Friday, March 14, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Yoda arc (addendum)

That is why you fail, Yoda
I realize that I was quite tough in my review of the Yoda arc yesterday. I felt my questions were justified given the high standards set by the The Clone Wars. That said, I feel like the Yoda arc is an overly complicated attempt to explain 1) the differences between Yoda's in the Prequel Trilogy or the Original Trilogy, and 2) the phenomenon of Force Ghosts. This is a noble goal, I think it only fair to explain how I would have approached these issues. After all, it's easy to be critical but harder to be constructive.

One of the most important principles in science is Occam's Razor, the strategy that scientists should choose the simplest explanation that best fits the available evidence. I also think this principle applies to storytelling. Simpler explanations tend to work better.

I think Matthew Stover's Revenge of the Sith novelization provided a relatively simpler and more satisfying explanation for Yoda's pacifism in Empire Strikes Back. In short, Yoda begins to doubt himself and what he can achieve through violence when Darth Sidious defeats him in Revenge of the Sith. He realizes that, when it comes to fighting, the Jedi simply cannot compete with the passionate hatred of the Sith. They must choose another way. That is why in Empire Yoda seems to take a more lighthearted approach to life and looks down upon war. He has been humbled and realizes war does not - cannot - solve all problems. Clear and simple.

As for Force Ghosts - I admit, this never posed a problem for me. Before seeing Revenge of the Sith, I had always assumed that becoming a Force Ghost depended upon how you died. If you died at peace with yourself and the Force, if you accepted the inevitability of your physical death, you could transcend the bounds of the Force. If you died without the proper preparation or in a state of passion - fear, anger, or hate - you were not at peace and would not survive in the Force. It seemed to draw upon the Japanese Zen philosophy that seemed to have influenced George Lucas and Irvin Kershner's original understanding of the Force.

In the Original Trilogy, we clearly see Ben Kenobi power down his lightsaber and adopt an almost meditative pose before Darth Vader strikes him down. Yoda is also at peace, knowing he has taught Luke all he could learn. Even Anakin Skywalker has reconnected with his son and atoned for his past misdeeds. By contrast, the Jedi in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones who die all do so during the midst of battle. They were not prepared to die and not at peace with that thought. Sadly, their last thoughts were full of fear, anger, or even - for the Sith who died - hatred.
"Good to see you got the memo, Ben, but where's Qui-Gon?"
Obviously, Revenge of the Sith changes this. Yoda specifically says Qui-Gon survived and had instructed him on how to survive past death. This scene always bothered me in the film because it seemed so out of place and random. As I asked in my review yesterday, if Yoda knew how to do Force Ghosting earlier, why would he not have distributed that knowledge more broadly within the Jedi Order - or at least the Jedi Council? Nevertheless, I don't think The Clone Wars Yoda arc answered that question. It also doesn't answer how Anakin becomes a Force Ghost - surely Qui-Gon didn't teach him.

So what would I have done? I would have introduced some sort of risk or danger inherent in Force Ghosting. It should not be simply a ticket to immortality in the Force. Rather, there should be some price to pay. Perhaps a Jedi can only cross over into the Force if they sacrifice themselves in a nonviolent way. Perhaps Jedi who become Force Ghosts are destined to forever serve the Force as servants (importantly can after all be its own curse). I think The Clone Wars could have explored these themes and shown Yoda struggling with the knowledge that crossing into the Force would mean abandoning everyone and everything he knows. There's a terrible cost. There's a reason why he would not want to give this knowledge to every Jedi and why he would only resort to it under the most desperate of circumstances.

That way, Force Ghosting is not a magic bullet, but rather a sacrifice. What I also like about this approach is the thematic parallels to the biblical story of how Jesus Christ allowed himself  to suffer on the cross to allow mankind to reach Heaven. It would add an extra dimension to Yoda and Ben Kenobi's characters. It would also explain why Anakin appears as a Force Ghost, for Anakin suffered greatly on his long road to fulfilling the prophesy of the Chosen One and saving the Galaxy.

I am not going to claim that my way is the "right" way. There are no "right" ways to do art. However, I do think that my explanations for both Yoda and Force Ghosts fit better with the movies and have the added virtue of simplicity.

Thoughts? Should I write for Rebels? Or should I be banned from ever penning a work of fiction ever?

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