Join 3,553 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


People with lots of time have novel takes on Star Wars
January 27, 2007 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Two new takes on the world of Star Wars: "The public choice economics of Star Wars: A Straussian reading"; and "A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope:Reconsidering Star Wars IV in the light of I-III." Were the Jedi actually useless and powerhungry? Was R2-D2 the true hero of the rebellion? Most importantly, where do people find the time to come up with this stuff?
posted by nevercalm (85 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Although I think it's ultimately an exercise in total geekery, I do find it entertaining to read a complete re-imagining of something I've had some solid, unexamined notions and beliefs about since I was about 6 years old. An interesting, eye-opening experience for someone utterly without religion.
posted by nevercalm at 7:21 AM on January 27, 2007


At first read it's cute but I have a feeling as time goes on stuff like this becomes as annoying as the people who still think it's funny to write about all the other nonsense "analysis" of TV shows and movies like how "Velma's really gay" or how The Incredibles was actually a metaphor for Ayn Rand and so on. The problem is, even though it's not true, the person writing the analysis is so impassioned about it people start to believe it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:39 AM on January 27, 2007


I was completely sold on the reimagined importance of R2D2 as one of the pivotal figures of the Rebel Alliance.

Chewie as a superspy? Not so much.
posted by MasonDixon at 7:47 AM on January 27, 2007


There's a long history of retcon wankery. The R2D2/Chewbacca thing is pretty funny.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 AM on January 27, 2007


I love this sort of thing and "A New Sith" is a very good example. It works best for things like this where the background details and characters are plentiful, but underdeveloped so the main action and principle characters try to take all the attention.

I don't know how one would go about deliberately creating something that inspires this sort of thing, but I think about how to do it a lot.
posted by wobh at 8:07 AM on January 27, 2007


When you say "new takes" . . . .

Kvetchery aside, I think these are awesome and would point out a related piece of writing, which develops the clever idea of the Force as a metaphor for the Plot.
posted by grobstein at 8:13 AM on January 27, 2007


i was with the R2D2 thing until it got to the Chewbacca stuff.
posted by empath at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2007


I would be interested to listen to the opinions of someone who watched the prequels before the original trilogy to see what they saw differently. While that New Sith essay stretches the point a little bit, it's true that he's a huge player in the universe -- I mean, he's part of a Jedi assault team in Sith.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:23 AM on January 27, 2007


PS, although the Incredibles is pretty clearly not "about Ayn Rand," it's still a bad example for your weirdly anti-intellectual thesis that analyses of pop-culture products can't be correct. The Incredibles really is a polemic against state celebration of mediocrity -- the people with all the natural ability are forced to hide their light and live as average (weak, inferior) folks; the villain wants to (or at least sometimes claims to want to) democratize the world by using technology to wipe out advantages of birth. You have to be a contortionist to refuse to acknowledge there's an ideology there.

It's true that the ideology of the Incredibles doesn't exactly parallel Rand's. For example (as someone pointed out around here recently?), Rand lionizes individual hard work and innovation, while the Incredibles seems to see it as potentially upsetting the natural order. But there are also some real, meaningful-seeming similarities. Most obviously, the superheroes' confinement to ordinary life entails an abandonment of their habit of using their powers for good, like an involuntary version of John Galt's strike that forms the central plot device of Atlas Shrugged.

So sure, the Incredibles isn't Randian, but it's also not devoid of (somewhat creepy) ideological commitments, and given the features it shares with Rand's thought, it's not hard to see why someone might make that connection. More importantly, the ideology is really there -- and this is true to a greater or lesser extent throughout pop culture. Does that mean every nerdy theory of Star Wars is true? No. But it does mean blanket condemnation of this theoretical enterprise is wrong.
posted by grobstein at 8:31 AM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I would be more convinced by the Chewbacca bit if the guy could spell Kashyyyk correctly.

Amateurs.
posted by naoko at 8:41 AM on January 27, 2007


Chewie as a superspy? Not so much.

That just proves how good he was.
posted by Ritchie at 8:48 AM on January 27, 2007


Chewie as a superspy? Not so much.
That just proves how good he was.

Touche.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:55 AM on January 27, 2007


I think all this is more indicative of the fact that Lucas is a bad writer. :P
posted by Foosnark at 9:11 AM on January 27, 2007


[Luke] shows no desire to train other Jedi, and probably expects to spend the rest of his life doing voices for children's cartoons.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by evilcolonel at 9:15 AM on January 27, 2007


grobstein, The Incredibles isn't an attempt to parallel Rand's writing for the same reason Velma from Scooby-Doo isn't gay, which is why I pointed them both out in my comment: because someone asked the creators if that was the case, and they said no. I'm sorry if my uneducated oafishness in taking the artists at their word over those of the bored (and usually in these circumstances chemically-altered) over the internet contradicts your "theoretical enterprise," though I would like to state for the record I find you calling it that (as I giggle imagining what you call fanfics- "outside artistic re-imaginations?") fucking hilarious.

So please, kindly take your holier-than-thou accusations of "anti-intellectualism" and relocate them forthwith to the area of your person in which a stick currently resides. Failing that, bite me.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually the R2D2 stuff is not really "reimagined". I've heard several people mention the importance of R2D2. I have a friend who makes a very compelling point that R2D2 is actually the hero of all the stories, is the most important character, and is really what the entire storyline is about.

