Clone Wars Re-watch Go!

The official Star Wars site is leading a chronological re-watch of The Clone Wars, with new posts by the site’s Associate Editor, Kristin Baver, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If that sort of thing sounds appealing to you, you can find the first episode recap/analysis here and a list of all the episodes here; the show and the film are available in their entirety on Netflix.

It’s still fairly early in the re-watch, and the pace of two episodes a week is not too demanding, so it’s still an easy time to get started. As of this writing, they’re just now through the film.

There are two improvements about this particular viewing schedule.

First, there’s a more consistent narrative, and it’s easier to see the war–and individual battles–evolving. The show seemed to take a while to settle into itself and didn’t get into long-form storytelling until later on, but part of that is attributable to the fact that episodes were aired out of chronology. With a streaming service like Netflix, the effort involved in hopping between episodes (and seasons, and the film itself) is minimal and the payoff, in having a richer narrative immediately with clearer character development, is big.

Second, this re-watch breaks the film into three acts. Watching the acts on their own, as complete episodes in and of themselves, makes the film just another arc in the series. Its lower stakes (compared to the saga films), meandering pacing, somewhat jarring cuts between acts, and shifting tonal dissonance is forgivable when it’s understood that each episode is doing its own thing. We don’t need to have a galaxy-shaking event every week for the television show; The Clone Wars was often at its best when showing clone troopers with their boots on the ground. And it feels natural to make these divisions–after all, the film was originally a few different episodes of the planned television series, spliced together into a single theatrical release at the request of George Lucas.

Also, treating the film as its constituent episodes rather than a single component separate from the series means that it flows rather well with the supporting stories that chronologically take place earlier. We see Anakin and Obi-Wan break the blockade of Christophsis, deal with loss and betrayal, encounter Ventress, and then meet Ahsoka just in time for a final battle before racing off to beat the Sith to recovering Jabba the Hutt’s child. I wouldn’t point to any part of the film as one of my favorites in the entire series–a lot of it was silly, the animation and character models and storytelling still having had a bit of growing to do. But the Anakin defying Jedi orders in “Cat and Mouse” and the Rex who was just shaken by a betrayal of one of his own in “Hidden Enemy” meeting Ahsoka for the first time and being changed by her even as they provide guidance is a pretty cool thing to see. Plus, the Battle of Teth sequence, with its electric-guitar-and-exotica soundtrack, misty purple forests, and vertical firefight, is a fantastic television experience, even if it’s a bit short and (relatively) quiet for a theatrical sci-fi war film’s centerpiece battle.

Another takeaway from the re-watch: I don’t recall registering just how brutally the war was depicted. Maybe it’s the structure of the re-watch, or maybe I’m just registering because I already know that I got attached to some of these clones. So many die, often in heroically pointless ways. So much of the Battle of Christophsis, for instance, is repeated Jedi over-extension, with the clones dying for Jedi heroics. It’s not remarked on so much yet, but it’s very visible. And while the droids are played for laughs, it’s hard not to read them as sentient, many with full and unique personalities. While Anakin and Ahsoka are quite willing to mow down hostile droids, they do show an endearing love and respect for allied droids, especially R2-D2; similarly, while they are both willing to accept battlefield losses (at least later on), both are fiercely loyal to and protective of Captain Rex.

Similarly, the failings of the Jedi Order are really apparent to me now in a way that they weren’t on my initial watch. While Anakin is unwilling to leave an infant Hutt to die, he thinks it’s a very bad idea to work with the Hutts. Of course he would! They enslaved him and his mother! And Jabba is a notorious criminal! The Jedi and the Republic are willing to throw away principle and get in bed with a slave-dealing criminal organization for a strategic advantage. The war has already skewed their thinking. And while Ahsoka might be old enough to be a Padawan, placing her in command of troops and in the midst of battle is a terrible idea! The use of child warriors is shockingly poor judgment. It’s hard not to see the Jedi as radical religious crusaders at that point. Ahsoka sees so much killing and dying, and while she handles it well, it’s just wrong for the Jedi to have put her in that situation.

One of the weirdest things for me on re-watch is knowing that The Clone Wars represented a sort of soft canon reset before the official Disney reboot. Dave Filoni always showed himself to be aware of the Expanded Universe, even when he changed it. There was more respect for the EU setting than George Lucas ever showed, at least. But still, it was jarring to see an over-complicated, cluttered Clone Wars added to even further with so many new central characters and events when there was supposed to have been so much already documented post-Attack of the Clones. Re-watching with knowledge that this series represents almost the entirety of the “official” version of the Clone Wars relieves a lot of confusion and some mild frustration that younger me had (I’ll admit that I’m also just a lot mellower and less worried about canon issues than I was as a teen).

