Star Wars (a 15-Minute Force production): Chapter Three: Burning Bodies in the Sand (Or: Okay, I Guess I Can Come With You To Alderaan)

15minuteR2

 

00:30:01 – 00:45:00

As we begin a new chapter of the Star Wars Edition of 15-Minute Force I can’t help but to think back to 1977, when no one realized this was actually the fourth episode of the saga—or Episode IV: A New Hope, as it came to be known a few years later. When I saw Star Wars for the first time, I didn’t even know that it would have sequels, much less “prequels,” a word that I don’t believe even existed at the time.

A few years later, I read or heard that George Lucas had planned for nine Star Wars movies, and the original trilogy was just the middle third. Later, it was reported that there would be only six movies, and this was Lucas’s grand design all along. Now that I’ve just watched the eighth movie of the saga (ninth, only if you count Rogue One, which I guess I do), it seems that the original story about nine movies was the truth, even though Lucas is no longer in control of the property.

But, “truth” is a relative term. Maybe Lucas considered nine movies; maybe he didn’t. I think the biggest un-truth was that there was really a grand design, a plan for the franchise at all. I think George Lucas had some good ideas, but was making a lot of stuff up as he went along. Or, letting other people make it up for him, as they are definitely doing now that Disney owns Lucasfilm.

Whatever the case, back when this movie was just Star Wars, I didn’t know anything about other movies. When the Death Star blew up at the end, it was the thrilling ending to a thrilling movie. The idea of movie sequels, at least in the modern movie era, was not yet commonplace. Godfather: Part II had come out a few years before, and it was even a sort of prequel, but I wouldn’t see either of the Godfather movies (I prefer to pretend that the third one doesn’t exist), or read Mario Puzo’s novel, until later. But, then came Jaws 2 and then Rocky 2, and then Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and sequels became the norm instead of the exception. Even movies that should never have had sequels would have sequels. Many, many sequels. Later, the word “reboot” would become similarly popular. But, I digress—

As our third chapter begins, a mysterious robed figure is bending over our young hero Luke Skywalker, who was knocked unconscious by Tusken Raiders, who are either genetically predisposed to violence or knew that Luke’s father once slaughtered a whole tribe of their cousins, including women and children.

Under the shadow of an overhanging rock, R2-D2 makes a mournful sound. Obi-Wan Kenobi hears him, removes the hood from his head, and invites the droid to come join him and not be afraid. What is entirely absent from this exchange is even the tiniest hint of recognition. That was Ewan McGregor who was on familiar terms with this little astromech droid, not Alec Guinness. And besides, it’s been—what?—about eighteen-to-twenty years since the two were together?

I’m guessing that Luke is in that age range. 18-to-20-years-old, upset that all of his friends have left to go to college, or the academy, or wherever it is that Tatooine young adults go to in order to get away from this lifeless rock that’s located the farthest distance away from the bright center of the galaxy, if such a thing exists. Alec Guinness was in his sixties when he played Obi-Wan Kenobi. This means that McGregor was supposed to be in his forties in Revenge of the Sith. At first, I was going to write that I couldn’t buy that. Then I looked at photos of myself from twenty years ago, and now choose to drop the subject.

Kenobi demonstrates that he understands R2’s beep-bloop language, just as Luke does later. R2 is concerned about Luke, it seems. As he should be, since it was his fault that Luke was attacked by the Tusken Raiders in the first place. That, plus being unconscious implies that Luke suffered a traumatic brain injury. The older man tells R2 that Luke will be all right, and then Luke regains consciousness to prove him right. Being knocked unconscious and being fully functional only moments later is not just a Star Wars trope: it seems to be a trope that spans all forms of fiction. Don’t get me started about how many times Rupert Giles was knocked unconscious in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mean it, don’t get me started.

After Luke tells Ben how glad he is to see him, Kenobi says, “The Jundland Wastes are not to be traveled lightly.” According to Wookieepedia, my main source for all things Star Wars, the Jundland Wastes are a rocky region of Tatooine located between the Northern and Western Dune Sea. Since we were already told that Ben Kenobi lived “beyond the Dune Sea,” this tracks. In the real world, these scenes were shot in Tunisia, with pickup shots in Death Valley, USA. The same location can be seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark as well.

