TCW 7.2: “A Distant Echo”

I have a very narrow reaction to this latest episode. There is plenty to say if I wanted: it’s a beautiful, emotionally powerful episode with a fun adventure/thriller plot that ends in a heartbreaking revelation. It’s good Star Wars and good storytelling. And it looks and sounds great throughout. But the only thing I really want to say is, bless The Clone Wars for coming back, if only for this moment:

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It was always easy enough to read in Attack of the Clones that Obi-Wan knew about how Anakin felt for Padmé. And of course Obi-Wan deduces that Anakin is the father of the unborn child(ren) Padmé is carrying in Revenge of the Sith. But I love how The Clone Wars has teased out how much Obi-Wan knew, how much he understands Anakin’s affection for Padmé and how that could pull on his loyalty to the Jedi Code. Obi-Wan had experienced that competition himself with Satine Kryze. Obi-Wan and Anakin often have veiled conversations about Anakin’s feelings, even though Anakin insists on hiding the truth, even though Obi-Wan refuses to admit how much he knows, or suspects. This little moment in “A Distant Echo,” so close to the events of Revenge of the Sith, is such a delightful exchange. Obi-Wan comes as close as he probably ever was able to in laying out all he knew. And even in this moment, he doesn’t condemn Anakin or force the conversation. And Anakin’s look back to Obi-Wan…

Look, a lot of people don’t like Revenge of the Sith. And like all Star Wars, it’s not perfect. But the fraying of relationships between Anakin on one side and Obi-Wan and Padmé on the other has always twisted at my heartstrings. And moments like this just add further emotional nuance and dramatic irony. The Clone Wars gave so much depth to the prequel trilogy and to the Star Wars galaxy as a whole. I’m glad to see that it came back firing on all cylinders, ready to continue revising and refreshing our understanding of that galaxy and the characters who populate it.

TPM on the 20th

Like many people, I celebrated The Phantom Menace‘s twentieth anniversary today by watching the film. I remain very much so someone on the outside looking in on fandom, but it has seemed to me that fans of the movie have become more vocal in celebrating it over the past five or ten years, and general opinion has mellowed.

I have a bad habit of providing opinions amplified by several layers of hyperbole in person, and so I know over the years that my expressed opinion on the films has changed rather a lot. I was ten years old when the movie came out, and still a fairly new Star Wars fan, and so I was the perfect viewer in that moment. I loved it. In my adolescence, as a result of the combination of vehement criticism from older fans and my natural teenage aversion to anything silly or earnest, I joined my friends in decrying the film–typically in the context of condemning the course of the prequel trilogy as a whole (Attack of the Clones has always been my least-favorite Star Wars movie, so at the time, it felt like the movies were getting progressively worse). It was in college that I started to come back around to the film, returning to it as to an old friend. My opinion today is tempered. I think it’s a fine but flawed film, and it typically lands in the middle of any personal ranking of the franchise installments.

My personal criticisms of the film, despite my broader changes in attitude toward it, have remained relatively consistent. The podrace scene is too long and bogs down the story. It’s unclear why Palpatine’s Sith identity is treated like a secret withheld from the audience, even while the camera lingers over him ominously in many key scenes and everyone who’s seen Return of the Jedi knows how this all turns out. The scatological humor, while not unique to this episode, isn’t funny. Anakin is too young, with too much of an age gap, to take his childhood crush on Padmé very seriously, and to the extent that she reciprocates it (“my caring for you will remain”), it’s just creepy. Despite the increased diversity of the human cast, many of the new aliens pick up uncomfortable racist tropes in their characterization. And while a common complaint is that the plot is boring in its focus on trade route taxation, I’d counter by saying that it’s actually a rather action-packed adventure that expects its viewers to jump right into the setting and come along for the ride, resulting in gaps in exposition that actually make that trade conflict, and the associated governmental and commercial bodies, rather muddled, simply dressing up a MacGuffin to get things going. (In general, one of my biggest complaints about the prequels as a whole is that they provide a lot more complicated galactic society but do a very poor job of properly framing how these complicated pieces actually function and fit together.)

