Saturday, February 3, 2018

Two Sides of the Coin: A Case for the hero of Star Wars

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Leia, rather than Luke, is the true hero of Star Wars... Alright, maybe not so universally, but I think there's a strong case for Leia. Before you pull out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out.

In the late spring of 1977, a small time science fiction film hit movie theaters for the first time and took the world by storm. That summer, after droves of people rushed to the box office to catch this singularly unique movie, Star Wars has been called many things: an out-of-body experience; the biggest possible adventure fantasy; universally loved. The rest is history. If you, dear reader, happen to be in the minuscule percentage of people who have never seen a second of any Star Wars film (not to mention its two animated TV shows, several comic book runs, and various novels), a percentage with more zeros than Harrison Ford's net worth, here is a quick synopsis: a young (white) man from a desert planet escapes with a smuggler, saves a princess, and destroys a planet-killing machine the size of a small moon... I know, right? Great stuff. And that's just the first movie. The name of this young hero is Luke Skywalker, a fact that has permeated the pop cultural zeitgeist so deeply that even non-watchers of Star Wars know his name. I don’t think anyone would ever disagree that Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars, but I am here to convince you that he is, in fact, not our hero or indeed, our protagonist.

I am working on the assumption that most readers are very familiar with Star Wars, but if that’s not the case then fair warning: spoilers and info dump ahead. And for you Star Wars purists, yes, I do bring up the prequel series. Read at your own risk.

Many would argue that A New Hope is Luke's movie and I can understand why. Luke has the most screen time, he is front and center on the film's marketing materials, and he is the one to deliver the final blow to the Death Star that brings the movie to its epic conclusion. However, when you strip all that away, is the narrative really driven by him? Subtract that final blow to the Death Star, the one that only a Force user could make (convenient), and does Luke really drive the narrative of the movie? I would argue that he doesn't. Granted, the movie does it's best to make sure Luke's pals have important roles to play as well; it's no coincidence that the film opens with, not Luke, but Leia's storyline.

However, each film has a character at its center and in the case of A New Hope, I would argue that Han Solo is the at the center of the film's overarching story. For example, without Han, would Luke have even found a way off Tatooine? In fact, once you break down Luke's involvement in the film's narrative, you begin to realize he was orchestrated down his path by other characters' more deliberate actions and more concrete motivations. Had Leia not sent out a message to Obi-Wan for help with R2-D2 and C-3PO, who Luke only came across by sheer dumb luck, would Luke have found his motivation to finally leave Tatooine? Had the combined efforts of Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers not resulted in the incinerated deaths of Owen and Beru, the only thing keeping Luke on Tatooine, would he have ever toughened his resolve to follow Obi-Wan to Mos Eisley and right into the Millenium Falcon in its rag-tag pilot duo? Han Solo and his Millenium Falcon are the tools that carved the path to making Luke and Leia's story possible; he got Luke and Obi-Wan off Tatooine, he helped Leia escape the clutches of the Empire, and he gives Luke his window of opportunity to blow up the Death Star by blasting Vader off his tail.

If you don't think this is the best damn scene in the movie, then we can't be friends.

Han Solo was the only smuggler willing to ferry Obi-Wan and Luke off Tatooine and his reasons for doing so weren't relegated to just money. If his encounter with Greedo and Jabba the Hutt are any indication, Han is not very welcomed on Tatooine, a plot line that is resolved in later films but heavily established in A New Hope. Money is poor motivation for viewers of the film, but not for Han the smuggler who is deep in debt with Jabba, a gangster who isn't easily negotiated with. So, in order to save his own skin, Han agrees to help Luke rescue Leia, once again driving the narrative forward. Han may have the simplest plot throughout the films, considering is neither a Jedi nor a politician, but it's his relatively straightforward conflict that moves the narrative in the direction it needs to go. By the end of A New Hope, Han is no longer motivated by money but by the bond he forms with Luke and Leia and his now heavy involvement with the Rebellion. It's the development of his character that becomes the driving force of the film's plot.  

Meanwhile, Return of the Jedi chronicles the Battle of Endor, the Rebellion's final blow and the eventual overthrow of the Empire. Being the politician that she is, Leia is instrumental as a leader of the Rebellion and, therefore, her actions become the driving force of the narrative here. I know that's an unusual claim given that Leia is put in a compromising position as Jabba's newest slave, but Leia didn't get the moniker "Huttslayer" for nothing; she saved herself in that situation and single-handedly killed one of the most powerful creatures in the Outer Rim. And while many find the Ewok's role in the Battle of Endor ridiculous, we have to live with the fact that teddy bears saving the galaxy is canon, and it was Leia who made that possible. She appealed to the natives of Endor and enlisted their adorable help and knowledge of the terrain (that is their home, after all) to take down the second Death Star's deflector shield. I am particularly fond of this move on Leia's part because very much in George Lucas' "poem that rhymes" storytelling style, Leia garnering support from the Ewoks is reminiscent of Padme's plea to Boss Nass, the leader of the Gungans, Naboo's native aquatic species, in her final stand against the Trade Federation in Phantom Menace.