In response to Kenobi asking what brings him out so far, Luke tells him that the little droid claims to be the property of someone named Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sir Alec looks like he has just seen—or heard the name of—a ghost. He says that “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is a name that he hasn’t heard in a long time. Well, of course he hasn’t, since he’s hiding out under the name “Ben.” Later, probably after watching the television mini-series Masada, I would associate Obi-Wan’s assumed name with the Hebrew word bin, which would make him the Son-of-Kenobi. This makes no sense, of course. It’s still true.

Luke goes on to say that he thinks his uncle knows this Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that Uncle Owen said he was dead. Oh, he’s not dead, says Kenobi, who goes on to admit that he’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. But, then he tells Luke the first of many lies. He says he hasn’t gone by the name Obi-Wan since before Luke was born. This isn’t quite true, since he was still called Obi-Wan both during Padme’s deadly childbirth scene and shortly afterward as the twins were being split up. Let’s call this one a little white lie. Bigger lies are to follow.

Kenobi says he doesn’t recall ever owning a droid. He still doesn’t appear to recognize R2. My personal head canon says that Obi-Wan is pretending not to recognize the astromech droid, for reasons not entirely clear to me. I don’t blame R2 for not recognizing Obi-Wan, because he was Ewan McGregor the last time the droid saw him. Or maybe the desert heat on Tatooine has really affected Obi-Wan and he genuinely doesn’t remember R2.

Suddenly, there’s a growling from off-screen. More Tusken Raiders or maybe ravenous womprats. Kenobi suggests they get indoors. “The sand people,” he says, using the racist term, “are easily startled, but they’ll soon be back in greater numbers.”

Sand people” is uncomfortably close to the term “mud races,” popular with white supremacists everywhere. 1977 was a less-PC year.

Before they leave the canyon, R2 reminds Luke about C-3PO. They immediately locate him. The protocol droid’s left arm has been severed from his body—the first of many dismemberments to come in the original trilogy, if memory serves—and C-3PO is being overly dramatic about his chances for survival. As Kenobi and Luke lift C-3PO, there is an upwipe from bottom-to-top of the screen to the next scene, which is an establishing shot of Kenobi’s home atop a rocky hill. There is smoke coming from the chimney, what appears to be water vaporator technology, and rolling sand dunes in the distance. This may have been a special edition add-on, but I’m not sure. In any case, it’s a nice shot.

Then we are inside Kenobi’s home. And in mid-conversation, it seems.

No,” Luke says, chuckling, “My father didn’t fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.”

That’s what your uncle told you. He didn’t hold with your father’s ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved.”

You fought in the Clone Wars?” Luke seems incredulous.

Yes. I was once a Jedi Knight. The same as your father.”

I wish I’d known him.”

He was the best starpilot in the galaxy. And a cunning warrior. I understand you’ve become quite a good pilot yourself. And he was a good friend.”

I’ve reproduced this entire dialogue exchange just to highlight the worldbuilding bombs being dropped on the audience in 1977. It would be decades before we would find out what the Clone Wars were, exactly, but we knew that they happened. My friends and I would speculate endlessly about them. None of us predicted that the original stormtroopers would be the clones, however. Then there was the term “Jedi Knight.” Okay, Luke’s father was a Jedi Knight, and so was Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. We don’t know what that means yet, but we’re intrigued.

Then there’s what appears to be a throwaway bit of jargon, “spice freighter.” Melange, or “the spice,” was a powerful narcotic in Frank Herbert’s Dune, a 1965 science-fiction novel that obviously influenced George Lucas’s creation of Tatooine as a Star Wars setting. As a science-fiction nerd at a young age, I recognized this homage in ’77, even though I may have categorized it as “rip-off.”

