Friday, July 11, 2008

Under the Hood: Star Wars, Episode Three

Don't worry, the post about Doctor Who didn't replace this week's entry, it just added to it. I will continue with my quest to rework the Star Wars saga from the script up, in preparation for the inevitable cash-in remakes engineered by George Lucas' family once he dies! Whenever that might be, of course. Look, I'm not suggesting by any means that my readers should go kill George Lucas. And certainly not by using the swift, undetectable poison known as curare!

...but I'm rambling. Let's open this up, shall we?

At the start of 'Revenge of the Sith', Coruscant is now a much darker place. The Clone Wars have splintered the Republic, with the Separatist forces fighting a guerilla war against the powerful Republic Army. Chancellor Palpatine has been given virtually unlimited power to bring the Republic back together again, and the Senate is now stripped of much of its authority. Every day, Palpatine gives speeches from an undisclosed location (with the civil war going on, he's been targeted for assassination dozens of times) warning of the need for vigilance and unity among the peoples of the Republic.

Obi-Wan, as one of the dwindling numbers of Jedi, is working with the Republic Army to help root out traitors at home, under the command of an ambitious young Captain Tarkin. Tarkin has sent him after Senator Bail Organa, an Alderaanian who has been discovered to be secretly aiding the Separatists. But when Obi-Wan surprises the Senator at his apartments, Bail insists he has been framed. He doesn't want independence for Alderaan, he merely wants to end this war. Palpatine has gone too far, his zeal conceals a secret lust for power, and he's willing to go to any lengths to eliminate all challenges to his authority.

Even the Jedi, once the peacekeepers of the Republic, are now just one more obstacle to Palpatine's quest for absolute power...and he's eliminating them, silently and subtly. Jedi-led units have been sent into the worst of the fighting, they have taken the greatest casualties, and now only a few remain. By continuing to fight Palpatine's usurpation of power, Organa is a threat, and Tarkin hopes to curry favor with Palpatine by getting rid of him. Troubled by these words, and recognizing the truth of them, Obi-Wan decides to look the other way and allow Organa to escape, giving him time enough to prove his innocence.

Meanwhile, off near the Outer Rim, Palpatine personally directs the final assault on the secret Mandalorian clone factories from his personal command ship (the "undisclosed location" mentioned above.) His trusted general, Anakin Skywalker, leads the ground forces in a grim and bloody battle to take the cloneworld despite the hordes of Mandalorian soldiers pouring from the factories. In a final desperate tactic to hold the cloneworld, the Mandalorians send out wave after wave of unarmed clones as fast as the factories can crank them out, hoping to overwhelm the Republic's forces through sheer weight of numbers. But Anakin reaches the command center and shuts off the flow of clones, personally capturing the clonemasters and delivering them to Chancellor Palpatine.

The Chancellor returns to Coruscant in triumph, holding a victory celebration in which he announces the end of major military operations in the Clone Wars. The back of the Separatists have been broken, he announces. No longer can they hope to achieve a military victory. But this is not truly the end. The forces that seek to splinter the Great Republic will now attempt to achieve victory through subterfuge, treachery, and stealth. Now, the duty of the Republic must be to root out the traitors within. Now, the trusted few who have proven their loyalty (he here gestures to Anakin, standing at his right hand) will help to find these traitors, root them out, and destroy them. And they will be helped by the new Army of the Republic, the incorruptible army, the army that knows nothing but loyalty! With those words, ships land, and seemingly endless platoons of clone soldiers march out from them, all wearing white armor. The cloneworld's location remains a secret, but now a Republic state secret. And the clones have been reprogrammed to serve the Republic. (They've also been more or less lobotomized to ensure loyalty. The Mandalorian elite troopers are no more.)

