Saturday, January 20, 2018

What is Star Wars?

Like all big projects it's hard to get a grasp on Star Wars. Before I even thought about writing this series on a blog I watched  I-III, Rogue, and then IV-VII 8 times, blowing up my Facebook with my thoughts as they came to me, and then watched VIII 3 times. My knowledge of the canon outside of these films isn't complete, but I've seen most of Rebels and Clone Wars and read some of the comics and am aware of some of the developments in the novels. So I think I've got a decent idea of what Star Wars is.

So what is it?

Star Wars is mythology. This is the first and most important point and it cannot be overstated.  I try not to reference Lucas or anyone else's vision for this series, but it's important that he made Star Wars based on the monomyth by Joseph Campbell. Genre is a huge part of approaching a work and the fact that Star Wars is mythology changes the ball game.

So what is mythology? Contrary to popular belief, a myth is not some fanciful lie that a whole lot of people have bought into. That's an invention of our ridiculous Western culture and is relatively recent. A myth is a story that is always true, if not always factual. This is because myths are meant to be played out on an interior level. Myths are not so much a direct message but a series of scenarios that, when entered into and played out in our psyches, creates a message. And, while there's a generally consistent message that most people will agree with, the genius of the myth is that since it's a story, as opposed to a non-narrative, people will come to their own conclusions as well. This means that a myth will generate commentary on it and create its own culture over time.

Religion is a group activity of acting out a myth. Religious people may argue this, but this is refuted simply by asking Catholics how many times they pictured themselves at the foot of the cross or Orthodox put themselves in the place of the Publican or to ask any Christian why we have services on Sunday, not Saturday or Tuesday or any other day ending in Y.

Star Wars is an intergenerational tale. The question of Star Wars is a complicated one: is a problem isolated to one generation? Or does it go down the generations, showing up in different ways in different people? And how do you resolve it? It's a question most don't think to ask. We assume that our issues are isolated to just us because Westerners are raised in a highly individualistic society that forgets we are as communal as we are individual.  While this isn't surprising for atheists it's a huge surprise that it's the common gut response most Christians would give. My knowledge of other faiths is lacking enough to where I don't want to try and characterize them, but I doubt that Hindus would say no... maybe. Dunno. I'm Eastern Christian. I'll just stick to what I know. 

Most Christians I know would definitively say that our problems are our own, until they remember that generational sin is a very real and scriptural thing and that Jesus not only doesn't cancel it but tells His apostles that all the sins of the previous generations will fall on the Hebrews of the generation He was living in, as shown by the destruction of the Temple 40 years later. 

But, having remembered this, they'll shrug and forget about it. This is a colossal mistake. 

And atheists, before you think this is something you can skate around, think again. Transgenerational trauma is a thing. Before you say "But it's wikipedia!" go look at the sources. We inherit trauma somehow. So it makes a difference what happened in your family tree, even if you didn't know your parents. Proving this is beyond the scope of this blog (and this author) but suffice it to say I've had enough experiences with transgenerational trauma to know they're onto something. 

Hilariously missing the point.
Star Wars is not about any single world issue. Please stop thinking it is. From the ridiculous "Star Wars ruined my childhood" to "The Last Jedi professes feminism" to "Star Wars is about the elevation of fantasy in modern cinema" just... stop. Please. Mythology doesn't give a damn about what's going on in the world right now. Even if the intent of the creator was to promote feminism or promote fantasy and hope in cinema or cynicism- or whatever other random garbage is going on this week- mythological concerns trump, subvert, and banish any and all un-mythological methods foisted upon it. And that's because the mythological story itself is only half of the equation. You, by bringing yourself to the story, are the other half of mythology. Someone may intend harm by making a myth but they can't take over  your half of the equation. Even the worst myth I've ever seen, Batman vs. Superman, can be worked out to the good of a person if that's what they intend. And I think Snyder is the most poisonous filmmaker of the last ten years! Even he can't wreck you if you don't wish it.

Mythology requires you to set aside the world and sink down into your mind and actually think. If you're going to watch Star Wars or interact with any other type of mythology you're going to have to let go of everything you think you care about and just be.

Star Wars is primarily visual in its story-telling. This is a tricky one, because most people are going to say "It's a movie, duh." But it's a statement that requires more thought. Star Wars tells stories by showing you a series of images, like any other movie. But, unlike a lot of other movies, Star Wars requires that you take the image first and primarily. Not dialogue, not exposition, not even music! The image is primary. You actually have to know how to look at images and deconstruct them, an act most of us are not familiar with doing. It's not something I pretend to be a master of either, in all honesty, but there are a few rules that, followed properly, completely transform the experience of Star Wars. This is the visual shorthand I've picked up on.

