Star Wars: Isn't it Obvious?
First published: 21st April 2018
There is a lot of speculation among Star Wars fans about what Episode IX, the final film in the third trilogy, will reveal and how the plot will be resolved. This is my tuppence-worth on the topic. Spoiler and disclaimer: I discuss plot points from the movies and other sources so far, but anything I suggest is just my own ramblings and might or might not have any relevance to the actual plot when the ninth movie is released.
I watched and enjoyed Star Wars (it wasn't called "Episode IV: A New Hope" then) when it was first released in the UK in 1978, but I'm not a Star Wars fanatic. I was 14 at the time, and my overall assessment was that it wasn't Science Fiction, it was Sword and Sorcery in space. Some things grated: why can you hear blasters and explosions in a vacuum? and light sabres sound like mains hum. At some level I could understand the filmmaker's decision to have sound in space, and the light sabre sound effect gives us an impression of power because we are familiar with the hum from our electrical equipment, but it interfered with my suspension of disbelief. Still, I enjoyed the film but I didn't start buying the merchandise.
I recall a conversation with a friend (Hi Cube!) around the time The Empire Strikes Back was released (1980) where he told me that George Lucas planned Star Wars as three trilogies with the second trilogy set in the past, relative to the original Star Wars, and the third trilogy set in the future. OK, I thought, that's interesting, I wonder if they will ever all be made. Then I forgot about it.
A long time passed, and then Episode I - The Phantom Menace was released in 1999. Oh, I thought, my friend was right, it is three trilogies. The interest now is seeing how the complete story fits together.
So now, as we approach the release of Episode IX, why do I say "isn't it obvious"? George Lucas always envisaged Star Wars as three trilogies, and the main features of the plot were present from the beginning. Obi-Wan reveals that Luke is the son of a Jedi in the first film. Yoda reveals "there is another", meaning another person with talent in the Force who can oppose the Empire, and Darth Vader reveals he is Luke's father in The Empire Strikes Back. Then Leia is revealed to be Luke's sister in Return of the Jedi. All these points are resolved by the second trilogy, that follows Anakin's growth into Darth Vader.
We can see a pattern, set in the original trilogy and repeated in the others: Part One: a young person grows up on a desert planet (Aside: it is clear that, to become a truly great force-user, you need inherited force sensitivity, but also, you need to grow up on a desert planet. Luke and Leia are twins, but Leia, raised on lush Alderaan, did not become a powerful Jedi, while Luke, raised on dessicated Tatooine did) and achieves initial success by luck and trust in the Force. Part Two: the young person travels to a very different planet for training in the Force but the opposition causes great disruption. Part Three: the young person embraces their Force abilities and achieves their destiny. For Anakin Skywalker, that destiny is to choke his wife, abandon his family and co-rule the Galaxy; who said that Destiny is nice?
What of the overall story arc? In the first trilogy, we are told that the Light side of the Force equals Good, and the Dark side equals Evil, and the trilogy starts with the Dark side ascendant and ends with the Light side ascendant. Good triumphs over Evil, and they all live happily ever after. In the prequels, we start with the Jedi Order, the Light side, ascendant, and end with the Dark side ascendant, the heroes going into hiding to set up the original series. The prequels also introduce a prophecy, that the chosen one will bring balance in the force. Obi-Wan becomes convinced that Anakin is 'the chosen one' and is rather disappointed when Anakin betrays the Jedi Order.
When we arrive at the third trilogy, we find that the triumph of the Return of the Jedi has turned sour. How did it all go so wrong when Good had triumphed? The failure of triumph over evil to bring peace, the three-trilogy structure, and the prophecy are the key to understanding why it is obvious.
We were tricked, the Light and Dark sides of the Force are not equal to Good and Evil. Darth Vader, the Emperor, the Empire and the Imperial Navy are evil. You do not destroy an entire planet, Alderaan, killing everyone on it, with no military objective, without being Evil with a capital 'E'. However, this does not make the Dark side Evil any more than the electric chair makes electricity evil, and it doesn't make the Light side Good for fighting it. The enemy of my enemy might be my ally, but not necessarily a trusted ally.
