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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Fixing the Prequels: Revenge of the Sith (part six)



OK, time to dive straight back in. Huzzah!!!

When last we left off, the various forces in Anakin Skywalker's life were starting to use him as a pawn in their own various games. This was starting to have the effects we might expect, as both sides are using Anakin against the other – but Palpatine is doing it more constructively and in a way that is more likely to further his own goals. What always interests me is that of all the adult figures in Anakin's life after Qui Gon Jinn's death, the one who is most consistently encouraging of Anakin is Palpatine. He's done an awful lot of heavy lifting to set Anakin up for his eventual fall.

And that brings me to an interesting speculative question: has Palpatine been planning Anakin's seduction for twenty years?

I'm honestly not sure. On the one hand, Palpatine has shown enormous flexibility in his plans. He didn't get bogged down when the Jedi and Queen Amidala defeated whatever his scheme for the Naboo blockade was – which seems to imply that he didn't really care about that, one way or the other. The entire goal there was to simply get the game board arranged in such a way as to leave him in as powerful a position as possible. Mission accomplished, obviously. His plans seem so reactive, though: could he really predict Darth Maul's defeat? Or Count Dooku's? Likely not...but maybe so. Maybe he has been on the lookout himself, for the most powerful possible Jedi to turn. Maybe he set those earlier apprentices as ones that were doomed to defeat, and maybe he always had a backup plan ready to go for when the next one died. Palpatine has clearly been playing the long game.

And that brings us to the next scene in the film, which is one of the key scenes in the entire Star Wars saga. In this scene, Palpatine smoothly and even gracefully decides to dial it up with respect to his attempts to ingratiate himself with Anakin. He already knows that Anakin sees him as a father figure, because Palpatine has been his greatest source of consistent encouragement. Obi Wan is a teacher figure, not a father figure, and anyway, they are too close in age for Anakin to really take him completely seriously as an authority. As for the rest of the Jedi, they have made crystal clear that they've never really trusted Anakin, even before Mace Windu comes right out and admits it (albeit privately). Palpatine knows that Anakin is predisposed to hear him out, so now he decides to appeal to Anakin's personal pressure points.

So here's where Anakin joins Palpatine at the Coruscant Opera House (red text indicates material not in the final film):


ANAKIN lands his speeder and exits.
ANAKIN runs up the stairs at the Galaxies Opera House.
ANAKIN runs through the hallway and enters Palpatine's box, where the CHANCELLOR is sitting with Mas Amedda and Sly-Moore, watching the Man Calamari Ballet doing "Squid Lake."

ANAKIN: You wanted to see me, Chancellor.

PALPATINE: Yes, Anakin! Come closer. I have good news. Our Clone Intelligence Units have discovered the location of General Grievous. He is hiding in the Utapau system.

ANAKIN: At last, we'll be able to capture that monster and end this war.

PALPATINE: I would worry about the collective wisdom of the Council if they didn't select you for this assignment. You are the best choice by far … but, they can't always be trusted to do the right thing.

ANAKIN: They try.

PALPATINE: Sit down, (to his aides) Leave us.

ANAKIN sits next to PALPATINE. The Chancellor leans over to him.

PALPATINE: (continuing) Anakin, you know I'm not able to rely on the Jedi Council. If they haven't included you in their plot, they soon will.

ANAKIN: I'm not sure I understand.

PALPATINE: You must sense what I have come to suspect . . . the Jedi Council want control of the Republic . . . they're planning to betray me.

ANAKIN: I don't think . . .

PALPATINE: Anakin, search your feelings. You know, don't you?

ANAKIN: I know they don't trust you . . .

PALPATINE: Or the Senate . . . or the Republic . . . or democracy for that matter.

ANAKIN: I have to admit my trust in them has been shaken.

PALPATINE: Why? They asked you to do something that made you feel dishonest, didn't they?

ANAKIN doesn't say anything. He simply looks down.

PALPATINE: (continuing) They asked you to spy on me, didn't they?

ANAKIN: I don't know ... I don't know what to say.

PALPATINE: Remember back to your early teachings. Anakin. "All those who gain power are afraid to lose it." Even the Jedi.

ANAKIN: The Jedi use their power for good.

PALPATINE: Good is a point of view, Anakin. And the Jedi point of view is not the only valid one. The Dark Lords of the Sith believe in security and justice also, yet they are considered by the Jedi to be. . .

