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.

Some of the Shows

This is a shorter post, and the last of all the things. I don’t have any movies to discuss, and my recent TV history has been relatively light.

ploanisoka.jpg

I’ve been following along with the Clone Wars rewatch on StarWars.com in intermittent bursts. Behind again, on pace again, behind again. It is a fun way to rewatch, and the pace isn’t too slow, but as I inevitably get behind, it’s also not impossible to catch up on easily enough when I have the time.

lemongrabs.jpg

My wife and I have also been making a dedicated effort to watch Adventure Time from start to finish. I got into Adventure Time fairly late–during a prolonged period of hospitalizations, I would pass the time with daytime television and quickly discovered Adventure Time and Steven Universe to be quirky, clever, and heartfelt. We watched the first season or two on Netflix a couple years back, but that’s all Netflix had. We got Hulu in the past year, and we’ve only recently decided to focus on watching these shows from start to finish. We started with Adventure Time (now mid-season 4), and we plan to go to Steven Universe once we finish. Just a random, related recommendation: Bee and PuppyCat. Another cute, quirky animated show full of heart and weird sci-fantasy. It was fun to see screenings of this series at Gen Con in the past, and that leads me to believe that it must have a fairly sizable following, but I don’t hear this show pop up in conversations often enough. It deserves more attention.

beeandpuppycat.jpg

Lastly, I’ve started The Dragon Prince, the new Netflix animated series helmed by Aaron Ehasz (co-executive producer, head writer, and director on Avatar: The Last Airbender). This is a show that I’ll want to write a full review for after finishing the nine episodes of season one. But I can already say that the dialogue, voice acting, plot, and humor are great, and I like the artwork (especially colors and character models), but the animation is very bothersome. Everything seems to be running at a reduced frame rate, and it’s irksome to watch characters twitching across each scene, always moving too fast but animating too slow. Hopefully that will improve some–if not by the end of this season, then with later seasons.

And with that, I’ve completed my report on all the things, for now.

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.

Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

I liked Solo. It was better than I expected, and even knowing about its troubled production history, I didn’t see anything about the movie that made it appear jagged or flawed or thematically inconsistent. Ron Howard’s mid-production step into the director’s seat appears to have been a good decision, and he delivered a slick space action flick.

At its core, Solo is a heist movie, and it’s a really fun one at that. We see young Han, played charmingly by Alden Ehrenreich, escape from an oppressed life on Corellia, join and then defect from the Empire, and meet his loyal friend Chewbacca (this time portrayed by Joonas Suotamo, who seems to have done a very good job of capturing Peter Mayhew’s physicality down to small gestures and cocks of the head) and his less-than-loyal frenemy Lando Calrissian (with Donald Glover absolutely nailing the role, even if a few moments leaned past Billy Dee Williams imitation to perhaps even parody) as he gets involved with an outlaw crew in a job that quickly goes south, putting them in the debt of terrifying crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany switches fluidly from charming to violent, his personality always domineering and seething with energy). To work off the debt, Han’s new crew attempt to steal Coaxium, an explosive hyperfuel McGuffin, from Kessel and deliver it to a refinery outside of the Empire before it goes boom.

The ensemble cast rounding out the crew Han associates with is great. Woody Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett is folksy, rough-spun, and charming; someone who could be a mentor figure if it weren’t for his unreliability. Harrelson’s delivery suggests a worn and worldly character looking to survive, and the plot gives him the classic heist leader drive of wanting to do one more job to get out of the game. Thandie Newton’s Val presents a cold veneer and trusts no one, but in her softer moments she shows her love for Beckett. Rio, voiced by Jon Favreau, is a sort of weird uncle. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is an eager dreamer when we first meet her, but when Han rediscovers her after escaping Corellia, she already hides a thousand sorrows and sins. Clarke does a good job of tinging Qi’ra’s manner with guilt and broken spirit, but Qi’ra is also a survivor and a pragmatist and a fierce fighter. We can tell that things will never work out between her and Han as soon as they are reunited–and it’s not just the fact that she’s not around by the classic trilogy. There’s a distance between them, a distance imposed by Qi’ra herself, something we see in her eyes and hear in her voice, even though she still obviously has love for him. It’s a complicated performance and in some ways seems like a dark mirror or inversion of Han’s relationship with Leia (who is an idealist and who refuses to outwardly portray her affection for Han).