Returning home to his wife, Queen Amidala, Anakin announces his big news. He's been promoted to Grand General! The Chancellor will be placing the occupied Separatist planets under the direct control of Republic governors, called "Moffs"--purely as a temporary measure, of course, until things return to normal. He doesn't understand why Amidala seems so upset about it all. She should be happy! She's expecting, he's rising in the Republic hierarchy, why can't she understand? Amidala tries to explain her fears of the death of freedom, but all Anakin can think of is that she's starting to sound like one of "them". Has she been speaking with Obi-Wan? She shouldn't associate with him. Palpatine has shown him evidence, proof of corruption within the heart of the Jedi order. Obi-Wan's behavior has been most suspicious. He may be a traitor. She shouldn't trust him.

Amidala tries to defend their old friend, which just drives Anakin to greater anger. Why would she possibly sympathize with a traitor to the Republic? Did she not understand the sacrifices Anakin has made for her, for the Republic itself? She's starting to sound like a traitor herself. What has she been doing these last eight months since he was last on Coruscant on leave? Has she been corrupted by Obi-Wan, perhaps gotten too close to him? How close? He's always known that she almost chose Obi-Wan over him, perhaps while he was off saving the galaxy, she's been cozying up to her old boyfriend! How does he even really know the baby is his? Perhaps she's a traitor and a whore both! The words spill into actions, as Anakin strikes his wife. Shocked with himself and with the welling fury that months and years of war have stoked, Anakin flees for guidance.

Anakin heads to Yoda, but ashamed of his actions, he discusses the events only in vague and hypothetical terms. Yoda, an unflinching absolutist, presents things in clear terms. The Light Side is harmony, the Dark Side is evil and chaos. Once you tread the path of the Dark Side, forever will it dominate your destiny. Anger and hatred cannot be contained, cannot be channeled. They must never be allowed to take root, or they will consume you. Needless to say, this is advice that seems to suggest to Anakin that he's already beyond hope. Thanking Yoda, he goes to his other spiritual mentor, Chancellor Palpatine, for guidance.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan returns to his quarters, his mind troubled. The war has ended, but why then does the darkness seem to be encircling the Jedi order worse than ever? He wishes his old friend and former padawan was there to talk to. His relationship with Anakin may have become strained over the course of the war, but he knows that deep down, his old friend understands him. That's when he hears a knock at the door, and answers it to see a heavily-pregnant Amidala standing in the rain, a swelling bruise on her cheek, tears streaming down her face.

They talk, and Obi-Wan agrees that Anakin needs help and understanding, not confrontation. Many people have been changed by the worse in the war, but peace might bring healing. They just need to--Obi-Wan breaks off his speech, his Jedi senses suggesting something wrong. He races back to the outer room of his quarters, and sees that the door has been forced. Someone is in his quarters. Amidala worries that it might be Anakin--in his current mental state, if he sees the two of them together, he might reach a disastrously wrong conclusion. As the tension builds, Obi-Wan searches his apartments, and finds...

Count Dooku, also known as Darth Tyrannus, Leader of the Separatist Movement and Public Enemy Number One. Obi-Wan draws his lightsaber, but Dooku is there to talk. He explains the full truth--some time ago, after his retirement (and just after the events of Episode One), he met Chancellor Palpatine, and discovered that he was actually one of a secret order known as the Sith. These Sith were once Jedi, but they gave themselves wholly over to the Dark Side of the Force, and learned true greatness from it. True strength must always come from anger. True power comes from our fear, our hatred. Without it, we will always be pale shadows of those who possess it. The Sith spread like a virus before the Jedi decided, long long ago, to dispassionately exterminate them.

Ever since, the remaining Sith have operated in secret. A Sith only takes one apprentice at a time, teaching him until the apprentice has gained the skill to murder the master...or until they fail. Failure has only one punishment for a Sith apprentice. This cannibalistic duo has existed in secret for thousands of years, honing their skills, biding their time, master killing apprentice or apprentice killing master, waiting for their chance to gain the power to exterminate the Jedi order. Waiting for their revenge. Dooku learned from Palpatine, or as he is secretly known, Darth Sidious. He became his apprentice, and the two of them planned to foment a war that would allow them to consolidate the entire power of the Republic under one man, all the better to wipe out the Jedi with.

