Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reading the Force

How to Interpret a Galaxy

I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem and yourself as participating in a poem is what the myth does for you.

- Joseph Campbell
The Power of Myth

Most Star Wars fans should be familiar with the arresting image in Attack of the Clones when Anakin Skywalker both literally and metaphorically takes his first plunge into the abyss of the dark side.

Searching for his mother who has been captured by Tusken Raiders on Tatooine, Anakin is framed on the side of a cliff overlooking their encampment. Crouching against the backdrop of a night sky filled with stars, he is determined to rescue his mother, no matter the cost. When he dives down to the desert below, his black cloak billowing in the wind, the symbolism is ripe for anyone raised in the Western tradition.

Moments before he slaughters the Tusken Raiders in a blind rage, Anakin literally and figuratively falls out of heaven.

The connections between Star Wars and mythology have been well documented, so much so that it is difficult to read an article or editorial about that galaxy far, far away without said connection being pointed out. If the writer or reporter in question has done any homework whatsoever, he may toss the name “Joseph Campbell” around. If he is even more well-versed on the subject, he might even mention the “Hero’s Journey,” Campbell’s oft-quoted phrase that refers to the sequence of events the archetypal characters of myth and legend eternally enact.

While all these connections are accurate, it’s rare that they are ever pushed any further, or that their implications are explored. Everyone has heard a thousand times how George Lucas created Star Wars to fill the void left by the absence of modern myth. Everyone likewise knows he consulted the now classic book by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Those paying closer attention realized that Campbell and Lucas enjoyed their own master and padawan relationship, with Bill Moyers’ hit PBS series The Power of Myth even being filmed at Skywalker Ranch.

Still, Joseph Campbell’s work in comparative mythology encompassed far more than tracing the similar threads that mythic heroes followed. Its implications for how we view Star Wars are likewise far more reaching than simply drawing comparisons between the Skywalkers and various characters out of Greek or Arthurian legend. Perhaps Campbell’s finest contribution to the understanding of myth and religion was his insight that such things were poetry, not prose, and should be read accordingly.

Campbell felt that to interpret the epic stories of East and West alike as ancient newspaper reports chronicling long ago events was to miss the point entirely. Throughout The Power of Myth series, he led the conversation back again and again to the idea that the fantastic language of myth is the language of poetry, a language evoking inner dramas and mysteries rather than outlining outer realities and history. For Campbell, myth was almost synonymous with metaphor, a vocabulary of symbols and images pointing to a living experience perpetually playing out in the collective unconscious of every human mind.

When Star Wars is read as poetry rather than prose, the saga has a remarkable tendency to open up into something richer and more profound (much like it did in my example at the beginning). Entire dimensions of meaning can be teased out of it once one begins taking this “first step into a larger world,” as Obi-Wan Kenobi might say. This isn’t too revolutionary. As Campbell pointed out, poetry is a language that has to be “penetrated,” because it offers “implications and suggestions that go past the words themselves.” A competent poet uses his verse to echo beyond itself, doing in words what a painter does when he uses a vanishing point to give the illusion of three dimensions on what is really a flat surface.

Too many critics dismiss Star Wars without taking this step, and so never come to terms with everything the saga has to offer. This is equally true of a lot of things in the Western cultural canon, particularly poetry. Despite modern resistance to verse, however, it really is the language humanity has been speaking since the dawn of civilization.

Myth has almost always been expressed in poetry, dating back to Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian epic credited as the world’s first story. When Homer told the story of the Trojan War and its aftermath, poetry was his vehicle of choice, and that’s true of his imitator Virgil as well when he spun his tale of Rome’s founding. Our own English tongue produced its original Beowulf in the verse of an unknown bard. This is to say nothing of Dante and Milton who, like Lucas, told their own myths of love and war, fall and redemption.

Regardless of complaints about “wooden” dialogue, it seems only logical that if Star Wars is going to be regarded as modern myth, it’s only half a step away from being regarded as poetry. This isn’t arguing execution (which could be argued forever), so much as intent and style. There are certain criteria that make a poem a poem, and the rest of this essay is going to revolve around whether or not our favorite space opera does indeed fit said criteria.

On a very basic level, there is a certain ineffable, immediate quality that imbues poetry with all its force (or in this case, Force). Emily Dickinson summed it up perfectly when she said “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” All I can personally say is that when I first saw the Millennium Falcon blast into lightspeed when I was four years old, I physically felt as if the top of my head had been taken off, and that was that.

It seems doubtful that anyone still reading this doesn’t know exactly what I’m talking about. The very first time a Star Destroyer thundered overhead, bickering droids made their way down a corridor, an armored dark lord of the Sith stepped into that same corridor moments later, a young boy stood dreaming in front of setting twin suns, a humming blue lightsaber activated … the list is endless. All of these images forever imprinted on my psyche, bringing an entire universe to life in their wake. The sheer electricity generated by such moments cannot be rationally explained any more than the best poetry can. As Dickinson remarked, they can only be intuitively experienced.

Beyond this simple emotional recognition, poetry also evokes a rhythmic quality. This is a quality shared by myth, and it is explored in great depth by Mircea Eliade. In The Myth of the Eternal Return, Eliade defines myth as an “indefinite repetition of archetypes,” citing countless examples of primitive people who enacted the same rites and rituals over and over again. Rather than the linear, progressive view of history embraced by the Western world, archaic societies lived in a “sacred history” dictated by endlessly repeated mythic patterns.

Star Wars operates in much the same way, and this has become especially apparent with the completion of the prequel trilogy. In the great DVD documentary The Beginning, George Lucas himself states that his saga is likewise a repetition of archetypes. At one point the Great Flannelled One tells his film crew that young Anakin’s destruction of the Trade Federation ship is purposefully juxtaposed with Luke’s direct hit on the Death Star. “It’s like poetry, they rhyme,” Lucas explains, nicely demonstrating that I’m not just making all this stuff up. He says of the films that “every stanza kind of rhymes with the last one.”

So the archetypal beats and mythic rhythms of Star Wars are intentional, which would explain why they are everywhere, woven into the very fabric of the Skywalker saga. In particular, the prequel and original trilogies contain many images that mirror what has or what will happen.

For instance, when the prequel trilogy begins, there are only two remaining Sith, a master and an apprentice. They are in hiding, confined to the shadows after their order has been destroyed. When the original trilogy opens, the situation has almost completely reversed itself, with only two surviving Jedi in hiding. They are also master and apprentice (or at least they started out that way). The master is introduced in the proverbial ivory tower in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in the prequels, only to have fallen all the way to the swampy lowlands of Dagobah by the time the original trilogy unfolds. The Sith have conversely ascended to power, with the Emperor occupying a tower on the second Death Star that mirrors its Jedi counterpart.

