“Empire Day” & “Gathering Forces” Analysis

Concerning Satellite Posts

No matter the form of government, no matter the extent of its power, the further away one ventures from its central core, the more likely one will encounter disagreement, dissension, or even outright defiance — particularly if that segment of territory is rarely traversed by those embracing the ethos of the regime. Though Lothal, the primary venue for Star Wars: Rebels, sits amidst the furthest extent of Palpatine’s power, “Empire Day” begins in a provincial sector of this “Outer Rim” world, in a bucolic outpost seemingly far from the central Imperial capital. Principally featuring Jho’s Pit Stop, it quickly becomes apparent the Ithorian shopkeeper is no fan of the New Order — adorning his enterprise with Clone Wars relics, equipment, and helmets that some may view as a veiled middle finger to the contemporary visage of Coruscant’s government: the newly arriving TIE pilots who are present to serve a warrant for a Rodian named Tseebo. That stormtroopers and/or imperial officers aren’t involved in this probe attests to the shear distance from official outposts Jho and his company chose to plant roots, and with little to no Imperial attention, this tavern and its surroundings serve as a respite for those who wish to fantasize about a time prior to dictatorial rule. It really should come as no surprise to these TIE pilots that Imperial propaganda isn’t recycling in the bar — the frustration with such insouciant disregard of official protocol undergirding the command to keep the Holonet broadcast active, “…at all times!”

Jho’s Tavern serves as a reminder to the viewer that outlying bulwarks of dissension or variance will always exist. During World War II, as Germany overran French forces and occupied the country, a resistance movement was already underway — an alliance of these groups became the Forces FranÇaises de L’IntÈrieur, known in rural areas as the Machis (Star Trek fans should know this bit of history). As with our rebel characters, some French citizens did whatever they could, clandestinely and overtly, to disrupt the interests of Germany and the collaborative French Vichy government. Employing guerrilla tactics in the summer of 1940, the fractious movement had to shift their approach to intelligence gathering, secret recruitment, and weapons acquisition after German forces critically cracked down on these brazen attacks. It wasn’t until 1941 that their efforts were coordinated by the Free French government-in-exile, led by Charles de Gaulle, and British intelligence forces. Ryan Durham (2014), writing for ABC-CLIO, documents that beginning with communist factions within the movement, the resistance resumed their guerrilla operations against German forces that summer, while simultaneous parachute supply runs from Britain continued to fortify the growing movement. In ’43, the southern government of collaborators made the mistake of drafting French citizens to work in Germany, which led many of these previously inactive denizens to resist reporting to Germany, and instead enlisting in the resistance movement. One of the earliest participants in French resistance activities was an African American World War I veteran named Eugene Jacques Bullard. Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1894 to a black father (originally from Martinique) and a Creek Indian mother, Bullard was exposed to the French language from the beginning of his life — descendants of Haitian slaves whose owners fled to America upon the success of the Haitian Independence movement. William Chivalette (2005), for Air & Space Power Journal, writes that Bullard left his home at age eight after his father was nearly lynched — a common danger in the United States during the period of Jim Crow Segregation and virulent racist attacks meant to prevent any competition from blacks economically and/or politically, which was especially apparent where black population percentages were greater than whites because of the historical demand for large numbers of slaves in the preceding era. With his mother already dead, Eugene and Ezra share a similar journey in that they both become young waifs until such a time that cataclysmic events would shape their destiny (we learn that Ezra is separated from his parents, either killed or captured by the Empire after supporting subversive actions, and at age 7 he is forced onto the streets to survive on his own). But unlike young Bridger, Bullard couldn’t afford to stick around his home country. As his father had often told him, France could be a salutary alternative to America for descendents of Africa at the time, so Eugene moved to England as a pre-teen, and later France — quickly acquitting himself to a successful stage and prize fighting career. Distinguishing himself in some of the fiercest land campaigns, and becoming the world’s first black fighter pilot attached to the famed Lafayette Escadrille, Eugene Bullard is largely known for his distinguished service in World War I — earning two medals (including the Croix de Guerre) for distinguished service in the trenches of Verdun, as well as notable honors for flying 20 sorties in a Spad VII biplane, with one confirmed (and one disputed) kill of a German plane (Targeted News Service, 2012, “First African-American Pilot a War Hero During WWI.”). After the war, similar to the Ithorian Jho, he opened two bars in Paris, one of which (Le Grand Duc) entertained the likes of Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gloria Swanson, and England’s Prince of Wales. Fluent in three languages, at the outbreak of WWII, he decided to put his German to good use, joining the French resistance and spying on Germany, as well as eavesdropping on those who frequented his establishment. Fleeing Paris upon the advance of Nazi forces, he and his daughters ended up in Orleans, where he fought with a uniformed resistance cell until they were killed, and he was badly wounded. Contacts within the movement afforded him and his daughters passage to Spain, and subsequent evacuation to the U.S.

