Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Fearful Symmetry of Star Wars

It was Star Wars weekend here at Casa del Bull, which does not mean I spent my hard-earned dimes on the new Star Wars DVDs. I've got no beef with George Lucas re-releasing the movies in any way he wants as many times as he wants, but I've already got last year's Special Edition DVDs, so I have better things to spend my cold hard cash on than seeing Han shooting first or the Yub-Yub Song. In my little stuffed imagination, Han always shoots first. I don't have to spend another twenty bucks to remember that. (Nobody's swindlin' you by releasing these, folks...just put your wallet back in your pocket and walk away if you don't want 'em!)

Bully plays the new Star Wars Lego game
A pleasant weekend spent with the new Lego Star Wars video game.

I did spend the weekend with a wiser purchase: my dimes were well spent on the new Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game, which is even more fun than the original. If you've ever wanted to see a Wookiee rip the arms off an Imperial Stormtrooper, cram a Stormtrooper helmet on Chewie's head, or rampage an AT-ST through Mos Eisley, this is the game for you! It captures the thrill and the fun of the films and adds a whimsical humor that is too-often missing from both video games and Star Wars spin-offs. Between these games and the Dark Tater and Spudtrooper toys, I'm happy to see someone at Lucasfilm licensing has a sense of humor. It's a hugely addictive game and gave me a little food for thought: its "chapters" dividing each film's events into special missions take the movies back to their roots of action serials and show how Lucas could have broken them up into cliffhanging "to be continued" serials, each with their own opening narrative crawl. I'm stuck now in the big room after the garbage compactor (I figured out how to leap up to the catwalk but not how to open the Stormtrooper-only door yet), but I'll be getting lots of hours of lightsaber-twirlin', AT-ST-trippin', stormtrooper-arm-poppin' fun out of this one.

Inspired by Mike Sterling's ruminations on upcoming Star Wars novels, I also spent a few hours reading Wikipedia entries on the movies and characters, which I would not recommend in a lengthy dose. The entries themselves are generally thorough and entertaining, but checking out the behind-the-scenes discussions makes me feel that no matter how much a little fanbull I am, I'm glad I am not online arguing about the proper way to cite the misspelling of Denis "Wedge Antilles" Lawson's credit in the end titles of The Empire Strikes Back.

But lookin' over some of the barely-concealed conspiracy theories behind a buncha fun adventure movies reminded me of two things I noticed about the two trilogies that I haven't seen discussed anywhere else on the internet. I know there's a bajillion fan sites and a mazillion essays on every aspect of Star Wars and my two theories might very well be completely obvious to anyone else, much like the theories of Miss Anne Elk. I'm sure I can't be the first one to have noticed it: that there are two vital elements of the two Star Wars trilogy that mirror each other in a symmetry that can't be coincidental.

1. The symmetry of the titles. All of fandom groaned a bit when Lucas announced the title of Episode I to be The Phantom Menace (and to a lesser extent for Episode II, Attack of the Clones), decrying them to be hokey and old-fashioned, too tied-up in the mystique of the science-fiction film serials that Lucas says inspired the saga. Everybody and his droid was suggesting alternate titles like The Balance of the Force and Weesa Run Way Fast Fast. I submit it to you that the titles of Episodes I, II and III are, while old-fashioned, absolutely perfect for the sequel trilogy because they are a dark mirror of the titles for Episodes IV, V, and VI.

I know what you're sayin': Dark mirror? Have you gone loopy, little stuffed bull? Are you in Bearded Spock territory here? No! No, I am not. Let's look at the titles of the prequel trilogy, each of which hold a dark mirror up to their counterpart in the original trilogy:
  • A New Hope: An optimistic promise of better things to come, of a light dawning on the darkness, amorphous and undefined yet positive.
  • The Phantom Menace: A dread portent of doom approaching, darkness falling over civilization, amorphous and undefined yet fearsome.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: a mighty military force for the power of evil moves dramatically ("strikes": a strong action verb). The events suggested by the title directly strike against the events promised in the previous movie's title.
  • Attack of the Clones: a mighty military force for the power of good (at least in that movie) moves dramatically ("attack": a strong action verb). The events suggested by the title directly strike against the events promised in the previous movie's title.
  • Return of the Jedi: a group using the Force for good returns and is triumphant, fulfilling the promise inherent in the title of the trilogy's first movie.
  • Revenge of the Sith: a group using the Force for evil returns and is triumphant, fulfilling the promise inherent in the title of the trilogy's first movie.
Scary, huh? But give George a little more credit in naming his prequel trilogy; I think that hokey titles aside, he knew exactly what he was doing: mirroring the movement from dark to light in the originals in the light-to-dark journey of the prequels.

2. The symmetry of the end scenes. You probably know 'em by heart: each of the six movies ends in an iconic scene, holding for the camera as John Williams's score soars dramatically and then sweeps into the end titles. And like the titles, the end scenes of IV and I, and V and II, mirror each other, blocked and shot in similar design:

The cast gathers on a stage of steps for a public celebration at the end of Episode IV:
The end scene of Star Wars IV

And the cast of Episode I is posed in a similar scene to celebrate their triumph:
The end scene of Star Wars I

I admit to a slight cheat on the second two films in the trilogies, as the final scene from The Empire Strikes Back is of spaceships moving away into the stars, but it's immediately preceded by the hero and heroine of the trilogy, arm in arm, and their two droids, gazing off into an uncertain future:
The end scene of Star Wars V

As they do at the end of Episode II:
The end scene of Star Wars II

I realized those two symmetries in between the time Episodes II and III were released, which led me to believe, that since Episode VI, Return of the Jedi, ended like this:
The end scene of Star Wars VI

...then Episode III would end with Palpatine, Vader, and a bunch of stormtroopers dancing and clapping among a heap of seared bodies of Jedi. Good old fashioned nightmare fuel, huh? Luckily, we didn't get the Empire Jamboree but rather this scene of Lars, Beru, and baby Luke gazing off into the Tatooine dusk:
The end scene of Star Wars III

...which actually mirrors instead a scene from the first fourth next Star Wars film:
Luke on Tatooine

...which is one of my favorite visual moments of Star Wars: no clunky Lucas dialogue, no screen crammed full of special effects: just dramatic lyrical music and a farm boy dreaming of adventure and excitement in the stars. We've all been there, and make fun of 'em or not, the Star Wars movies have brought us that excitement and adventure. It's kinda fashionable to bash Lucas, and complain about the changes, and look down on the prequels, but it's moments like the mirrors of titles and final scenes that remind me why I love these films: on so many levels they reward our love and appreciation of them, and while Lucas will never be regarded in the same breath as Howard Hawks or Orson Welles, the man did know how to entertain us. Long may the Star Wars saga thrill us all, and, like the TV commercials for the new DVDs remind us, may they inspire and enthrall the next generations of viewers and dreamers.

Oh heck, I'll say it. May the Force be with you.


Anonymous said...


That was beautiful, Brer Bull.

I must admit that my eyes welled up at that final tableau in ROTS. Hit me right in my care-spot.

Anonymous said...

But Lucas blew the one thing that might have made sense out of Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader kneeling and saying "What is your bidding, my master?".

Anonymous said...

You've got no BEEF ???

Anonymous said...

My favorite mirror shot is one from the OT: Luke watching his old life and homestead burning in ANH against him watching his father's funeral pyre in ROTJ. Almost direct mirror images, and after your analysis, I no longer even remotely think it was just a happy accident.

The Rush Blog said...

Isn't ironic that the only two characters to receive a funeral pyre in the entire saga are Anakin Skywalker in ROTJ and the man who first discovered him, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in TPM?