R2D2 comes through several times where it is truly a pivotal moment in the story. Literal life and death moments, of which the story would have simply ended were it not for virtually magical occurrences. Is R2D2 only a conduit for Lucas' deus ex machina, or is R2D2 the real hero?

This friend also then goes on to make a less compelling case that R2D2 actually has the force, because of his seemingly magical timing and abilities. But it is interesting none-the-less.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:32 AM on January 27, 2007


Chomp, chomp. I don't think The Incredibles was an attempt to parallel Rand's writing either. However, it nonetheless does parallel Rand's writing in the straightforward way I outlined above. I'm also aware of (and pointed out one of) the differences. I didn't say the similarities were intentional, so it's irrelevant that the writers apparently say they weren't attempting to parallel Rand. If that was really the whole extent of our disagreement, then the whole thing was a non-malicious misunderstanding, except the part where you told me to shove my post up my ass.

The point I was making in my discussion of The Incredibles was that it has an (obvious and somewhat Rand-like) ideological position, and more broadly that the presence of ideological content in products like The Incredibles means it's sometimes appropriate to look at them a little more deeply than I thought you suggested was appropriate. That's got nothing to do with what you're sniping at me about.
posted by grobstein at 9:32 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ynoxas is right: you can absolutely watch the Star Wars movies as the story of R2, and that article isn't nearly as far-fetched as it seems. In most of the movies, he's the character who appears first--in Sith, the entire first long take comes to rest on him after barely glancing at Anakin and Obi-Wan. And if I'm not mistaken, he doesn't just often come through--he always comes through.
posted by muckster at 9:37 AM on January 27, 2007


grobstein : "I didn't say the similarities were intentional, so it's irrelevant that the writers apparently say they weren't attempting to parallel Rand."

You can compare 1984 and Brazil as having quite a bit of similarity, despite the fact that Gilliam had never read 1984 when he directed Brazil.
posted by Bugbread at 9:45 AM on January 27, 2007


However, it nonetheless does parallel Rand's writing in the straightforward way I outlined above.

So what? A generation of stoners playing Pink Floyd against a multitude of DVDs on their shelves has proven anyone can "find" the hidden meaning of anything in anything. Claiming a "straightforward" parallel in that both stories are about the incredibly broad theme of "rewarding hard work" is laughable, and to say that the intention of the writers is irrelevant is A. insulting to someone who actually creates things instead of sitting around and making up stupid "interpretations" of said creations, and B. truly the only sign of "anti-intellectualism" in this conversation.

Your comparison is, of course, wrong: Syndrome doesn't want to "democratize the world," he wants to kill all the people more powerful than him so he can then be the most powerful person on earth; not exactly a startling endorsement of Capitalism there. You must, of course, also ignore the slightly relevant issue that only the villain actually wants to use "the utmost of his abilities" for personal gain wheras the heroes in the film are merely upset they cannot help all the other weaker people in need. I could go on with this but I would hope you'd understand the general problem with your- and all these theories here- is how amazingly easy it is to make any of them when you simply pick and choose which parts of the story fit your pre-established notion. Oh my god, Ronald Wilson Reagan name six letters in each name... that must MEAN SOMETHING! AAAAH!

Is claiming an alternative theory of a story interesting? Sure. It's creative and fun to read the first time. But as I originally said, it's also annoying as time goes on and people make the same joking references over and over again. In five years we'll watch something on TV and someone'll go "you know, some say that this movie is actually a metaphor for the War of 1812" and NO, NO ONE FUCKING "SAYS" THIS. Someone wrote a half-serious blog post about five years ago and then everyone thinks it's some sort of established theory. Christ, someone made a stupid crack on UseNet 10 years ago that the Smurfs were Commies and now it's a often-repeated theory.

There is no theory. There's some bored "intellectuals." The irony of all this, of course, is that this specific one is about Star Wars, which is the ultimate of exploiting the gullibility of people to desire some kind of amusing "meaning" in a simple story. Star Wars is a Akira Kurosawa film George Lucas stole and made into a kid's movie and thirty years later it's got more internal interpretations than the bible. Please, rest assured George Lucas is chortling softly at the latest speculation that Obi-Wan was actually a representation of the decline of the Dadaist movement as he buys his next meal with your money.

As for the Incredibles itself, which I initially said as an offhanded example out of a hundred potentials and I am nearly embarassed having had to dwell on for this long, I'll defer to the Smurf item from Wikipedia as it aptly applies: While some strongly support this theory, others see it as an ad nauseam overanalysis of something primarly aimed at children.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:03 AM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


This friend also then goes on to make a less compelling case that R2D2 actually has the force, because of his seemingly magical timing and abilities.

Vader suspected that as well.
posted by homunculus at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2007


While some strongly support this theory, others see it as an ad nauseam overanalysis of something primarly aimed at children.

Because children's entertainment isn't actually art, and is thus unworthy of critical interpretation?
posted by brundlefly at 10:29 AM on January 27, 2007


Wow, every geek I know was having this coversation when, you know, the movies came out. Yes lucas was portraying them as a semi-corrupt or out of touch religious police. It builds tension and drama, two important parts of story-telling.

does everything from boingboing have to make it, even the dated crap?
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:47 AM on January 27, 2007


I once had a VERY heated 30 minute argument with my creative writing professor over something similar to the "is it in there" discussion raging above.