Bad. Ass.

There's also something to be said about Leia's indirect involvement in Luke's duel with Vader in the Death Star hovering above Endor. When Vader invaded (no pun intended) Luke's mind and discovered the existence of his twin sister, Vader threatened to try and turn Leia to the dark side instead. This unleashed a barrage of hate-fueled blows that ultimately incapacitated Vader and opened Luke's eyes to the dangers of the dark side, thus strengthening his resolve to save rather than kill his father. This was yet another instance of Luke feeling the pull of the dark, but it was the threat of extinguishing Leia's light that drove him there, solidifying her importance not only in this film but in the series as a whole, a topic I will explore in-depth later.

So if A New Hope is Han's movie and Return of the Jedi, despite its name, is Leia's movie, which one is Luke's? Easy! The Empire Strikes Back is very much Luke's movie, which is good for Luke fans because it's almost universally considered the best of the original trilogy. Each film in the original trilogy is driven by one if it's central trio of characters, a pattern that is repeated in the subsequent trilogies. In fact, the sequel trilogies follow this pattern to a T; of the original trilogy characters, Han is the driving force behind The Force Awakens, Luke is in the driver's seat in The Last Jedi, and the final as of yet untitled third sequel was supposed to be Leia's film (although questions about how that is going to be possible with the advent of Carrie Fisher's tragic passing still linger).

What does any of this have to do with Luke's role as the non-hero of the films? Well, I've been able to whittle down Luke's action in all of his films to a single phrase: "He did the last thing."

Destroying the Death Star? The last thing.

Facing off against Darth Vader? The last thing.
Facing off against Vader again and influencing him to kill Palpatine? The last thing.
Taking Kylo Ren head on? The last thing.

It's worth noting that in most of these last-minute arrivals, Luke needed rescuing. Without Han's intervention in A New Hope, Luke may not have had the opportunity to deliver the killing blow to the Death Star. After Luke's first duel with Darth Vader and the very dramatic reveal of Luke's true parentage, Luke reached out to Leia through the Force for a rescue assist after leaping to his death. During his second duel with Darth Vader and follow-up face-off with Emporer Palpatine, Luke needs rescuing once again, this time by Vader himself. The final last-minute arrival, while the worst offender, is the only one in which Luke does not need saving. However, his actions on Crait and his Force projection strategy resulted in his death.

We still love you, Luke!

To be fair, I did say The Empire Strikes Back is Luke's film, so even though he does the last thing in that movie, he also does other things; he helps defend the rebel base on Hoth, he trains with Yoda to be a Jedi, and leaves his training to save his friends on Bespin. The reason this is Luke's film is that he finally comes into his own as a character and is seen making his own choices for the first time.  He ignores Yoda and Force Ghost Obi-Wan's words of warning and leaves Dagobah of his own accord because his friends matter more than any Chosen One prophecy these old masters love to wax poetic about. This is significant in Luke's evolution as a character because, for the first time, he wasn't just along for the ride, he was in the driver's seat.

If you look back on Anakin Skywalker's story, part of what drives him to become Darth Vader was his inability or unwillingness to makes his own choices and do what he felt was right. Despite all of  Anakin's abilities and clever banter, he was very much restricted by the Jedi Order and his sense of loyalty to it until he felt ultimately betrayed by them, and by then, it was too late. Even his choice to join Palpatine at the end of Revenge of the Sith was him being manipulated and devoid of agency. As Darth Vader, the only time we see him decide for himself was when he chose to save Luke from Palpatine, thereby bringing balance to the Force and proving he was the Chosen One all along. However, to give credit where credit is due, it's unlikely that Darth Vader would have made this decision without Luke's influence.

It's important to note that Luke is NOT his father, and the galaxy is probably better off for it. However, Luke's decision on Crait in The Last Jedi is the culmination of a series of poor decisions since he turned his back on Yoda's training on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. If Anakin's story is a cautionary tale of indecision through manipulation, Luke's is a cautionary tale on poor decisions.

