Friday, May 13, 2016

You're Free!

If, unlike Pete the Retailer, you like fantasy books, my novel The Last Tragedy is free from May 14 to 18!

Friday, May 6, 2016

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

So ... not too long ago, someone on Star Wars Minute Listeners Society Facebook page wondered if Pete and Alex might be the first people to finally unravel the "labyrinthine" plot of Attack of the Clones, once SWM gets to AOTC in the fall.

Of course, the answer is, "No," because the plot of Episode 2 is actually fully comprehensible if you just do a little literary interpretation.

Here we go:

In the ten years or so since The Phantom Menace, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious has been hard at work setting up the doom of the Galactic Republic. His game-plan is simple -- stir up a war so that the Senate will give emergency powers to the Supreme Chancellor, enabling him to transform the democratic government into a totalitarian one. It needs to be a war that will seem to put the Republic in genuine danger, but it can't be a war that the Republic might lose.

To this end, Sidious recruits Count Dooku, who marshals a faction opposed to the Republic, the Separatists. Simultaneously, he arranges the creation of a clone army for the Republic, so that when the full-scale war breaks out, the Supreme Chancellor's side will be positioned to win -- especially since he effectively controls the leadership of both sides.

Are Sifo-Dyas (who the Kaminoans say commissioned the army) and Tyranus (who Jango Fett says hired him) the same person? Evidently not, if you check the Wookieepedia article. But the details don't really matter. One way or another, Palpatine's maneuvering has resulted in a clone army, with the genetic source for the clones being hand-picked by Tyranus/Dooku.

Of course, the only way to arrange this two-sided charade is for Sidious to have a charismatic and highly capable ally maintaining tight control over the Separatists -- and of course, any charismatic, highly capable wartime leader is going to be ambitious as well. So Sidious knows that eventually Dooku will attempt a coup of his own. This means Sidious needs a replacement apprentice to deal with Tyranus once the latter has served his purpose.

Thus, we begin Episode II after ten years of Dooku consolidating his power among the Separatists, Palpatine in full control of the Senate, and Anakin already well under the wing of his future master. Anakin's discussions with Padme are littered with hints that Palpatine is mentoring him and planting the seeds of discontent in him, like the notion that Anakin is "ahead of" Obi-Wan in many ways.

What happens, then, during the film?

First, Padme's ship gets blown up in an attempt on her life. Is this a real attempt, or just a way to manipulate Padme's actions? The answer is that either Padme's death or her seclusion from Senatorial affairs suits the Chancellor's purposes perfectly well. If she dies, it means one voice fewer in the Senate speaking for peace and reconciliation. If she lives and is forced into hiding, he has the chance to arrange things so that she and Anakin end up in close proximity, which he has undoubtedly Force-foreseen as a situation likely to lead to Anakin being more vulnerable to corruption.

Next, another attempt on Padme's life occurs ... utilizing a weapon (deadly centipedes) that the Jedi are easily capable of defeating. Jango Fett provides the centipedes to an assassin who is much less competent than he is himself. He then tracks or trails the speeder chase that results in order to be in a position to kill the assassin with a distinctive dart that points toward Kamino.

What's up with this? If the drone can cut holes in the window for the centipedes to enter through, why doesn't it just fill the room with poisonous gas or napalm? Because by this time, events have made it clear to Sidious that the Anakin/Padme connection is likely to be fruitful. Additionally, Sidious wants the Jedi to find the clone army on Kamino, because he needs the Republic to be aware of this resource when the moment comes to activate it. So it's no slip-up that Jango uses a Kaminoan dart.

With the second attempt on her life such a near miss, Padme has clearly had her safety compromised, and Palpatine is able to encourage her sequestration in the company of Anakin. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan goes to investigate the dart, also according to the Sith Lord's plan.

On the trip and after arrival on Naboo, Anakin presses his courtship of Padme. She goes from dismissive to resistant to conflicted under his steady stream of manipulation. Is this a natural response? Maybe. But it's equally likely that Anakin is not just psychologically manipulating her, but consciously or subconsciously projecting his romantic desires into her with the Force. We see him explicitly and admittedly abusing his Force powers to entertain Padme, so clearly he isn't tightly restricting his use of the Force to the very limited rules of engagement laid out by the Jedi Code. And the intensity of his obsession with her makes it clear that he is at or beyond the limits of his own personal restraint.

Obi-Wan heads to Kamino, where he discovers the clone army and encounters Jango Fett. Jango takes Obi-Wan's arrival as a cue to immediately depart and head for Geonosis. Has he been instructed to do so by Dooku? Or does he react this way on his own? Given how cool-headed he is throughout the film, the latter is doubtful. Jango is an immaculate professional operating as part of a meticulous plan. If he's been left unaware of the fact that a Jedi is going to show up on Kamino sooner or later, it's either because the conspirators want him to be captured and eliminated, or because they want him to be unsettled and make a quick dash to his superiors. Since Dooku has clearly provided Jango with knowledge of where the Separatist leadership is gathering, it again seems likely that this move must be according to plan.