The professor critiqued and deconstructed a story I wrote. He arrived at an explanation that, not only wasn't intended, but was not even THOUGHT by me. I was furious, as he seemingly manufactured a meaning that was completely unrelated to what I meant to convey.

His point was that the power of interpretation lies with the reader/consumer of art, not the creator.

I've had this same discussion with a fellow MeFite who is an artist. I've seen his work, and seen something there he did not purposefully craft, but yet seems obvious.

I understand that vantage point much better now than I did 10 years ago. And though the creator's intent does count for something, ultimately, what the viewer sees/hears/thinks/feels is what really, truly MATTERS about art.

My artist friend does not offer explanations for his work. What he thinks about it is ultimately of no consequence. It is up to the viewer what it means, or doesn't mean. The creator creates for one purpose, the viewer consumes for another.

There is no reason whatsoever to expect these two things to overlap.

I have decided that art is perhaps the most difficult concept to understand that humans regularly encounter. I used to be one of those people who screamed "what is that shit? that isn't ART" and now it drives me crazy when I hear other people say it. I still have moments of weakness (like the guy putting his feces in tin-cans) but I have made a conscious effort, especially the past 5 years, to broaden my mind and tolerance for things in the art world.

Thanks Mark.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2007 [5 favorites]


where do people find the time to come up with this stuff?

It probably only took them 12 parsecs to write it.
posted by MtDewd at 11:05 AM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Incredibles may not have anything to do with Ayn Rand, but clearly they were trying to say something, just like any other children's story with a moral. I doubt they would've placed so much emphasis on that repeated line about "special" people otherwise. Lord knows what the hell they thought they were saying, though.

Surely the real problem there is the absurdly high percentage of the movie that what's-her-name spends doing housework in her bathrobe, no?
posted by equalpants at 11:10 AM on January 27, 2007


The New Star Wars movies are an abomination compared to the originals. They were flashy toy commercials poorly retro-fitted into a pre-existing general outline and vernacular (the plot points and time-lines don't even add up).

Sure. Cute, but forgettable, big budget time wasters for the kiddies but a clear nostalgia dependent rip-off for those that were adult fans of the originals. Worth a matinée price but not much in terms of discussion.

You want to read something else into them? I'd say those films have more in common with Madison Avenue marketing "How-To's" than Shakespeare. From that perspective they are brilliant.
posted by tkchrist at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2007


tkchrist writes "The New Star Wars movies are an abomination compared to the originals. They were flashy toy commercials poorly retro-fitted into a pre-existing general outline and vernacular (the plot points and time-lines don't even add up). "

You forget their major sin: they were boring as hell.
posted by brundlefly at 11:22 AM on January 27, 2007


You can compare 1984 and Brazil as having quite a bit of similarity, despite the fact that Gilliam had never read 1984 when he directed Brazil.

Yet Gilliam did live in a world with people who had read 1984, and reacted to it in works that Gilliam no doubt did read or see. And he spent years working closely with a bunch of loons from the country that created Orwell. Tangled web.

...to say that the intention of the writers is irrelevant is A. insulting to someone who actually creates things instead of sitting around and making up stupid "interpretations" of said creations, and B. truly the only sign of "anti-intellectualism" in this conversation.

XQUZYPHYR, you seem really fired up about this, and your dismissive tack is treading well into overbearing rudeness. I'm sorry if too many geeks have quoted pop culture analysis to you, but there's no clear reason for you to be a jerk about it here.
posted by cortex at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2007


Is R2D2 only a conduit for Lucas' deus ex machina, or is R2D2 the real hero?

I respectfully submit that R2-D2 is merely Lucas' attempts to channel the "fool" concept from Shakespeare and classic Western literature. The fool character is walking irony -- the guy no one respects, but who is actually more wise and capable and armed with a better grip on reality that any of the main characters. Kurosawa did it, too; Lucas actually cribbed the idea from him.

Doesn't explain how R2-D2 suddenly sports rockets for flight in Episode 2, though ...
posted by frogan at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I respectfully submit that R2-D2 is merely Lucas' attempts to channel the "fool" concept from Shakespeare and classic Western literature.

But does the classic "fool" character usually affect the plot as much as he does? I think of the fool as more of a Greek chorus character than one who acts.

I could be wrong, though
posted by Bookhouse at 11:45 AM on January 27, 2007


But does the classic "fool" character usually affect the plot as much as he does?

Feste
Puck
Yorick

How can you stage Hamlet without Yorick? ;-)
posted by frogan at 11:56 AM on January 27, 2007


R2-D2 is like a Ginsu Swiss Army Knife. Whatever the hell you needed to come out of him, it's there. Need a holoprojector? Done. A little arm to manipulate stuff with? No problem. A male connector to "interface" with a data port? Easy as pie. Little cattle prod to make some funny on an Ewok? Sure thing, boss. Aw yeah, now I got rockets, rockets FFS!

I'm surprised the little son of a bitch didn't sprout lightsabers like a hedgehog and cut up Grevious himself.

I think he had some other little trick in there, damned if I remember what it was though.
posted by Talanvor at 11:59 AM on January 27, 2007


bugbread: "You can compare 1984 and Brazil as having quite a bit of similarity, despite the fact that Gilliam had never read 1984 when he directed Brazil."