So if he's not the hero and he's not the villain, then what is he?
My answer to that is Luke is just Luke. He is a Jedi, a pretty kick-ass pilot, a son, a brother, and a friend. It's only when Luke is seen struggling with his identity in The Last Jedi that his true inner turmoil arises. It was the very identification of Luke Skywalker the Hero, one crafted by public opinion and the mystique of Jedis at a time when Jedis were considered myths, that led him to exile himself to Ahch-To upon his perceived failure to resurrect the Jedi Order. Luke felt the pressure to live up to the legacy of his father, before his fall from grace, as well as the legacy that falsely attributes the death of the Emporer solely to Luke, thereby painting him as a hero while Anakin died a pariah. I don't believe for a second that Luke ever considered himself a hero, especially knowing the truth about his father and the truth of what happened the day the Empire fell, and this is evident by the great lengths he went to hide from the world and his hesitancy to assist the Resistance when called upon in the sequels.
Now, if you believe in fate, or as it is more commonly referred to in the Star Wars universe, the will of the Force, then everything happened the way it was meant to happen and Luke was precisely where he needed to be at all times, regardless of his "choices." But if this is true (and who am I to say that it isn't?), why would Yoda and Force Ghost Obi-Wan try to convince Luke to stay on Dagobah if where he needed to be was Bespin? Why would Anakin spend a majority of his career as Darth Vader in the comics directly defying Palpatine if he needed to be his apprentice? Why did a young Obi-Wan feel the need to fight and potentially kill his friend and brother to stop the dark path he was on in the prequels if that's exactly where Anakin needed to be? Did they not believe, or know about, the will of the Force? If so, they then must have believed that it is our choices that decide our fate and not the other way around.

Regardless of what you believe, from a writing standpoint its difficult to use something as abstract as the will of the Force as the driving force behind your narrative, especially in the case of the original trilogy, which was filmed before fans began speculating on just how wide-reaching and influential the Force is. So that leaves only one question: if Luke isn't the hero of the story, then who is?
The answer to that is the crux of my argument: the hero of Star Wars really depends on your perspective. I fully expect a good portion of readers to vehemently disagree with me and insist that Luke always was and always will be the hero of Star Wars, and that's okay. That's their perspective and I fully respect their right to feel that way. However, I vehemently disagree with them.
The true hero of Star Wars always was and will always be Leia Organa.   
She knows.

To start off, Episodes IV and V open with Leia (Leia being captured by Darth Vader while she hides the Death Star plans in R2-D2 and Leia defending the Hoth base while her Rebels evacuate, respectively), and while Episode VI doesn't open with Leia, she's the first of the main trio to physically appear on screen and starts off the action when she, disguised as the bounty hunter Boushh, rescues Han from his carbonite prison. Beyond that simple fact, in order to understand Leia's importance to the film series, we have to closely look at the film series as a whole.
The central theme of Star Wars is the common "good vs. evil" story we all know and love presented to us in uncommon ways, but this theme materializes in two distinct but intrinsically linked plotlines; the political drama of freedom fighters facing off against a massive oppressive force and the more ideological battle of Sith versus Jedi. The Skywalker twins each auspiciously represent one side of the coin, with Leia neck deep in overseeing freedom and peace reign across the galaxy while Luke battles his inner demons in his quest to oversee the light side of the Force defeat its dark side.
Maz Kanata very eloquently pointed out in Force Awakens that the light and dark side of the Force has taken on many forms over the millennia, and each time they must face each other in a battle for control over the galaxy and all its inhabitants. It began with the ancient Jedi Order and the Sith (back before The Rule of Two) and was then followed by the Galactic Civil War between the Galactic Empire, controlled by a Sith Lord, and the Rebel Alliance, whose main two players were Force-sensitive twins who fought for the light. Before the fall of the Republic and the destruction of the Jedi, the two sides of the Clone Wars followed a similar pattern: the Confederacy of Independent Systems, also known as the Separatists, was being led by Count Dooku, a Sith apprentice known as Darth Tyrannus, while the Republic had the unified backing of the Jedi. The lines begin to blur in the sequels, which makes sense considering Luke Skywalker, master Jedi and the last of his kind, was mostly legend by the time the New Republic was up and running, and calling Supreme Leader Snoke a Sith would be remiss, although he definitely dabbles in the dark side. Being two sides of the same coin, do Luke and Leia each represent one side of the Force? If so, which is which? To determine this, we have to examine each character's actions and motivations.

For all your awkward space mom needs!