Lastly, there’s Lando’s copilot, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a cranky droid revolutionary who secretly loves her captain. There is so much warmth and chemistry between the two. And L3 raises some genuine issues about the treatment of droids in the Star Wars galaxy. Her big moment midway through the film draws a clear connection between the restraining bolts and memory wipes used on droids and the chains and prods used on organic slaves. Disappointingly, most of her revolutionary attitudes are used for laughs, often seemingly at her expense. On one occasion, Lando asks her if she needs anything, and she quips, “Equal rights,” which makes it seem almost as though she’s in on the joke too. Even that big moment I mentioned is initiated by L3 through an incidental afterthought gesture; the fact that it spirals into something bigger is initially an obvious joke and only turns serious as it goes on. Of everything in the film, L3’s portrayal might have been the least tonally consistent. I loved L3, but I didn’t love how she was framed. The character concept was cool, and Waller-Bridge was great, but the droid was played for easy laughs for much of the film. At one point, Lando even jokes that he would wipe her memory if her navigational databanks weren’t so valuable, which seems an incredibly cruel thing to say to someone who is a friend and who is so personally outraged by the treatment of her kind. His joke really only works to the extent that we don’t take L3 seriously and view her ideals as absurd.

I want to circle back to Ehrenreich for a moment. He does a fantastic job of portraying a young, good-at-heart Solo who desperately wants to be a rogue outlaw (even if he’s always going to be a hero). He was funny, he was charming, he was clever, and he managed to convey Han’s often-backfiring efforts to quick-talk his way out of every situation. I liked him. I like that Star Wars was able to recast a major character and was able to find someone who had a loose physical resemblance to Harrison Ford but who, more importantly, could capture the speech and body language of the character. Even more so than Glover’s take on Lando, Ehrenreich’s reinterpretation of a classic character is less imitation and more adaptation; he brings something new to Han Solo, and I think Star Wars benefits from it. (But let me be clear: Glover is a tremendously joyous delight as Lando, and I love him more with everything new I see him in. I’d love to see a Lando film starring Glover getting up to wacky adventures.)

Interestingly, the plot of the film leaves young Han revealed as a fundamentally good and heroic person who can’t just walk away from people in trouble. By the end of the film, he’s had to make some hard decisions and he’s seen a lot of people die, but he’s still largely done the right thing whenever he has enough information to know what the right thing is. Sure, he steps away from open rebellion against the Empire at the end, but it certainly feels like he’s deluding himself into thinking that he can stay away from an idealistic cause for long. Quite a lot more must have happened to Han to make him the cynical criminal of A New Hope, but he’s still got plenty of years and employment with a certain Hutt to go by the end of this film.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Solo is that it is a film that can be enjoyed basically on its own, with very little understanding of the larger franchise, yet it has so many clever allusions to Legends and the new canon and provides an interesting new way to view The Empire Strikes Back [minor spoilers to follow]. I might go so far as to say that Solo is to Empire what Rogue One is to A New Hope (makes sense, given that the elder Kasdan wrote the screenplay for Empire).  We even get a new way of conceiving of Han and Lando’s relationship with the Falcon! Han’s relationship to Lando, in particular, feels very fresh and explosive and dynamic. A lot of the little attempts to explain Han’s background felt cheesy at worst and unnecessary at best, but I thought that giving Billy Dee Williams’s consistent pronunciation of Han a layer of irony-laden meaning was quite clever! (For an example of one explanation I didn’t like: how Han got his name. He has no family, so the Imperial recruitment officer assigns it to him? That’s fine, but it seems contradicted by the fact that Han reminisces about his dad working in the shipyards before he was laid off. Even if Han was lying to the Imperial recruitment officer, why would he continue to use Solo after deserting? Sure, we can fill in some possible reasons–maybe he didn’t like his dad, for instance, though he seems to remember him fondly and with heartbreak). While I liked the charisma between Han and Lando, I would say that Jonathan Kasdan’s assertion that Lando is pansexual is pretty flimsy within the film itself (his played-up flirtiness with Han in the Falcon as seen in the trailers is largely in response to a sarcastic comment from his copilot L3-37, and outside of that moment his flirting is basically directed toward females, specifically attractive human females for the most part, even though Glover’s delivery does always project a simmering self-confident sexuality).