Even the initial battles of the two trilogies echo each other, with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi bursting through a smoke-filled corridor attacking battle droids, in much the same way as Darth Vader and his stormtroopers do when fighting rebel troops. Likewise, the final battles of the first and the last film feature Sith lords plummeting to their doom down those bottomless reactor shafts that seem to litter the galaxy. And in both trilogies, there is a young Skywalker to be recruited to one of the opposing sides of the Force.

Beyond their childhoods on Tatooine, Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s paths clearly mirror one another throughout. In the second film of each trilogy, both lose a hand to a Sith lord in a lightsaber battle. When Anakin attempts to turn his son to the dark side, he threatens his attachment to Han and Leia in much the same way as Palpatine exploited his love for Padme. In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s face is half-obscured by shadow in Palpatine’s office when he turns to the dark side, much like Luke’s is in Return of the Jedi in the Death Star throne room. Yet as we all know, Anakin picks his lightsaber back up, as opposed to Luke, who slings his away. And when the end of the last trilogy comes, it is the humanizing son who unmasks the father, in contrast with the impersonal machine that first masked him three films prior.

And of course, all the characters “have a bad feeling” about something at one point or another, that vague sense of existential unease lingering in the rhythms of the Force.

But beyond all this, poetry is first and foremost that which transcends its own words, that which always says more than is apparent at first glance. This plays out quite well in A New Hope when old Obi-Wan tells Luke about his father’s fate. When he remarks that Vader “betrayed and murdered” his father, he was of course speaking poetically. During the conversation on Dagobah in Return of the Jedi, he makes the metaphor explicit by admitting that when Anakin adopted the Vader mantle, the good man who was Anakin was “destroyed.” The literal-minded Luke obviously didn’t get the memo that he was in an epic poem, hence the shock of the “I am your father” proclamation.

Poetry, much like Obi-Wan, always operates from “a certain point of view,” containing a flexibility not to be found in prose. Yet because of this, it is very difficult to do much more than scratch the surface of a poem during the first reading. The same is really true of Star Wars, which no doubt so dazzles critics with special effects on their first and often only viewing they sometimes find little else about it to recommend. In the final part of this essay, this interpretive theory will be put to the test by another scene from Attack of the Clones.

Toward the end of that film, Anakin and Padme travel to Geonosis to save Obi-Wan from the fallen Jedi Count Dooku. Both committed to their respective duties of Jedi and Senator, the two have dismissed their romantic feelings for one another, despite the fact that the audience knows their repressed love must bring the twins of the original trilogy into being. Joseph Campbell would have defined this as the “refusal of the call” to adventure, this particular adventure being to awaken certain aspects of their psyches and open them up to a larger emotional experience.

One criticism of the film is the sudden coming together of Anakin and Padme at the end, yet part of their love story is symbolically enacted and worked out during a scene added after the close of production. After being chased out of a cavern by swarming Geonosians, the two find themselves overlooking a vast droid factory, only to be nearly devoured by it. While mostly computer-generated, the adventure through the factory brings them exactly where they need to be to usher a new hope into the galaxy.

As Joseph Campbell stated in The Power of Myth interviews, the “refusal of the summons converts the adventure into the negative.” The refusal of relationship between Anakin and Padme mythically means that what they won’t experience positively, they are going to experience negatively. When the floor retracts from under their feet this fall not only represents their failure, but also “rhymes” with their offspring when they will successfully swing across their own chasm in the Death Star a few films (or stanzas) later.

Campbell also notes in Power how the setting of the story is often a kind of symbolic manifestation of where the characters are internally, and so in this case Anakin and Padme find themselves trapped on the endless conveyor belts of a factory. They have been tossed into a mechanistic world, with “machines making machines” in an almost automated parody of reproduction. After stifling the natural love that would have bloomed between them, they have split their heads from their hearts, and their minds from their bodies.

Surely C-3PO’s eventual decapitation in all the chaos is commentary on this split.

One of Campbell’s favorite motifs out of Native American myth was the “refusal of the suitors,” tales usually starring eligible young women who reject any and all potential mates who try to gain their favor. This motif plays out a little with Padme (as well as with Leia later), who has lulled a part of herself asleep. After all, earlier in the film, she literally was asleep in her quarters on Coruscant, only to wake up when Anakin jumped onto her bed with his lightsaber flashing.

Sometimes a lightsaber is just a lightsaber, but the borderline Freudian imagery continues in the factory when Padme struggles with another Geonosian only to fall into a large, cup-like container. She is carted off against her will by one of the automated machines, whisked away into another part of the factory that looks as though she’s passing through the jaws of hell. The cup is a timeworn feminine symbol, and hers is about to be filled with burning, molten liquid spilling out of a large nozzle. As always, R2-D2 is quietly and efficiently working behind the scenes, the little droid saving her from the symbolism at the last second.

Meanwhile, Anakin is having his own problems. After dispatching several more Geonosians, he still falls prey to machinery, an automated arm knocking him down onto a conveyor belt. His own arm is snared and nearly welded down to a mechanism, rhyming and foreshadowing the years he will spend as “more machine” than man. His failure to woo Padme is reflected in his lightsaber hilt that is neatly split in half, emasculating imagery if ever there was any.

After the two survive all this, is it really a surprise when they pledge themselves to each other in the next scene?

Of course, some will argue Lucas was just trying to sell more video games with yet another generic action scene. Maybe he was, but for me, that’s a really boring interpretation. As the Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote, not only do we “half-perceive” the world, but we “half-create” it too. This holds as true for us when we sit down with a book of nineteenth century verse as it does when we break out the popcorn and slide a Star Wars DVD into the Playstation. At the end of the day, we’re creating the experience as much as having it, so why not make it as interesting as possible?

That has always been my mantra when it comes to interpreting Star Wars, and continues to be. “Your focus determines your reality” isn’t just a trendy Jedi aphorism, after all. From a certain point of view, Star Wars really is the epic poem of our modern age, taking the timeless themes of mythology and weaving them throughout a vast universe that we’re only beginning to learn how to live in. At its best, it teaches us how to think in multiple dimensions as opposed to only one, and simultaneously turns our eyes to the stars.