There’s a new, minor thing that bothers me now though: there is a level of familiarity with the old Expanded Universe, and that causes a new bit of confusion when those stories don’t “exist” within the current canon. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ventress have a clear history together. They hint at it a lot in their sparring. At the very least, this would seem to incorporate the introduction of Ventress from Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars. This makes sense–prior to Filoni’s run, Tartakovsky’s show had been well-promoted, highly praised, and rather visible on Cartoon Network. In addition to introducing Ventress, the show introduced Grievous, and it also showed Anakin’s transition from Padawan to Knight! But we don’t have any canon versions of these happenings, and Tartakovsky’s series now has very little visibility to new audiences. I feel that, at some point, at least certain elements of Clone Wars should be retold in the new canon. We can iron out the continuity contradictions, dial back the hyper-stylized format, and develop certain plot points more, but introducing Grievous and Ventress, charting the early course of the war, and showing Anakin’s growth from Padawan to a Knight ready to train the next generation would be great material for new stories.

Finally, I am struck by how much the chronological re-watch clearly centers the show around Anakin, Ahsoka, and Rex. This is really Ahsoka’s story–she’s present almost from the very beginning, and what comes before in that story directly lays the groundwork for her entrance on the scene. Yes, I know the film came first, but it felt like a separate and detached experience. The show itself started with more of a scattered anthology approach. The impact is rather different when we get this focus on Ahsoka almost immediately, with just enough of Anakin and Rex to see where they are when they meet her. It’s a different experience than encountering the show for the first time with the one-off “Ambush” episode. (And I didn’t even watch the show episodically at first–I was very sporadic and really only got interested in the series after seeing the 1.15 episode “Trespass,” though I later went back and watched in order after picking up the DVDs.)

If it’s been a while since you’ve watched The Clone Wars, or if you’ve never watched chronologically before (or even never watched the show at all), now’s a great time to dive in.

Forces of Destiny, Round 4: Season 2

Forces of Destiny keeps growing on me, and I don’t know whether it’s simple exposure to the series or an actual improvement in overall quality. I liked most of the eight episodes that have comprised Season 2.

My favorites were “Unexpected Company,” “Bounty Hunted,” and “The Path Ahead.”

“Unexpected Company” has Ahsoka as a last-minute addition to Anakin’s escort assignment with Padme. Anakin’s initially frustrated that his alone-time with Padme was ruined, but Ahsoka helps them out in an unexpected starship battle, and she and Padme share a moment at the end of the episode. I think it’s implied that Ahsoka was able to deduce the relationship between Padme and Anakin because of the events of the episode, choosing to silently accept it with a knowing smile and some careful words.

“Bounty Hunted” provided the (potentially) canon explanation for how Leia got Boushh’s armor. The encounter with Boushh is a little silly and arbitrary, but I’m willing to accept coincidence when Maz seems to intuit this occurrence through the Force. Seeing Maz and Leia meet–and Maz and Chewie embrace!–definitely made the episode special, though. And I’ll take any explanation for how Leia got her armor over the EU account with rapey Prince Xizor.

Finally, “The Path Ahead” shows a moment in Yoda’s training of Luke. Yoda gives Luke some sage advice that sounds appropriately cryptic and mystical. At the conclusion of the lesson, Yoda remarks, “Trust what you see [through the Force], not what you think you see [through your senses].” When he says that there will be more training through tree-climbing pathways, Luke asks, “Are we trying to get somewhere?” And Yoda replies, “Always, yes, always.”

Most of the other episodes were fine–mildly adventurous, or humorous, or heart-warming, but not particularly remarkable vignettes.  The only episode I did not like was “Shuttle Shock,” starring Finn and Rose as they approach Canto Bight. It’s actually a fairly good character moment, but the bit of action squeezed into the segment feels like too much loaded into what was otherwise a relative moment of brief quiet in the film itself. I didn’t like the episode for the reason that I didn’t like many other Season 1 episodes–there’s the sense that everything is overstuffed with moments of action and suspense, as if the movies actually trimmed down on the heroes stumbling through one gun fight or narrow escape after another.