Oh, and as for references, there are so many that I’m sure I missed a lot. Some that I noticed include:

And before I get into larger spoilers, I’d like to point out that Solo feels rather like Rogue One in showing more of a gritty, boots-on-the-ground, everyman’s view of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The hot rod enthusiast, street-racing young punk Solo, the grimy and broken-down environments, and the consistent action tinged with genuine emotion suggest to me that George Lucas himself might rather like this film. But it also has great attention to tone. We start off in a Dickensian sort of setting, and Corellia does have an industrial nineteenth-century vibe to it. When Han gets caught up in the Empire, he has to slug it out as an infantry grunt on Mimban, where the muddy trench warfare, senseless deaths, and even the uniform designs evoke World War I. And I know I’m not alone in noting that, as Solo becomes more heroic and his prospects for a more exciting future, free from servitude to a street boss or military officer, grow brighter, the film’s lighting in turn grows brighter, away from shady, dingy, mucky locales to environments that often pop with color. So at the least, I think director of photography Bradford Young and costume designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon did some excellent work (not to mention the colossal art department–and it should be mentioned that the variety of aliens new and old was great, too!).

I had some issues with the film, but to discuss them involves bringing up BIG SPOILERS. So if you haven’t seen it yet, I’d suggest you stop reading now. Though I hope you’ll come back to finish after you’ve seen the film–I’d love to hear others’ thoughts!


hs-ff-002782_c783af8d

My biggest complaint with the film is more of a nagging sensation, really. I don’t love how the film treated women. But at the same time, they were equals in capability and importance to the plot. And while the background figures still had a male-dominated bent, the main cast was closer to balanced than most films in the franchise.

The film used several characters’ deaths to motivate our central protagonists. Val and Rio die early on. Val dies in a way that hardens Beckett, makes him even more self-interested, and prompts him to repeatedly caution Han not to trust anyone. Rio, dying, tells Han that you shouldn’t die alone. And L3 dies later in the film. I don’t think her death counts as fridging because she dies in a significant way, and she dies accomplishing her life’s mission–starting a revolution. Her death is still about her and not about furthering another character’s emotional journey (though it hits Lando really hard). It was also incredible to realize that her processing core becomes one with the Falcon’s computer–she is the ship in a very real way. It certainly puts a different spin on how Han and Lando talk about the Falcon, right? Suddenly the metaphoric seems more literal.

I say that I don’t think L3 is a fridged character. But I’m not sure if anyone is. While being stuffed into a fridge isn’t exclusively a trope about women, its sexist overtones certainly arise because of the tendency of female characters to be fridged for male protagonists’ emotional development. Characters become plot devices when they’re fridged. Are Rio and Val fridged just because they die early? I don’t know. The trope might apply here, but at the same time, it’s less odious when it’s not just women dying in that role and when there are enough women in the cast that losing one doesn’t substantially deplete the non-male presence. Women viewers might disagree with me, though! And I’d be inclined to listen to those women viewers who express dissenting voices. Maybe the fact that it was a little uncomfortable to me should be enough to tell me that representation of women in this film is still somewhat problematic. At the very least, it was weird to have Val and Rio portrayed fairly significantly in promotional materials when they would have so very little screen time.