Anakin's every attempt to wear Padme down comes to naught on Naboo. They reach an impasse at which Padme acknowledges having the emotions Anakin wants her to have, but still refuses to act on them. For the relationship to move forward as Sidious doubtless wants it to, something needs to happen. And then something does -- a particularly bad dream about Anakin's mother compels him to go to Tatooine. Is this coincidence? The will of the Force? Sidious using the Force to somehow implant these dreams in Anakin? That's hard to say. But once the dream occurs, the young Jedi doesn't hesitate to use it as a means of milking Padme's sympathy and taking out of her comfort zone on Naboo into his own home territory.

Obi-Wan makes it to Geonosis and proceeds to spy on the Separatists. It's difficult to tell whether he accomplishes this on his own talents, or if he's allowed to do it ... but it does turn out later to play into the plans of Darth Sidious.

Anakin tracks down his mother and reaches the Lars homestead. As he is about to set out on the hunt for the sandpeople, he has a parting conversation with Padme that is among the most wooden of their interactions -- and it is presented as a shadow-puppet play. Is this a hint that his Force manipulation of her is taking hold? It's interesting to note that when she is defending Obi-Wan earlier in the film ("that's what mentors are supposed to do"), and when she is warding off Anakin's advances on Naboo, her delivery of her dialogue is much more naturalistic than in any of the scenes where she gives in to these romantic impulses.

Finding his mother, only to have her die in his arms, Anakin goes berserk and slaughters the village of Tusken Raiders. Then he breaks down and admits this to Padme. Here, he pulls a deep and genuine sympathy from her. Is it because she's already attracted to him and empathizes with his suffering? Is it because his emotions are so wildly out of control that he's exuding his most powerful Force influence on her yet?

Obi-Wan is captured -- but not before he gets a message out to Anakin. Coincidence? Good luck on the part of the heroes? Maybe. But he doesn't actually acquire that much useful information -- certainly not the critical information that the Geonosans are planning to build a Death Star.

Anakin and Padme receive Obi-Wan's message. Suddenly, for the first time, instead of finding a way to wiggle around the specifics of his orders, Anakin acts as though there's nothing he can do to help Obi-Wan. It takes Padme's initiative to get him to attempt a rescue. Inconsistent behavior on Anakin's part? Or a subconscious understanding that with Obi-Wan out of the way, he has a much better chance of making things work with Padme and becoming a full-fledged Jedi instead of just a padawan -- or possibly of simply running away with the object of his heart's desire?

Dooku goes in to see his Jedi prisoner and makes a fairly heavy-handed attempt to lure Obi-Wan into his influence. Does he really expect this to work? It's probably in the "worth a shot" category for him, even though he knows Kenobi is likely to refuse. The two have known each other a long time, and their connection through Qui-Gon makes it plausible that Dooku might be able to entice Obi-Wan away from the Jedi. Certainly, if Kenobi could be convinced, he would make a fine apprentice for Tyranus, and one who might well be capable of helping dispatch Palpatine once Dooku is ready to make his move. And if not, he'll simply dispose of Kenobi in the arena.

The remainder of the film is really just the pieces falling into place. "Representative Binks" playing the part of the Supreme Chancellor's patsy and moving for the Senate to convey extraordinary powers on Palpatine. Anakin and Padme captured. Padme allowing their hopeless situation to break her resolve against telling Anakin her feelings. Arrival of the Jedi. Massed combat in the arena. The death of Jango Fett. All appearing to be lost. Miraculous cavalry-charge of the clone army.

Two important thematic moments appear amidst the high-action of the last act. We see young Boba Fett discover his father's head, and we see Anakin directing the clone troopers on how to target the weak points of the Federation starship. In Boba Fett's case, this is the moment in which he is orphaned, and goes from the obedient son of a meticulous bounty hunter to a boy on his own with lots of shiny equipment, a lot of anger, and no one to guide him. Is it any wonder that the adult Boba Fett is so scuffed and unkempt compared to his polished father? Any wonder he ends up in company so much more sordid than Jango Fett's employers? In Anakin's case, this is a key moment in his transition from maker to destroyer. Previously, he's used his mechanical talents to build things, to create. Now he's using them to tear apart and bring down.

The close proximity of these two coming-of-age moments underscores one of the main messages of the prequels: the importance of family and of healthy relationships in the development of individuals, especially those on the border between good and bad.

The Jedi confront Dooku. He defeats Anakin and Obi-wan, but has to flee from Yoda. Even so, this is only a defeat for Dooku -- not for his master. If he'd been able to kill Yoda, the Count might well have found the path to defeating Sidious as well, and taking his place as Emperor. But having been humbled here, he must stay in Palpatine's shadow. When they meet on Coruscant, it is clear that everything in the movie has gone according to plan. The schematics for the Death Star are in the Sith Lord's hands for future use. The war has been launched. And from the perspective of the Separatists, the initiation of the war is actually due to the Republic's military assault in response to the attempted execution of three spies.

The movie closes with:

 Yoda acknowledging that they've all been played, and that the war none of them wanted is now upon them.

Palpatine overseeing the military might that's been handed to him on a platter.

Anakin and Padme being married in a secret ceremony, to the tragic strains of their love theme, with Anakin's awkward metal hand emphasizing how unnatural the moment is.

As with The Phantom Menace before it and Revenge of the Sith after, Episode 2 is, ultimately, about the ascendance of evil due to the faulty vigilance of good.