In the end, Forces of Destiny will probably never provide essential Star Wars moments, but it does seem that with each new batch of episodes, it gets closer to the promise of consistently joy-filled short stories.

Sith Eyes

Guys, I promise, I’ll get over this wave of Star Wars posts eventually. It’s just on my mind a lot right now.

And something I’ve been thinking about is the physical manifestation of the Dark Side. In Revenge of the Sith, when Anakin turns to the Dark Side, his eyes go bloodshot and yellow. His eyes are still stained like this when we see him partially exposed during his fight with Ahsoka in Rebels. When Luke redeems him and removes his helmet, Anakin’s eyes are soft and friendly again.

 

 

Other Dark Siders may have yellow eyes. Darth Maul and Savage Opress both have those tainted yellow eyes. Pong Krell’s eyes are…yellow-ish. And Palpatine’s eyes are the bright yellow of a predatory animal, when he’s not wearing the kindly face of the Chancellor.

 

 

But I don’t think we ever see Count Dooku with anything but those dark eyes of his. Snoke’s eyes are not yellow. Asajj Ventress is known for her ice-blue eyes. And Kylo Ren’s eyes have so far remained a dark color.

 

 

We could say that perhaps the yellow-red eyes are just visual metaphor, signifying corruption, and not meant to be literally present. However, Dark Disciple confirms that the yellow eyes are visibly present, at least to some. When Ventress finds Vos after his corruption under Dooku, she sees that “Vos’s eyes were no longer a warm, rich brown. They were a blood-rimmed shade of yellow” (185). When Ventress briefly gets Vos to calm, the “yellow hue faded from his eyes,” but that “awful yellow hue returned to his eyes” when her entreaties fail and he returns to his impassioned attack (189).

Interestingly, Ventress later finds Vos without the yellowed eyes but knows he is still corrupted because she still feels “the fury inside him now” (209). Vos eventually admits that he had remained loyal to the Dark Side, that Ventress was correct.

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I don’t know if there’s a canon answer as to what causes a Dark Sider’s eyes to yellow. Speculation on Reddit suggests that it is an intense connection to the Dark Side. If so, how would Palpatine not always have those eyes, with his intense Dark Side presence and constant evil hatred and malevolence? I suppose he could mask his face the same way he masked his presence from the Jedi (and this certainly would not be the first time that someone has suggested that Palpatine only revealed his true face after his encounter with Mace Windu, that he was not actually “disfigured” at all then).

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My personal feeling is that the yellow eyes represent a loss of control. A Dark Sider strives to control the Force, but some let the Dark Side ultimately control them. For Palpatine, the Dark Side is a tool. For Anakin, the Dark Side is desperation and anger and confusion and fear all being unloaded at once.

What does that mean for Kylo Ren, though? I see Kylo as perhaps the most unstable Dark Sider yet, prone to violent rages and tantrums. But he has constant conflict in him; maybe he has never fully given himself to the Dark Side.

Or maybe this is just an inconsistent element that changes with the story being told and the creative team telling that story.

I bet that there’s at least a partial canon answer floating around in the minds (and files) of the Lucasfilm Story Group. But we don’t have a full answer yet.

Is Kylo Ren Okay?

Re-watching the films yet again in anticipation of the release of The Last Jedi, I found myself uniquely struck by the scene in The Force Awakens when Kylo Ren is seeking guidance to withstand the temptation of the Light Side.

“Show me again the power of the darkness,” he asks of Anakin, kneeling before the deformed helmet of Darth Vader. We know he is definitely referring to Anakin, since he not only speaks to the helmet but addresses his “grandfather.”

This was always a powerful, emotional, creepy moment and showed just how deranged and obsessed Kylo Ren was. Keeping The Last Jedi in mind, I feel that this moment has to be elaborated on further in one of the sequels, by Episode IX if not VIII.

I remember a lot of rumors swirling about the Force ghost of Anakin Skywalker prior to the release of The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, I can’t point to a particularly credible source; there are many of the usual clickbait culprits with similar headlines, all cawing over the same old shreds of “news.” In example, see this Screen Crush article that purports to show concept art of Anakin’s spirit from Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I have not ever looked through this book and cannot independently verify its contents. The bottom line: the rumors suggested that Anakin’s Force ghost was developed and could have potentially transitioned between Anakin and Vader. It’s an interesting idea, and a compromised Anakin who is still partially claimed by the Dark Side could explain why Kylo Ren’s conversation with Anakin’s spirit would not have revealed Anakin’s apparent repentance and redemption.