ANAKIN: . . . evil.

PALPATINE: . . . from a Jedi's point of view.
The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power. The difference between the two is the Sith are not afraid of the dark side of the Force. That is why they are more powerful.

ANAKIN: The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inward, only about themselves.

PALPATINE: And the Jedi don't?

ANAKIN: The Jedi are selfless . . . they only care about others.


PALPATINE: Or so you've been trained to believe. Why is it, then, that they have asked you to do something you feel is wrong?

ANAKIN: I'm not sure it's wrong.

PALPATINE: Have they asked you to betray the Jedi code? The Constitution? A friendship? Your own values? Think. Consider their motives. Keep your mind clear of assumptions. The fear of losing power is a weakness of both the Jedi and the Sith.

ANAKIN is deep in thought.

PALPATINE: (continuing) Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis "the wise"?


PALPATINE: I thought not. It's not a story the Jedi would tell you. It's a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life ... He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.

ANAKIN: He could actually save people from death?

PALPATINE: The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.

ANAKIN: What happened to him?

PALPATINE: He became so powerful . . . the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. (smiles) Plagueis never saw it coming. It's ironic he could save others from death, but not himself.

ANAKIN: Is it possible to learn this power?

PALPATINE: Not from a Jedi.

There is a lot to unpack here. But first, just in terms of a movie scene, it's fantastic. The effects are there in the strange opera/ballet being performed in front of them, but for the most part, the scene is just two actors sitting and talking. Ian McDiarmid just nails it here, making Palpatine sound so fatherly, so wise, so warm – and yet, the whole time he is in complete control. Notice how subtly he is able to appeal to Anakin's single greatest fear, without even mentioning it or saying something like "I know that you are afraid of losing Padme". He just slides into this story about Darth Plagueis, casually dropping the bit about defeating death into the mix as if it's never occurred to him that Anakin might have a vested interest in that bit.

And then there's the intimation that Plagueis was killed by his apprentice, with the clear implication being that Palpatine himself was that apprentice. But most interesting is that line about Plagueis using the midichlorians to create life.

Which brings me back to the oft-derided midichlorians.

The main basis on which the midichlorians are loathed by Star Wars fandom is that by positing their existence, George Lucas has tried to make a scientific basis for what was originally a completely mystical concept.

The problem with that way of thinking is that it is incorrect.

Here is how Ben Kenobi defines the Force, the first time we hear about it, in A New Hope:

The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.

And here is what Qui Gon Jinn says about midichlorians, when we learn about them in The Phantom Menace:

Midi-chlorians are a microscopic lifeform that reside within all living cells and communicates with the Force...We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians...Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force.

According to the fans, the two explanations are contradictory. But I don't think that they are. Not really. There is nothing in the latter that negates anything in the former. It does add a level of complexity, but so what?

George Lucas has always been heavily influenced by Asian thinking, and not just film making styles, either. There is a great deal in the mysticism of the Star Wars films that is completely compatible with Asian mysticism – Taoism, Buddhism, and the like. When I add that to the mix, I think I see what Lucas is getting at with the midichlorians. They're not an attempt to graft some kind of pseudo-scientific technobabbly hogwash onto what was already a perfectly-good bit of magic. What they are is an expression of a deeply Asian idea, in the way Eastern thinkers have always seen the divide between science and mysticism very, very differently than we do in the West.

In the Asian view of things, science and mysticism are one. I can't help but think that Lucas's thinking here is heavily influenced by the types of ideas you'll find in books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. And the idea isn't entirely incompatible with the more poetical passages of the works of Carl Sagan, who advanced the notion that life is not something separate from the Universe, but rather an emergent property of the Universe. In this formulation, the midichlorians are therefore not some new entity thrown in for no reason, but simply the lowest level at which the interactions take place.

That's what makes this scene interesting, because the notion – barely even hinted at – is that Darths Plagueis and Apprentice (we assume it's Sidious) did something that caused the midichlorians to start a new biological process in the womb of Shmi Skywalker. I've never been sure of what to make of this, because it's a fascinating idea that, in the context of the movies, goes absolutely nowhere. The Sith use the Force to create a living being? The implications here are utterly fascinating (did they know where Anakin was? Did they have no idea and were just waiting for him to show up? Did they create a possible hundreds of potential Sith just to see who came to the fore?), and yet, Lucas goes nowhere with it. I don't know if he just threw it in there for the EU authors to do something with, or what.