Throughout the films and beyond, Leia has shown herself to be a dedicated politician, expert diplomat, and fearless freedom fighter, tirelessly fighting for the lives and freedom of the people and never seeking glory. This is no surprise, considering who her birth mother is. Leia's adopted father, Senator Bail Organa, was not only a friend and ally to Padme Amidala but one of the founders of the Rebel Alliance. From birth, Leia was raised to be fair, compassionate, and pragmatic, and her father did an excellent job teaching her to always fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. As future queen of Alderaan, Leia's life was set out for her and she accepted her responsibilities with the grace of the princess that she was. But Leia was no Disney Princess, despite the company's recent acquisition of Lucasfilm; the term "princess" was a political title for a future heiress.
Leia's political career began at the ripe old age of 14 when she became a junior legislator, and she was already fooling and working against the Empire by 16 years old when she met the crew of the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels. Then at 19, she replaced her father as Senator of Alderaan, and she proved herself to be quite the humanitarian during her time as an Imperial Senator before the Empire finally managed to dissolve the Senate. Even after the tragic loss of her home planet, Leia continued to fight the Empire in any way she could. No longer forced to work in the shadows, Leia openly joined the Rebel Alliance and quickly rose among its ranks. Later in her career, after the fall of the Empire and the rise of the New Republic, Leia continued to work as a diplomat and politician. She experienced two tragedies in this later part of her life; her fall from grace in the political theater when she was revealed to be the biological daughter of Darth Vader and the loss of her son, Ben Solo, to the dark side of the Force. Yet, despite these hard hits, Leia refused to bend to oppression and injustice. After learning of the formation of the First Order, Leia gathered freedom fighters once more and, like her true father before her, formed the Resistance as General Leia Organa.   
Luke, unfortunately, has never demonstrated his sister's resolve to keep fighting and not much initially motivated him to start fighting. As a moisture farmer on Tatooine, Luke's ultimate goal was to get off Tatooine (who can blame him?), but his original plan was problematic: Luke was intent on joining the Empire as an Imperial pilot. He says this while simultaneously admitting that he's fully aware the Empire is, and I quote, "terrible."  Then there is his dramatic leap to his death when he discovers that Darth Vader was his father, and he probably would have died had he not reached out to Leia through the Force. Let's not forget his equally dramatic reaction to his failure to resurrect the Jedi Order when he very briefly considered taking his own nephew's life, an act that would drive Ben Solo down the path that Luke was intent on preventing in that exact instant. Distrustful of Luke and already being seduced by Snoke, Ben morphed into Kylo Ren and wiped out what would have been the next generation of Jedis, a moment reminiscent of Anakin's own slaughter of younglings at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith.
Regardless of whether or not the Force plays a role in the way these events play out, Star Wars sends a clear message: actions have consequences. And while Leia rises to meet the occasion (no doubt she felt responsible for the destruction of Alderaan and the deaths of rebel fighters after each mission), she refuses to stay down because she is always remembering the innocent lives she is fighting to preserve, while Luke's response is to exile himself in abject humiliation. It took a visit from Yoda's Force Ghost for Luke to learn his lesson, forgive himself, and finally live up to his legacy. While I accept and respect Luke's instrumental role throughout the story, I would categorize him as a more reluctant, dark hero than the traditional hero archetype. And let's face it; a flawed hero makes for fascinating storytelling.
Just as the dark and light side of the Force must work in tandem, so must Luke and Leia. If Luke represents the pull of the dark then Leia, the other side of the proverbial coin, must represent the glow of the light. This comparison is, I think, supported by their actions and reactions to the path they've led in life.
In The Clone Wars, series creator Dave Filoni introduced the Son and Daughter characters, members of a powerful family of Force users who exiled themselves to the planet Mortis, where they live to keep the Force balanced. The Daughter, embodying serenity, compassion, and love, is the personification of the Light Side, and the Son, angry, violent, and selfish, embodied the Dark Side. While the implications of Filoni's decision to personify the Light Side as female and the Dark Side as male go beyond Star Wars, I don't think it's a stretch to look at the Son and Daughter as analogous to Luke and Leia and their role in bringing balance to the Force. So, if the Light Side of the Force is synonymous with "hero" in the Star Wars universe, is it not then logical to look at Leia's efforts and her role in the story as the true hero's journey? Leia may not be the Force user her brother is, but she has shown herself to be more than an adept, if casual, Force user, especially in those more subtle uses of the Force.

Son vs. Daughter. Dark vs. Light.
In defense of Luke, a character I don't by any means hate, by the way, it's only responsible of me to point out that I am not an unbiased party when it comes to Star Wars' favorite twins. Then again, you're unlikely to find an unbiased party anywhere regarding Star Wars. To know the franchise intimately is to love the franchise. For my part, it's difficult to not love Leia more considering my relationship with the various female characters that came before and after Leia, particularly her biological mother, Padme. While I wasn't super fond of her portrayal towards the end of Revenge of the Sith, my overall love for Padme as a character is something words cannot describe. Star Wars has also never shied away from portraying their female characters fairly and humanely; among their many excellent female characters are Ahsoka Tano, Hera Syndulla, and, of course, Rey, the heart of the sequel series. But Leia's influence on the series goes beyond what she represented as a woman; she was unmatched in her compassion, indomitable in her leadership, and unwavering in her determination. She was, to me, the very embodiment of a hero.  