In the old EU, there were many sorts of Force spirits, including those of powerful ancient Sith, so this idea does not seem so out of the realm of possibility. But the prequel films began to limit the scope of who could be a Force ghost: in The Phantom Menace we see that Qui-Gon does not become transfigured into a spiritual form; in Attack of the Clones we hear Qui-Gon’s voice during Anakin’s attack on the Tuskens, and Yoda is concerned; and then in Revenge of the Sith, we learn that Yoda has been learning about greater mysteries of the Force from Qui-Gon, who has uniquely learned how to survive death and will train Obi-Wan as well. The Clone Wars show also gives Yoda an arc to learn a little about the greater mysteries of the Force. This re-frames the dissipation of the bodies of Obi-Wan and Yoda in the original films as unique, and it also adds a considerable degree of mystery to Anakin’s own transition. In the new canon, the conclusion to be drawn so far is that Dark Siders are unable to undergo the transition that enables them to retain a personality in the afterlife. Regardless of why that is so, it does nothing to make clear how exactly Anakin would have the ability to transition–a selfish act, rescuing his own son, though self-sacrificing, should not be enough to make up for killing children and other innocents for decades, torturing many more, and being indirectly responsible for the deaths of billions. And Anakin would not have had any obvious opportunity to commune with anyone to teach him this power.

So we could see yet another reinvention of what a Force spirit represents in The Last Jedi. Though this does not mean that we will see Anakin’s Force spirit. What if Kylo Ren has been communing with a deceitful, even evil, Force spirit? Or an invention of Snoke’s? What if Kylo Ren’s communications with the dead are in fact entirely fantasy?

What if Kylo Ren is mentally ill?

What if Kylo Ren has not been talking to any Force spirit at all, but rather his own delusions? What if he experiences hallucinations, hears voices, receives commands? We know that his problems emerged when he was young, that Han and Leia sent him off to be trained by Luke because they weren’t sure of how to handle him. He sounds to be deeply troubled. And his manifestation of the Dark Side is almost always raw and unbridled. He lashes out with tempter tantrums. He is emotionally vulnerable, his voice quavers, he has difficulty committing to a single path. Perhaps he experiences psychotic episodes. Perhaps he suffers from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or some other uniquely Star Wars mental illness entirely.

I don’t know if this is a wise direction to take things. On the one hand, a redemption arc seems a lot more plausible even for a patricidal enforcer if he is acting under the impairment of his mental illness. On the other hand, it would be troubling to suggest that one can embrace the Dark Side simply by having a preexisting mental health condition.

Nonetheless, it certainly could offer a rather complicated and tragic narrative if handled very, very carefully. And it would explain how Kylo Ren could have received such a wrong message from his grandfather–it wasn’t his grandfather at all. Surely the evil Kylo Ren would be viewed as long-suffering Ben Solo then.

Regardless, we should have a partial answer to some of the above soon enough!

“The Wrong Jedi,” and a bad trial, too

As I continue to set up this new blog and decide how I want to handle frequency of new posts, I’ve decided to post some older blog entries from my days as a solo attorney. My posts on my law firm site already got a little weird–I can become a little preoccupied with my personal interests, what can I say. Below is one of those older posts, slightly revised and adapted for this new site.


It took me a while to get into Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but once I did, I fell in love. It’s fast-paced, feels clearly inspired by the serials and films that also inspired George Lucas in creating the franchise, and is not afraid to experiment with genre-bending narrative arcs. If asked to name my favorite Star Wars characters, Ahsoka Tano, Cad Bane, and Hondo Ohnaka—characters introduced and defined by the show—would be near the top of that list. And the series manages to provide a corrective for the weaknesses of the prequel trilogy, providing substantial depth to Obi-Wan and Anakin, giving a greater role to Padme, and even redeeming Jar-Jar Binks (although to what extent is surely the sort of observation that varies wildly from viewer to viewer).

Clone Wars isn’t perfect, of course. And for every moment that provides greater context to an under-developed idea from the films, there is a sequence that strikes me, at least, as confusing or half-baked. In example, look to Episode 20 of The Clone Wars Season 5. (Not sure if it matters this far out, but spoilers follow.)