Like any good poetry, Star Wars offers a lens through which we can view not only the world from a different vantage point, but also the deep, abiding mystery that is ourselves.

* Also available at TheForcecast

Slower and Less Intense

A Study of Tera Sinube

Those who are wise won’t be busy, and
those who are too busy can’t be wise.

- Lin Yutang
The Importance of Living

The Clone Wars animated series has consistently capitalized on George Lucas’ famous and oft-quoted maxim concerning the overall direction of the Star Wars saga, “Faster and more intense.” Almost every week, fans are treated to furious lightsaber duels, fighters spinning and wheeling against the vast backdrop of space, and enormous battles that erupt across countless alien worlds.

Not to mention more star-streaking jumps to lightspeed than even the films themselves offered.

Yet in the season two episode Lightsaber Lost, the “faster and more intense” mantra is cleverly subverted by the character of Tera Sinube, an elderly Jedi master who is pulled back into active duty by a young padawan in need of his assistance. His particular brand of expertise not only helps reunite her with the missing lightsaber of the title, but single-handedly calls into question the tacit assumption that “faster and more intense” is the only way to live life in that galaxy far, far away.

While boasting its fair share of breathless chases and epic stunts, Lightsaber Lost also offers a quiet philosophy at its core, and the Tera Sinube character is its beating heart. Doing what Star Wars does best, this story is served well by stunning visuals and the best computer animation available, but it carries with it timely and timeless themes celebrating not simply patience, but the surprising virtues of moving slowly.

Not long after the episode begins, the padawan Ahsoka Tano abruptly realizes her lightsaber has been stolen by one of the many thugs populating the Coruscant underworld. Though growing increasingly skilled in the ways of the Force, the Jedi learner is also proud and impetuous, and decides not to confide to her master that her saber was taken during their mission.

After all, she’s been the last in a long line of padawans receiving the “this weapon is your life” speech.

Of course, the lightsaber itself has always been more than simply a weapon. Since the beginning of the saga, it has been the symbol of “a more civilized age,” the thing that immediately sets the Jedi apart. George Lucas has used the saber to echo back to the stories of the knights of the Round Table and the samurai, evoking times in our own fabled past when honor was paramount. The glowing blades also conjure up the flaming swords of Biblical and Buddhist lore, whether it be the ones angels used to guard the way into the Garden of Eden, or the one the bodhisattva Manjushri used to cut away ignorance and delusion.

Perhaps it is not too much to say that the lightsaber is the humming soul of the Jedi who meticulously crafts and constructs it, and maybe that’s what our little Togruta padawan really lost.

With nowhere else to turn, the bereft Ahsoka marches into the vast Archives in the Jedi Temple. It is there that Jocasta Nu, the galactic archetype for knowledgeable librarians everywhere, guides her to a new mentor. As a retired Jedi sleuth, Tera Sinube is an alleged expert in the Coruscant underworld, and Jocasta assures Ahsoka he will be most helpful on her quest. For her part, Ahsoka is considerably less sure about this, especially when they finally discover the Cosian master nestled away at a computer console, having clearly dozed off in the middle of his research.

While Ahsoka is not impressed and Sinube himself insists he was only “resting my eyes,” for me this scene calls into sharp contrast another old patriarch of the galaxy. Let’s be honest. It’s almost impossible to imagine a Republic senator or corporate power broker ever walking into Palpatine’s office and finding the Supreme Chancellor contently snoozing at his desk. Generally speaking, catching someone enjoying a quiet little nap in the middle of the day is a good indication that the being in question is at least not a power-driven lunatic trying to take over the galaxy. This alone speaks volumes about Sinube.

Anyway, Ahsoka is naturally worried that the elder Jedi is going to slow down her pursuit and, in classic fairy tale style, it is true that Sinube doesn’t cut a particularly impressive figure at first (especially when he finally rises from his station and is so bent over with age he remains the same height as when he was sitting). Their relationship is pretty clearly established in this scene, with Ahsoka anxiously pacing around while he fumbles and mumbles around the computer database. Though Sinube’s hokey pun about “fishy” aliens pulls a grimace out of Ahsoka, she is nonetheless relieved when he manages to track down the thief in question.

With the suspect identified, Ahsoka is ready to launch the quest for her lightsaber. She tellingly refers to Sinube as “gramps,” predictably squirming and backing away before he can follow. She’s obviously looking for a tactful way of ditching the old guy, not unlike a teenage girl who’s terrified a grandparent might want to accompany her to the mall. But Sinube hasn’t been on assignment in years, and sagely warns Ahsoka, “if you don’t slow down, you won’t find what you’re looking for.”

As the unlikely pair journey to one of the capital’s slum districts, their fast and slow dynamic becomes even more apparent. Ahsoka is quick to flare up and demand to know who’s been trying to sell her missing saber. By contrast, Sinube follows his nose, going along with the various alien dealers they meet up with, more or less just staying alert and letting the exchanges play out as they will. Pretty soon, the elderly Jedi master learns the whereabouts of Bannamu the pickpocket, though he still insists on moving slowly and deliberately throughout the investigation.

The ideas of “fast” and “slow” are about more than mere changes in rates of speed in this episode, and the same holds true for Canadian journalist Carl Honore. As opposed to a simple shifting of gears, Honore describes them as shorthand for “ways of being, or philosophies of life.”

In his cheerfully subversive, internationally bestselling book In Praise of Slowness, Honore posits that “Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality.” Interestingly enough, some of those attributes almost smell of the dark side. “Slow is the opposite,” he argues, adding it is “calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity.” By contrast, plenty of light side mantras lurk in that definition.

To Honore, slowness doesn’t mean mere sluggishness, but rather taking the time to make real connections with ourselves and the world. Modern culture finds itself precariously out of balance because all the emphasis is on speed, and the virtues of going fast have been eaten up by the law of diminishing returns. Our society is therefore largely defined by traffic jams, road rage, overwork, ringing alarm clocks, sleep deprivation, instant coffee, microwaved meals, fast food, violent indigestion, and the perpetual need for faster and faster Internet connections.

Maybe all of this has something to do with the fact that the average American attention span is somewhere under eight seconds and maybe it doesn’t, but it does eloquently outline much of the subtext found in Lightsaber Lost.

Tera Sinube’s philosophy continues to play out in the scene when he and Ahsoka are creeping along the halls of Bannamu’s hideout. Sinube chastises his young ward, warning her that she needs to be quieter. Ahsoka grumpily acknowledges him, but she doesn’t get his real meaning.

