: Generations, Neeson wasn't interested in a small role. Or, will we see it on the DVD?

It almost stunned me when Vader's first words were to ask about Padme. The classic "Noooooooo!" (with lifting up his arms to the skies) was obligatory. Doc Ock did that in Spiderman 2, as have others before. And since Padme's unborn child (which of course turned out to be twins) presumably died with her, Vader had nothing left to live for. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Vader realizing his children were worth saving the galaxy for, so he summoned his remaining good to destroy the Emperor.

The movie seems to cover a fairly short period of time, but one must figure it encompasses at least a few months. Padme wasn't showing when Anakin returned, but she was by movie's end. The movie and novelization explain that Anakin was going away for months at a time, and the novelization directly said he'd been gone for five months.

I'm definitely buying the DVD when it comes out.

Tomorrow I'll do a little commentary on Tyler Cowen's accusations against the Jedi Council, and a couple of Slate writers who don't get it.


Blogger Quincy said...

It seems to that the Jedi recognize one absolute, THE absolute, good and evil. That's one of the thing I've loved about this saga. At the end of the day, there is good and there is evil. In these days of moral relativism, especially in Hollywood, it's nice to see.

Monday, May 23, 2005 1:17:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Yes. Admittedly Obi-Wan does pull the "certain point of view" trick, and he was a little hypocritical to say in the same breath that only the Sith deal with absolutes and that they're evil. But there's no doubt about it, the Emperor is evil. The "peace and justice" comes at a heavy price. Populations are held in fear, and those who resist (or those who are convenient demonstrations of power) are summarily destroyed.

At what price would you have security? We must ask ourselves that even today.

"If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." -- Samuel Adams

"It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace; but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God -- I know not what course others may take; but as for me -- give me liberty or give me death!" -- Patrick Henry

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 1:32:00 AM  
Blogger Quincy said...

I have a feeling the absolutes line is being taken a tad too literally. Actually, it seems to refer more to dichotomies than absolutes. The intened message seems to be that the truth lies on a specturm from black to white containing infinite shades of grey. That doesn't prevent certain actions from being at the very ends (black or white) of the scale. The plan of the Sith, and the way they draw on the dark side, puts them on the very evil end of the spectrum.

In short, having a moral compass is NOT the same as thinking constantly in dichotomies, a point I don't think Lucas makes clear.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 5:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

episode3 enjoyed, i have.. yoda the man, he is.. metaphors be with you..

Tuesday, June 07, 2005 4:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The sappy line I always liked is from Episode II, "I've been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life." Alas, in both movies, it's a shame that the Anakin-Padme romance by itself doesn't elicit anything. While I found it tragic, especially the irony that he helped destroy the Republic to save her, only to kill her, there's no tenderness. Not even a hint of lust: when Anakin and Padme kiss, it's almost as if Natalie said, "Hayden, make it quick, and I'm allowing only one take.""

A hint of lust? What the fuck??? Were you hoping for a "Leia/Han Part II" romance or what?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 4:26:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

The short answer is: yes. Or in your case, "fuck yes."

And why not? Weren't they supposed to be in love, or do you not expect much from their marriage from the end of II throughout III? Think about it. They were married, yet everything combined couldn't compare to a single kiss between Leia and Han.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 7:03:00 PM  

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