So there I was, humming the Star Wars Gangsta Rap to myself again, when I had a minor epiphany. This has doubtless crossed the minds of the more observant long before. Feel free to skim, as I’m going to to take us the long route. Let’s see how many words I can milk it for.
First, let me proffer a sketch from a story (broad stokes!)
There’s a hard-done-by Princess whose parents are dead and whose foster-parents are wicked-beyond-calculus. After they are fortuitously killed in a fire she finds herself having a series of ever more exciting adventures with the Wizard Merlin in his hyperspatial dog-sled, pulled by the curs Hound-Solo and Shoo-Barker.
No? How about this?
A young Member of Parliament finds themselves pursued and captured by Black Rod, who in contravention of the laws of God and Man has become corrupted into the service of the ruling party’s Chief Whip. “I know all about your nascent leadership bid!” he declares, “Who are your supporters? Clearly Ron Jones and Ron Smith, all the Rons, but who else?”. “Dan White,” the young MP replies reluctantly. “They shall each be instantly deselected, your support will be be utterly destroyed!” says the Chief Whip with a cruel smile. “Even Dan too?” asks the rebellious MP. “Dan too e’en,” he replies.
Ben has had a hard life, made a fair few mistakes in his time and broken a fair few hearts too. Never married and never looked back, but the years have taken their toll. He lives in a one-bedroom flat in the town where he was born, a broken man nearing the end of his life. One evening he rescues a blond teenager from a gang of muggers and takes the injured lad back to his flat.
“You remind me of myself as a youth,” he says, handing the boy his old flick-knife for future self-defence, “You shouldn’t be out so late.”
“I was only hoping to find you,” responds the teen, “I think… I think… you must know my par- my guardians, Beryl and Lars?”
A lifetime of regrets unacknowledged catches in Old Ben’s throat. He takes a moment, then another. Finally he speaks. “I don’t remember having a boy,” he says.
OK, narrative indulgences and liberties aside, what I’m meaning to tease out first is the oft-remarked intentional use of archetypes in the original Star Wars and trilogy. Hopefully, that’s illustrated above (if it needed illustrating). Another major touchstone is the “episode” conceit, which functions not only as a way of starting all of the three films in media res, but on slightly-closer inspection the films’ three acts each constitute (sub-)episodes of their own, in the visually-emphasised changes of location, character and purpose. To me the episodic nature of the films is most tangible in The Empires Strikes Back, which feels similar to The Fellowship Of The Ring almost, in how clear and emphatic the divisions are, although this may be an artefact of my having rewatched Empire far fewer times than the other two SW films (don’t ask!).
So, we have these fairly-bad, tongue-in-cheek examples above. The first is about an inciting incident – an enforced flying of the nest. It’s final but narratively spent. The second is about a bold, resolute character suffering an enormous personal reversal in fortune.
Here is an incomplete list of things two of these fragments neither address nor need to:
– Hair colour
– Hair shape
The third is shameless fanfic, because I really do think that Obi-Wan Kenobi as Luke Skywalker‘s father is a (one of many) legitimate reading(s) of the original Star Wars scene taken on its own, if one somewhat occluded by Alec Guiness‘s age.
Neither Princess Leia or Luke care greatly nor do they appear motivated by their losses of immediate family and/or planet. Luke is too focussed upon using the Force to cheat at Beggar’s Canyon 2: Duty Trench to think of his Uncle and Aunt who raised him, whereas Leia never gets far beyond calling Vader a Bantha-romancer behind his back. The events exist as plot points, not as the reasons for the character’s actions. That’s fine, that’s in keeping with the both the mythic and adventure style of stories that George Lucas is drawing upon.
Empire builds upon what’s gone before. When Luke goes to confront Darth Vader it’s specifically to save his new friends, plus oppose evil generally and maybe find out about his pilot father.
The idea that occurred to me regarding the famous “No, I am your father!” reveal, is that it draws its power from the reversal of expectations, the breaking of the Star Wars Universe’s implicit premise to that point that “family doesn’t really matter”, something that one must buy-into in order for the films to make sense. The viewer in concert with the character is brought up short by the revelation that not only does family matter, but it does so in a surprisingly direct way. Instead of burned bodies or planets to supply character shock yet be quickly forgotten, the major antagonist now serves to embody the broken compact retroactively whenever he’s on screen.
To me, it’s the rule-breaking as much as the relationship that matters.
“You are correct!”