Resistance movements are only successful when people are capable of communicating with one another, thereby coordinating their efforts. This, of course, is one of the reasons restrictive regimes often curtail the ability for their citizens to conglomerate. The internet in general, and social media in particular, has made these efforts all the more daunting — as exhibited by the 2010 Arab Spring uprisings, where ordinary citizens of a dozen Middle Eastern countries led revolutions of varying degrees of success against long-standing entrenched establishments solely armed with cell phones and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. In the days prior to digital and satellite-based technology, a place like Eugene Bullard’s bar or nightclub would be ideal for resistance leaders to frequent, of which Jho’s Tavern is analogous. Clubs and taverns are places where people can commiserate benignly (at least outwardly), giving them the ability to meet contacts and share intel that doesn’t attract the attention of occupying forces, as their officials often wish to wallow in liquor, music, and dance. This fact was also the inspiration for a Star Trek: Voyager story, “The Killing Game,” in which the crew was hunted by an alien force known as the Hirogen, who placed them in a series of deadly hologram simulations where the predator aliens played Nazi occupiers in France hunting the Voyager crew, who served as French resistance operatives in secret. The captain of Voyager, Kathryne Janeway, plays a character who owns a restaurant in the town of St. Clare, with other members of the ship’s compliment fitted in innocuous occupations to disguise their seditious activities.

The theme of rebellious barkeeps can also be seen in the history of America’s colonial past. Harvard-educated, former tax-collector, and brewer Samuel Adams proved more adroit as a revolutionary than a beer merchant. Organizing similarly radical business owners of colonial Boston into the Caucus Club, where politics of the day could be discussed, his cadre later moved beyond debate and complaint into outright rebellious activity against British parliamentary acts. As the Sons of Liberty, they outwardly protested the Stamp Act of 1765, and were the instigators of various riots targeting the enforcement of tax collection, as well as intimidating officials associated with tax enforcement — actions that spawned similar subversion throughout the colonies. Upon repeal of the Stamp Act, and with passage of their far restrictive replacement, the Townsend Acts, Adams saw what was probably his greatest achievement as a subversive. During a heated town hall meeting, where merchants aired their issues and concerns, he declared, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country,” which served as a surreptitious signal to those who would promptly leave the gathering, and later that evening sneak aboard British ships to dump 342 chests of tea meant to bolster the purse of the British East India Company.

In less restrictive, though in some cases equally passionate, environments, bars and taverns are often the stop for many a political candidate wishing to rally a base of voters that will challenge the established incumbency. As the Outer Rim worlds of that far away galaxy in general, and Lothal in particular, can serve as an analogy for middle America, it’s not far-fetched to believe that those fans who oppose Barack Obama’s presidency would look to Jho’s Tavern as an expression of the anti-Obama culture one finds in rural “red states.” Recent executive orders concerning immigration have unleashed the Schlesingerian “imperial presidency” rhetoric yet again (see Douthat, 2014; Cooke, 2014; The Heritage Foundation, 2014; and Bradner & Rosche, 2014), and even if one Googles “Obama+empire,” several hits feature the president as an ersatz Papatine, or mock-ups of his campaign symbology featuring a Death Star. But beyond the overt Star Wars metaphors, the disconnect between Lothal’s imperial capital v. Jho’s tavern is analogous to the dichotomous relationship between the more densely populated urban centers of America v. its provincial economic and voting centers — and nothing illustrates this more than the economy. From the time Obama took office to now, GDP has risen from -5.4% to 3.5%, unemployment decreased from 10.8% to 5.8%, the Dow Jones rose from 7,949 points to 17,830 points, and the deficit GDP decreased from 9.8% to 2.8%. As a person living in the central heart of the American federal government, where a large percentage of those living around me are either civil servants or federal workers and military, the formidable economic overcast in the early years of the Obama presidency soon gave way to measured and palatable partly-cloudy skies. This has not been felt by those in the “provinces”. The November 9th edition of NBC’s Meet the Press program featured Luke Russert’s venture into rural Georgia, which suffers from an unemployment level of 8% — the highest in the nation as of this writing. Many of these towns thrived as beneficiaries of a single manufacturer, who often left with the shift of economic trends in the 1980s. After meeting with, and interviewing, several small struggling business owners in the Marshallville area, Russert met with Tony Bass, who owns a landscaping truck company. Bass wants to increase pay and benefits for his workers, as well as boost his employee rolls, but finds it almost impossible, considering government regulations. He says,

The only time we hear from the federal government is if we’re in trouble…Wall Street investors, and they’re all H-A-P-P-Y. But, the small business owners, I can’t say there’s that much enthusiasm.