Brazil (1985)
Directed by
Terry Gilliam
[...]
Also Known As:
1984½ (UK) (working title)
posted by Drexen at 12:03 PM on January 27, 2007


How can you stage Hamlet without Yorick?

"Alas, poor James Brown! I knew him, Quadrupio."
posted by cortex at 12:13 PM on January 27, 2007


Yes. But you don't have to have read a book to use its title as a working title. Trust me on this, I've heard interviews and read interviews with Gilliam where he states that he'd never read 1984 before or during the creation of Brazil (I dunno if he has since then).
posted by Bugbread at 12:13 PM on January 27, 2007


Post-hoc theories are fun and nothing to get mad about, but you have to be clear about what you are claiming:
- this is merely a new way to look at a work; there is no claim to the artist's "true" motives, known or unknown, or of drawing from the same inspirations
- this is a way to look at the work that sheds some light on the artist's motivations, perhaps unknown to him or her; this interpretation demonstrates partly "why" the work was made as it was
- this explains what the artist intended; the work's true "meaning" is explained here

The third is clearly vulnerable to artist comment; the first is not. The second is arguable (should the artist want to go there -- most don't).

The problem I have with many analyses of films, poems, etc, is that an analyst starts out claiming only the first type of commentary but then adopts the attitude of the second or third. Fight Club was about anti-Sweden animus (in the form of IKEA). Lord of the Rings was an allegory of schoolyard bullying at recess. 2001 was an ode to a large, rectangular vibrator.

People have every right to get upset at those kinds of assertions (if that's where they want to put their energy). Essays, on the other hand, that offer an "alternative humorous interpretation of X" should cause no one any grief. The problem seems to be that ego or some other stakes (a Master's thesis, perhaps?) prevents the analyst from adopting the appropriate tone and relative position of their own work.

Anyone who thinks that all penetrating film analysis is either BS or insightful should go hence immediately to Metaphilm where, after very little reading, you will realize that there is plenty of both.
posted by dreamsign at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I too have always though of R2 as the most important character. Always there, providing the necessary nudge to propel events in the right direction.

muckster : And if I'm not mistaken, he doesn't just often come through--he always comes through.

Well, there was that point in Empire where he mistakes a power coupler for a data port, but other than that...

Years ago, before the prequels came out, my friend developed a theory that Obi Wan was actually the trilogies main villain. I don't remember the specifics, but there was something about how he used his persuasive powers to corrupt a young boy into destroying the works of his father. A man whom Obi Wan had a long standing grudge.
posted by quin at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2007


bugbread: "Trust me on this, I've heard interviews and read interviews with Gilliam where he states that he'd never read 1984 before or during the creation of Brazil (I dunno if he has since then)."

Yes - and yet Brazil relied pretty heavily on concepts, atmosphere, and imagery lifted from 1984 and its derivatives. I'd say that just goes to show how easily ideas can be in a film without having been explicitly or consciously put there by the author.
posted by Drexen at 12:25 PM on January 27, 2007


Yeah the R2D2 thing is nothing new and I can see why geeks love it so. But I've never found Lucas' mystical redemption of technology in the form of R2D2 to be so convincing. You might not go so far as to say R2D2 has the force but it's clear that in a way he's an agent of the Force and it's acting with/through/from him. And while I do give Lucas props for devising a world that isn't bleak (as is often the case in fantasy flicks where evil is all powerful and often just defeats itself) the idea that a bot could be good in the same way that human beings are good is a bit problematic. But R2D2's importance and his critical role is indisputable. What I want to know is does he have a soul? Does R2D2 become a Force Ghost when his batteries run out? And what were his true feelings about Leaia?
posted by nixerman at 12:30 PM on January 27, 2007


"Trust me on this, I've heard interviews and read interviews with Gilliam where he states that he'd never read 1984 before or during the creation of Brazil (I dunno if he has since then)."

Yes - and yet Brazil relied pretty heavily on concepts, atmosphere, and imagery lifted from 1984 and its derivatives. I'd say that just goes to show how easily ideas can be in a film without having been explicitly or consciously put there by the author.


Or, of course, Gilliam could be lying.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:33 PM on January 27, 2007


Star Wars fans don't get much mention on the official chart but these are fanfic writes, which makes them just one notch about fanfic writers who put themselves in the story. :P
posted by jeffburdges at 12:34 PM on January 27, 2007


Well said, dreamsign.
posted by cortex at 12:38 PM on January 27, 2007


I don't see how anyone can see there is One True Meaning to any peace of work, particularly one as complex as a feature-film or a novel.

Even single sentences spoken between friends, family or lovers can be fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding.

To think that an author A) had one, conscious intention when creating a work and B) that you understand it, seems to be complete hubris.

Just as a perfect example, read the posts of XQUZYPHYR in this thread. I'm sure that his intended message wasn't "I'm an asshole." But that was definitely what I got out of it.
posted by empath at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm fairly against the intentional fallacy myself and indifferent to what a creator meant to do with their work. I welcome others viewing my own work in the same light.

Even if I didn't, I'll certainly be dead in a hundred years. In a thousand, if my work is even around, how likely is any explanation I offered for it to also exist? I certainly cannot go back and pick the brains of the Lascaux painters. "What did you mean by painting that gazelle?" It's laughable.