However, not unlike what Gary Oldman's Commisoner Jim Gordon says of Christian Bale's Batman at the end of The Dark Knight, Leia is the hero the Star Wars franchise deserves, but she's not always the one it needs. In Force Awakens, much time and effort is spent trying to track down Luke, and Leia is among those eager to find him, but it's never explicatley stated why. By the end of The Last Jedi, it's all too clear why Luke matters; the Galaxy needs hope. Leia understands more than anyone what her brother represents, and she knows that if the Resistance is to grow strong enough to take down the First Order, they need a hero who represents the hope people felt during the Galactic Civil War and Luke is that ray of hope. Hope gives people a reason to fight and that reason motivates them to join the fight. Leia is humble enough to take a back seat if it means lives can be saved and if it gives peace a chance to reign again. She can be seen doing this over and over again.

Yes, Phasma, too!

But let's be honest here: if you don't believe Leia is the hero, then you must think Luke is. And if you don't think Luke is the hero, then you must believe Leia is. Those are the only two real options, and some people may even seek that happy medium and claim they're both the hero of Star Wars. However, being two sides of the same coin does not equal sides make; the dark and light side of the Force are two sides of the same coin but no one would argue that they're equal in scope and importance. So when considering who the one true hero of Star Wars is, it ultimately depends on your perspective.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Find me in the Void

At the end of all that exists,
At the end of time as we know it,
At the end of reason, logic, and sense,
There is a place, a void, of endless calm.

When you wake up to find the world
Burning in the fires of man's destruction,
Fueled by greed, jealousy, and pride,
You can find me in the void.
Someday, if you find yourself all alone,
Abandoned by family you thought you loved,
Betrayed by friends you thought would be with you for life,
Left without a single shred of proof that love is real,
Come seek out love in the void with me.
If you cast your eyes up in search of answers,
Only to see the sky has turned red,
That oceans have been drained,
And the world has stopped spinning,
You'll find release with me in the void.
Should you lose all hopes for the bright future we were promised,
Should your faith in human's capacity for good cease to exist,
Should you taste the bitter dust of your your crushed dreams in your sleep,
Accept the embrace of the void.
Until then, fight on, beautiful soul.
Fight because no one else will fight for you.
Fight fiercely when you have nothing left to lose.
Fight because doing nothing never works.
The void will welcome you as it will, someday, welcome all.
And when it does, when you finally lay down your proverbial sword
And let all breath leave your body,
I will find you, hug you, and you will smile like you haven't in years.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Prompt #1

"Describe the morning light glinting off the ice along the highway's edge as you drive home to confess where you've been all night."

*   *   *

It was a nippy morning, the kind that feels like waking up on Christmas Day at grandmother's house. Except there was no hint of holly in the air, no trail of sweet, earthy pine, no suggestion of gingerbread cookies and pipping hot chocolate with mini marshmallows, floating in that pool of dark sweetness like clouds of sugar that had lost their way. Grandma's specialty. Those were the smells that triggered memories of times long past, memories both too joyful and too painful to recall in full, so I keep them locked away for safe-keeping, not daring so much as a peek. Not today. I didn't deserve joy that morning.

Today smelled of unforgiving frost; murderous monoxide like a thick, disease-ridden blanket that kills everything it touches, holding the morning rush hour on Route 4, its insidious but deadly, silent grip; and the faint but unmistaka
ble stench of cigarettes, urine, and vomit that seemed to simmer from the backseat of the cab. On any other day, I'd be fuming at the state of this traffic and no doubt talking the cabbie's ear off over the deplorable state of his vehicle. I briefly wondered if his sense of smell worked properly anymore.Strangely enough, I welcomed the traffic jam; I'd welcome anything that meant putting off the conversation that was waiting for me back home. If I could, I would instruct the driver to take the next exit and drive the 40 miles to the airport where I would book the next flight to Bora Bora. One way. But it was a fantasy and I had caused enough damage already. At the moment, I felt a wave of nauseous hit me like a million bricks and after a brief. one sided conversation with my chauffeur, I made the executive decision to lower my window pane. Despite the gas fumes and exuberant road rage that barreled into the cab, I was glad for the chilly breeze. I closed my eyes and drank in the winter air, sharp and dangerous.

Opening my eyes , I let them wander until they settled on the ice-covered railings alongside the road. The sky was completely devoid of clouds and the sun was merciless, even on that chilly December morning. As the rays beat down in a fruitless attempt to melt the ice, I watched as the stubborn winter icicles refused to dissolve in the presence of our powerful star. To call it a power struggle between the elements would be inaccurate. It was more of a dance; the sun knew his season had passed and now he steps aside to let the season of snow and ice have her turn. But while the sun will forever hang in the sky like an overzealous light bulb, the ice has a pitifully short lifespan. 