On the other hand, there are some cool women characters here. The surprise reveal about Enfys Nest’s true identity and actual purpose is awesome, and Enfys becomes a really cool early rebel figure! Now I want to know more about her backstory–and more of what happened to her after Solo. (Probably nothing good–was that one of the Two-Tubes lurking around in her posse, or am I being a fantasy racist who thinks all Tognath look the same?) L3 brings droid rights to the center in a Star Wars film, and she’s got a sarcastic attitude that makes her a perfect counterpart to Lando. Val is cool, though we see very little of her (I can’t help but draw comparisons to Brand, though, and wonder why black women can’t have other roles than ice queen assassins in Star Wars; even Sana Starros fits that mold to some degree). And Qi’ra is a complicated character acting in her own best interests; she has her own narrative. As Beckett tells Han, “It was never about you.” I was so glad to see that the filmmakers found a way to sever Han and Qi’ra by the end of the film without needing to kill her off. Too bad she squarely falls into the outdated femme fatale trope.

I guess what I’m saying is, the film did some things right, but I’d echo the many women out there who say that Star Wars needs more women in creative positions to improve representation in the stories that appear. Men–here, Howard and the Kasdans–don’t typically set out to tell stories that are disrespectful to women. I think everyone here tried to tell a good story and wanted fully developed men and women. But women in the writing room, or a woman directing, might have led to some improved outcomes here.

I have two other complaints. Both are fairly small.

First, before this film, I could just assume that Han picked up Shyriiwook some time over his life as a smuggler and outlaw. It didn’t really matter how; it was just an interesting element to his character and reflected his bond with Chewbacca. This film, however, answers a lot of minor questions about Han but now makes this language question one of the central mysteries remaining. Han knew Shyriiwook before he met Chewbacca; he understood it pretty well and could even speak a little bit of it. He meets Chewie three years after he leaves Corellia, and that time in between was spent in the Imperial Academy and then in the infantry. So…when did he learn it? Probably not on Corellia. Corellia was locked down by the Empire, and Han was on the low end of society. He probably didn’t take Shyriiwook in school, for however long he even was in school. We don’t see any Wookiees hanging out on Corellia, and we know that the Empire basically enslaved all of Kashyyyk, so there shouldn’t be very many free-roaming Wookiees anyway. I don’t recall anything that suggested that Han’s close girlfriend from his youth knew Shyriiwook, either. If not Corellia, why would it have been the Empire? The Imperials on Mimban, even those guarding Chewbacca, don’t understand Shyriiwook (actually, why was Chewbacca in a mud pit on Mimban? He’d been enslaved for a while–did they bring him there specifically to torture him and feed him deserters and traitors?). We know from Aftermath that the Empire discouraged foreign language learning: “The Empire had little interest in learning the ways and tongues of other cultures. They didn’t even want their people to learn on their own time” (p. 33). Maybe this was yet another act of rebellion by Han. But why did he pick that language over any other? It’s a really small thing to be bothering me, but in answering so many questions, the film starts boxing in Han’s character and highlights the mystery even more. And by the way, Life Debt reintroduces the concept of Chewie’s life debt to canon–nothing in the new film directly contradicts Life Debt, but I am curious about when Chewbacca got around to swearing that oath.