Despite all that, it’s a really fun movie that takes risks both as a film and as an installment in the Star Wars saga, and it feels incredibly invested with the vision of George Lucas. It quickly introduces new characters that millions of people now relate to and admire deeply–including a character like Qui-Gon Jinn, who is given considerable humanity in this one-off appearance through the performance of Liam Neeson. More broadly, all of the performances are effective, and I would push back at those who claim that Ewan McGregor or Natalie Portman were stiff or wooden in their roles here. There’s a lot of affection and yet tension between McGregor’s Obi-Wan and his master. Portman is reserved and imposing as Queen Amidala, yet when she dons her handmaiden identity, she often allows herself to be frustrated, angry, affectionate, and engaged.  (Furthermore, the distant identity and elaborate clothing and makeup as Queen Amidala allow Padmé to use a handmaiden as her double–and it is impressively difficult to tell Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley apart when the makeup is on.) Ian McDiarmid is always incredible as Palpatine, and here we first got to see the mirage of a warm and endearing politician, even as McDiarmid portrays a depth of hidden meaning in his distant frowns and tiny smiles. If we look at Ahmed Best’s performance, and the special effects work that went into creating Jar Jar Binks, I think we could all agree that it’s impressive, even if you can’t get behind Jar Jar’s goofy slapstick or the uncomfortable echoes of minstrelsy. Ray Park is scary and compelling as Darth Maul, a character with an iconic visual design, and the fight scenes between Jedi and Sith are some of the best in the franchise–especially that final fight set to “Duel of the Fates,” which in turn has to be a franchise highlight for John Williams’s scores. Even Jake Lloyd does a good enough job as Anakin, despite having to deal with ridiculous lines like “Yipee!” His farewell with Pernilla August as his mother Shmi is a heartfelt, beautiful, earned moment that always touches me.

While I’m sure that some fans will look on The Phantom Menace with a special sort of purity, even as others continue to view it only with contempt, I’ll still enjoy it as an imperfect and unique episode in my favorite film franchise. I think, all in all, it’s stood up to the test of time better than many might have expected twenty years ago.

TCW Re-watch: Failings of the Jedi

Star Wars: The Clone Wars offered such a rich variety of stories that there are an endless array of lenses to approach the themes within the series, both those unique to it and those that elaborate on the subject matter of George Lucas’s six-film saga. I’ve gone into this re-watch with a few particular themes and contradictions on my mind, and the most current reviewed episode, “Mystery of a Thousand Moons” (1.18), touches on most of them.

Most interesting to me is the tension between the apparent necessity of the war in the moment in contrast to the audience’s foreknowledge that the Jedi’s mere entry into the war was the trap that doomed them. This narrative emerges clearly enough in the films with the end of Attack of the Clones, with Yoda’s admonition that “the shroud of the Dark Side has fallen.” Perhaps more subtly, that theme is present in the decision on the part of the Jedi and the Republic to assault a Separatist planet in the midst of heightened political tensions to rescue two Jedi and a Senator who had infiltrated that independent system to perform acts of political espionage, sabotage, and murder, and who were being punished under the laws of that system. While leaving the trio to execution would have been an unacceptable ending to audiences and would have seemed too merciless, and while viewers know that the Separatists were preparing their own attack on the Republic, interfering with the laws of another government via open invasion is a shockingly imperialistic act for a group of alleged peacekeepers. And, of course, that theme of loss merely through engagement sees fruition in the collapse of the Jedi and the Republic in Revenge of the Sith.

The Clone Wars readily acknowledges this burden. Yoda does a lot of wrangling with this moral crisis and imminent loss throughout the series. While that’s perhaps most emphasized in the final season’s episodes, the theme is present in moments with Yoda–and in merely observing what the war does to Jedi and clones alike–throughout the show. As Yoda says in “Lair of Grievous” (1.10), “To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is of losing who we are.”

And this theme manifests in at least small ways in almost every episode. Returning to “Mystery of a Thousand Moons,” we see the Jedi once again putting innocents in harm’s way in an attempt to win a battle. In this case, Ahsoka, Padme, and several clone troopers are infected with a super-virus and almost die before Anakin and Obi-Wan can provide a cure. Padme’s a senator. Ahsoka is literally a child who is nonetheless invested with the powers of a military commander. And the clones have been manufactured to fight and–as Rex notes in the episode–to die, yet the Jedi were perfectly willing to enlist them and use them as though they lacked in personhood or choice (a damning decision no matter how many Jedi befriended them between battles).

