Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Ways of the Force

My mom likes to say that I went through several phases in my childhood, based on the things I drew. First there were superheroes, then knights, and then Star Wars. And that phase pretty much didn't end until I woke up sometime in the spring of 2000.

I was a huge Star Wars fan. I was about as big a Star Wars fan as you could be before this monstrosity that is the Internet came along. Nowadays, I’m completely outclassed by the likes of Darth_Chocolate32, Grand Moff WampaLoverr, and Ted the Hutt.

Still, I appreciate what George gave to the world, and from time to time fragments of memory combine with experience to produce moments of genuine understanding. For example, I’m mulling over the hows and wherefores of setups and payoffs, done particularly well in current offerings like 3:10 To Yuma and Eastern Promises, and this idea, this insight, pops into my little noggin, and suddenly two seemingly innocuous dots in the rich tapestry that is Lucas’s elegant script slam together with a huge, a gigantic, amount of . . . well, force.

Let’s look at the original Star Wars film. At the end of Act I, Luke has decided to follow old Ben on his “damned-fool idealistic crusade” and become a Jedi Knight like his father. At some point, Ben is going to provide some instruction. You know the scene. While in hyperspace en route to Alderaan, Luke is training with the remote seeker and getting zapped in the process. Han laughs, dismissing the Force, but Ben places a helmet on Luke’s head that completely covers his face.

LUKE: (laughing) With the blast shield down, I can't even see. How am I supposed to fight?

Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.

And thus one of the film’s themes is articulated. Luke relaxes and, trusting the Force, succeeds in blocking the remote’s laser bolts. The scene itself might have worked with just Ben and Luke, and that’s how a novice writer might have constructed the scene. But Han’s doubt provides the contrast necessary to highlight and embolden Luke’s lesson: “Ancient weapons and hokey religions are no match for a good blaster at your side.” In fact, his words echo those of Admiral Motti, proud architect of the Death Star, to Darth Vader: “Don’t try to frighten us with your sorceror’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel’s hidden fort . . .”

Here, in the conflict between the ways of the Force and the ways of technology, lies the key to Luke’s journey and the resolution of the story. This theme is located in at least two other instances. The first occurs when Luke uses his macrobinoculars to spy on the Sand People. His recklessness and reliance on technology actually prevent him from seeing the danger right in front of him. The second takes place in the Death Star detention area, when Luke, disguised as an Imperial stormtrooper, complains, “I can’t see a thing in this helmet.”

If we jump to the climax of the film, the Death Star battle, we find Luke making what will certainly be his only trench run. All his comrades have fallen prey to enemy fighters. Vader—in whom the tension between faith and technology resides most dramatically—is closing in. The impossible target of the thermal exhaust port looms ever closer. And then Luke, prompted by Ben’s disembodied voice, makes a simple but critical choice. He switches off his targeting computer—to the consternation of Rebel strategists—and, guided by the Force, releases the torpedoes that destroy the Death Star and save the Rebellion.

Looking back to the training scene, which occurs just prior to the midpoint, we see that its structural function is to set up this climax. To prepare Luke (and the audience) for the task he will need to perform at the very end. Let go your conscious self and act on instinct. In a simple scene, complete in itself, Lucas has planted the seed for one of the most joyous and satisfying conclusions in film history.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

October J Decided

Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him with wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. — J.R.R. Tolkien
October J Rabbit has passed. Yesterday, at five o'clock in the evening, he died in Jenifer's arms. He had waited for me to return from work. He waited for me, and when I joined him and Jenifer on the sofa, I knew that his time was drawing near.

Jenifer offered October some water, some honey, but he wanted neither. Then, with great force, he pushed down with his front legs, and Jenifer placed her hands beneath his paws to give him better leverage. All his long life he had rarely uttered more than contented murmurs and clucks, or the low grunts of sexual desire. Now, at the end, determined sounds of effort escaped as he pushed down and reared his head up, leaning into Jenifer's chest. He pushed and pushed again, rising skyward, until with his last breath his spirit escaped the body. His hind feet were pressed neatly together, his little hands folded as if in prayer, and his gentle face lifted to God. He died with honey in his mouth. It was a beautiful death. Perfect. A miracle.

We first found October, or he found us, in the pet store Jenifer was working in. The date was September 5, 1997. He gave us 10 beautiful years to the day. He was always fully present and effortlessly himself. Everyone who knew him saw his big personality, was forced to reconsider their notions of what a rabbit could be. He was naturally a prey animal, and yet he approached others and the world without fear. If a dog or cat was out of line, Mister J would not hesitate to thump and let them know who was boss. If he were a Gatorade flavor, he would be Fierce Melon. He was regal and imperious (he got that from his mom), curious and generous. He was our sweet, rabbit-shaped boy.

October J, we love you. We will be with you always, to the end of all days.

Each form you see has its unseen twin image.
If the form is transient, its essence is eternal.
If you have known beauty in a face
Or wisdom in a word,
Let this nourish your heart:
What passes is not real.
— Rumi

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