The Light side looks Good in the original trilogy because it fights the great Evil, but in the prequels we hear of the Jedi Order's crimes. In The Phantom Menace, Anakin is considered 'too old' for Jedi training at nine. What does the training involve? Children are taken from the parents and isolated from normal family relationships. They take Anakin from slavery, but leave his mother behind. This sets up a central conflict in Anakin, someone he loves is a slave, and later, in danger, but the Jedi are blind to this, possibly because their own indoctrination has left them out of touch with more normal emotional development. In The Revenge of the Sith, we see the Jedi Younglings, being trained and emotionally stunted in the normal Jedi way. This is reminiscent of the Jesuit boast, 'Give me the child for his first seven years, and I'll give you the man', which hints at sinister indoctrination. The Jedi favour serenity, detachment, compassion, and humility, but they are also ascetic, valuing self-discipline and abstinence. Anakin knows this, he tells Padmé that their love is forbidden because he is supposed to love everything, not just one. Emotional abuse and indoctrination of children is the first Jedi crime. The second crime is more hinted at than explicitly shown: the Republic is not the perfect democracy it is supposed to be, and the Jedi Order is the Republic's enforcers, not just a peaceful religious group. They are well-trained in martial arts, and accustomed to violent encounters, as reported in this conversation:
Anakin: When I got to them, we got into aggressive negotiations.
Padme: Aggressive negotiations? What's that?
Anakin: Ah, well, negotiations with a lightsaber.
These are not crimes of capital 'E' Evil, but they set up the conflicts that tear the Republic apart. How could Darth Sidious foment the trade dispute with the Trade Federation and the revolt of the Separatists unless there was some kind of unfairness or injustice in the relationships that he could leverage? In The Revenge of the Sith, we also get confirmation that the Jedi are blind to their own contradictions:
Anakin Skywalker: If you're not with me, then you're my enemy.
Obi-Wan: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
Of course, that is an absolute statement, but Obi-Wan does not recognise the irony.
On the surface, the Dark side is defined by strong emotions: passion, anger and hate. Yoda warns about this when he first meets Anakin, saying, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”. Yoda has missed the positive aspects of fear. Fear leads to caution, fear keeps us safe, fear motivates planning.
What will Episode IX bring us? The prequels took us from the Light side ascendant to the Light side defeated; the original series took us from the Dark side ascendant to the Dark side defeated and the final trilogy brings us to balance. Anakin was ruled by his passions and destroyed what he loved. Luke struggled to return to the asceticism of the Jedi philosophy but fails to discipline Kylo and fails to destroy him when he sees Kylo's turn to the Dark. Rey has passion and compassion, Rey feels fear and anger but controls them, she is 'the chosen one'. The final message of Star Wars will be about the need to combine Dark and Light, love of one with love of all, passion and discipline. Like the Yin-Yang symbol, each contains the fragment of its opposite and only by embracing both can a philosophy be complete.
Plus, no blowing up inhabited planets, and sabres are supposed to curved. OK?
Updated: 22nd February 2020
Well, I got that wrong, very wrong. Mild spoiler warning: this discusses the plot of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but I try to avoid revealing specific plot points. I do reveal my previous prediction was completely wrong.
I have to admit that I enjoyed the film, but the flaws are numerous. A lot of shout-outs to the previous movies are made, to the extent of certain scenes being re-writes using the current generation of characters. The power of Force-users continues to escalate. Abilities that used to be restricted to Force-users, such as becoming a Force ghost, are extended to none-Force-using characters. Another inhabited planet was utterly destroyed (what makes genocide so prevalent?) and the "sabres" are still straight. Some things were nicely done; when one character passed another an object, it had been foreshadowed in their previous encounters, and it revealed their changed relationship, and it was cool. But, cavalry on a Star Destroyer? No, just no.
What about my prediction? I could claim that I was sort-of right: Skywalker at the end has shown mastery of everything we know of the Force, light and dark: light sabre, telekinesis, sensing people, lightning, and a new compassionate ability, all at a level equal to or greater than other Force users. But that is Force abilities, what of the principles: love of one with love of all, passion and discipline? There was a kiss, maybe I could claim that was representing passion and love of one, and the self-sacrifice as representing love of all? But my prediction was that the resolution would be that the Light and Dark sides of the Force do not represent Good and Evil, that the Jedi were also somewhat evil, just not planetry-genocide-level Evil. So, I was wrong, it wasn't obvious.
And now that we know who Rey's parents were, the big question is, who was Rey's Grandmother?