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This episode, “The Wrong Jedi,” wraps up the season, as well as the story arc of the bombing of the Jedi Temple and the framing of Ahsoka for that attack. Over the course of the episode, the Jedi Council exiles Ahsoka from the Order so that they will not be seen as protecting their own from punishment, Ahsoka is placed on trial by the Republic, and Anakin is able to track down the real traitor to the Jedi and the Republic before Ahsoka is found guilty. While Ahsoka is acquitted and her position within the Order is offered back to her, she decides to leave the Order behind.

This was a well-paced episode, and it ended the fifth season on a brooding and contemplative note. The action scenes are great—especially when Anakin and the Temple guards face off against Barriss Offee. The use of an external conflict to highlight the internal conflicts of Ahsoka and Anakin is well done. Some might disagree with the abrupt direction that the show took Barriss Offee, but that level of personal sudden betrayal serves to drive a schism between Ahsoka, Anakin, and the Order and showcases how powerfully the Dark Side can affect even those with the best of intentions (see also, Count Dooku, Pong Krell, and Anakin himself).

My problem, to the extent that there is a problem at all, is with the trial scene in the episode. Trial scenes are often only loose caricatures of the real thing. This makes sense; dramatic narrative and controlled pacing are more important than devoted accuracy in most courtroom scenes. But there is typically at least some degree of verisimilitude. ”The Wrong Jedi” lacks this and features a wildly bizarre trial.

Toward the start of the episode, Admiral Tarkin tells the Jedi Council that the Senate wants to have Ahsoka indicted for treason. The Senate apparently believes that an internal Jedi trial would seem biased, and asks that the Jedi Council expel Ahsoka from the Order so that she may be tried before a Republic military tribunal. The Council does as asked in the end, and Ahsoka is taken to trial…but it doesn’t really seem like a military tribunal.

Chancellor Palpatine presides over the trial, apparently acting as judge. Vice Chair Mas Amedda brings the trial into session by tapping his staff against the floor a few times. A few members of the Jedi Council sit as onlookers. Senator Padme Amidala serves as Ahsoka’s legal representative, for some reason. And Admiral Tarkin acts as a prosecutor. Apparently there is no special training for lawyers in the Star Wars Galaxy. The apparent jury is made up of Senators.

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Palpatine announces that Ahsoka has been charged with sedition against the Jedi Order and the Republic. This is somewhat interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, even assuming Tarkin’s narrative of events, charging Ahsoka with sedition against the Jedi Order is probably not too plausible. Treason is the attempt to overthrow the government of the state to which one owes allegiance; sedition is advocacy intended to incite imminent lawless action like treason (both definitions here based on the entries for “treason” and “sedition” in Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th edition). You could more generally say that treason is the betrayal of your own government, and sedition is attempting to get others to rebel against the government. The Jedi Order is not a government. I suppose the question becomes, is it part of the government? It is a religious and philosophical monastic order, but I don’t believe that it is actually part of the government. The Jedi certainly act on behalf of the Republic, and they are appointed Commanders and Generals within the Grand Army of the Republic, but I don’t think I’m aware of a source that clearly states the Jedi role within the government, although I’ve certainly seen plenty of essays assuming the Order’s role as a government agency (beyond merely individuals’ roles as government agents) to be fact. The pseudo-canon Revenge of the Sith novelization has evidence to suggest that the Jedi Order is a nongovernmental organization and that the Jedi are a governmental body. In Chapter 10, Yoda and Mace Windu discuss an amendment to the Security Act that would “nominally” place the Jedi under the control of the Supreme Chancellor–although Yoda insists that “the Jedi he cannot control. Moral, our authority has always been; much more than merely legal. Simply follow orders, Jedi do not!” A moment later, Yoda suggests that even if the Jedi were disbanded, “even without legal authority,” they would still be Jedi. Either way, that whole conversation takes place during the events of Episode III, and thus after the events of this episode of The Clone Wars, so however this amendment would have affected the Jedi’s role within the government would not be relevant in the timeline I am considering. Maybe a later source has more directly answered the question, but it’s certainly confusing to me.

Second, note that Tarkin suggested an indictment for treason, and at the trial Ahsoka has been charged with sedition. But these are separate charges. The U.S. government, for example, defines them differently, so this isn’t purely semantic. Treason is committed by someone who owes “allegiance to the United States” yet who nonetheless “levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere” (18 U.S.C. §2381). Seditious conspiracy is separately defined as when two or more persons in a jurisdiction subject to the United States “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof” (18 USC §2384).

But we’ve just discussed the named charges so far.