Creative types who get upset that their intentions are or can be ignored have an overabundance of ego. Of course the creator's own interpretation is just as worthwhile to explore as those of the other viewers. It's certainly a welcome part of looking at works critically.

But creations are not children. They do not require rearing and shepherding once created. Like any older parent usually understands, there's a point at which one lets go. You made it. Let others understand it without shoving your opinion on them as if it's somehow the only correct way to go about relating to the work.

I've always felt there would be an interesting artwork in creating something, but having the ongoing critique and conversation between the work, the creator, and the viewers be an integrated, intentional, ongoing part of the work itself.
posted by Captaintripps at 12:48 PM on January 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Just as a perfect example, read the posts of XQUZYPHYR in this thread. I'm sure that his intended message wasn't "I'm an asshole." But that was definitely what I got out of it.

Repeated for emphasis.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2007


sprout lightsabers like a hedgehog

Great. A new set of nightmares with Ron Jeremy. Thanks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:30 PM on January 27, 2007


I work with many composers, and the best among them have a relationship to their work more like parents and children--yes, you made them, but they are their own things out in the world, and how people react to them, what meaning they may find, is entirely out of your control. These artists delight (as many wonderful parents do) at seeing their creations take on a full life of their own.

I really enjoyed the second link--the author makes an excellent case for R2 and Chewie (yes, him too) being central to the rebellion. And he does it without, I think, projecting anything into the actual events of the movie that isn't there (the only real speculation was about the origin of the Millenium Falcon, but he made a pretty good case--it's an unusual ship by any metric, and so seeing it earlier in the films just may not be coincidence). At any rate, his interpretation of events was certainly more interesting that the prequel trilogy itself.

RE: The Incredibles: I thought it was primarily a masculinity reclamation film--that's the plot template, anyway. (There was a great post on this by a screenwriter on the green sometime last year, but I can't find it.)
posted by LooseFilter at 1:32 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Star Wars is a Akira Kurosawa film George Lucas stole and made into a kid's movie and thirty years later it's got more internal interpretations than the bible."

I watched Hidden Fortress the other week actually. I think it's more accurate to say Lucas admits he borrowed from it (in an interview on the DVD no less) rather than stole it outright. And he stole characters more than plot in any case, so is presumably as open to interpretation as any film.
posted by Auz at 1:52 PM on January 27, 2007


there was that point in Empire where he mistakes a power coupler for a data port

...and a damp facecloth nowhere in sight!

[ba-dump-tah]
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:59 PM on January 27, 2007


But does the classic "fool" character usually affect the plot as much as he does?

Feste
Puck
Yorick


Don't forget Lear, whatever you do.

Can someone versed in SW geekdom point me in the direction of a discussion about the political status of the droids? That they are, essentially, slaves? Sentient beings who are bought and sold, with no individuals rights, and subject to the free usage by (up to and including disposal and memory wiping) their masters?

That always bugged me. Does R2D2 get a vote in the Republic?
posted by jokeefe at 2:21 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I second jokeefe's request for clarification. In the second prequel, during the goofy diner scene, Obi Wan refers to droids being unable to think.
posted by brundlefly at 2:55 PM on January 27, 2007


I'm sorry for sounding like an asshole. The first response to me reeked of pretentiousness. Accusing me of being "anti-intellectual" and "making blanket condemnations" came out to me as the same as saying "you're stupid and ignorant," as if I wasn't sophisticated enough to understand the intricaties of the fake analysis. Imagine how you feel when some film snob scoffs at you for "not getting" the meaning of a film. Now imagine being treated like that and the meaning of the film was complete bullshit someone invented five minutes ago. I attempted to feign pseudo-intellectual attitude in the form of an insulting response, and I clearly failed. Having been a film student I dealt with enough of that in meatspace, and frankly, yes, I have a well-developed pet peeve with people who seem to have an uncanny inability to actually appreciate an artist's work for what it is.

That said, contrary to empath's suggestion, very often artists and writers do in fact have a single notion in producing their work. Often it may just be "to entertain the audience," but very often it's to reflect a story they've always wanted to tell, a message about something real in their lives, or a statement that's very important to them. Coming up with clever ways to twist that into a completely unrelated (and often stupid) meaning doesn't strengthen the artists's effort; it demeans it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:56 PM on January 27, 2007


cf. Umberto Eco, The Limits of Interpretation
posted by muckster at 3:07 PM on January 27, 2007


Can someone versed in SW geekdom point me in the direction of a discussion about the political status of the droids

jokeefe, there's a bit on Wookieepedia about their legal status and the Great Droid Revolution.
posted by homunculus at 3:43 PM on January 27, 2007


That said, contrary to empath's suggestion, very often artists and writers do in fact have a single notion in producing their work. Often it may just be "to entertain the audience," but very often it's to reflect a story they've always wanted to tell, a message about something real in their lives, or a statement that's very important to them. Coming up with clever ways to twist that into a completely unrelated (and often stupid) meaning doesn't strengthen the artists's effort; it demeans it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:56 PM PST on January 27 [+][!]