But now, Dooku has realized that he has been outgamed. His forces have been defeated, as they had planned all along (who else could have leaked the location of the cloneworld to the Republic Army?)...but he has become the public face of the Separatist Movement, the disposable scapegoat for all the crimes of the war. Worse still, he knows too much about Palpatine's manipulations. Palpatine has to kill him, Dooku realizes that now. Sidious has chosen a new apprentice, a new vessel for the Sith. One who has grown powerful with hatred over the course of the war, one whom Sidious has groomed to stand at his right hand. Amidala asks who it is, but she already knows the answer in her heart...

And that's when Anakin arrives in person, having been warned by Palpatine that his friends and lovers are traitors to the cause. He'd come to give them one final chance to deny it, but seeing Obi-Wan and Amidala together, and together with the head of the Separatists, well...that's enough to spark his fury. He duels with Obi-Wan, who's unwilling to truly fight his old friend. Dooku doesn't mind, though, kicking Anakin's ass and preparing to kill him before Obi-Wan and Amidala demand he be spared. They decide to flee Coruscant, instead, heading for the Outer Rim where Obi-Wan can lose pursuit among the sparsely-settled planets beyond the Republic.

On regaining consciousness, Anakin returns to Palpatine to admit his failure. Palpatine understands, though. He was duped by trust, kindness, love...the fool's emotions. Emotions he has grown beyond, emotions he must purge. Palpatine can help. He knows the truth of the Dark Side, has known it all along and was merely waiting for Anakin to advance far enough along the path to be able to see it. He will show Anakin the path of the Sith...and together, they will destroy all the traitors to the Republic. They will crush the disloyal Jedi, Darth Sidious...and Darth Vader.

Vader and Palpatine march on the Jedi temple, an army of stormtroopers at their back. They demand that the Jedi give up all the traitors, or be considered enemies of the state in their entirety. Yoda scoffs at the demand, sensing anger, hatred, greed...the Dark Side no longer concealed in their enemies, but open and unbound. He denounces Palpatine as the true evil at the heart of the Republic. Hearing that is enough for Vader--denouncing the Chancellor? Treachery! A massive battle breaks out, and Yoda orders all Jedi to flee as best they can. In the fray, most Jedi are killed, and the survivors routed--Yoda remains as the last defender of the temple, and he and Palpatine do battle with lightsabers, telekinesis, force lightning, the whole works. Yoda even seems to be winning, until Palpatine pulls out his trump card. The planet Kashyyyk. Occupied by a full garrison of Republic clone troops...with orders to kill every inhabitant, should the Chancellor die. Palpatine offers Yoda a bargain. He may live, as may the wookies of Kashyyyk...but he must go into exile. The moment he is heard from again, anywhere in the Republic, a world dies. Saddened and shamed, Yoda must nonetheless acquiesce.

Finally, Darth Sidious strides into the Jedi temple, the revenge of the Sith complete. "Long have we waited for this day," he says to Vader. "Your triumph can never be complete," Qui-Gon Jinn says, his spirit form appearing along with those of all the deceased Jedi. "Our flesh may have perished, but a true Jedi is more than mere flesh. We are spirit, eternal. You cannot destroy that." Sidious smiles. "You don't know the power of the Dark Side," he says, and red force lighting boils from his fingertips, annhilating the souls of the Jedi, their ancient wisdom and timeless knowledge. Even the spirits of the Jedi perish, this dark day.

Obi-Wan feels this agony even from light-years away, and knows that Sidious and Vader will come for them. They've been moving slowly, carefully, trying to avoid the well-traveled spacelanes to keep free of Republic entanglements, but there's one last checkpoint that will be difficult to avoid; the primordial world of Mustafar, whose geothermal energy is converted into fuel for thousands of starships. They will have to pass through there before they can get to the Outer Rim.