Second, I’m really conflicted by the reveal that Darth Maul was the true leader of Crimson Dawn. Maul makes sense here in the timeline. There’s a gap between The Clone Wars Son of Dathomir and Rebels. Maul had criminal connections, and it would make sense that he would try to quietly rebuild a criminal empire but would be more inclined to rule from the shadows after his defeat in Son of Dathomir. It’s a cute nod for fans of the animated series. And it’s a ridiculous thing to spring on the general movie-going public. It’s a really bullshit thing that I would previously have associated with Marvel, a need for hyper-connectivity for uber-fans that I had hoped wouldn’t spread to my favored franchise. And yet, here we are. Why is this so awful to me? Because for most people, those who are casual viewers or who are fans of the movies or who just never bothered to watch the animated series, Darth Maul died in The Phantom Menace. And not just of a simple stab or fall. Dude got cut in half and fell down a seemingly bottomless shaft. It was absurd that he survived, and The Clone Wars took time to build him back up into a threat and to make this seem credible. New audiences don’t have that. Their reaction probably wouldn’t be, “Oh, cool reference,” or, “Holy shit! Maul’s back!” I’d guess it would be a more resounding, “HUH?!” Maybe I’m wrong (though I will say that while there was some scattered applause and laughter throughout the film during the screening that I attended, the room was silent throughout Maul’s reveal). As someone who understood why Maul would be here, it wasn’t shocking to me–I didn’t anticipate it, but I’d heard there was a major character from one of the older trilogies, and Maul made sense. There’s the other thing: Maul’s presence wasn’t radically shocking. And it didn’t really add anything to the story. It was the equivalent of a Marvel end-credits sequence (although it was, at least, in the film itself). Qi’ra could have reported to any higher-up crime boss. Bringing Maul into the film itself was weird, but I’ll admit that it was cool that they used Ray Park, the original physical actor, and Sam Witwer, the voice actor from the animated series, to fill the role.

All in all, I had a lot of fun, and I felt that the flaws were overshadowed by the film’s strengths. I could easily watch this movie again and again. It’s not one of my top three Star Wars films, but I think it’ll join those flawed-but-fun films like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, entering regular rotation along those two as a frequently viewed title in this franchise that I continue to love.

Fairly weak Forces of Destiny

I watched Star Wars: Forces of Destiny this weekend, making me remarkably up-to-date for once on a Star Wars project that doesn’t involve a theatrical release. It’s a fun little concept, with one-off adventures focusing mostly on the heroic ladies of the Star Wars galaxy. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag.

I thought some episodes, particularly the ones involving Leia, were pretty engaging, but all in all they didn’t really show or tell anything vital. All style, no substance. It’s the nature of this micro-episode format, but I already have a more interesting point of comparison: Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars. Those super-short episodes still managed to have something substantial to say and were incredibly effective at packing in a lot even within bite-sized chunks. I suppose the comparison is not entirely fair, since Tartakovsky’s series had a long-form story being told across episodes, while Forces of Destiny is just a scattered collection of one-offs. But it does seem like the creators want the comparison to be made, with an animation style that apes the stylized visuals and minimalist animation of the preexisting property. Even here Forces of Destiny feels distinctly less than; the animation falls flat, more along the lines of an amateur Flash video than a true spiritual successor to Clone Wars, and many of the character models were just sort of ugly. I was especially unhappy with the smooshed-up look on Anakin Skywalker’s face.

In short, I wanted to like the show, and what I could like I did, but there was a lot that I was not a fan of. This is especially disappointing in contrast to the continually great Rebels. While I think it’s fantastic to give more screen time to women in genre fiction, including in Star Wars, I would point to Filoni’s work with The Clone Wars or Rebels, or the new movies coming out, or many of the new-canon books, as better examples. Women should be in the story to do things, not to simply highlight the fact that they are women; diversity should not be synonymous with tokenism.

My final concern is that while Star Wars has always been used to sell merchandising, Forces of Destiny appears to exist only as a catalyst for the resultant merchandising. Even the press release announcing the series premiere concludes as follows:

A new short will premiere online each day at 10 a.m. PT, culminating with their broadcast debut on Disney Channel, Sunday, July 9; books, apparel, bedding, and toys based on the series will arrive August 1

Maybe this concern is a little silly, given that Star Wars has always been commercial, but normally the franchise has been more than just a vehicle to sell stuff.