“Not quiet with your mouth,” he explains, “Quiet with your mind.” Sinube tells Ahsoka that her “worry is equal to his,” and that if only her busy mind would grow silent, she could sense the thief’s anxiety.

Again, this is the kind of ancient wisdom that is sprinkled throughout Star Wars. The Jedi and the Force have been linked with Eastern philosophy since the saga began, with more than one lightsaber-wielding adept spouting proverbs which could have just as easily sprung from the mouth of a spiritual master in China or Japan centuries ago. The line about quieting one’s mind is actually one of the aphorisms of the Indian sage Patanjali, who noted that the beginning of yoga was the slowing of the perpetual turnings of our consciousness. Tera Sinube operates in this sphere of enlightened teachers, all of whom have traditionally valued silence over speech and stillness over action.

In his seminal book The Way of Zen, Alan Watts wrote that the first principle of any of the Far Eastern arts is that “hurry, and all that it involves, is fatal.” Zen Buddhism in particular is not about chasing after things like truth, but rather getting out of its way and allowing truth to reveal itself to you. Part of Zen discipline conversely means accepting that this is a process, and one that can’t be hurried any more than an acorn can be hurried into an oak tree. From this point of view, putting a finish line at the end of the race unnecessarily separates the beginning from the end, when it’s all really one process. As Watts remarked, “for it is when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are open to receive the world.”

This is precisely what Sinube is slyly teaching Ahsoka throughout the episode, but in part he’s also letting her find it out for herself. After all, there has always been much talk in the Jedi philosophy about “letting go.” It is the same in the Zen arts, for it is only when one lets things happen rather than egotistically trying to make them happen that life starts functioning properly. The art is to let the canvas paint itself, the flowers arrange themselves, and even the arrow find its own way to the target.

Or in the case of Tera Sinube, it’s pretty much about letting the criminals capture themselves.

After interrogating the truly fishy Bannamu, Sinube and Ahsoka travel to the upper east side, where a being named Nack Movers lives. Or at least, he had once lived there. Not long after purchasing Ahsoka’s lightsaber, poor Nack is dead on his apartment floor.

When our two Jedi arrive, they not only find Nack’s lifeless body, but his quivering girlfriend Ione Marcy. Sinube senses that Ione seems terrified of something other than the gang who allegedly killed her Transdoshan snuggle-bunny (my phrasing). Still impatient, Ahsoka stomps into the adjacent room, and is confronted by another girl by the name of Cassie Cryar. Once Ahsoka spots her beloved lightsaber in Cassie’s hand, she sees the mask-sporting thief dive out the window.

As Ahsoka gives chase, Sinube seemingly acts as a comfort to Ione, while simultaneously planting a tracking beacon on her. Ever the sleuth, he teases out information about the crime scene Sherlock Holmes-style, noting that not only was Nack Movers poisoned, but that Ione has a very hard time keeping her odd alien hands from shaking. Sinube finally tells her she wasn’t afraid because her Transdoshan love-muffin (still my phrasing) was killed, but rather because she was in league with the saber-stealing girl. When Ione gives herself away and bursts out of the apartment, Sinube simply shakes his head and sadly laments, “Off she goes. Always rushing.”

During all this, Ahsoka and Cassie have taken rushing to a whole new level, a stunning chase ensuing across the endless Coruscant skyline. Unfortunately for the still saberless padawan, Cassie is an incredibly nimble Terrelian Jango Jumper, one capable of acrobatic feats that could rival that of a Force-user. The pursuit across the rooftops is truly amazing, with both girls diving, flipping, leaping, and pouncing from one narrow ledge to the next.

Yet, predictably, all these death-defying jumps are to no avail, as Ahsoka loses her quarry. In one of the more memorable bits of the episode, our young Togruta heroine winds up sliding down a giant animated billboard of a Stalin-esque Palpatine, who’s busy spreading baseless, anti-Jedi propaganda (again, one of the worst things about wannabe galactic tyrants is that they never seem to catch up on their sleep, much less take a day off).

After borrowing a police speeder with maybe the help of a mind-trick or two, Sinube putters up to the side of a building where his student has had no choice but to finally stop hurrying and sit down. Pleased she’s finally learning patience, Sinube invites her on the little speeder, though when’s he behind the controls, “speeder” is pretty much a misnomer. The two crawl across the skylanes as the rest of the flying traffic furiously races by. Ahsoka turns impatient teenager again until Sinube calmly explains he planted a tracking beacon on Ione, and there’s no rush because he knows right where the femme fatales are fleeing to.

Soon after the Jedi odd couple arrives at the hover train station where the beacon is transmitting, Ione Marcy stumbles into the waiting arms of some police droids. As Sinube coolly addresses how rude she was to hurry off in the middle of their conversation, Ahsoka once more gives chase to Cassie Cryar, who speeds away on a hover train. Wildly wielding the stolen saber with all the finesse of a Kowakian monkey-lizard, Cassie crashes into a passenger car and grabs some hostages.

Ahsoka does give a moment’s pause here and, to her credit, tries to negotiate with the panicked Jango Jumper. Yet when the train pulls into the next station, it is Sinube who saves the day. Like a formidable oak that has been planted there waiting all along, he stands in the way when the train doors slide open. Suddenly revealing that his wicked cool cane pulls double duty as a lightsaber, he snaps the flashing blue blade into action. With several fluid moves, he effortlessly disarms Cassie and deftly flicks Ahsoka’s saber right into her waiting hand. Using the other half of his cane, he knocks Cassie out, and she is soon in the hands of the authorities.

Reunited with her saber, Ahsoka is properly awestruck. “For a guy who moves slow,” she admits, “you always seem to get ahead of me.” As centered as ever, Sinube merely replies, “The value of moving slowly is that one can always clearly see the way ahead.” This is surely a bit of wisdom the Jedi Order as a whole could have learned from, particularly as they stumble through the “cloud of the dark side” obscuring the real reasons for the Clone Wars.

Master and padawan return to the Jedi Temple, that towering structure that grew as slowly as the wisdom that fostered the whole Order. In the end, Sinube gently requests that Ahsoka only “pass on” what she has learned, and she does exactly that. The episode calls back to the interplay of the young and the old that was once quite common among tribal cultures still living out their myths and sacred stories. The timeless truths were passed on into new hearts and minds, from one generation to the next. As we watch Ahsoka learn a new way of knowledge and experience from Sinube, that archetypal rhythm has once again found another chord.