Yet that super-virus is another example of the seeming necessity of the war. The recreation of the Blue Shadow Virus for biological war in “Mystery of a Thousand Moons” and in the virus’s eponymous episode (1.17) is a shocking atrocity, intended to quickly wipe out whole ecosystems on hundreds of planets. In the same arc, the Separatists have blockaded a planet with a force field that kills anyone who tries to leave orbit, seemingly with the intent of preventing the export of the one raw material that can be used to produce a cure to the virus. Similarly, in “Defenders of Peace” (1.14), the Separatists intend to test a weapon that wipes out all organic life in its blast radius but leaves droids behind–and their intended target is a village of pacifists. Messaging consistently reinforces a pro-war mentality, at least in the moment. “Defenders of Peace” and its companion “Jedi Crash” (1.13) have no room for pacifists; the ideology is portrayed as too naive to actually survive without outside intervention by occupying defenders. Certainly there are historical precedents where passive resistance or acquiescence have not halted or appeased a bloodthirsty oppressor. Yet, to complicate things further, the “Jedi Crash” arc is immediately followed by “Trespass” (1.15), which actually provides for a scenario in which peaceful diplomacy is the ideal solution in contrast to aggressive interventionism.

If nothing else, the show highlights how messy war and conflict are. Moral solutions are not always apparent. The Jedi, even early on in the show, frequently cross the line of acceptable behavior, but that line-crossing often achieves results. For specific examples, contrast “Cloak of Darkness” (1.9), in which Ahsoka brushes off Master Luminara Unduli’s warning that “terror is not a weapon the Jedi use” because her threat, which does (momentarily) convince an imprisoned Nute Gunray to cooperate, “wasn’t serious,” with Anakin’s threat in “Mystery of a Thousand Moons” to kill mad scientist Nuvo Vindi completely failing to produce results (and actually giving Vindi another opportunity to gloat).

Lastly, one little item of head canon that I’ve been toying with for a while is that some version of the Mandalorian Wars and the subsequent Jedi Civil War of Knights of the Old Republic actually happened, and that this resulted in a radical shift in Jedi dogma. We at least have confirmation of a Mandalorian-Jedi War, but it’s the latter war that’s more significant to me. Revan and Malak rushed off to join the Republic in defeating the Mandalorians, in opposition to the Jedi Order’s mandate to stay out of the war, but their experiences turned them to the Dark Side. Revan’s later redemption was the only thing that could stop Malak, and he went on to pursue a larger threat outside of the galaxy. Other Jedi who went to war did not necessarily fall to the Dark Side. The Jedi Exile, for instance, chose a life of nomadic wandering following her actions at the Battle of Malachor (a battle that has been partially introduced to the canon, as well). Her eventual return to the major events of the galaxy stopped another festering Sith threat, and it is implied that she and her disciples helped rebuild a decimated Jedi Order. (Light Side decisions and their resultant outcomes in video games were typically perceived to be closer to canon during the run of the EU, and even in this canon-reboot era, that assumption seems to me a valid starting point for discussing the state of the old EU lore.)

The implications of the first two games are cast to the wind to enable the direction of The Old Republic and its companion novels, like Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan, which conveniently wiped Revan and the Jedi Exile off the board. I’m not so impressed by the idea of Jedi and Sith joining together to combat a larger threat; it happened surprisingly often in the old EU, it seems counter to the core messaging of Lucas’s films, and it seems like something that exists in Star Wars: The Old Republic largely as a justification for players to join the Sith faction without necessarily being pure evil. So let’s set aside the implications of everything post-KOTOR II.

With that division of the franchise in place, I rather like the idea that Revan, the Jedi Exile, and their followers would have forced a radical rethink in Jedi philosophy. Perhaps the Jedi, over time, would have felt that earlier official involvement by the Jedi Order in curbing the Mandalorian expansion would have stopped a lot of cruelty and death–and would have prevented the rise of the Sith Lords that followed. The Jedi Exile, in particular, would have been a model for a more interventionist Jedi Knight. This change in doctrinal thinking could have resulted in an over-correction that could have made the Jedi all too willing to hop into aggressive pursuit of peacekeeping operations. The reform spirit of the Jedi Exile would have faded into institutional tradition over the centuries, such that the shift in Jedi mindset would have only served as another pillar of dogmatic thought for later generations of Jedi leaders. Such a mindset would have primed them to hop straight into the Clone Wars, before cooler heads (mostly a more reflective Yoda) could prevail, and with the assumption that they were fully in the right. I think The Clone Wars and its depiction of the last years of the Jedi Order provide some ammo for that theory.

(By the way, in my full version of this head canon, which veers hard into amorphously formed fan fiction, Bultar Swan offers a lot of storytelling possibilities as a potential Jedi who quickly sees the entry of the Jedi into the business of war as detrimental. I tend to imagine her getting the hell out of the Order and the war shortly after Geonosis, after seeing just what it takes to kill and seeing the Jedi leadership all too willing to keep going down that path. But that’s getting way off topic for this post.)