Oh, by the way, and as evidenced by my header image, IG-88 is briefly in the series, in “Bounty of Trouble.” IG-88 is shown to be…fairly incompetent here. Further support for my theory that the Empire bounty hunters are far from the best, just the closest and most desperate!

It’s okay if it’s time for the Jedi to end

On The Guardian, Ben Child asks, “Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?” Of great concern to Child is Mark Hammill’s now-infamous line from the first trailer for The Last Jedi: “I only know one truth: it’s time for the Jedi to end.” Reactions on Twitter certainly suggest that Child is not alone in his fretting and that the fan base is rather divided as to how to take the line.

That’s a lot of weight placed on a small piece of dialogue for a teaser-trailer months before the film comes out. There are plenty of potential contexts in which the line could be uttered–if it is said at all in the final film (see, e.g., “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel”).

Nonetheless, let’s play the over-analysis game. Let’s assume that the line is in the film, in a context similar to that suggested, and Luke is rejecting the reestablishment of the Jedi on a literal level. So what’s the problem? Child worries that the end of the Jedi makes the efforts of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda in the classic trilogy somehow frivolous. Child would be okay with “a new, modern order,” but:

[W]ouldn’t dismissing the Jedi in such a manner rather undercut the original trilogy, in which Yoda and Obi-Wan are presented as untouchable paragons of virtue? If the order’s central doctrine is meaningless, then both of Skywalker’s mentors are little more than fools.

And a little further on:

[T]he Jedi somehow seem more fundamental to Star Wars . . . . The entire original trilogy was about Luke’s path from farm boy to powerful exponent of the Force. Are we now expected to accept that this journey was a false one, that he was obsessed with reviving an order that had long since fallen into ineffectuality, guided by a pair of elderly diehards still clinging desperately to long lost grandeur?

It’s dangerous to ask rhetorical questions if you’re not sure that your audience will agree with you. Presumably, Child expects the audience to agree that, yes, dismissing the Jedi would undercut the original trilogy and make Obi-Wan and Yoda out to be fools; yes, we are expected to accept that Luke’s original trilogy journey was a false one; and of course, those answers indicate a bad direction for Star Wars! I disagree.

At its most fundamental level, I think it’s dangerous to ever hold up sacred cows in Star Wars. Each film in the main saga has remixed what has come before. Vader is Luke’s father; Leia is Luke’s sister; young Anakin was actually a prophetic Chosen One, and the Force is sensed through midichlorian cells; Jedi are supposed to avoid the deep, loving attachments that would in some way define Luke’s development as a hero; the Jedi’s entrance into the Clone Wars condemned it to near-extinction by playing into the hands of the Sith; Anakin fell to the Dark Side not out of a lust for power or pure arrogance but because of a desperate urge to protect his wife and an increasing sense that the people closest to him did not trust him. And so on.

Perhaps it is true that the role of the Jedi in the original trilogy would be undermined by Luke’s decision to end the Jedi Order (if that’s what he means), but George Lucas was already quite willing to alter meaning and change significance in his later films. It may be easy to view the prequel trilogy as lesser-than, and it may be convenient to ignore them in one’s analysis, but they nonetheless represent the ongoing vision of the franchise’s creator, with the benefit of a couple decades of hindsight and reflection.

In the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars TV series, the Jedi Order’s rejection of attachment, its adherence to strict rules, and its inability to understand or accept someone like Anakin ultimately lead to its downfall. Maybe even by merely being a functioning body of the government, the Jedi were doomed. After all, it is their entrance into the Clone Wars that leads to the rise of the Dark Side and the vanquishment of the Jedi Order. As an older and wiser Yoda notes, “Wars not make one great.” And besides the broad-scale suffering and violence that the Clone Wars brought to the galaxy, it also had the side effect of producing a great many fallen Jedi (Pong Krell, Barriss Offee, Quinlan Vos, and of course Anakin himself).