Tera Sinube was born out of The Clone Wars series, but he has a certain quality about him that makes him seem as though he’s been patiently waiting his turn backstage since that first opening crawl rolled up into space. Perhaps that’s why his championing of slowness is down to an art form. Charming and humorous, he represents what was best about the Jedi Order before the Empire and the Dark Times. He’s also a quiet reminder that, as cool and exhilarating as it is to make the jump into hyperspace, in order to really feel and appreciate our kinship with the stars, sometimes we have to cut right to the sublight engines, and just let ourselves coast.

“Wisely, and slow,” Shakespeare himself advised. “They stumble that run fast.”

* Also available at

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Case for Jar Jar

The 2002 Star Wars Heresy that Started Them All

Most native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies lest they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise. The trickster in most native traditions is essential to creation, to birth.

- Professor Byrd Gibbens
University of Arkansas
Even more than a decade after the release of The Phantom Menace, a person does not lightly take on defending a character that is easily the most reviled in the entire Star Wars galaxy.

Much has been said about Jar Jar Binks, the floppy-eared Gungan who bumbled his way across movie screens - but not into the hearts of very many movie goers. While he is at least recognized as something of a technical achievement who will go down in cinema history as the first totally computer-generated character, he's not likely to go down as a favorite character, computer-generated or not.

In case you failed to notice, people don't seem to like Jar Jar. At all. They don't like the way he walks, nor do they like the way he talks. They don't like anything about him.

Shortly after the film's release, websites began popping up all over the internet with catchy names like "Jar Jar Sucks!" and even the more-to-the-point "Jar Jar Binks Must Die!" Some even provided forums so angry, disgruntled fans could go on at great length concerning just how badly he had annoyed them and ruined what should have been a very solemn occasion.

And the computer savvy twenty and thirty-something fans weren't the only ones that had issues with him. Every major media outlet from Salon to USA Today featured articles about his broken English and wobbly gait, and the very real chance that creator George Lucas was using him to promote some kind of racist stereotyping. At last count, he was a punch line on Jeopardy.

Hopefully this will be the only point in the history of Western civilization when an orange amphibian with eye-stalks and a fondness for bell-bottoms will invoke such furious, indignant hatred.

As for me, though, I just can't quite let this one go yet.

I am one of the few who can admit to liking Jar Jar, and I will say that he has grown on me even more since The Phantom Menace was first released. So this is to be my defense of him, born basically out of a respect for George Lucas, and the simple belief that he still knows what he's doing.

That's the point of view to start from anyway, because when you do, it leads to some very interesting places, as I hope to demonstrate. Much more so than all the endless whining and complaining does anyway.

The Case for Jar Jar is an interpretation to be sure, but hopefully it is at least an informed one. Naturally, all film is interpretive, but myth is even more so. So much depends on the audience.

Unfortunately, The Phantom Menace did not quite find the audience that was genuinely willing to give up its preconceptions or ideas of what a "real" Star Wars film was supposed to be like. Well, not until I came along anyway. George Lucas admitted early on he was doing some things he would get "killed for" in the first prequel, but I for one like the perpetual playing against our expectations.

As the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn said, "Nothing happens by accident," and with that in mind, I launch into why Jar Jar not only belongs in that galaxy far, far away that we all love so much, but is in fact a welcome addition to it.

The Gungan Prince

Most of us know the story of the Frog Prince in Grimm's Fairy Tales.

It concerns the youngest of a king's daughters, a beautiful maiden who is having an ordinary day playing with a golden ball until she accidentally drops it down a well. Very disheartened, she cannot go to retrieve it herself because she is dressed in an extravagant jeweled gown. A frog eventually comes up to her and agrees to get her ball back - but only if she will take him home with her and let him live in her house.

Though she has some misgivings, the princess consents and the frog quickly finds the ball and brings it back to her. Once it is returned, the young girl runs home, and the frog is forced to give chase. When she tells her father what has happened, he informs her she must live up to her vow. She takes the frog in, but eventually gets very angry with him and hurls him against a wall.

Afterwards, he is transformed into a handsome prince, and as soon as he explains how a witch had cursed him, the two are married.

Obvious parallels can be drawn between this story and the one told in The Phantom Menace.

For one, we have a young, disenfranchised princess who can only get back her vitality by dealing with a talking frog, a creature she clearly has a good deal of disdain for. While Queen Amidala certainly does not hold Jar Jar in disdain, she and the rest of the Naboo are most certainly alienated from the species of Gungans whom they share their planet with. Amidala does share the princess' keen fashion sense, and the scene that most immediately comes to mind here is the one in which Jar Jar counsels her on Coruscant.

Unlike the little girl, Amidala has not lost simply her golden ball, but her entire planet, and she can only win it back again by the aid of a very lowly creature who stands in sharp contrast to the magnificent Senate halls and exotic alien politicians she has just appealed to. The group goes back to Naboo, where Jar Jar swims down to Otoh Gunga, his underwater city, to gain audience with the Gungan leader Boss Nass. It is fitting that the entire city is made up of great golden balls.

As we all know, the Naboo and the Gungans eventually come together and reclaim their home from the Trade Federation, and while Jar Jar does not turn into a prince, he does turn into a general. The symbolic celebration- wedding at the end of the film is between two cultures rather than Amidala and Jar Jar, but it represents basically the same thing. The allusions in and of themselves are very interesting, but the ideas they represent are critical for the case being presented here.

It is a long standing tradition in myth and fairy tale that characters are rarely what they seem. They often come from the lowest points on the societal totem pole, most often some kind of hermit or wandering beggar, but they provide the hero with a crucial bit of insight into the genuine scheme of things. We see this again and again in the original trilogy. Luke Skywalker is quick to dismiss the crazy, swamp-dwelling Yoda before he realizes who he is, though by the time he meets up with the Ewoks, he has learned his lesson and is not so quick to dismiss their value.

The simple moral point of the story is that greatness can be found in the simplest of places, and outward appearance is not the same thing as internal reality. Certainly this point is quite obvious in Jar Jar Binks, perhaps more so than in anyone else. As many have pointed out, even the characters in the actual movie don't like him.

After Qui-Gon saves his life from his own people who want to kill him for constantly causing trouble through his clumsiness, Amidala is really the only person that takes any interest in him at all. She talks to him aboard her ship, and even helps him get his hand unstuck from Anakin's pod on Tatooine.

As for the rest of the good guys, Anakin ignores him, Obi-Wan jokingly refers to him as a "worthless lifeform," and even C-3PO admits he finds him quite "odd." Not too many Jar Jar supporters to be found, onscreen or off.