In a tense sequence, Obi-Wan and Dooku leave to get supplies and equipment after concealing their ship in a crater on the far side of a lava sea. They dodge patrols, use Jedi powers to cloud the weak minds of the stormtroopers, and barely get what they need without being discovered...but on their return, Vader and Sidious await them on the bridge over the lava sea that leads back to their ship. The final battle of the Clone Wars begins.

Dooku takes on Palpatine, Anakin fights Obi-Wan. Both masters fight their own apprentices, and both lose. Dooku is no match for the greatest master of the Dark Side the Sith has ever known, and although he is skilled and powerful, Sidious is clearly toying with him, mocking him. Anakin fights with fury and rage, and Obi-Wan can't help but see his own failures as a teacher when he looks at the twisted hatred on his former friend's face...but when Amidala arrives to see what's become of the others, Anakin is tempted with one last chance to turn to the Light.

But no. It's too late for him now. Yoda was right. There is no redemption. He turns on Obi-Wan with savage fury, destroying his lightsaber, forcing him to the very edge of the rock bridge over a sea of lava. Obi-Wan asks one final time, is there nothing left of his friend? Anakin snarls out, "Anakin Skywalker is dead." "I know," Obi-Wan says. "And I'm sorry." And with that, he gestures, pulling a geyser of lava up from below with his telekinesis and splashing it into Vader's face. Vader screams and drops his lightsaber, staggers backwards, and a force push sends him hurtling back into the lava. Amidala collapses in shock and sorrow...and perhaps something else?

Obi-Wan turns to help Dooku, but he's clearly beyond help. He's on his last legs, barely alive, but determined to gain a final pyrrhic victory. He grabs Palpatine and sends them both on a suicidal plunge into the lava below. The Sith seem, at last, to be gone. Obi-Wan races to Amidala's side, and there, at the scene of the death of her husband, she gives birth to her children--the second one surprising everyone. (Hey, it happens sometimes. Doctors can make mistakes.) Obi-Wan takes Anakin's lightsaber, and the four of them depart.

And Palpatine rises up from the lava below, holding it back with nothing but the power of the Force. He carries Vader's burnt and blackened body in his arms, walking out of the lava, the stress aging him with every moment, but refusing to give in to death. After all, he has an Empire to run...

But Amidala and Obi-Wan escape. They decide to split the children up--Bail Organa, now exonerated, agrees to hide Amidala and Leia with him; he will raise Leia as his own daughter, and hide Amidala in the guise of his governess. Obi-Wan takes Luke out to the Outer Rim, to be raised by an old friend of his, Owen Lars, on the desolate planet of Tatooine. Anakin Skywalker might remember that planet, might even look for his son there. But Anakin Skywalker is dead now. Only Darth Vader remains.


magidin said...

I think it's a little rough in its parallels to Bush/Cheney/Iraq ("undisclosed location", "end of major military operations", etc). As it happens, I'm reading Suetonius's "The Lives of the Caesars"... perhaps it could be a bit closer to the progression of Tiberius from apparent modest and fair ruler (who defers to the Senate and takes on lowly jobs on himself) to the tyrant that ordered his own sons tortured and killed because he feared they were a challenge to his authority, all the while using the threats of the germans, gauls, and parthans to keep the general population coming back to him for help...

Anonymous said...

Excellent job of explaining why Leia claimed to remember her mother when Amidala died in childbirth.

Ununnilium said...

Reading through the archives:

Having all the remaining Jedi die at once always seemed odd to me, and in this aspect, if few others, the prequels did it better than this version, IMHO. Having them separate and gunned down by the forces they'd trusted makes more sense than having them all together in one pitched battle. After all, as one of the previous entries said, a Jedi is a match for a company of soldiers.