Furthermore, on a more individual level, where Yoda and Obi-Wan may be seen as “untouchable paragons of virtue” in the original trilogy, they are fundamentally flawed in the prequel trilogy; simply put, they fail Anakin as friends and mentors. This failure on a human level is observed again in Ahsoka Tano’s final arc in The Clone Wars, in which she was framed for a crime, was hunted by her former allies, and ultimately chose to leave the Jedi Order behind after she was vindicated.

While writing this post, I came across “‘The True Nature of the Force’ is Way More Complicated Than You Think” by Emily Asher-Perrin, which does a good job of showing the weaknesses of the Jedi Order and developing the ambiguity of what bringing balance to the Force actually entails. I believe that it provides additional support for the assertions I have made above.

The Jedi, simply put, are not meant to be perfect. And the Jedi of the original trilogy are not the Jedi of the prequel trilogy; Obi-Wan and Yoda have trained under the guidance of a spectral Qui-Gon Jinn, who has unlocked secrets of the Force that no other Jedi has. Their training of an adult Luke over what could not have been more than a few weeks or months, with an apparent emphasis on eliminating Sith Lords, would certainly seem heretical compared to traditional Jedi teachings.

It’s also misleading to suggest that having the franchise go in a direction where the Jedi exist no more, at least formally, would somehow contradict or undermine the efforts of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda. Jedi training was always a means to an end, rather than a final goal, in the mentorship of Luke.

In attempting to prod Luke into action, Obi-Wan tells him, “You must learn the ways of the Force if you’re to come with me to Alderaan . . . . I need your help, Luke. She needs your help. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.” And when Luke continues to reject his overtures, Obi-Wan says, “You must do what you feel is right, of course.” Rather than requesting that Luke begin Jedi training, or demanding adherence to a particular code of ethics, Obi-Wan wants Luke to help him accomplish a mission, believing that he will need a connection with the Force to complete that mission, and Obi-Wan only wants Luke to follow his conscience.

When training Luke aboard the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan states, “Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him . . . . But it also obeys your commands.” The Jedi here serve as an example of the ideal Force-user. This makes sense, given that Obi-Wan himself is a Jedi. But there is still no demand that Luke adopt the tenets of the Jedi Order.

Even when Obi-Wan appears as a Force Ghost on Hoth, he only instructs Luke to go to the Dagobah system, where he “will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me.” Obi-Wan had trained under Yoda as a youth, and Obi-Wan and Yoda both studied to master the secrets that Qui-Gon had unlocked. Yet again, mastery of the Force rather than adherence to the Jedi Code is what is important to Obi-Wan.

Yoda speaks in riddles and plays with language and perception, so some of his dialogue does suggest that Luke is to be trained as a Jedi. Luke tells him that he is seeking a Jedi Master, so Yoda, while still hiding behind the persona of an addled hermit, asks Luke why he wishes to become a Jedi. And in considering the training of Luke, Yoda remarks:

For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained! A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind . . . . Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things.

It is clear that Yoda would have Luke believe that he is training him as a Jedi. Yet what we see of Yoda’s training is focused almost exclusively on the physical, with the trial of the Dark Side cave and brief admonitions as to the seductive nature of the Dark Side serving more as warnings to avoid the path of temptation than as any deep spiritual or intellectual development. Yoda simply does not have the time. He is, as far as we know, the last remaining Jedi Master, and toward the end of his life. Even if Luke did not leave his training to face Vader, Yoda would not have had much time left to truly train Luke in the traditions of the Jedi Order. While Yoda worries that Luke’s departure to defeat Vader could be the undoing of everything, he does not actually condemn Luke’s compassion or attachment to his friends, though such attachment would have been strictly forbidden in the old Jedi Order.

By the time Luke returns to Yoda, Yoda tells Luke that he has had sufficient training, but he can only call himself a Jedi once he confronts Darth Vader yet again. And once more Yoda warns Luke to beware the negative emotions that make up the Dark Side.