The point has been driven home in so many different ways I personally find it hard to believe that Lucas did not deliberately set it up to be interpreted like that. After all, it is Jar Jar that makes victory against the Trade Federation possible. It is Jar Jar who counsels Amidala in her moment of darkest despair. And it is Jar Jar who brings two completely alienated cultures together to live as one.

Jar Jar's role as someone who breaks down oppositional thinking can be found symbolically in the fact that he is amphibious - a creature meant to walk on land but also swim in water. The tie between Amidala and himself is so strong because she performs the same capacity, reconciling her double identity as handmaiden and queen while simultaneously appealing to Boss Nass, the symbolic "other." What makes Jar Jar special is the fact that he is completely despised and is depicted to be so worthless.

Everyone knows the importance of the late Joseph Campbell's work in relation to Star Wars, even though of late, it has become a greatly simplified aspect of the whole saga. Still, in an interview with Michael Toms that went on to be printed as a book known as An Open Life, Campbell talked about the role of the fool and the trickster in myth.

Even though some might disagree, he largely used the terms interchangeably, and that works excellently here. Both archetypes are outsiders, characters that come from somewhere other than the organized system. Campbell says that they essentially play the role of the unconscious mind, and frequently come in to "trip up the rational situation."

Certainly Jar Jar does this again and again, constantly falling, tripping, and occasionally taking a few battle droids with him. The trickster and the fool represent all those untapped potentials that the rational consciousness doesn't always want to deal with, and this neatly ties in to the relation between the "classical" Naboo and the "primitive" Gungans. Campbell wrote that the "fool really became the instructor of kings because he was careless of the king's opinion."

We see on Coruscant that, while Jar Jar is not necessarily careless of the queen's opinion, he does instruct her, regardless of whether or not he recognizes what he's accomplishing.

The Lowest of the Low

On some level, it really is amazing that no one has really questioned whether or not any of this is intentional on Lucas' part. The linking of Jar Jar with the most undesirable aspects of life is actually something of a sub-theme in the film. Even his appearance has more than its share of psychological relevance.

The creature that Jar Jar and the rest of the Gungans most closely resemble is a frog, and that is how they are described in the script.

This is very interesting, because as mammalians, self-conscious human beings tend not to bond well with such things. Certainly there is a strong dislike of reptiles like snakes, but on a very general level, frogs also trigger feelings of repulsion for most people. This is in direct contrast to fuzzy animals, and may have something to do with the reason that the ever-furry Chewbacca has such a large following.

Of course, young children have no such compulsions against frogs and will often try to pick them up without a second thought. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung even established that the frog is a prominent animal symbol for toddlers, and interestingly enough, those are the ones who likewise have the least problem with Jar Jar. Controversial or no, Lucasfilm has always reported that Jar Jar is a very popular character for children six and under.

One of the top German symbolists in the field, Han Biedermann noted in his Dictionary of Symbolism that while frogs may be disgusting to people in real life, when they show up in dreams they usually bring positive connotations. If one recalls the intense relationship dreams and myths share, the link with Jar Jar once again presents itself. Just as frogs are linked to lower degrees of psychological transformation, so is Jar Jar. This is the meaning of the Frog Prince, where the despised frog eventually becomes the desired prince.

The last and most extreme aspect of this to be discussed here is the use of scatological humor in the film, and how it is irrevocably linked to Jar Jar.

Honestly, the amount of anger and resentment some fans have felt over the use of low-brow, "Adam Sandler-esque humor" in The Phantom Menace would cause one to think the film was nothing but one long poop joke. There are actually only two scenes that boast such characteristics, both of which take place on Tatooine.

The first involves Jar Jar sauntering through Mos Espa and stepping in a pile of probably bantha droppings, and the second when an Eopie breaks wind right in front of him before the podrace. These scenes could have easily just been written off as either funny or unfunny, but given the amount of intense scrutiny and perverse attention they have received in forums across the web, a reply definitely needs to be given.

Interestingly enough, they are perhaps the most overt bit of Lucas once again attaching our poor Gungan to the most undesirable things imaginable. When you start filming excrement and creatures stepping in it, you're hitting life at what seems to be its lowest point - which may very well be the point. This association with fools and so on and excrement is actually not anything new to the world of myth.

In Primitive Mythology, Campbell notes that clown figures in certain early cultures actually symbolically digested excrement. Again, one has the lowest caste and the lowest form of matter wedded together. But as was eventually proven by the famous Dublin writer James Joyce some centuries later, there is a method to this madness.

A huge influence on Campbell, Joyce did what few Western authors have ever done - he followed his characters into the bathroom. In his masterpiece Ulysses, readers are indeed invited into the lavatory, right alongside the novel's protagonist, Leopold Bloom. It is said more is known about Bloom than about any other character in Western literature, and that is probably not far from the truth.

Though some early critics believed it to be simply "dirt for dirt's sake," the point Joyce was making was that real psychological salvation can come only through acceptance of the total human being. Carl Jung would also later stress this idea, demonstrating that when a person only accepts the desirable aspects of the self while either repressing or projecting onto someone else all the undesirable ones, one becomes a neurotic.

When Lucas links Jar Jar with defecation in a Star Wars film, he is perhaps simply saying one cannot have a rose without expecting a few thorns.

At this point, no doubt most Jar Jar haters will just throw up their hands. Beads of sweat are already probably forming on their foreheads, and nostrils are no doubt flaring as they read this. Some are inevitably thinking that this is the stupidest thing they've ever heard in their lives, and that no one can possibly be meant to read this much into it. And they may be right.

But think about this. It certainly isn't any more ridiculous than the charges of racism and the like that was broadcast by most of the increasingly attention-deficit media outlets when Episode One was released. As the Jungian analyst Stephen Galipeau wrote in his superb critique of The Phantom Menace, the negative projection that so many people are casting onto Jar Jar is in itself the substance behind racism.

In such a situation, all the undesirable aspects of the self are projected onto another social group rather than being internally recognized and dealt with. The point Lucas is making is precisely the opposite, just as Joyce and Jung insisted.

Salvation comes only in acceptance of the whole, desirable and undesirable alike.

The Law of Reversed Effort

Granted, Jar Jar doesn't always do much to help out his own image.

Throughout the first prequel, our Gungan basically just goes from one situation to the next, and most of the time landing himself in trouble. If he's not knocking over pit droids in Watto's shop, he's inadvertently picking fights with Sebulba. It he's not getting his hand caught in Anakin's podracer, he's accidentally falling off his kaadu.