What this short conversation accomplishes is enriching the fictional universe with more backstory. The exchange makes it seem like Uncle Owen and Anakin Skywalker had a closer relationship than we now know they had. It occurs to me now that we may not have known that Owen and Beru had the last name Lars when this movie came out. Maybe it wasn’t that huge a leap to assume that Owen and Anakin were full brothers who grew up together on Tatooine and clashed over their differing “ideals,” as Kenobi suggests. I just attempted, rather quickly, to determine when we found out about the Lars surname, but failed. I did stumble upon non-canon info that suggests Beru and Anakin were brother and sister who were raised together on Tatooine. I found this interesting, even though it’s not true.

I understand now that dropping these bits of information sets up story questions in the viewers’ minds, things that we continue to think about even when we don’t realize we’re thinking about them. This gives the fictional world more verisimilitude. It also gives diehard fans more to argue about. Explaining too much somewhat detracts from the worldbuilding, in my opinion. Arguably one of the main problems with the prequels, which I will never again watch unless someone pays me to. I don’t require midichlorians (or Kyber crystals, for that matter) to explain how things work in the Star Wars galaxy.

Back to the movie. Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber. I’m not going to attempt to trace the provenance of this lightsaber. I’m just going to assume it works out. He says that Luke’s father wanted him to have it, which is a bald-faced lie. He also says that Luke’s uncle wouldn’t allow Kenobi to give it to Luke, afraid that Luke would follow “old Obi-Wan” on some idealistic crusade “like his father did.” Again, I don’t know if this is true or not. Maybe Owen Lars did prevent Old Ben Kenobi from giving the lightsaber to Luke. Owen does seem over-protective, as Beru pointed out in the earlier scene. And, obviously, Kenobi was known to the family, which implies that he was an occasional guest, like some crazy distant relative. The “idealistic crusade” bit builds upon the idea of the Jedi as knights as well. Nicely done.

C-3PO, his arm reattached and apparently bored with the conversation, asks Luke’s permission to shut himself off.

We are introduced to the concept of the lightsaber at the same time as Luke, who is the viewer’s surrogate. We are told it is the weapon of the Jedi Knight, not as clumsy or random as a blaster. “Clumsy or random” offers an explanation as to why stormtroopers can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn with their blasters. Why are blasters so clumsy or random? I always think of lasers as being precision-type things. More story questions.

Luke fires up the lightsaber, with its blue laser-blade. I remember thinking it was a cool effect the first time I saw it. This time, I’m thinking Luke was lucky that he didn’t maim or kill himself or Obi-Wan the moment he ignited the weapon, which Kenobi says was an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. The older man goes on to say that the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice for the Old Republic for over a thousand generations. That’s a long time. This was before the Dark Times (with their implied capitalization). Before the Empire.

Yeah, the Empire is Evil. The first appearance of Darth Vader suggested that.

Luke asks how his father died. This is something you would think that Owen and Beru would have told him, but apparently they didn’t even bother to lie to him about that. Obi-Wan, like apparently all of the droids in the galaxy, has no problem lying to Luke. Or at least telling half-truths. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t know Obi-Wan wasn’t telling the truth either, though.

He tells Luke that his father was killed by a young Jedi named Darth Vader, who had been one of Kenobi’s pupils until he turned to evil. This is close to the truth, in a way, since becoming Darth Vader did effectively kill off Anakin Skywalker. It still seems that this movie is foreshadowing that big reveal. At least it does to me, even though some sources suggest that it wasn’t certain that Darth Vader was Luke’s father during the shooting of the first film.

Next, we find out that Darth Vader helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi, who are now all but extinct. Vader, it seems, was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. This is the first time we hear about “The Dark Side” or “The Force.” Luke’s first time, too. So, he asks for follow up. Thanks, Luke.

The Force is what gives a Jedi his powers,” Kenobi explains. “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

Luke says nothing to this, probably thinking, Yep. Old Ben is crazy all right. This explanation does cause R2 to start bleeping and blooping, though. No one bothers to translate what the droid is saying, but Kenobi goes over to R2 to find out what it’s been talking about all this time before leading Luke to him.

And then we get the full holographic message from Princess Leia Organa. As an 11-year-old, I never questioned how R2 managed to create a 3D hologram when he was directly in front of her. Now, I’ll accept that he was aided by the energy field that surrounds and penetrates all of us.