This isn't always or even often true. The original intent of Triumph of the Will is not what makes it interesting as an object of study, as an obvious example. When studying works of pop culture, the artist's intent is very often completely irrelevant.
posted by mek at 3:46 PM on January 27, 2007


I'm not exactly sure that's a proper comparison. Triumph of the Will was clearly a propaganda film, and during the time it was capable of being considered a "work of pop culture," that is exactly what is being applied here. Obviously the film no longer evokes the message of its time because its time has passed. But you're confusing the message (e.g. "Nazis are teh awesomez") of the film, which was clearly intentional, with a movie's alleged meaning (e.g. "Frodo is actually Roy Cohn's self-loathing of his own sexuality") which is clearly fabricated.

Martin Scorcese made a short film at NYU called The Big Shave, which was a 5-minute sequence of a kid shaving himself repeatedly- blood spurting from his neck as he eventually covers his entire face with blood. Scorcese's intent was to metaphor the Vietnam war. That was the message he was trying to deliver. If you failed to understand that meaning in his message, then the film is essentially meaningless. In contrast, Goodfellas, while certainly having themes worthy of analysis, like guilt, family, honor, etc., there is clearly a set message in the form of a linear storyline. His intent was to tell a damn story.

In other words you have a director making two films, one case being meaning clearly overtaking message, and the other message clearly overtaking meaning. In both cases, intent is the only thing that is relevant- (save, perhaps, good acting) the quality of both are a result of taking the director at his word. Too many seem obsessed with refusing to do this. I find this especially upsetting in the case of Star Wars, given the story has incredibly over-arching themes, but certainly little in a grand plot line (or at least an original one.) The entire series is a gigantic themse of good triumphing over evil, and yet people who otherwise should just enjoy the story seem obsessed with fantasies of non-existent subtlety. In further aggravating cases, they offer ideas that even they do not believe. Such is the case with social analysis of comedies, claiming homosexuality in cartoon characters, and yes- suggesting Chewbacca was actually a mastermind of the Rebel Alliance as opposed to the apparently illogical idea that Lucas might just have wanted to make more money. The fact is the author isn't saying any of it because he believes it. He's saying it because he thinks you will. Shamefully, some do.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:11 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


When studying works of pop culture, the artist's intent is very often completely irrelevant.

I'd go further and say that, when studying any work of art, the artist's intent may or may not be relevant at all. Indeed, isn't it one of the signifiers of a substantial work of any kind, that it supercedes the original intent behind it, and speaks to people across generations and cultures?

While I certainly sympathize with XQUZYPHYR's annoyance at boneheaded and/or ignorant critical readings, it's extremely shortsighted (to say the least) that approaching a work differently than the person who created it intends demeans the work.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:17 PM on January 27, 2007


Before even reading this or any of the comments, I can say that R2-D2 is the real hero of the entire saga.
posted by autodidact at 4:30 PM on January 27, 2007


The original intent of Triumph of the Will is not what makes it interesting as an object of study

I think this is almost precisely untrue. The reason Triumph of the Will is studied is that it is sublime propaganda. While there are secondary readings you could do of the movie -- examine the homoeroticism of the exercise scenes, for instance -- mostly the film is discussed for the ways it explicates its meaning, which is "Nazis rule."

I'm not arguing that you can't explore the semiotics of the film without discussing Nazism (although it would be incomplete). But to say that the original intent of the film is incidental to our interest in it doesn't seem right.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:31 PM on January 27, 2007


The center of Star Wars was always R2D2. Of course! I knew that when I was nine. What, you guys are just now figuring it out? What's the one character who's in all six movies? The one character who repeatedly saves everybody else. Star Wars is "A Boy and his Bot." When Lucas drew focus away from Artoo, that's when the show would go downhill, but I forgave the old bastard a long time ago.

I am SO over Star Wars. It was the geekfest of my childhood, and unlike most people I appreciated George Lucas' attempts to finish what he had started, but what he fails to realize is WE finished it for him twenty years before in our minds. It is essentially why he can't continue the story past Return of the Jedi and had to do the prequels instead. There's still a wealth of tales to tell, but they've already been told in comic books, novels, fanfic, and plenty of other places. There's no more unchartered territory. What was a great unknown in our childhoods is now known and well-heeled. The beaten paths are paved roads now. It's over. It's SO over.

Nowadays I'm geeking out over far more important things. Star Wars is so last millenium. Get with the program, dudes.

Jar Jar Binks wasn't THAT bad. Really. Come on. Look back not with anger, but a fondness. Your blood pressure will go down.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:02 PM on January 27, 2007


If R2-D2's so great, how come he forgot he can fly and shoot laser beams? Those skills sure would've come in handy from time to time.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:28 PM on January 27, 2007


I'd go further and say that, when studying any work of art, the artist's intent may or may not be relevant at all. Indeed, isn't it one of the signifiers of a substantial work of any kind, that it supercedes the original intent behind it, and speaks to people across generations and cultures?

That's dangerously wrong. Artists create for themselves and share their own visions with the world. If an artist creates something, he chooses to share that idea with the people. Many artists create something that is intentionally open to interpretation- but that in itself is the intent of the artist, not yours. You have the right to not like art, and you have the right to call it shit, and you have the right to refuse to look at it. But you don't have the right to dictate what it means when the creator says otherwise. You can certainly say what you think it means, but that doesn't mean you're not wrong.

This is getting needlessly overanalytical for an FPP about a semi-decent Star Wars fanfic.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:31 PM on January 27, 2007


XQUZYPHYR, you lost me when you used "metaphor" as a verb.