Or to put the situation in his own words - "My no know ... Mesa day starten pitty okeyday witda brisky morning munchen. Den boom ... getten berry skeered, un grabben dat Jedi, and before mesa knowen it ... pow! Mesa here."

With Jar Jar, there's a lot of "pows" and a a lot of "mesa heres." He essentially spends the film sliding - or tripping - from one scene to the next, and one planet to the next, with very little thought as to what is actually going on. The curious thing is, whatever situation he finds himself in, he always manages to get out of it.

In short, the Force is with him.

While this does not imply Qui-Gon should have taken up the cause for him being trained as a Jedi as well as Anakin, it does imply that Jar Jar has a certain something that allows him to survive in very dangerous situations. He clearly does not have the serene calm of a Jedi knight, nor the courage of a political leader, but he does have a kind of flexibility that lets him survive many scenes in which he should have been killed a dozen times over.

Rather than simply writing this off as lazy plotting on Lucas' part, it seems more prudent to try and figure out what is actually being said.

One thing that everyone can agree on about Jar Jar is that he seems to lack the acute self-consciousness that marks most of the other characters. If Jar Jar comes face to face with a Colo Claw fish deep in the waters of Naboo's core, Jar Jar is going to scream bloody murder about it. No need for pretense or perhaps making a cool, Han Solo-esque remark.

Frankly, Jar Jar reacts the way a child would react, and that's that. What you see is exactly what you get. He lacks any developed self-consciousness, and is always and completely in the present moment. There are no scenes with him idly reflecting on the stars or longing to become something other than what he is.

The theme of the Living Force is very prominent in The Phantom Menace, and it seems to me to tie in with Jar Jar's character. While he has no formal training in the ways of the Force and expresses his doubts to its existence, he is in fact remarkably closer to it in certain respects. Some will argue this, saying that one should have to devote years of arduous practice and meditation to develop an awareness of the Force.

That is definitely one way of doing it, and it certainly appeals to people who take great spiritual pride in religious exercises and the like. But this also implies that the Force is somewhere other than in the everyday world, however, and we know such is not the case. Life creates it, and makes it grow. Simple, unpretentious life.

All the years it takes to become a Jedi is fine, but this is the path for the self-conscious. Jar Jar is different. Much of the Jedi way is based on feeling, not thinking, and essentially letting go and flowing with the situation. It is based on instinct, not the rational, linear intellect that is born of acute reflection. On the contrary, Jedi are taught to unlearn such things.

Well, Jar Jar is already there at the beginning of The Phantom Menace. And as a result, he's got more lives than a cat.

The philosophy of the Living Force is probably closest to the real world of Zen Buddhism, with its emphasis on being in the present moment. Essentially the Japanese form of Chinese Taoism, the ideal in this tradition is not to be "born again," but rather to become "unborn." Or as the sage Lao Tzu put it twenty-five hundred years ago, "Return to the state of the uncarved block."

The movement of all the great Eastern masters is thus a return to something that has been lost, rather than striving for something that has to be created. In their simplest, "no-mind" state, everyone has it. For that reason, the mysterious, ineffable Tao of Chinese philosophy is often linked to the unself-conscious child.

The Tao is also thought of as being like water, for water does not resist and always flows in the direction of least resistance. Water is obviously something Jar Jar is closely linked with, and he swims in it as naturally as he does the Living Force.

Both water and Jar Jar are also paradoxes. After all, it is water alone that has enough power to carve out the Grand Canyon, and likewise it is Jar Jar alone that is able to inflict serious damage on the droid armies of the Trade Federation.

This point of view works perfectly once an audience gets around the idea that Jar Jar's actions are - or even need to be - intentional.

The Gungan just instinctively seeks out the lowest point on the battlefield, cowering under a primitive transport. This inadvertently sets off a chain reaction in which Gungan energy balls are unleashed at a key moment and destroy several pursuing Federation tanks. After this, he is blown from a kaadu onto another tank, fumbles another energy ball but still manages to take out another droid, and then rides it like a cowboy as it lurches wildly from one side to the other.

If he had been self-conscious during all this, he would have broken his neck. Lao-Tzu once wrote that the "branch that is unbending is easily broken," but Jar Jar bends throughout the movie. And thus he is able to spring back like a limber branch shaking off a few ounces of snow rather than not being able to and thus cracking under its weight.

As seen in the "making of" documentary on The Phantom Menace DVD (aka "The Beginning"), when Lucas was directing Ahmed Best, the actor portraying Jar Jar, he was very adamant that Ahmed was extremely loose in his movements. Footage is even available where Lucas describes the Gungan's arms as "not having a lot in them." This is the very thing that allows Jar Jar to survive so many dangerous encounters.

A self-conscious human being can fall out a window and break half the bones in his body, yet an unself-conscious cat can fall out the same window and land on its feet. The essence of both Taoism and Zen is reclaiming that forgotten instinctual wisdom, and Jar Jar can quite easily be adopted as an example of it. From a certain point of view, of course.

Furthermore, the Taoist sage Chuang-Tzu wrote once of an infant who can cry all day without growing hoarse, clench his fist all day without getting a sore hand, and gaze all day without eyestrain. He is described as "Free from care, unaware of self, he acts without reflection, stays where he is put, does not know why, does not figure things out, just goes along with them, is part of the current." This is seen as the beginning of perfection.

Again, the Jedi are not those who learn, but those who unlearn, as Yoda himself instructs.

For his part, Jar Jar doesn't know or need to know, and therefore triumphs in spite of himself. He can likewise scream all day without becoming hoarse, survive great falls without being hurt, and easily fall asleep anywhere. He symbolically represents that place where wisdom looks foolish and foolishness looks wise.

There is one more great Taoist parable that may prove helpful when trying to understand this interpretation of Jar Jar.

In "The Useless Tree," a man is heckling Chuang-Tzu. He tells him about a stinktree that has a knotted trunk and crooked branches, and is not even worth cutting down. It is completely worthless. Then he says that the same is true of the old master's teaching. Chuang-Tzu replies that he's thinking about the tree in the wrong way. If it can't be used by carpenters, it should be used as a shade tree.

That is the virtue of its uselessness.

The same could be said for Jar Jar. Just because he may not fit perfectly into preconceptions, he has use, even if it manifests only in his uselessness. A fine lesson indeed, albeit totally at odds with the way we all too often see things.