General Kenobi,” Leia begins, “Years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I’m unable to present my father’s request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack and I am afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

Except for in the now-iconic “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” line, Carrie Fisher is affecting a weirdly British accent, much in the same manner as Natalie Portman in the prequel trilogy. Maybe it’s a royalty thing. During the hologram scene, Luke is staring at Leia’s image with a look of raw lust on his face. You have to remember that none of us knew she was his sister at the time.

Up to now, our main story goal has been to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. It was R2’s mission when they escaped to Tatooine in the pod. Along the way, they picked up Luke Skywalker as a fortuitous companion. Now that Obi-Wan has been located, we’re given a new story goal, which is to deliver R2 to Leia’s father on Alderaan. But, we’re still firmly in Act One of this story. There are other characters we need to meet.

Obi-Wan tells Luke that he has to learn the ways of The Force if he’s to accompany him to Alderaan. Here we meet a plot complication. Luke says he’s not going to Alderaan. He has to go home. He’s already going to be in trouble for being as late as he is.

Obi-Wan says he needs Luke’s help. More importantly, she—meaning the Princess—needs his help. Kenobi says he’s getting too old for this sort of thing. He is the Murtaugh in this buddy cop movie.

I can’t get involved,” Luke whines. “I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire. I hate it. But there’s nothing I can do about it right now.”

Obi-Wan accuses Luke of sounding like his uncle. You know, Uncle Owen, a man who was kind enough to take in an infant orphan and raise him to young adulthood, who seems to be honestly concerned about Luke’s welfare. That mean old Uncle Owen.

Luke tells Obi-Wan that he can take him as far as Anchorhead. From there, the old Jedi can get a transport to Mos Eisley or wherever he’s going. A passive-aggressive Obi-Wan says that Luke must do whatever he feels is right, of course.

One screen-wipe later, we get to see an Imperial Star Destroyer approaching the moon-sized space station known affectionately as the Death Star. It was designed by Galen Erso, as you know, and it has a secret flaw built into its main reactor by Erso, who was a secret Rebel. It’s that secret that R2 is carrying with him, which makes R2-D2 the most important character in the movie. At least in this portion of the movie.

Next, we see a bunch of white, male Imperial officers in gray uniforms seated around a large conference table. I’m assuming they’re on the Death Star, but I’m not certain yet. The officers are discussing the threats posed by the Rebellion when Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader enter the chamber. Tarkin (who is not a CGI creation in this movie) delivers the news that the Emperor has dissolved the Imperial Senate, sweeping away the final vestiges of the Old Republic. One of the officers questions how the Emperor will maintain control without the bureaucracy. His tone seems to border on insubordination. Tarkin says the regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Especially fear of this battle station (by which he means the Death Star).

What of the Rebellion? One of the officers wonders. If they have obtained a complete technical readout of the station, they could find a weakness, however unlikely, and exploit it.

Darth Vader assures the assembled group that the plans referred to will soon be back in their hands.

Another of the Imperials suggests that any attack against the Death Star would be pointless, even if the Rebels have the technical schematics. The Death Star represents the ultimate power in the universe, and he suggests that they use it.

Vader cautions against having too much pride. “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader.” says one brave and foolhardy Imperial officer. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion hasn’t helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels’ hidden fortre—urk”

Now comes our very first Force-choke, as the officer gets choked out by Vader from a distance away. “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” Vader says as the man is gasping for oxygen. Since the man was bold enough to taunt Vader in front of everybody, one has to wonder if this is the first time Vader has ever used this particular Jedi trick (or is it a Sith trick?) on an Imperial officer. Perhaps the Emperor’s sudden power move in dismantling the government has also empowered Vader to take a firmer hand with the military leaders. All of the officers in their gray suits seemed a little full of themselves prior to this.

It appears that Grand Moff Tarkin is The Boss here, though, not Darth Vader. Tarkin orders Vader to release the man, and Vader complies with an “As you wish.” So, this particular officer isn’t killed. Tarkin expresses complete confidence in Vader, telling the officers that he will provide them with the location of the Rebel fortress by the time the station is operational and they will crush the Rebellion in one swift stroke.

Wait a minute. Isn’t the station already operational? I just saw it take out Jedha City and the Citadel Tower at Scarif in another movie. Maybe, just maybe, and I’m grasping at straws here, he means the station needs time to power up again in order to destroy an entire planet, which is a much bigger job. Sure. That’s it. This is not a continuity mistake.

Back to Tatooine. Luke, Obi-Wan, and the two droids, come across the Jawa sandcrawler. The same Jawas who sold C-3PO and R2 to Luke and his family. The scene has been staged to look like the Tusken Raiders killed all the Jawas, but Obi-Wan sees through the ruse clearly. Tuskens always ride single file to hide their numbers, and the tracks here are side by side. Plus, the blast points are too accurate for “sand people,” the old Jedi says. We’ll assume the blast points are still clumsy and random, though, just less so than if the Tuskens were firing the blasters.

Obi-Wan says only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise. As we’ll see in the near-future, this is a laughable statement.

Luke makes the logical leap that, if the Stormtroopers traced the droids to the Jawas, then they may have found out who they were sold to, which would lead them to—

Luke jumps into the landspeeder and rushes home without his companions. There, he finds that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are smoking skeletons in front of the sand igloo. While this is a sad turn of events, and a testament to the perils of buying secondhand droids or adopting the orphan children of Jedi, it does eliminate Luke’s main objection to joining Obi-Wan on his damn-fool crusade.

Back on the Death Star, Darth Vader visits Princess Leia in her cell. He has some sort of floating interrogation droid with him, as well as two of those soldiers in black uniforms and comically oversized shiny black helmets. Leia says nothing as the camera pushes in close on the droid and a large, scary needle.

Tatooine. Luke returns to the sandcrawler and his companions. The droids are busy burning Jawa corpses, as one does in these situations. I guess Luke should count his blessings. At least the Stormtroopers had already burned his aunt and uncle for him.

Obi-Wan tries to comfort Luke by telling him that he could have done nothing if he had been there. He’d be dead, too, and the droids would be in the hands of the Empire.

Luke tells him that he wants to come with him to Alderaan. He wants to learn the ways of The Force and become a Jedi like his father. So, now the story’s back on course. Our story goal is to get the droids to Alderaan, and giving Luke Jedi training along the way. How will we do that?

Everyone travels by landspeeding, stopping at a scenic overlook to look at Mos Eisley from a distance.

Mos Eisley Spaceport,” Obi-Wan says in his gurgly voice, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” One of my favorite Star Wars quotes, and the same words I’ve used to described many places I’ve been in my life.

Then we get some special edition views of Mos Eisley that make the spaceport seem much larger and livelier than I remember it being in the original movie. Overall, not a bad change to the movie, in my opinion, although I’ll admit that I’m not a purist. Then, we get the familiar, and classic, scene of the stormtroopers stopping the landspeeder and questioning our heroes about the droids.

Luke claims to have had them for three or four seasons. Obi-Wan says they are for sale if they want them. The lead stormtrooper asks to see some identification. Obi-Wan makes a tiny gesture with his fingers and says he doesn’t need to show him identification. Which the stormtrooper oddly agrees with.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” says Obi-Wan. Another favorite quote.

And again, the stormtrooper agrees and lets them “move along.”

Of course, this was our first example of what came to be known as the Jedi Mind Trick. I’m not sure if the term was coined by fans or within the movies themselves. The hand gesture seems a little stage-magician-like to me, but I will allow it. It’s like trying to coax a bowling ball to curve in the right direction after you’ve already rolled it.

Entering the Mos Eisley cantina, with its familiar music and menagerie of Rick Baker creatures, marks the end of this chapter of the Star Wars Edition of 15-Minute Force, and what an eventful chapter it has been. I don’t think we’re out of Act One yet, though. We still have some important characters to bring on-stage. That happens next chapter.

Until next time, You Will Return For The Next Chapter Because The Force Can Have A Strong Influence On The Weak Minded . . . And May The 15-Minute Force Be With You.

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