I have been regularly surprised at how much people can overthink something simple.
Actually, I’m going to do two posts on this. The first thing of note, is that while I haven’t watched the entire thing, I’ve been having clips and segments of the series drop into my youtube feed with enough regularity to state my interest in it. Stuff like…
What has become now undeniable is the core flaw in Star Wars: The Lightsaber.
But it’s also what makes SW work. Let me explain.
As I keep meaning to show in a video someday (because it takes seconds to demonstrate but would take books to explain), swords (well all melee weapons really) are an incredible dramatic tool in visual storytelling. Without a word of dialog, you can use a physical conflict between two fighters to explain character, relationship, as well as create tension in progress towards victory or defeat. In seconds you can have the audience perfectly understand what would take words upon words upon words to convey in a book.
This is what makes the lightsaber so great and what RedLeterMedia was getting at in their Plinkett review about what lightsaber battles are really about. Plus lightsabers have added benefit of glowing with bright colors, meaning you can tell even more to the audience than you could normally with just an ordinary piece of steel. They are quite literally one of the most perfect cinematic storytelling tools ever created.
The problem then comes from: how it ends.
Again, part of what makes weaponry duels work so well in stories is that their ends are also quite clear.
One or both fighters end up unable to continue the match (whether maimed or killed) or some outside force puts a stop to it. (This can vary from new information clearing up the motivation for the fight to a greater immediate concern forcing the fighters to quit for the time being.)
Since Star Wars has shown us that almost any injury can be fixed (since the second movie, Empire Strikes Back) this has narrowed the possible options for the resolution of lightsaber duels. This means every movie has had to struggle with the question: why maim your opponent when it is almost always in your interest to kill them?
The original movies work because they answer this: Familial bonds join the two fighters. Luke and Vader don’t want to kill the other, but wants the other to join them. So they keep leaving each other alive. This is another of the problems with Episode 1 (E1) The Phantom Menace. There’s no possible way for either of the Force fighters to leave the other side alive, they must fight to the death.
But once a character is dead, they cannot be used again. (Yes I know about Darth Maul in the comics and cartoons and Solo – that only proves my point more.)
Star Wars is supposed to be a serial style story, which means the villains and heroes need to take turns escaping from thorny situations over and over until the climax of it all, where the failure of their final effort to “live another day” gives the audience much needed catharsis and the story a satisfactory ending. With Darth Maul dead at the end of E1, they had to keep inventing new opponents to play the role of lightsaber duelist – Dooku for E2, General Greavious for E3. This is part of why the prequels fall flat – we never get a solid villain to emotionally invest it. E1 does it right by giving us glimpses of Maul at the beginning (just like Vader in E4), a midway fight to establish his bonafides as a threat (just like Vader again), then killing off a beloved character in the climax. Dooku arrives too late in E2 for us to get emotionally invested, and General Greavious is shown to be too much of a joke at the start of E3 for us to feel any tension. They needed to figure out some way to get Maul and Kenobi to cease their battle so it could be continued for 2 more films.
This brings it all back around… to Vader vs Kenobi. We know the ultimate conclusion to their battle is in E4 A New Hope.
The problem now is: we have to do prequels.
And as you may have guessed now, the problem with all of that is we keep confronting the question of why doesn’t Kenobi finish Vader off? Doing so at the end of E3 OR at the end of the TV series here would have saved the galaxy from so much suffering. Twice now we also see that he has his foe completely dead to rights – maimed both times – so why not finish him off? I know the ready answer is “their friendship was so much Kenobi can’t bring himself to it” but… come on.
But the real point is that the prequels keep failing because they are not properly setting up the catharsis which E4 SHOULD provide us if we go back and rewatch the story in chronological order. As I explained in my critique of a fan film, the death of Kenobi in E4 is supposed to be the conclusion to a long unanswered debate. In true serial fashion, all the previous chapters we are now watching should be setting this up, which the two fighters having a duel that gets interrupted time and again until that final moment of catharsis.
This is what I keep going on about with Solo and now this show… the creators seem so obsessed about what they can do, they never stop to think how it should all fit into the larger picture. It’s why these efforts keep stumbling and having trouble rising above the level of mid and not becoming true classics like the foundation they sprung from.
But yes I’ll also do a “how I’d do Kenobi” post too.