As my cab inched closer to its destination, I watched the careful choreograph of light and ice; dots of light sparkled on the ice's surface, like  millions of shattered diamonds placed under a massive floodlight. The dots waltzed around one another in glee as if they knew I was watching and were eager to impress. No two microscopic dancers occupied the same space, each step of the dance utterly and breathtakingly unique. I drank in the performance like a drunkard to booze, listened to opera the lights danced to. It was the tragic tale of the lord of light and the mistress of snow, two star crossed lovers always doomed to be just within each other's purview but never quite close enough to touch, to whisper in each other's ears wisps of longings and love. As the glittering dancers blinded me, I listened to their story; the lord and mistress suffered broken heart after broken heart, blissfully ignorant of the fact that one can kill the other while the other can only exist in the absence of the one. The heart wrenching truth to which the lovers were so blinded would set them free, but their hearts would never fully recover from the despair of hearing it. The narrator, so the story goes, had a choice to make: speak the truth and let the lovers attempt to live their lives without one another or keep the lie and watch them continually fail to be together without any knowledge at what it is that keeps them apart.

But the lights could come to the end of their tale, the cab lurched forward as traffic picked up and those shimmering story-weaving fairies brought their dance to an abrupt halt. I sat back in my seat and watched the world pass by in 60-mile an hour blurs of color, the frigid wind, now more powerful, whipping me in the face. Defeated and miserable, I raised the window and, with nothing to distract me now, I felt my thoughts forcibly dragged into my current situation, unpleasant and shameful. Unwilling to face it just yet, I tried to focus on the fairies and their sorrowful story. I wondered on how it cold have ended. Was there a happy ending somewhere in that misery? I hoped so.

It wasn't until I found myself, an hour later with a head full of fog, at the threshold of my front door that I realized the answer I've been looking for. My keys jangling nervously in my pocket, I already saw signs that Amber had gone through her morning routine; the recycling had been taken out, the gardenias had been watered, and the sheer white curtains of our bay window have been opened. Amber knew how much I loved the feel of the sunlight streaming into the living room, signifying the promise of a new day. I knew what awaited me behind the deceptively docile front door, with its holly and pine cone wreath, the one Amber and I picked out together. The keys stopped jangling. I pulled them from my coat pocket. 

I would have to be the one to finish the story. I hesitated,the weight of my decision hanging over me like the blade of a guillotine aiming for my neck. 

What to choose? 

Honesty or discretion?

Heart breaking truth or soul tearing lies?

Unfulfilling oblivion or painful existence? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We Should Have Been Great

We could have been great,
With the world at our fingertips 
And the keys to the pearly gates,
Just a swipe of the screen away,
Activism and outrage simple behind the anonymous screen 
That stares at us from our open palms,
Open like the beggars on the street, 
Everyday reciting psalms that they think will save them, 
To whom surviving alone is an amazing feat, 
While the rest of us forget for whom we used to get our feet wet, 
Leaving those drowning far behind us, 
Barely a stray thought to spare, 
This time with fists closed, 
Ready to replay our angry song of of righteousness 
In desperate need of repair and with hardly a prayer left.

We could have been great,
Mold the world in our image,
Like a potter with wet clay,
Making something from nothing, 
Doing away with the fake, 
Fake, like the smile on your face 
When you tell me you love me,
And yet you fail to make sure that I'm fed, 
Because maybe you shouldn't have been a parent in the first place, 
It's such a disgrace 
That you can still show your face at my door, 
That door that I slam and you're left wondering why since, 
In your mind, you're the reason I have a door left to deface 
As you choose to grace me with your presence.

We could have been great,
Down with corruption, down with the previous generation's mistakes,
Shame on you for turning your backs on us,
Shame on you for the letting us inherit your mess ups, 
Like Jokanaan's head on a silver plate, 
Like the selfishness of Judas, 
Like the vengeance of the God you so desperately cling to, 
Still asking yourself what would Jesus do,
But if your lord and savior could see you now,
And yet you fail to see, 
Because blindness is an inherit trait in your kind, 
You couldn't see us if you tried, 
No, you'd only see us when we died, 
but then, don't you think, would be too late.

We could have been great,
But we choose mediocrity and ignorance over humility and compassion, 
Because we think it's cool to hate,
The egotistical muddy lens through which we view the world 
Trumps all kindness in our hearts and
Cause a regression to the dark ages of violence and self preservation,
A time of emotional and intellectual repression,
Forcing us to build walls held together by shame, 
The shame our parents felt for us from the start, 
A shame they won't admit, because like cowards, 
they're afraid of their own reflections, 
Not knowing that children are detectives of lies and the nonsense,
Wanting us to be the same as them while at the same time 
Seeking fame in eyes of the children they've let down, 
A generation of children left with nothing but frowns
And memories of pain.

