Nov 16 2012

Lingering Excuses: An Open Star Wars Question to Walt Disney

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Movies

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I remember reading a very specific interview with George Lucas. In it, he was asked why he’d begun telling his Star Wars story with the Original Trilogy instead of with the Prequel Trilogy. In other words, the reporter wanted to know why Georgie-boy hadn’t spun his tale in the proper chronological order. The filmmaker answered by explaining how his universe’s back-story was largely a political one, how the real fun of telling any story is where all the action is at, and he firmly concluded that was during the timeframe of Luke, Han, and Leia’s rebellion. Hence, he served up the Original Trilogy first, and he’d follow, years later, with the Prequel Trilogy.

To paraphrasing his point, Lucas felt that the stakes were higher for the Rebels than they were for the Republic. Higher stakes generally means greater conflict; greater conflict generally leads to high drama; and high drama means more to audiences than, say, political skullduggery.

Now, far be it from me to argue with the one-time Jedi Master of all things cosmic, but methinks there’s a little something more to our collectively endearing so much of the Original Trilogy while somewhat dismissing the “importance” or feigned “relevance” of the Prequel Trilogy.

Take a look back at the principal settings for the earlier films:

• Tatooine – a desert world, with places like the Lars homestead, Obi-wan Kenobi’s fortress of solitude, and Mos Eisley, known otherwise as “a wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
• Yavin 4 (aka the first Rebel Base) – a jungle moon, one with abandoned Massassi temples that the Expanded Universe teaches housed a race enslaved by the Sith themselves.
• Hoth – an ice planet where the Rebellion sets up another of its ill-fated secret installations, a place with hungry Wampas just waiting to trap and eat Tauntauns or lost Rebel scouts.
• Dagobah – a bog planet overrun with marsh creatures willing to take a bite out of a droid caught in the swamp if that’s all they can scrounge for a meal.
• Bespin – a gas giant whose surface for all practical purposes was probably uninhabitable, as we were never told otherwise, nor were we shown any gas-breathing creatures in the Star Wars galaxy.

Tatooine during the rainy season.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that there’s one striking similarity to all these worlds: to a certain degree, each is largely inhospitable to man.

Tatooine’s heat can be just as treacherous to survival as Hoth’s freezing temperatures. In its distant past, Yavin 4 had residents, but now the jungle has risen up and overtaken the remnants of that civilization, making it the perfect place for Rebels to hide. On Dagobah, you’re as likely to be swallowed whole by something creeping through the wilds as you would be digested for daring to take a swim in its murky, gator-filled waters. As for the surface of Bespin, we’re never shown, but as none of our heroes appeared to be gas-breathers I think it’s safe to assume that planet fit the bill. Besides, Cloud City had its own obstacles to offer our heroes, and plummeting out of the sky would’ve meant certain death.

See, the Original Trilogy wasn’t just about Luke, Han, and Leia taking on Vader and his ilk as Mr. Lucas has long implied or would have you naively believe.

Visually, it goes far deeper than that. In “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi,” it was as is Life Itself was forever closing in around our heroes, threatening their very survival and existence. Never is this more perfectly exemplified than when Han Solo realizes, in “Empire,” that he’s inadvertently flown the Millennium Falcon down the trachea and into the belly of the beast – a massive space slug – where it (and he and his friends) would inevitably be digested. If you recall, he did this to escape the asteroids – huge chunks of space-borne rocks – pummeling his ship as he tried to escape TIE Fighters. Now … at the same time that these adventures filled our movie screens, our lovable new Jedi – Luke Skywalker – was being taught to seek out and use the Force in nature, reaching beyond these artificial barriers (i.e. heat, cold, rocks, the jungle, monsters, etc.) that Life Itself presented.

That’s the proverbial yin and the yang that works so splendidly in the Original Trilogy. Nature is and isn’t the enemy. Nature threatens yet ultimately serves the team. Like the Force, Nature surrounds them, equally threatens and comforts them, but still binds it all together. Ever present despite the benefits of technology, Life Itself remains a constant threat, always struggling with our heroes, and it’s that pervasive sense of danger from all corners I found to be sorely lacking from the Prequel Trilogy.

Imperial Senate debates the merits of ‘Bring Your Sith To Work’ Day

Instead, Nature is replaced with Dread. Not just regular, routine Dread you and I sense every day but ‘Political Dread.’ That’s the worst kind of Dread – quite possibly the most boring, too – and I’d argue that it killed the prequels from building any grand passion around the characters, settings, and situations.





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11 responses so far

  • Ozzy

    Interesting article, I never realized it before that the environments in the original trilogy felt so much more unique and real. Its crazy that even with the upgrades in technology Lucas was not able to create more interesting planets/environments (yes I know they may have looked “prettier in the prequels).

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    @Ozzy: Methinks you’re hitting on a major point: technology has the added effect of removing us from Nature while instead granting us “an all-new Nature, now 30% more vibrant!” I don’t mean to sound like I’m ragging on CGI b/c I’m not. It’s that Lucas doesn’t seem to be using CGI to enhance his stories, just his visuals. Thanks for reading & sounding off!

  • Heche

    “there’s one striking similarity to all these worlds:”

    They are all geographical impossibilities. No planet could ever be one giant type of biome, the topography wouldn’t allow it. The planets would all have to look roughly similar to Earth in their distribution of swamp, desert, snow and whatever else.