In short, Yoda may have promised Luke that he would be a Jedi, but Luke does not have the formal training, the code of ethics, or the sense of history and tradition that other Jedi have. Luke was trained by Obi-Wan and Yoda, more or less, to face off against the Empire and to defeat Vader, to succeed where they had failed. And Yoda hopes that Luke will pass on his training–his ability to sense and control the Force–to Leia.

But if Luke were to continue the “Jedi,” they would be Jedi in name only. The Emperor succeeded in eradicating the Order, and by the time of the Galactic Civil War, Obi-Wan and Yoda were not the Jedi they were in the height of the Clone Wars. Their last act of rebellion against the Sith was to attempt to train an ultimately successful assassin.

Luke could train his sister and others to sense and control the Force. And he could warn them against the Dark Side. And he could focus his new group’s agenda on resisting the Dark Side and the threat of fascism and tyranny. But he probably could not restore the Jedi Order to what it once was, and, frankly, doing so would probably be a bad idea.

Admittedly, the new canon has already established ways in which Luke could gain further insight into the Jedi Order. We know there are collectors of Jedi and Sith artifacts and old, significant ruins ripe with secrets, as established in sources as far-ranging as The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars comics, the Rebels TV show, and books like Aftermath.

But more interesting than how the Jedi Order could be restored is how these new sources also establish a rich variety of alternative Force traditions across the spectrum from Light to Dark. We see that rather prominently in The Force Awakens, after all, with the wizened old Maz Kanata, who can feel the Force and is definitely not evil but not a Jedi, either (for that matter, whatever Snoke is, he does not appear to be Sith, and neither are Kylo and his Knights of Ren). In The Clone Wars we have the Father and his children on Mortis, the Dathomiri witches, and the Force priestesses who test Yoda in the final season. In Rebels, we have the Inquisitors, who work for the Sith but are not–so far as I know–Sith themselves (what with that whole Rule of Two), and we also have the Force-neutral Bendu. And I’m sure there are other examples being developed in the new canon that I have overlooked; there were certainly a variety of Force traditions developed in the Legends Expanded Universe.

Even if all of the above were not true, why should Luke want to continue the Jedi Order by the events of Episode VIII? One of his own students, his own nephew, turned to the Dark Side and slaughtered Luke’s other students, then went on to take a leadership role in a new post-Imperial fascist movement. Over the course of Luke’s lifetime, the Jedi Order has now been destroyed twice, and Luke probably feels partially responsible for its fall at the hands of Kylo Ren.

In Legends, Luke was awfully resilient in overcoming the frequent threats to the Jedi Order (see, for example, the spirit of Exar Kun and the fall of Kyp Durron or the hunt for Jedi by Yuuzhan Vong and Peace Brigade–but in contrast, see Luke’s own brief fall to the Dark Side). However, in the new canon, it is quite possible that Luke’s spirit could be broken by such severe tragedy as he has experienced. And even if his spirit remains intact, he could have rationally reached the conclusion that the Jedi Order could not be restored in the current galactic climate, or that the Jedi simply no longer had the same utility that they once did.

As fans, we can become rather hungry for more of what we like. But I’d rather have a well-told story than one that simply gives us what we think we want (and apparently a lot of us want more Jedi). There will be plenty of places to tell more stories of Jedi, and the Legends Expanded Universe was already bursting at the seams with Jedi after all. If Rian Johnson and crew have decided to let the Jedi die, at least for now, then let’s see how it goes. It wouldn’t corrupt the meaning of the older films, it wouldn’t dilute purpose, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad decision.

But let’s all take a collective breath and wait to see how things play out. The groundwork has been laid to allow this movie to go in a lot of different directions, many of them rather exciting. Whether this movie truly heralds the last of the Jedi or not, I have confidence in the direction of this saga.

“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.)

ahsokatrial

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.

palpatineattrial.jpg

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.

tarkinatttrial

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.

barrissattrial

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?

padmeattrial.jpg

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.