We could have been great... 
But enough of coulds and shoulds; 
The imaginary tales we tell ourself 
Of a better future yet to come,
For what it is, 
Is an R-rated show that has just begun,
So sit back and relax,
For you have paid the price of admission,
Which has been approved for all audiences,
And so, with your permission, 
The show must go on 
But this is my curtain call, 
So don't talk to me about fate, 
Because I know for a fact
That we should have been great.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Star Wars Fan Theory: Darth Sidious's Return?

It’s been three weeks since Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens hit theaters and what an exhilarating three weeks it has been! The film captured the hearts of fans the world over and it has broken all manner of box office records, even pushing James Cameron’s Avatar, the long time champion of most money made ever here at home, from its number one spot. Along with the film’s financial and critical success, the imaginations of viewers have been busy interpreting the smallest details and making predictions for the next two films. Most popular among some fan theories is the story behind Rey’s parentage and, my personal favorite, the theory that Finn and Poe are more than space bros.

They are totes in love!

I caught The Force Awakens twice in theaters and I have some theories of my own. In the next few paragraphs I will lay out my thoughts on the identity of the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke who is, arguably, the real baddie of the new trilogy. If you haven’t had chance to see the movie yet (seriously?), then this is your chance to exit out before I get into the spoilerish deets.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.






If you scrolled down and plan to continue the rest of this article then I’m going to assume that you’ve either seen the film or that you’re part of the rare 1% who don’t freak out at spoilers. Either way, you’ve been warned.

Simply put, my theory is that Snoke is actually Sheev Palpatine in disguise. In case you’re new to Star Wars, Palpatine was the evil emperor in the original trilogy and the Sith Lord who turned Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader in the prequel trilogy. He is better known by his Sith name, Darth Sidious.

Addressing the elephant in the room, I am aware that he (allegedly) died at the end of Return of the Jedi, but I figured that if Darth Maul can be cut in half at the waist, fall down a reactor room shaft and survive (thanks, Mother Talzin), I'm sure Palpatine is powerful enough to pull a similar trick. He had plenty of time to get on an escape pod and escape the Death Star before it exploded. A friend pointed out that if that’s the case then he could safely assume, similarly, that Han could still potentially be alive (told ya there would be some serious spoilers). But different rules apply in Han’s death; for one, Han was stabbed in the heart with a light saber so, he's very much dead. Also, Han isn't a Sith Lord with expert manipulation of the force (although no amount of force use could repair his shredded heart tissue… sorry) and Palpatine was screaming all the way down that shaft while producing force lightning, unlike Han who was speechless and limp.

Does look like the face of a man who would let a little fall keep him down?

I’ve heard and read some theories that Snoke could be Darth Plagueis the Wise, Palpatine’s former master, The Grand Inquisitor from Star Wars Rebels, and even Anakin Skywalker himself. All interesting and mildly terrifying possibilities but there are some serious holes in each. For instance, even though Anakin’s pale, bald visage as seen during that heartfelt farewell between him and Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi does somewhat resemble Snoke, Anakin’s death is not really in question; after all, he appeared as a force ghost to Luke just before the credits rolled. How else could he do that unless he was dead? Never mind that Luke gave his father a proper Jedi funeral and burned his body and armor at a pyre. In the case of Darth Plagueis and Grand Inquisitor theories, Snoke simply doesn’t have the correct bone structure. What little we have seen of Snoke does not resemble a Muun* or a Pau’an, but rather, he looks quite human. It should be noted, of course, that Darth Plagueis’s species was never specified for the current canon so he may not be a Munn at all, opening up the possibility that he’s human and making him a very high possibility, but as long as his species remains unspecified, I am going to work under the assumption that he’s not human. 

Palpatine, on the other hand, is very much human and was already deformed once thanks to the burns he received from his own force lightning in Revenge of the Sith. What if it happened again when Vader threw him down that shaft in the reactor room and those are the burn marks we're seeing on Snoke's face (assuming the hologram is to be believed)? Another friend pointed out that if Snoke is Palpatine, that would put Palpatine at over a hundred years old; could he survive to be that old? I think probably, yes; after all, don't forget who his master was! Darth Plagueis got the moniker “the Wise” because he was able to manipulate the force in ways that allowed him to create life and prevent death (some even think Plagueis is the reason for the fatherless Anakin’s existence). When Palpatine was telling Anakin Plagueis' story, he said he killed him in his sleep "after he had no more to teach me." Perhaps Palpatine learned to prevent his own death by various factors, including aging, through his expert manipulation of the force. In fact, another theory suggests that it was Palpatine's manipulation of the force that killed Padmé while she was in labor rather than the ridiculous notion that she “died of a broken heart”.

No Munns here!