  • Aaron

    I’m pretty sure that every human being in the Star Wars universe is a “gas-breather” – oxygen being a gas and all.

  • David R

    This is actually an interesting – and somewhat novel – take on the difference between the two trilogies. Thanks for not going the traditional route here.

    That said, I DO seem to be the resident Prequel fan…

    The Originals are certainly more sophisticated than their surface adventures would imply, but so too are the Prequels. They’re just about different things, and go about it in different ways.

    Higher stakes are also simpler stakes. While the Prequels do lack an immediate emotional connection (at least, when compared to the Originals), they make up for it IMO by their complexity, their satire, and their “skullduggery.” The less-immediate stakes in that trilogy ALSO allows the Originals to up the ante on the Prequels, which is absolutely essential to maintaining the structural integrity of a six-part saga like this. In the PT, the world falls apart due to corruption and disrepair, and in the OT the Rebels have to fight for their life to get it back.

    In the Prequels, danger is “ellusive.” A phantom menace, if you will. Intentionally so, I’d argue. Yoda, I sound like for some reason. With RotS, it comes into the light, and it is the heroes of the story who must scurry around in the shadows, if they want to make it out alive.

    Yin and yang, to borrow a phrase from your article. The PT enriches the OT along with telling its own valuable stories.

    A couple of other notes on locations in the PT:
    -Naboo is idyllic; the perfect home for humans. Appropriate to show us paradise at the beginning of this series before it gets taken from us by evil, and also appropriate to bookend the saga with “green” planets.
    -Kamino (my favorite of the Prequels) brings us a Bespin-like floating city, only this time over water. The structural echo to Empire is nice, but it works subtextually, as water has an association with things that are hidden/submerged. Also love the metaphoric visual of the spartan, glowing interior with the storm raging just outside.
    -Mustafar basically speaks for itself, but is probably the most blatantly allegorical location of the series — except for maybe Cloud City, the heaven that hides hell within it.

    Basically, I note the differences outlined in this article, but I think they largely work in the service of the story as opposed to against it.

  • RBourn

    So, just on the mining thing, you know it’s Tibanna gas they are “mining”, not coal?

    You can’t exactly dig into a gas giant anyway.

    Otherwise, great job about the environments thing, I had never heard that pointed out anywhere else. Congrats on being original

  • Mr B

    Tattooine looking ‘healthier’ in the prequels could be explained easy enough, indeed the whole look of the prequels compared to the originals (AKA the why doesn the ‘past’ look more advanced than the ‘future’ argument).

    Its not always a given that the future is going to be more advanced/better. Look at our own history-what followed the glory of the Roman Empire? The Dark Ages. Not until after the medieval period could it considered that our civilisation got more advanced in architecture, medicine, culture etc than the Romans.

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    @Heche: you’re absolutely right, and that’s what I was getting at when I said that there are elements of the OT that almost required stylistically the choice of these environments (or something similar).

    @Aaron: D’oh! I should’ve said “Tibanna-gas breathers”!

    @DavidR: to be perfectly frank, I don’t dislike the PT. To the contrary — like I said toward the end of the piece — even bad sex is still sex, and that’s never a bad thing. If I had more time & space, I would’ve gone on to say that I firmly believe that the aesthetics of both versions of THE CLONE WARS feel much more in sync with the OT. You make some solid points, though, as to how the PT balances the OT. Certainly, there’s no dominant ‘villain’ visually in the PT, and, you betcha, that definitely contributes to the nebulousness of the pieces.

    @RBourn: oh, yeah. I knew it was Tibanna gas, but, having never been into a Tibanna gas mine, I went with the sarcastic coal mine analogy. (I’m so Earthcentric!) Like I said, Cloud City just felt too clean to me … except for the places I mentioned. I grew up working in some steel fabricating plants with my father, and the industrialness of it rubbed off on me.

    @Mr. B: true enough; however, the timeframe between the OT & PT was only 20 yrs … not much of a Dark Age if it was only 20 yrs apart … but I do understand & for the most part agree with your sentiments.

    To all: thanks for reading & sounding off. Seriously. Much appreciated.

  • http://wilhelmscream.net Rex Hondo

    Look at it this way, as regards Cloud City. Han, Chewie and Leia are Lando’s guests, so most of what we see is up in the administrative levels. Of course that part of the city is going to be clean. Even as dirty as coal mining is, I pretty much guarantee the executive board room of the corporation that owns the mines is going to be clean and stylish.

  • Shiki

    Mr. Zimmerman, I must say this was a great read! And your comparison with sex was spot on :-)))

  • http://sauronbane.deviantart.com Sauron Bane

    Gotta say, I agree with you completely on this… I mean, the original trilogies worlds were far and beyond more intimidating, and ‘Real’. Though a lot of the Prequels were indeed pretty, they didn’t really draw that never-ending feeling that everything was out to get the heroes. That being said, the logistics of the situation on Tatooine is one of those things that get’s really interesting if you dive into the extended universe. Tatooine went even further downhill than it already was. At the time of the prequels it was at one of it’s strongest points in hundreds of years, but with the rise of the Empire, even Tatooine seemed too open for many criminals, who fled to darker corners of the galaxy.

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