Sunday, January 1, 2006

It's Not a Story the Jedi Would Have Told You

Here is a refreshingly engaging exchange I've had with author David Brin since emailing him a few days ago, for those who are interested.

HM: I recently caught up on your epic feud with the Star Wars universe, having read the first installment just after Episode I came out. I must say, the whole thing makes for compelling reading, even some of the comments from your blog readers.

Naturally, I felt a compulsion to email you a heartfelt defense of the saga, but I contemplated for a bit, and decided that such a missive would almost undoubtedly fail. Worse yet, if I somehow did manage to affect your thinking, it would rob you of something you clearly enjoy, i.e., hating the philosophy you see as explicit in Star Wars.

So I decided to write this letter of support instead. Please keep up your good work of writing thought-provoking material, even if I might not always agree with it.

p.s., Of course, I did write a blog entry on the subject as well. But I'll leave clicking over to it entirely up to you.
DB: Thanks for your kind words and insights. I find it genuinely moving when people write to me in the way you did. And yes, with criticism, too. I’d be a hypocrite otherwise, since I preach that criticism is the only known antidote to error.

By coincidence, there is now in pre-production a book called STAR WARS ON TRIAL that will take off from my older articles (revised) and offer several vigorous "defense attorneys" their time, too. Watch for it mid-06. It may be announced on my site.

Meanwhile, get the new King Kong book you see touted there!

Alas, the excuses for Lucas nearly all boil down to (1) "chill out, man, it's just a story." Which might fly if Lucas had not spent 30 years relentlessly touting the importance of its "message." and that he taught important Values.

The more recent excuse is that average people win the day (as I was the very first, ever, to point out). So Lucas meant to say that. But would he not have at least HINTED somewhere, that that was his message?

Given his myriad other plot goofs, this one just looks like another slip-up.

Finally, there's Yoda. The fact that 99% of SW fans just eat up the nasty little fascist. As so many adore today's new wave of crypto fascists, excusing secrecy in the name of urgency.

Sorry, this is all coming together, and it is right to at least stand up and point it out.

But have fun too!


With best wishes for a happy, successful 21st Century!

David Brin
HM:To clarify something: I pay no attention to anything Lucas says. I don't know if the man is an outright liar or if he simply can't remember things from one interview to the next, but there's never been any coherence to his explanations of his universe, and he actually seems rather bored when you see him discussing it. So I tend to be a textualist about the films. I really don't care what Lucas intends (or I care only a small amount).

The fact is, viewed as a text distinct from any avowed authorial intentions, these movies make exactly the point that you want them to make. Elitism is bad and leads to suffering; real heroism is about working to make sure that the right things happen. Any other interpretation turns the films into a jumble of mush without real meaning, whereas this interpetation is consistent with everything that happens in the six-movie arc.

I'm sure you as an author have had the experience of writing a story, and returning to it later to find that it means something different, or something more, than you originally intended. I think you'll find that the Star Wars films exhibit a surprising internal consistency if you view them while making the same assumption about Lucas.

My only comment about Yoda is that this is a guy who has direct sensory evidence that his religion is true. So it's difficult for us as empricists to get inside his head. But I think that his actions make a lot more sense if you keep in mind that there is no distinction between physics and metaphysics in his experience.

Happy New Year!


p.s. As I'm sure you're quite busy, feel free to break this discussion off at any time you feel other matters better deserve your attention.
DB: Thanks. good stuff. But even if we toss out authorial intent, you ignore several other levels. e.g. the LESSONS that millions take away. At most 0.0001% notice that Lando and the wookie are the only ones who matter.

At best that number notice that Yoda is a nasty, lying fool... or much, much worse (see the new book when it comes out.)

No, if I can increase the fraction who notice - and discuss - this stuff to .o1%, my carping will have mattered.

good luck & thrive db

HM:I don’t know . . . every Star Wars fan I know recognizes the importance of not just Lando and Chewbacca, but Wedge Antilles as well.

I really can’t buy into the notion that most people would watch Return of the Jedi, see Chewbacca and Han bring the shield generator down, see Lando and Wedge blow up the Death Star, see Lucas emphasize their role by showing them reuniting and embracing during the Endor celebration, and then conclude that the actions of ordinary people make no difference.

There’s also no way at all to conclude that Luke wins out through elite magical powers. His crucial act is the moment he throws away his light saber and refuses to fight. Anyone who can’t see the importance of Luke’s willingness to sacrifice himself is frankly pretty hopeless in my book. So if it really is only .0001% of people who recognize what’s plainly there to see, I think that’s more of a strike against the moviegoing audience than against the films.

(Note that I’m perfectly willing to concede that most people do not bother to think about these films. But what negative “lesson” are people really going to absorb and act upon when viewing movies so passively, so unconsciously? Surely, most of that 99.9999% don’t think there’s any relevance at all to a bunch of guys swinging laser swords. It’s just a diverting spectacle to them.)

I’ll be interested to see your interpretation of Yoda in the new book. My view is that since we know that Yoda can see the future, while never being told exactly what he does see, it’s hard to say whether his actions truly impede Luke’s journey toward redeeming his father, or whether they simply provide Luke the opportunity to make his own choice. Is Yoda a benighted religious zealot who tries to lead first Anakin and then Luke down a foolhardy path to moral stagnation? Or does he know almost from the start everything that's going to happen, forcing him to play the role he does as a sort of a pawn to his own precognition? Impossible to know for certain, it is. : )

Ultimately, what one can’t argue about is Luke’s vastly greater importance to the series as compared to Yoda’s, or Ben Kenobi’s. Luke is the hero. It is Luke who destroys the first Death Star, Luke who goes to save his friends on Bespin, Luke who refuses to join his father to overthrow the Emperor, Luke who is unwilling to suppress conscience for the sake of purpose, and who thereby redeems Darth Vader from the Dark Side. He’s an ordinary farm-boy with some extraordinary talents who prevails in the end because of his values, and there is no logical support whatsoever for saying that the values he exhibits are elitist.

Lucas can say that these six movies are about the fall and redemption of Darth Vader all he likes -- only a fool could watch them and hold Vader to be more important than Luke. If you want to show me what's wrong with Star Wars, you have to explain to me what, exactly, is wrong with Luke Skywalker. That's a lot taller order than enumerating the flaws of the Jedi.

I join you in hoping that the new book causes more viewers to really ponder these films. As I'm sure you can tell, I think there is a great deal beneath their surface.