If Palpatine is in fact alive and posing as Supreme Leader Snoke, choosing Ben Solo as his new "Sith" apprentice is poetic in of itself. Ben Solo, a.k.a. Kylo Ren, is the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, who betrayed Palpatine as Darth Vader; he is the grandson of Padmé, a fellow Naboo and Palpatine’s successor in the Senate and a constant thorn in Palpatine’s side during his Chancellorship; he is the son of Leia Organa, a leader in the Rebel Alliance (and now, the Resistance) and a constant thorn in Palpatine’s side during his Emperorship (like mother, like daughter, eh?); and he is the nephew of Luke Skywalker, the man who turned Vader against Palpatine and ended his Empire. It would be just like Palpatine to turn Ben to the dark side as his own form of poetic justice. In addition, Ben made a snide comment to General Hux about the inadequacy of his troopers and mockingly suggested that he use a batch of Clone Troopers instead. If Snoke was telling Ben stories about the Clone Troopers and the Clone Wars, then we can safely assume Snoke was around for and possibly even active in the Clone Wars. While this doesn’t point directly to Palpatine (many were heavily involved in the Clone Wars, especially Jedi Generals), you will recall that is was Emperor Palpatine who shut down the Cloning Facility on Kamino at the end of Clone Wars and had all clones decommissioned from the Imperial Army. Palpatine knew a thing or two about clones and, judging from Ben’s comment, Supreme Leader Snoke did not think too highly of them as compared to the First Orders Stormtroopers.

Speaking of, the First Order is super Empire-y and it's interesting to note that the Stormtroopers we meet in Force Awakens, Stormtroopers like FN2187, are taken from their families and raised from birth to be Stormtroopers much like how the Jedi were taken from their families and raised from birth to be Jedi. It's also implied that force sensitive babies were being eliminated by The Inquisitors; perhaps non-force sensitive babies were being simultaneously being taken to serve the First Order. This would be a great example of the hypocrisy that is the Sith; it would be just like Palpatine to emulate the Jedi’s (efficient if wrong) way of training and inspiring loyalty in new recruits while he continues to kill off potential Jedis. Furthermore, General Hux was the son of a former imperial officer; perhaps one Palpatine's past connections? Just because the Republic was re-established doesn’t mean there aren’t still generations of people who prospered during the Emperor’s reign and are, as a result, First Order sympathizers. 

Another minor hint that I picked up during my viewings of The Force Awakens was how Snoke's theme is remarkably similar to the opera house music heard in Revenge of the Sith during Palpatine and Anakin's conversation about Darth Plagueis. It’s that unmistakable throat singing score. You could look at that two ways: as a reference to Plagueis or as a reference to Palpatine, but going on my theory, it may very well be hinting (perhaps not so subtley or in a way that’s meant to throw off viewers) that Snoke is Palpatine. 

Pay attention to the music, especially at 0:08

And for comparison.

Finally, George Lucas wanted Star Wars to be a poem that rhymes and as a fan and fellow filmmaker, it wouldn’t surprise me if J. J. Abrams wanted to continue that wish. Making it so that Palpatine is alive and trying to bring back the Empire he created, leaving Rey, Luke's (possible but unconfirmed) daughter, as the only person who could defeat him would be very poetic. Even her name is synonymous with "ray" as in a ray of light that will finally end the tragedy of the Skywalker family and redeem Anakin once and for all (perhaps).

In addition, the Starkiller Base is, very notably, the next size up from the first and second Death Star making it, let’s face it, Death Star the Third, which was very much Palpatine's baby (a poem that rhymes). He improved on its function and its power while also improving how this new Empire, the First Order, is being run and operated. He's still targeting the (New) Republic and he's still targeting Jedi. That was never Plagueis's game.

Another interesting piece of the puzzle that fits with the idea of a poem that rhymes: what if Vader failed to kill Darth Sidious in the original trilogy the same way Obi-Wan failed to kill Darth Maul in the prequel trilogy? Maul's comic ended with him riding off into the sunset, alive and well. If he's still out there, is it so crazy to think that Palpatine could still be out there as well? 

It's just a theory, of course, and it relies on more than one assumption. It relies on the fact that Darth Plagueis is a Munn and not human; it relies on the idea that the hologram of Snoke is to be believed; and, most of all, it relies on the assumption that Palpatine survived that fall in the first place. I've been wrong before, but from where I stand it makes a lot of sense. At the very least, there's more evidence to suggest that Snoke is Palpatine rather than Plagueis. And while J. J. Abrams has made it abundantly clear that Snoke and Ren are NOT Sith (we knew that already), that may not rule out the possibility that he was once Sith (loophole?) Besides, I would imagine that J. J. Abrams is in the business of maintaining any and all secrets regarding the next two films under wraps. Stating that Snoke is not Sith (present tense) doesn’t negate the possibility that he was Sith (past tense). Perception is everything and you gotta love loopholes.

In the end, of course, it could very well be that Snoke is just Snoke and no one we know from the previously established cannon. Until that is officially confirmed in upcoming films, however, I will continue to entertain the idea. Share your thoughts below!