I don’t plan on regularly discussing The Clone Wars over the course of this re-watch, but I do suspect that I’ll have an occasional update as this gradual viewing continues. I’ve only watched the show in full once before, and this new trip through has been quite enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Forces of Destiny, Round 5: Season 2.5

Whoops. I was plain wrong when I believed that the first eight episodes represented the entirety of Forces of Destiny Season 2. Now we have another seven more. At this point, I feel fully indoctrinated into this series. The character models are crude, but the animation looks slick. The backgrounds are lacking in detail but make up for it with crisp architectural lines and paintbrush-like landscapes. And most importantly for my transformation of opinion, no moment in this batch of episodes felt forced or over-packed. We have some things happening in and around the movies and Rebels, but the moments happen in spaces that make sense (at least, I think so–I haven’t seen the final season of Rebels yet, and while I’ve been spoiled on plenty of the broad details, I wouldn’t be able to place where exactly the Rebels moments are happening).

One of my favorite new episodes was “Perilous Pursuit,” which appears to have been based off a deleted scene in The Force Awakens. It fits into the general chronology of the film, and it’s just a great buddy action scene between Finn and Rey. Rey’s the pilot, Finn’s the gunner, and they’re just a damn good team together (and so supportive of and excited for each other!). The episode left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I also liked “Monster Misunderstanding” for its focus on Padme. It let her use her intelligence and empathy to arrive at a solution for the central dilemma of the episode. And it was also a glowing reminder that there is so much room for storytelling throughout much of the period of Padme’s time as queen and then senator of Naboo. I’d love to see more involved stories following some of her political adventures (and occasional aggressive negotiations) during this decade-plus time period.

I enjoyed the Ewok-infused, post-battle episodes set on Endor, too. They were fun, fit conveniently into the timeline as our heroes are handling mop-up duties after the destruction of the Death Star, and provide happy little insular adventures. The Ewok episodes in this round–“Chopper and Friends” and “Traps and Tribulations”–were even more fun because of the goofy reincorporation of old Legends material, like the Gorax from Caravan of Courage or the little female Ewok who looks like (and apparently in fact is) Princess Kneesaa from the Ewoks animated series.

 

“Art History” and “A Disarming Lesson” are fun Rebels-adjacent moments that fit within the types of stories that show told. And “Porgs!”…it’s about porgs! Plus Chewie being sweet. (Actually, that’s probably my least favorite episode–not bad, but sort of boring, and I don’t love how sentient Forces of Destiny has made these little birds.)

All in all, another good batch.

 

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.

Forces of Destiny, Round 2

I watched the new set of Forces of Destiny episodes. I was more receptive to them this time. Maybe my expectations were reset after my initial disappointment; maybe they were better; maybe the included episodes resonated with me a little more. Or in other words, is it me, is it the show, or is it my relationship with the show that has changed?

I’m still not overly excited by it. I also recognize that this isn’t really a project for me, and I’m entirely okay with that. Not everyone will like everything.

I will say that one improvement (in my mind) is that the stories actually served more of a purpose than just pew-pew. Of the four new episodes, my two favorites were “The Starfighter Stunt,” which showed Padme and Ahsoka bonding (and Padme demonstrating her relatively unestablished piloting skills), and “Newest Recruit,” which saw Sabine’s old pal Ketsu finally make the decision to join the Rebellion. While I thought that “Teach You, I Will” veered towards a cheesy lesson because of the reduction of what probably should have been a considerable bit of development (martially and psychologically) into the short format of a single-scene micro-episode, it was still telling a story. It had a point. “Tracker Trouble,” though, appeared to exist only to insert yet more action into The Force Awakens.

Last time I talked about Forces of Destiny, I gave a specific call-out to IG-88. This time, let’s cheer this cute lil’ Chadra-Fan:

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Maybe it’s just because I’ve got “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” on my mind, but doesn’t that baby Chadra-Fan look like it could be a young Kabe? For reference:

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Not that every single Chadra-Fan in the galaxy has to be the same one. But a little Chadra-Fan, apparently parent-less, stowing away in a crate and stealing food? Sounds like that could be Kabe. How long does it take a Chadra-Fan to reach adulthood? Maybe a few years is long enough. I don’t know. Aimless speculation here. And I call the youngling a “baby,” but she can talk.

Also, somewhat relatedly, the outfit on the baby Chadra-Fan looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it. It’s sort of like Leia’s Cloud City attire, I guess. No, I’m pretty sure Leia has nothing to do with this.

Okay, so, if I have a bottom line to all the above, it’s that I enjoy the episodes enough, and they’re such a small time commitment, that I’ll probably keep watching. But I’m not really excited about them, they don’t do a lot for me, and they’re fairly easy to forget about.

“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.