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In his opening statements, Tarkin spells out the prosecution’s version of events and asks for the death penalty. So we know that a punishment for sedition in the Old Republic is the death penalty. In her own opening statement, Padme says that Ahsoka is being framed and tells the “members of the court” that they are “prosecuting the wrong Jedi.” Tarkin then launches into a rebuttal. At this point, the trial seems less like a trial and more like a debate. And then it devolves further. Suddenly, Ahsoka is the one responding to Tarkin. There is apparently no clear procedure to be followed at all; Old Republic litigants apparently just argued with each other until there was nothing more to say. There is no entry of evidence; no witnesses are brought forward (except for the Perry Mason-style surprise reveal of the real traitor, complete with confession, at the moment before a final judgment is handed down).

Near the end of the trial, Palpatine—the apparent judge—launches into his own speech to implicate Ahsoka as the guilty party. What role does this play in the trial?

Finally, the “members of the court” (who may or may not be Senators) reach a decision and send the verdict by datapad transmission to the Vice Chair, who passes it onto Palpatine. Somehow, even as Palpatine is announcing the verdict, Anakin is allowed to interrupt the proceedings to present new evidence.

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A system wherein most of a criminal trial is debate without evidence, there are no obviously honored procedural rules, and the judge delivers a speech to attempt to persuade jurors to accept his favored outcome before a verdict is entered seems to me like a very broken system indeed. It most certainly does not reflect democratic ideals about fair play and justice.

For that matter, how exactly is Ahsoka being tried? The episode simultaneously suggests that the Senate is indicting her, and that she will be tried by a military tribunal.

It might make sense for Ahsoka to be tried in a military court, since she is a member of the military as a commanding officer of clone troops. But if it is a military tribunal, why is Palpatine the judge (saying that he is the Supreme Commander of the military feels like a little bit of a cop-out), and why is the jury apparently composed of Senators? On the other hand, if it is not a military tribunal, why is Admiral Tarkin the prosecutor?

And what is the Senate doing indicting her? Is there no separate judicial branch of government? This question, at least, can be answered: Attack of the Clones specifically references a “Supreme Court,” which apparently held trials of Nute Gunray. Since having the legislature try criminal cases would basically defeat the separation of powers implied by a distinct judicial branch, and since such a process would seem to be rather inefficient, why then would the legislature be indicting someone for a crime, much less trying them?

And for that matter, why are there no lawyers?

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In short, the trial on display in “The Wrong Jedi” is a hodgepodge of dramatic scenery pulled from various legal systems and, probably more importantly, pop culture presentations of those legal systems. Within the confines of the in-universe Star Wars Galaxy, though, one must wonder how the Old Republic survived for as long as it did with such a broken, dysfunctional court system. We can hand-wave all of the seeming inconsistencies away by simply saying that the Star Wars legal system is rather alien to us, but we can’t remove the underlying justice issues that must bubble up within this alien system.

If you have an alternative take or additional insight, please let me know. It would be great if there is a canon explanation for the weirdness of the court system, but I would guess that the answer is that this is an underdeveloped plot device used to underscore the dramatic tension of Ahsoka’s predicament.

Banks, Commerce, and Intrigue in Star Wars

As I continue to set up this new blog and decide how I want to handle frequency of new posts, I’ve decided to post some older blog entries from my days as a solo attorney. My posts on my law firm site already got a little weird–I can become a little preoccupied with my personal interests, what can I say. Below is one of those older posts, slightly revised and adapted for this new site.


I last discussed an arc from Season Five of The Clone Wars, and this time I’m talking about an arc from Season Six: Episodes 5-7, “An Old Friend,” “The Rise of Clovis,” and “Crisis at the Heart.” This arc marks the return of Rush Clovis, Senator Amidala’s ex-lover and traitor to the Republic, who was originally introduced in Season 2.

The story arc principally serves to highlight Anakin’s reckless passion and violent jealousy, traits that were already showcased enough in the films and in the last Clovis arc. Thus, these episodes essentially retread old ground and highlight the most despicable aspects of Anakin. When Anakin and Padme’s relationship already looks like that of a domestic abuser and his victim in the films, episodes of this sort certainly don’t help to suggest that there was anything endearing about their romance or marriage (and maybe that’s the point, although a hard one to accept).

I have a fair number of objections to the plot that propels the above-noted melodrama (lots of old spoilers following).