Sheer Nonsense

Watching an A&E Biography that featured George Lucas himself was something of a revelation.

So many people have preconceptions of not only what Star Wars should be like, but what the creator of Star Wars should be like also. When someone is as successful as Lucas has become, one can only begin to view them as almost mythic figures in their own right, whether the legends surrounding them be positive or negative.

For Lucas, they're mostly negative right now. Some fans have said straight up that with the release of the prequels and the special editions, he's ruined their childhoods.

That's too bad, because from the looks of his home movies, he's someone still very much enjoying his. Though in his late fifties, this is a man who eats cake with his hands, plays with his kids, loves to go to Disneyland, and even makes funny faces at the camera every now and again.

If only his fans could enjoy and be as creative with their lives as he's been with his, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. They'd rather see him as a money-grubbing, empire-ruling tyrant, not that far removed from the Emperor himself. This is surprising, because a good look at the Star Wars saga reveals a very tangible love of life, one completely antithetical to this view.

Though dealing with dark, complex issues, Star Wars has always had a certain ... well, "bounce" to it. As one early reviewer of A New Hope noted, the saga believes in - and celebrates - the innate goodness of people. All people. Even people like Darth Vader. Lucas is likewise clearly a man who believes that humans are essentially good when given the chance to be, and that life in itself is a positive thing. It is not something that needs to be conquered, nor does it require an explanation or an apology.

And furthermore, those that think it does are the ones who cause all the trouble.

I would also like to point out that Star Wars has always worn itself on its sleeve, and quite frankly, operates half the time on what Lucas himself calls "whimsy." Bickering robots. Silly mouse droids. Backward talking sages that sound like Grover from Sesame Street. Big hairy creatures with goofy names like "wookiee" and dancing, singing furballs that live in trees.

Clearly, if you don't have a sense of whimsy, this fictitious galaxy isn't the place for you.

Okay, so even I will admit that Jar Jar Binks does bring a level of unparalleled silliness to Star Wars that didn't exist before the prequels, but why does that have to be such a bad thing? For some it apparently does. They would be much more comfortable listening to Jedi Masters droning on about the horrors of the dark side than watching Jar Jar's clumsy antics.

But in one sense, his presence did serve to totally rip away all the pretentiousness that had built up around the saga, and actually did open up a totally new way of looking at things.

And that’s the part that really interests me.

For instance, everyone thinks the Force itself is supposed to be such a serious thing, and unfortunately, no one is more adamant about this than the Jedi Council. Their order is not only shown to be totally out of touch with the real affairs of the galaxy, but they also overload the helpless energy field with codes and labels and rules and regulations, none of which have much to do with it in the end.

Apparently clergy is clergy, no matter what universe you're in.

Still, the Force itself certainly seems to have no predisposition to what is deemed "sacred" over what is deemed "profane," and merrily swings back and forth like a pendulum between Jedi and non-Jedi alike. Even the light side and the dark side are only so many labels, perhaps a misinterpretation of the whole affair from start to finish.

Much exposition has been given on what the Force represents, but maybe it's simply a metaphor for life itself. It ebbs and it flows. To grasp it is to lose it. It is at once the cause as well as the effect. In short, it is the "bounce" of the Star Wars galaxy.

Qui-Gon knows this in The Phantom Menace, and it is his allegiance to the Living Force that allows him to be playful, whether it is catching Jar Jar's tongue over dinner, or teasing Padme when she is pretending to be a handmaiden.

Despite the Jedi Council's frowning posture on such things, perhaps summoning the Force for the amusement of lovers the galaxy over is a valid expression of it. Contrary to somehow being opposed to love, surely the mystical energy would revel in it, for it is that act that generates more life, the very thing that makes the Force grow and expand. Perhaps that is its purest form.

The poet William Blake once wrote that "energy is eternal delight," and it is sad that the Force is rarely - if ever - thought of in such terms. From this perspective, everything from the spinning of great spiral galaxies down to the microscopic dance of subatomic particles is just grooving to some eternal delight that is absolutely beyond our understanding. And perhaps the Force is too.

This is not so strange a claim as one might think.

After all, in the Indian philosophy of Vedanta, the main reason the universe even exists in the first place can be traced back to the Sanskrit word "lila," often translated as "play." Essentially doing for Eastern philosophy what Campbell did for mythology, Alan Watts interpreted such ancient teachings in one of his most famous works, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. In it, he described the entire universe as basically an incredibly elaborate game of hide-and-seek that the Godhead is playing with itself.

Along a similar vein in the West, the book of Proverbs speaks of existence as basically a manifestation of God playing out his eternal wisdom. Likewise in the Paradiso, Dante wrote of all the angels in heaven forever calling out "alleluia," which he described as the laughter of the cosmos.

Rather than the grim self-righteousness marking far too many religious fundamentalists - and perhaps far too many fanboys - it is in this contrary sense that I am talking about the Force, which plays the Star Wars galaxy as a master musician would a harp.

So when you finally do manage to break beyond certain preconceptions, you may even start to see that the Force may be less a desperate, polarized battlefield, and more of what fairy tale enthusiast G.K. Chesterton called the games that angels play.

And that’s kinda marvelous.
Silly Speak

When set against such a backdrop, the character of Jar Jar Binks might seem a bit more appropriate.

He is an absurd creation, but no more so than a duckbilled platypus or even a giraffe. Actually, Watts wrote all the time about why the real universe is a very silly place, and that some people love goofiness because to do so is to participate "in the essential glorious nonsense that is at the heart of the world." And honestly, why have a universe, whether real or fictional, that isn't mostly a fun place to be?

In conclusion, whether Jar Jar is viewed as a perfectly constructed Taoist meditation on the virtue of uselessness or a cartoonish CGI monstrosity is all in the eye of the beholder. Maybe both miss the point. But it is safe to proclaim that Jar Jar is fundamentally representative - an archetype if you will - of the "essential glorious nonsense" that Watts spoke of.

And whatever an audience member may think of it, Lucas hardly invented it with "Gungan-speak." It runs throughout the sing-songy rhymes of Middle English nursey rhymes, the tongue-twisters of Lewis Carrol in his Alice in Wonderland books, and even in the nonsensical stream-of-consciousness babblings in James Joyce's Ulysses.

Such things can't help but appeal to the fundamental silliness in some of us, and we can only pray that the rest of you can forgive us when we occasionally sneak off, say things like "bombad" and "okeyday" and "wesa no liken outlanders," and laugh like idiots.

* First published by in 2002

** Also available at TheForcecast now