This is why I continue to hold to my belief that the midichlorians are not a conceptual error. They are a story error. The midichlorians are the gun on the mantelpiece that never goes off. So, all things being equal, I'd excise their mention here entirely, and just leave the midichlorians the way I left them way back when I fixed TPM.

Still, I do love this scene. Palpatine has shown remarkable restraint, waiting until he knows that Anakin is already starting to feel a certain amount of disillusionment with the Jedi to start to sow some more seeds of discontent. And he does it so interestingly, couching his temptations in Anakin's sense of morality. Villains they may be, but the Sith genuinely believe that they are the good guys.

So in the next scene, Anakin gets to present his new intelligence to the Jedi Council, in addition to Chancellor Palpatine's suggestion that he be sent to deal with General Grievous. Of course, the Council seems rather pouty about the whole thing, and they are now in the position of seemingly denying anything just because Palpatine suggested it.


A WOOKIEE CATAMARAN flanked by WOOKIEE HELICOPTERS approaches the tree housing the HOLOGRAM AREA.


YODA and various JEDI speak via hologram. The discussion includes OBI-WAN, MACE, AGEN KOLAR, YODA- KI-ADI-MUNDI and PLO KOON.

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: (holo) Palpatine thinks General Grievous is on Utapau. We have had no reports of this from our agents.

MACE: (holo) How could the Chancellor have come by this information and we know nothing about it? We have had contact with Baron Papanoida and he said no one was there.

ANAKIN: A partial message was intercepted in a diplomatic packet from the Chairman of Utapau.

YODA: Act on this, we must. The capture of General Grievous will end this war. Quickly and decisively we should proceed.

OBI-WAN: Does everyone agree?

All the JEDI concur.

ANAKIN: The Chancellor has requested that I lead the campaign.

They all look at ANAKIN a bit disturbed.

MACE: (a little peeved) The Council will make up its own mind who is to go, not the Chancellor.

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: Yes, this decision is ours to make.

ANAKIN is embarrassed and becomes sullen.

YODA: A Master is needed, with more experience.

MACE: Given our resources, I recommend we send only one Jedi . . . Master Kenobi.

ANAKIN: He was not so successful the last time he met Grievous.

OBI-WAN throws ANAKIN a dirty look.

ANAKIN: (continuing) No offense, my Master, but I'm only stating a fact.

OBI-WAN: Oh no, you're quite right, but I do have the most experience with his ways of combat.

YODA: Obi-Wan, my choice is.

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: I concur. Master Kenobi should go.

YODA: I agree.

All the JEDI concur.

MACE: Very well. Council is adjourned.

ANAKIN is angry.

MACE: (continuing) Obi-Wan, prepare two clone brigades as quickly as you can. If this report is true, there's no telling how many battle droids he may have with him.


YODA gets out of his chair and walks to the edge of the platform.

CLONE COMMANDER GREE: The droids have started up their main power generators.

YODA: Then now the time is, Commander.


The battle begins.


A WOOKIEE CHIEFTAIN lets out a roar as the Wookiee army rushes to face the DROID ARMY. CORPORATE ALLIANCE TANK DROIDS race across the water against the WOOKIEES and CLONE TROOPERS on the beach. DROID GUNSHIPS provide air support, while a SPIDER DROID emerges from the watery depths. A brave WOOKIEE places an explosive on a SEPARATIST TANK and jumps off just before the TANK EXPLODES. From the Hologram Area, Yoda observes the ongoing battle.

I like the bit there in which Anakin takes a shot at Obi Wan's Jedi fighting skills (not included in the film, obviously). But the main thrust of this scene is that the Council is going to resist what they see as Palpatine's machinations, unaware as they are that Palpatine's true purpose is to keep the Council pushing Anakin to be as resentful as possible. They play right into Palpatine's hands, over and over and over again. What might have been, had they decided to just let Anakin have that assignment?

One last note: I love the Thai-influenced design of the planet Kashyyyk. Getting to finally see that planet is a nice reward. (No, we did not see it on the Holiday Special. That did NOT happen.)

And that's where we'll stop for this time. Stay tuned to see Anakn get closer and closer to Darthiness!

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