Painful.
posted by Phred182 at 5:50 PM on January 27, 2007


Needlessly analytical? I don't think so. That the conversations on MeFi can leap from impassioned debate on whether the intentions of its creators imbue instrinsic meaning into art, or whether the responses of its consumers derive extrinsic meaning from it, or both, or neither, and simultaneously have perfectly straight faced or at least gleefully deadpan geekery of the "R2 forgot he had the laser beams!" sort, is for me, one of its great charms.

As to whether that was Matt's intent, who can say? Well, Matt can, obviously, but it's one of its charms for me, either way.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:56 PM on January 27, 2007


But you don't have the right to dictate what it means when the creator says otherwise

I've talked to enough artist to know they may not know what it means, even if they say they do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:58 PM on January 27, 2007


But you don't have the right to dictate what it means when the creator says otherwise. You can certainly say what you think it means, but that doesn't mean you're not wrong.

Don't these two sentences contradict each other? Unless you're using the word dictate absurdly literally, in which case that's pretty much a straw man. No one's dictating a damn thing.
posted by brundlefly at 6:02 PM on January 27, 2007


jokeefe, there's a bit on Wookieepedia about their legal status and the Great Droid Revolution.

Thanks, homunculus!
posted by jokeefe at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2007


Stuff like this reminds me of the practice of the No-Prize at Marvel Comics. Writers and artists rushed to make deadline would trip up and make some sort of continuity or logic error. The first fanboy to catch it and write a letter to the editor that contained a worthy explanation for the creative staff's cock-up was rewarded with an empty envelope. A No-Prize.

It was great fun. Forgotten red ink on Captain America's boots became residual anomalies from a recent skirmish in the Negative Zone. Four panels where Jean Grey was drawn in the wrong costume become the unconscious mental manipulations of a Professor X who longs for a simpler time.

Of course, none of these strained explanations were the creator's original intent - their intent was to get the damned book out on time. Artoo's presence in the prequels was largely fan service - as was Chewie's and especially the Falcon's. I doubt Lucas is a subtle enough writer to craft so sneaky a sub-plot - when he has a storyline he'd like us to absorb, he smashes us across the face with it. Seeing these characters decades before the events of the original trilogy is a mild thrill, but it endangers the already tenuous suspension of disbelief these CG-fests were able to create.

Which is where the fanboys come in. I absolutely believe that the fan community has given Star Wars and it's deeper meanings more serious thought than Lucas ever has. So articles like those in the FPP and the one so kindly provided by grobstein are a gas to read. The debate of their place in canon is a flamewar for another board, but I found them enjoyable.
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:17 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mr. Vice President, meet me on Camera 3
posted by homunculus at 7:19 PM on January 27, 2007


But you don't have the right to dictate what it means when the creator says otherwise.

Yeah, I see what you're saying, but I think you're projecting. There's a difference between finding things in a work of art that were unintended by the person who created it, and attempting to make final judgments about what it "means". It appears you have a real chip on your shoulder about this issue, XQUZYPHYR, and are countering assertions that haven't been made.

(Oh, yes, ZachsMind, loving the Heroes....)
posted by LooseFilter at 7:46 PM on January 27, 2007


Brandon Blatcher : I've talked to enough artist to know they may not know what it means, even if they say they do.

The only arts I still practice are my expertly crafted, finely honed MeFi comments and the two storied high chromed-steel penis sculptures I leave on yards around my neighborhood.

I don't know what either of them mean either.
posted by quin at 9:08 PM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


With regad to the "intentional fallacy", it's standard film-school MO to analyze the background details of a film to a fine degree. Having sat in on as many of these as I could (not actually being a film student) I started out thinking that this was pretty wrongheaded. "What if the director just chose props at hand, or that were available cheap? What if that duty was delegated to someone who wasn't carrying the vision of the film at all?" The argument was that a director/producer would not choose film elements randomly. There would be some nod to mood or motif or theme. After all, they have to choose something. (the first example of this in class was a few-second quick-pass of several ice sculptures in Groundhog Day)

Keeping this in mind, I've seen what I think are more and more examples of this both in film and in written fiction (where elements as simple as the weather that day can be incidental, but are more often used to cast a mood). But it is still the case that a director/producer might not take the reins so tightly, may delegate duties, may make use of whatever is to hand.
posted by dreamsign at 10:18 PM on January 27, 2007


And suddenly dreamsign has sliced open and laid bare the darkest secrets of Hollywood. We try so desperately hard to understand what the director was trying to tell us. What dark secrets is this genius composer trying to share with our clearly lacking intellects?

And then you listen to the commentary on the DVD and you realize that the scene that you were sure was a 'significant commentary about minority oppression' was actually the director saying 'On the day of shooting, casting couldn't find a black guy for the roll of 'crime lord number one, so we went with an Asian chick. It all worked out in the end though...'

And from the many, many DCs I've listened to, the norm seems to be, 'yeah, this prop looked better so it's what we went with' and two years later, film students are arguing about why a semi-automatic pistol appeared in a civil war epic...

'Was the director trying to tell us that the industrial revolution would eventually lead to wars that we could not imagine? This guy is a brilliant...'

And so forth.
posted by quin at 11:31 PM on January 27, 2007


All that being said, a little while back the possibility that, in Blade Runner, most of the characters know that Deckard is a replicant was a repellant notion to me, and I dismissed it as post-hoc wankery here on MeFi. An amusing, interesting re-interpretation sure, but that's all.

