November 8, 2017

Star Wars Minute and Lucas' Retcon Exposed

Luke and Leia look nothing like their characters
in the movie: did the artist draw his generic hero
and heroine forms and add hairbuns
and a lightsaber?
I've been listening to the Star Wars Minute podcast, where three or four fellow Star Wars nerds dissect and criticize the Star Wars movies one minute at a time. I've listened to them talk about Episodes 4, 5, and 6 for months now, and they've opened my eyes to what's great about the movies, and the bad parts that I hadn't appreciated before.

History: 1977-1983

George Lucas made three movies set in the middle of a epic history of a distant galaxy. These three movies sketch out some broad strokes and some specific details of what came before: the fall of a republic, the defeat of an order of knights, the family trees of the principal characters. He does a terrific job of setting the current events in a larger historical landscape without going into too much detail.

The Dark Times: 1983-1997

Lucas was famously controlling over his intellectual property: after that trilogy of movies was completed, he allowed no more movies to be produced despite terrific demand. Except for some Ewok stories on TV, and a galaxy of books and games, we all reasonably expected to never see another story set in this world again.

The Special Editions: 1997

The sleeping giant first began to stir in the mid-1990s, when the first three movies were re-released with "special" changes: mostly minor tweaks, some major changes, and some inexplicable revisions. I've reviewed the Special Editions elsewhere in this blog, but I can sum them up like this: when you release a piece of art into the world, it no longer belongs to you; it belongs to the audience. George Lucas does not believe this.

The Prequels: 1999-2005

Lucas decided to make three more movies, telling the story of the previous generation. Legend has it Lucas had imagined all these characters' histories in complete detail back in the 1970s when he wrote the original movies. We all expected that the history of this galaxy, briefly cited in the original movies, that these were glimpses of the story Lucas had outlined in the 1970s.
This myth was so calcified in the pop culture zeitgeist, in retrospect it's difficult to integrate how poorly these "prequels" reconcile with what we already knew about the history of these characters. We were expecting Episodes 1, 2, and 3 to tell the story of the rise of the Empire, the fall of the Jedi, the Clone Wars, and the life of Anakin Skywalker.
However, the prequels fit so poorly with what we expected, you'd almost expect Lucas had nothing to do with their creation, instead of everything.
I wasn't going to go into details, but I can't help myself:
  • In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi says of Anakin Skywalker "When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot." Everyone expected Kenobi was talking about an adult spaceship pilot. In Episode 1, the "great pilot" is a child in a podrace, not a spaceship fighter pilot. I've often said Episode 1 should never have been made, and the events of The Phantom Menace could easily have been described in a few sentences. Then the prequels could begin with Anakin as an adult in Attack Of The Clones. ,That would fit more closely with the history we were expecting.
  • In Return of the Jedi, Leia says she remembers her birth mother, but her birth mother died when Leia was a newborn;
  • In Return of the Jedi, Kenobi reports that Luke and Leia "were hidden from your father when you were born", and we learn later Leia was adopted by the Organa family, she took their family name, and was sent to live on Alderaan. This is a reasonable plan for secreting away a child. But Luke is adopted by his family on his father's home world? What kind of half-assed hiding is this?
  • For a long time I assumed when we met Luke as a teenager, he had been living on Tatooine as "Luke Skywalker" - unless "Skywalker" is as common as "Smith" why would he keep his father's name while in "hiding"? If Anakin Skywalker was a famous Jedi, wouldn't it be dangerous to keep that name after the Jedis were wiped out?
    A Star Wars Minute podcast guest wisely pointed out that there's no evidence he was living as "Luke Skywalker" on Tatooine. No one says "Luke Skywalker" until Luke introduces himself to Leia like that in her jail cell on the Death Star. Therefore you could reasonably assume that he was living under his aunt and uncle's name "Luke Lars", and only introduced himself as Luke Skywalker after hearing the story of his father Anakin Skywalker from Kenobi earlier in the movie.
  • In Star Wars, Kenobi reports that Luke's father "wanted you to have his lightsaber when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it" - this is all wrong: Anakin didn't know he had kids, didn't want his son to have his lightsaber, and Uncle Owen had nothing to say about it.
It's odd that Lucas' prequels tell such a different history from what we had expected. Obviously it's difficult to make three prequels 15 years later and have every statement from the original movies ring true, but it's bizarre that so many of the statements of fact made in Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are proven in the prequels to be only technically true, or only true by the largest leaps of logic.