  1. From left to right is good, from right to left is bad. We watch movies the same way we read, which for us Westerners means that something coming from the left is going to perceived as comfortable and good, whereas from the right is uncomfortable and bad. Star Wars uses this rule exhaustively and you'll need to know it to make sense of any of my commentary at all. And in the same vein up to down is descent into darkness and going up is rising from darkness.
  2. If two scenes are butted up against each other they are related purposefully. Without this rule literally nothing in Star Wars makes sense. You may, again, say "But the only reason why movies work is because juxtaposed scenes relate!" And you'd be right, but what might seem like coincidence and something weird is not in Star War. This rule will especially come to play in the much-maligned Prequels where Lucas links entire scenes together that we're not used to see being strung together.
  3. Color is very important. This, of course, refers to constant white/grey/black color symbolism of Star Wars, although there are lot more symbols than that. But the thing is that colors can have more than one meaning. White doesn't just mean purity and goodness, it also means naivete. Black doesn't just mean evil and the abyss, it also stands for single-purposed and mystery (which is probably why our clergy and monks wear the color so often). The same applies to lightsaber colors, which are summed up nicely in the below video.

Star Wars is not about good vs. evil. Peter Lee, regarded as one of the biggest Star Wars fans of all time, had this to tell me about Star Wars at one point: "Star Wars is not about Good vs. Evil. It's about learning to tell the difference between the two." What most people think is moral confusion is merely the demand that you actually think and process what you're seeing. Nothing in Star Wars is actually simple, not anymore. If you miss those days and wish to stick with Episode IV you're more than welcome to do so, but this analysis sure won't.

Star Wars is not about answers. Come to think of it most mythology isn't, but is instead an examination of conscience in story form, an inventory you're supposed to take of yourself. In that case who cares where the dragon and your own inner demons came from? Finding out why they exist doesn't make them go away, only either killing them (like in most versions of St. George) or taming it and making it your servant (the minority and probably truer view) does the trick. So it doesn't matter how old the Jedi order is or who Snoke is or even where any of the main characters got their power from. The fact is they have it and so do you.

You are Anakin

You are Luke

You are Rey

And Han and Finn and Leia and Darth Vader and Tarkin and all of them, all at once. That's what's important, not whether or not Luke was thinking about killing himself on Ach-To or not. Stop asking needless questions and sink down into your consciousness and get to work.

Star Wars is a ring plot. Star Wars accomplishes all the above points with what's call a ring composition. Much better men than I have written about this before, and so I hope they don't mind if I simply link to them and stand on their shoulders.  But, in case anyone doesn't want to read 9 pages of brilliance, a ring plot is where the ending is the beginning. Each movie is a ring unto itself and each trilogy is a ring unto itself and, with the the completion of the third trilogy, the whole thing will (probably) be a complete ring.

Star Wars' rings, however, are not necessarily plot based, but are image and situation-based. I'll try and point this out as we go, but if you're still confused, please look at Dr. Seuss up above as that's the perfect ring plot. The juxtaposition of images creates a story based off of comparison, not plot, which takes a back seat to the random associations we form in our heads when we stop trying to control what we think and just exist, which creates thoughts quite naturally. Star Wars accomplishes this with a very basic structure: opening scenario, subversion of the scenario, and  repeating the beginning with the subversion folded into it.
Don't believe me? Let's start with the one movie we can argue didn't have this in mind, A New Hope. We start with a battle that ends in the leader walking down a corridor between soldiers. It's a scene of death and horror, instigated by a lonely old soul in a walking iron lung. Fear rules the day.

What do we end with?

A group of friends who just came back from a huge battle. They're hale and whole and happy. There's no fear here, but hope instead. These images are meant to be compared and contrasted on an analogical level because they are messages in and of themselves and are what the plot was made for.

One could argue this was done by accident, but if it was Lucas certainly kept repeating the accident over six films. After a certain point it's just stubbornness to say differently, but people can be surprising. Like I said, I'll get more into each episode as it comes up, but suffice it to say this is how Star Wars has been from the beginning. And most of us probably missed it on a conscious level. Whether that's a flaw or a feature is up for debate. I certainly don't know. Regardless, the ring theory is what I'll be using to examine the current 9 films.

Star Wars is not an easy thing to dissect. Most of us have had the mythology and wonder and inquisitiveness blasted out of our heads over the course of our life and it's hard to regain it. What's worse, most of us don't notice it's gone, we've been so thoroughly brainwashed to think that the funny little vapid stories that get made by our society should be more important than the only story that matters: yours. And Star Wars is intentionally set up to play you out against yourself, to see your foibles and evils on the silver screen, for only you to see, and  try and figure how to best stop the interior violence most of us have numbed ourselves to. Stop ignoring your story. The fate of you depends on it.

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