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Clovis, now working for the independent InterGalactic Banking Clan (IGBC), suspects that funds are being mismanaged by the leadership so that the banks’ funds are nearly depleted (“An Old Friend”). Padme is sent to Scipio, the headquarters of the IGBC, to oversee the transfer of funds in a new loan. Clovis is able to gain Padme’s trust and cooperation in finding the truth when he is attacked while attempting to speak with her. Padme and Clovis come up with a plan that gets her the data but also gets her arrested; she gives the data surreptitiously to Clovis. Anakin is brought in by the Republic, and Padme is released into his care. Anakin and Padme then collect Clovis to get the data, and the three make a daring escape from a bounty hunter.

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Back on Coruscant, Padme and Clovis are appointed to dig through the data in an investigation to determine the extent of the corruption (“The Rise of Clovis”). They find that multiple small transfers by the leaders of the IGBC, known as the Core Five, have exhausted most of the banks’ reserves. Clovis also finds evidence that shows that the Core Five have been lending money to the Separatists even though the Separatists have failed to pay interest on their loans. In the midst of their investigation, Clovis decides that the time is ideal to first attempt to subdue and then to attempt to overpower Padme; thankfully, this is interrupted by Anakin, who rather brutally beats Clovis into submission.

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Anakin almost kills him, and dismisses Padme’s requests that he stop during the fight, so it’s clearly Dark Side; then again, he did stop a creepy known traitor from forcing himself on his wife, so the ethics of the situation are not as clear to me as Padme’s angry request for a temporary separation suggests. As Clovis is recovering, the attending medical droid reveals itself to be  an agent of Count Dooku, who tells Clovis that the Separatists have not been making payments on their loans because they refuse to support the corruption in the IGBC. Dooku says that if Clovis reveals that the Separatists are receiving loans without paying them back, it would lead to war on Scipio and the collapse of the banking system. Dooku’s counter-proposal is that Clovis reveal the corruption of the Core Five, supplemented with data provided by Dooku that will actually reveal the private banking accounts containing the embezzled funds. If Clovis does this and withholds the truth about the Separatists’ default, then the Separatists will once more pay the interest on their loans and endorse Clovis as new independent leader of the IGBC. Clovis does as requested and presents his evidence to the Galactic Senate, which ultimately also endorses him as new leader of the IGBC.

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In the final episode of this arc, Dooku betrays Clovis, of course (“Crisis at the Heart”). Padme and a Separatist senator accompany Clovis to oversee the trial of the Core Five and Clovis’s placement as new leader of the IGBC. Clovis is privately contacted by Dooku after this, who tells him that the Separatists will not pay the interest on the loans after all unless Clovis increases the interest rates on the Republic’s loans. Clovis caves, fearing collapse of the banking system. And then, Dooku launches a Separatist invasion of Scipio just for good measure, giving the impression to the outside galaxy that Clovis and the IGBC have fully sided with the Confederacy. Dooku even uses the Force so that Padme’s blaster fires, killing the Separatist senator and eliminating yet another moderate voice from the Confederate coalition. Dooku withdraws his forces after a brief skirmish with the Republic, leaving the Confederacy ground troops to be mopped up by the clones. Anakin tracks down Clovis, who panics and holds Padme hostage. A downed fighter crashes into the tower holding Clovis’s office, and while Anakin is able to grab both Clovis and Padme before they fall to their deaths, he cannot pull them up from the ledge over which they dangle. Clovis chooses to sacrifice himself, releasing his grip.

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In the aftermath of these events, the IGBC ceded control of the banks to the office of the Chancellor of the Galactic Republic. Chancellor Palpatine accepts, dishonestly promising that he will reinstate the banks to their previous condition after the end of the Clone Wars. The episode ends with much of the Senate chanting, “Long live the banks!”

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These episodes do not provide the viewer with a greater understanding of how the InterGalactic Banking Clan operates in the Star Wars galaxy. If anything, they make the matter more confused. The IGBC first appears in Attack of the Clones: a pale-faced Muun smugly declares, “The Banking Clan will sign your treaty.

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And that’s basically it. We don’t need greater context for the Banking Clan within the context of the films, although it always seemed a little bit weird that all these businesses would choose to ally with the guys looking to start a rogue state, rather than the admittedly corrupt Republic that has more or less bent over backward to meet the desires of the trade organizations, regardless of the occasional tariff dispute here and there.