It took about a month, and then a re-viewing, for it to really hit me as a distinct possibility. And by "possibility" I mean of course a possibility that this was in fact the universe that Ridley Scott had reimagined after Dick -- ie: one in which certain characters knew a certain thing, and what that said about their actions and motivations. And that's the thing about being a fan of any fiction. You accept a certain story, but it is that telling that is definitive. Hence all the crazy wiki arguing about 'canon' in various Whedon series and others. Belief in an intended or fully created story is probably a key part in suspension of disbelief. You root your belief in a story; up to the whimsy of the writer/director, sure, but a single story, not one retold countlessly by passerby. So with enough evidence, I could handle a re-telling of Blade Runner, but the purpose of the evidence was to convince me that it could be a "true" telling of the tale, not just the fanciful ruminations of some wanker. So I've certainly fallen into that trap, too. Though that directly involves plot. Symbolic interpretation is a whole other matter.
posted by dreamsign at 12:19 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Martin Scorcese made a short film at NYU called The Big Shave, which was a 5-minute sequence of a kid shaving himself repeatedly- blood spurting from his neck as he eventually covers his entire face with blood. Scorcese's intent was to metaphor the Vietnam war. That was the message he was trying to deliver. If you failed to understand that meaning in his message, then the film is essentially meaningless.

Okay. So if I watch the Big Shave, but I don't know that it's about Vietnam, and I just interpret it as being about how the urge to conform to social expectations can end up disfiguring and destroying those who act on it, then what happens? Do I get an F? Do I have to watch it again and again until I hit the buzzer and say: "The Vietnam War!"? Was it a waste of time for me to watch it?

It's pretty useless, in my opinion, to consider works of art as crossword puzzles with clues and right/wrong answers. Art is an opportunity for reflection and analysis, and although the author's intent is always worthy of consideration - they, after all, spent a lot of time thinking about the work of art in question - it does not invalidate other approaches. Did you watch The Big Shave before you knew it was about Vietnam? If so, did it make you angry? Did you look up the answers on the internet?
posted by stammer at 4:33 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Note that the first link is almost 2 years old. Hardly a "new" take, really.
posted by antifuse at 6:03 AM on January 28, 2007


Actually, the R2D2 one is from 2005 as well. So these "New" takes are more of the "new to you" variety. :)
posted by antifuse at 6:09 AM on January 28, 2007


When something resonates like the ORIGINAL trilogy did, your imagination wants to believe that they're real people, in a real place, doing real things. You know they're not, of course, but in your imagination, you can indulge that guilty pleasure.

So these articles are coming from a place where Lucas is ONLY the writer, not the creator, nor the final authority. He's just the guy writing the primary chronicle. That leaves the door open for other people to imagine what R2 and Chewie were REALLY up to, even if Lucas doesn't express it. As long as it fits what we all know, which is what we've all seen, it's possible.

And, if it helps make the terrible prequels any more sensible, enjoyable, or legitimate, it's all the more welcome.
posted by JWright at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2007


When I was an undergraduate, a friend of mine recruited my brother and me, among others, to be study participants in her psychology class experiment. She showed us a movie and asked us to write which character we identified with most. Her hypothesis, I later found out, was that the majority of both male and female viewers would identify with one of the male main characters.

The movie was Star Wars. My brother and I both independently wrote that we most identified with R2D2. She had no idea what to do about this.

Well, I thought that was and amusing story, anyway.
posted by kyrademon at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I actually use Lucas's treatment of the Jedi in the prequels as Exhibit A of "How Lucas didn't think any of this through."

There were, I've come to believe, TWO Lucases writing these things. One of them was the wide-eyed boy reading EE "Doc" Smith and watching Kurosawa for the first time. The other was the older, wiser, somewhat bitter man making a movie about the fall of civilizations.

And while these two collaborated - they never discussed their ideas.

How else can you explain the way that he *literally* sticks the Jedi at the top of an ivory tower and has their idiocy (especially Yoda's) start the clone wars ... but then expect us to cheer when they show up to save the heroes collective bacon in the Arena?

In a better movie, the incredibly ambiguous treatment of the Jedi might be grounds for thought. Instead, the only real thought is, boy, Lucas had NO IDEA what he was doing, did he?
posted by InnocentBystander at 6:53 PM on January 28, 2007


Clearly, you missed The Skywalker Paradigm.
posted by Caviar at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2007


...like how "Velma's really gay" or...

One of my funniest and fondest memories is of a bunch of extremely bored US Navy sailors standing quarterdeck watch one Christmas night, discussing the likely sexual dynamics of the cast of Scooby-Doo. One of them agreed with me that Velma's probably a total volcano when you get past the glasses and the bulky sweater.
posted by pax digita at 6:37 AM on January 29, 2007


The only way I can take the new movies is to:

1. Forget that 1 and 2 exist.

2. Change Yoda's line in 3 about hiding Luke with "his family" to "Obi-Wan's family".

Then the original trilogy makes sense again. Otherwise... well... I just can't stand it.
posted by kmartino at 11:15 AM on January 29, 2007


Never forget.
posted by brundlefly at 1:13 PM on January 29, 2007


« Older "I've lost my heart." Peace activist Bassam Ar...  |  “Then it came to me — ‘Your sp... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments