Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Master - Sneak Preview

The first round of review copies of The Star Wars Heresies book should be making their way toward various bloggers and podcasters and the like. My own blog seems a good place to offer even more of a taste for what the text actually reads like, so I plan on doing a little promotional campaign with excerpts from part one over the coming months.

The book itself is divided into three parts, with each section dedicated to Episodes I and II and III respectively. Aside from an overarching theme for each film, chapters are based on a single character, delving into whatever themes, symbols, and philosophies may best be dissected using them as a template. Needless to say, Qui-Gon Jinn has proven to be a rich character all the way around, so here is a healthy except from Chapter Two – The Master:

     Playing as ambassadors to the Chancellor of the Republic, Qui-Gon is one of ten thousand Jedi Knights operating in the galaxy when The Phantom Menace begins. Sent to negotiate with the Trade Federation blockading Naboo, he and his padawan learner, one Obi-Wan Kenobi, find themselves embroiled in the middle of a full-scale invasion. Yet before lightsabers are ignited against the Federation's battle droids, the two Jedi engage in a bit of philosophy on the enormous control ship, opening up a pivotal window into their relationship.
     Acknowledging his padawan's existential unease about the situation, Qui-Gon calmly advises, "Don't center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs." This not only begins to highlight the sense of discord between Qui-Gon and a Jedi Order either mired in the past or gazing towards an uncertain future, it also firmly establishes a certain view of the galaxy.
     Qui-Gon's mind is not one that anxiously gnaws at the hours, grasping at time in a futile attempt to control its flow. His enormous sense of presence throughout the film is symptomatic of one able to settle into the moment and be content. In “The Lost Dimension of Religion,” Paul Tillich outlines the importance of this approach.
     "No one can experience depth without stopping and becoming aware of himself," the Protestant theologian writes, reflecting, "Only if he has moments in which he does not care about what comes next can he experience the meaning of this moment here and now and ask himself about the meaning of his life."
     Yet Obi-Wan takes the Jedi Council's tagline, arguing for Yoda's insistence on looking to the future. "But not at the expense of the moment," Qui-Gon evenly replies. "Be mindful of the Living Force, my young padawan." After all, contemplation of the future is itself an event in the present, this moment really containing all the others. Hence William Blake’s phrase, “Eternity opens from the centre of an atom.”
     Mindfulness of the Living Force is another phrase of deep significance, as it conjures up insights with Buddhist-flavored associations. While "mindfulness" is slowly becoming something of a catchphrase, its original meaning encompassed far more than simply paying attention.
     The twelfth century founder of Soto Zen, Dogen wrote an enormous book known as Shobogenzo. In it, he defined mindfulness as an attribute of everything. From this point of view, Qui-Gon isn't simply talking person-to-person. Like the Force itself, mindfulness flows through everything, binding it together, including Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, the droids on the ship, the ship itself, and even the surrounding stars and space.
     Of course, aside from intuition and the present moment, the Living Force also involves empathy with all living creatures. After evading the battle droids, Qui-Gon and his apprentice stow aboard Federation landing ships and wind up on the beautiful green world of Naboo, where many such creatures live. Unfortunately for some fans, this includes a duck-billed creature that bumbles a lot and speaks in a high-pitched form of galactic pig-latin.
     After inadvertently saving his life, Qui-Gon finds himself entangled with a Gungan named Jar Jar Binks. While initially wondering whether the babbling alien amphibian is "brainless," he soon feels out a current of possibility winding through the Force. Convinced he needs to make contact with the Republic Chancellor, Qui-Gon convinces Jar Jar to take them to his hidden underwater city. This begins a trend where the master sees potential in a moment where others only see "pathetic lifeforms."
     In the wondrous bubble-city of Otoh Gunga, Qui-Gon gains council with Boss Nass, the big, boisterous Gungan leader. After appealing for help to warn the Naboo, he meets resistance and, only after a Force-inspired wave of the hand does he win a transport, not to mention a dubious navigator through the planet's core. The luckless, banished Jar Jar is set to be executed, but Qui-Gon gets a mischievous twinkle in his eye and saves his life a second time.
     The passage through Naboo's watery core not only showcases some stunning CGI sea creatures, it also speaks volumes about the Jedi master.
     Constantly exuding a Zen-like calm, Qui-Gon sits in the back of the bongo transport which his apprentice deftly maneuvers. No matter whether it's an opee sea killer or a giant colo claw fish anxious to devour them, he keeps his cool, which is humorously juxtaposed against Jar Jar's growing hysteria. Even lost or in a sinking ship with no power, Qui-Gon's simple answer is, "Just relax. The Force will guide us." This establishes another trend.
     As mentioned in the chapter on the Force, in one of Alan Watts' countless lectures on Zen, he remarked how the "universe is like water." Letting go of his own fears and desires, Qui-Gon floats through the galaxy with ease, open and alert to whatever and wherever the Force wills. This continues when, even on the backwater planet of Tatooine with no money and no power supply for their ship, he meets the situation with measured calm, always assured that "another solution will present itself."
     And it always does.
     Moving without effort in the invisible currents of the Force, Qui-Gon always seems to arrive where he needs to be when he needs to be there. Sometimes even the galaxy around him gives the appropriate nudge to the journey, as when the sando aqua monster rises from the depths of Naboo and twice devours the sea creatures attacking them. This also yields one of the most prophetic lines in the film.
     Gazing out the back of the transport, Qui-Gon knowingly, and wryly, observes, "There's always a bigger fish."

As I note early in the chapter, “The unbound patterns of the Force are what he sees and follows, navigating them as skillfully as a mariner does the tides.” And if you want to read more, it just so happens there’s a link –


  1. Got my review copy the day before yesterday. Almost finished. Review ill be up by next week. Spoiler alert: It's better than I expected, and I expected perfection.

    1. Adam, needless to say, that kinda made my day. So glad you enjoyed. You are far too kind. However, I will suggest that if you ever want to cross-post your review at Amazon, that would be great. There's only five copies left in stock, though for all I know, they may have only ordered six from McFarland.

    2. The review is on JN, but not the main page or easily accessible from it. Monday I'll e-mail my editor and post the link on Storybookland (and maybe Amazon too).

  2. Ah, here it is:

    I also linked to it on Amazon and the Storybookland.

    1. Thank you much! For the Amazon bit especially. Only one copy is currently left in stock. Incidentally, for all of you doing reviews, Amazon is a great place to cross-post .....

  3. Here's my review:

    I also posted it on Amazon.

    I really would love it if you made audio commentaries of all of the movies. I would love listening to your analysis while watching the film. Honestly, I learned a lot more from your book that I did the official commentaries.

    1. Again, epic review. Thank you very much. As for audio commentaries, other people have suggested that to me. Maybe one of these days. It does sound like an interesting project. Always in motion is the future, etc., etc.

  4. Analyzing the 'force', the living force in Star Wars one recognizes that the Jedi Council was blind to it's ways. How could anyone but the Jedi Council screw up The Chosen One himself! The slave boy who knew nothing of greed. The boy, The very Chosen One of the Force, who saved Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and the Queen on Tatooine, then from there went on to save Naboo, in that cockpit instructed to not leave by Qui-Gon, save them from the invading Federation Forces. Who else could have messed that up? The boy who's only danger according to the Council was from missing his mother!

    I believe the Council was blind to it's own danger. The sith had returned, they had no idea. The Chosen One born to balance this and the Jedi Council themselves with the blindness to their own dark side destroyed the very Chosen One along with themselves. They were the blind to their own darkness.

    Qui-Gon, in Episode One 1 said that the boy was not dangerous and he was right. It was the very council who was dangerous. By jealousy, leading to envy, leading to neglect, leading to avoidance leading to Darth Vadar. I wish Anakin in Episode One set the council straight on that one right from the start.

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