The pseudo-canon Attack of the Clones novelization does attempt to provide greater context to that scene on Geonosis. In a longer speech within Chapter 19, Count Dooku assures the assembled trade guilds and megacorporations of the Confederacy’s “absolute commitment to capitalism . . . to the lower taxes, the reduced tariffs, and the eventual abolition of all trade barriers. Signing this treaty will bring you profits beyond your wildest imagination. What we are proposing is complete free trade.”

Obi-Wan reflects on the Confederate plan shortly thereafter:

With the money of the bankers and the commercial and trade guilds behind [Dooku], and this factory–and likely many others like it–churning out armies of battle droids, the potential danger was staggering.

I think this helps clarify the corporate role in the war. Rather than being outright combatants against the Republic, they were willing to supply funding, to produce battle droids, and to supply contracted preexisting forces to the war effort. The Republic surely wouldn’t look fondly on this, but a pretense of neutrality might be a little more plausible. Still, we don’t learn much more about the IGBC.

This final Clovis story arc, however, gives us a lot of information about the IGBC. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We know by the end of the episode (1) that the IGBC has a Senate representative; (2) that the IGBC has its leadership appointed at least in part by way of Senate approval; (3) that the IGBC is separate from the Republic government and is in fact a neutral party that loans to both sides of the war and that requires the endorsement of both governments; (4) that the IGBC historically was led by five leaders, then replaced by an interim single ruler, then simply nationalized by the Republic; and (5) that the IGBC was almost bankrupted by the embezzlement of funds by its five leaders. That last point might have been possible by the loosening of banking regulations that was a plot point of a much earlier Clone Wars arc (see the third-season episodes “Heroes on Both Sides” and “Pursuit of Peace”).

How could such a system work? Why would the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic agree to continue loaning funds to the Separatists–and if he wouldn’t, would this lead to complete financial collapse as the Separatists defaulted on their existing loans? For that matter, how has financial collapse not already occurred, since the Core Five apparently completely gutted the banks and the Separatists were already not paying back their loans? And just how much money did these Core Five withdraw?

For that matter, what exactly is a “credit,” anyway? We know that they are “Republic credits” thanks to The Phantom Menace. Presumably they aren’t tied to a hard currency like gold or silver; how is their value set and who mints them? And what’s the currency of the Separatist Alliance? Do they still use Republic credits?

And exactly how many banks are involved here? The leadership was the Core Five. Is this a board of directors, or are they individual representatives of large banks, or both? After all, we keep hearing about “banks” in the plural form. So presumably the Banking Clan then represents a coalition of banks, rather than a single financial institution. Right?

I assume that the Banking Clan and its Core Five is loosely modeled after the Federal Reserve and its five Members of the Board of Governors. The Federal Reserve System, or “the Fed,” consists of 12 regional reserve banks and constitutes a centralized banking system. The Fed is based out of D.C. It studies economic trends and sets monetary policy. The Fed is quasi-governmental and independent; it was originally created by act of Congress, and its Members of the Board are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but it makes decisions without approval from any other branch of government. I’m not even going to pretend that I have any sort of expertise involving the Fed; if you want to know more, CNBC has a pretty useful primer.

Regardless, even the little information I’ve provided above should make it pretty clear that the IGBC only bears the most passing resemblance to the Fed. It has five leading members, appears quasi-governmental, and superficially maintains independence. But its quasi-governmental structure is complicated; it does not have allegiance to any specific nation, as it works with both the Separatists and the Republic. Furthermore, it is an active lender; rather than dealing with monetary policy, its primary role seems to be as an investment bank. And remember that I mentioned that the IGBC was deregulated–this seems a painfully obvious allusion to the deregulation of banks leading up to our recent recession, where the IGBC is like any other “too big to fail” bank.

Star Wars is, from a certain point of view, a series of fables. It encourages fantastical allegory. But it does not always provide a clear vision or message; its allegory, no matter how on-the-nose, always seems to invite multiple, often competing, interpretations. Its metaphors are muddy. So it is with the IGBC. There appear to be messages about investment banking, predatory lending, the financial costs of war, the debt ceiling and rising national debts, the deregulation of banks and the recent financial crisis, the nature of corruption in large businesses, the difficulty of true independence, the Fed, and so on. But they are almost like buzzwords; they evoke a feeling without really meaning much of anything.

Because of this, it is very difficult (to me, at least) to piece together a realistic system that could have functioned at all from the various segments of lore tossed out about the Banking Clan. No matter how many volumes are written on Star Wars, the franchise’s disparate elements often elude any sensible, unified interpretation.