It can be argued that the Ithorian small business owner from “Empire Day” is equally unimpressed with Emperor Palpatine, and projects his aversion onto the visiting emissaries from the TIE fighter corp with a dash of indifference — who make their presence known only when something is wrong.

Pomp and Circumstance

Once the Imperial Holonet is activated, we learn that Ezra’s birthday coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Jedi’s evisceration, on the heels of Palpatine’s Imperial decree. A mini-documentary affording the audience an understanding of Empire Day’s significance features an old still image of the evil dictator within the Senate rotunda; a quondam surrogate in lieu of present-day disfigurement. The origin of this was revealed to be purposeful, as a posting on Starwars.com stated,

Rather than show him as he is today, the “File Holo” of Emperor Palpatine depicts him when he was young and handsome, a common practice of tyrants using state-run media (“Empire Day Trivia Gallery,” slide 4).

The idea that tyrants use state media to portray a sense of youth and strength in our world is supported. Stan Lehman (2011) reported for the Associated Press about former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi wishing to receive a procedure in Brazil that would transplant belly fat into his face (along with hair plugs) because, according to Dr. Liacyr Ribeiro, “…[Gadhafi] had been in power for 25 years at that time, and that he did not want the young people of his nation to see him as an old man.” Mark Almond (2009) for the U.K.’s Daily Mail Online began his coverage of Gadhafi’s state visit to Berlusconi’s Italy with observations of, “gelled and carefully dyed hair, the Colonel was made up to look like a cross between Michael Jackson and the deranged music mogul murderer Phil Spector.” Maureen O’Connor (2011) joined a chorus of writers who panned Russian President Vladimir Putin for supposed plastic surgery — the results of which she characterized as appearing to emulate “Rachel Zoe.” There may even be empirical evidence to suggest that a dictator’s age and outward vitality influence the economic growth of their country. Richard Jong-A-Pin and Jochen O. Mierau (2011), in No Country for Old Men: Aging Dictators and Economic Growth, suggest that, upon studying over 500 despots over the course of their reign, economic growth decreases as the “time horizon” points more toward mortality risk. After all, if your system is centered around an “image” of a person, that image must convey strength if that person is to remain in power. Sociologists often refer to this sense of reverence and deification, using modern propagandized technology, as the Cult of Personality — the modern offspring of Divine Right. This is a phenomenon that reinforces a dictator’s control of his society, tied to their governmental and philosophical approaches; something exhibited with Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong.

The Pomp and Circumstance associated with Empire Day can be seen in perhaps every nation throughout the globe, as said “religious” celebrations (the etymology of the word religion literally means to “tie one back” to their roots, their origins, their sense of being) have the purpose of binding one’s citizenry back to their shared history, their struggle, and their sense of national worth. Though the pageantry is reminiscent of goose-stepping Nazi rallies at Nuremberg and Berlin, or even communist Soviet parade-of-arms in Red Square, Mussolini’s fascists marching through the streets of Rome, or the uniformed teenaged Chinese Cultural Revolutionary Red Guards who carried banners of Mao Zedong, waved copies of Quotations From Chairman Mao while physically attacking members of the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie, the symbolism surrounding such an event can also serve as a critique of any government that hypocritically touts freedom and security, while still robbing the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Noted abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, when invited to give a speech commemorating the 4th of July in Rochester, New York, 1852, provided his audience with a damning indictment of such a celebration while the U.S. still sanctioned legalized bondage.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?…Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them…What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages (Douglass, 1852).

Douglass’ stinging words could almost morph into Ezra’s knotted frown, as he is forced to inject the meaning of Empire Day: sharing a birthday with a treacherous regime that’s also responsible for a number of atrocities including the disappearance of his parents, ‘rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts’ amidst the ebullient rendition of John Williams’ original Imperial March. He is, ultimately, spared more by an interruption from the likes of Senator-in-exile Gall Trayvis — delivering a Douglass’-esque message of resistance via boycott during this iteration of inter-galactic reverence and reflection. Unfortunately, for Minister Maketh Tua and the other members of Lothal’s Imperial representation, our intrepid bunch had already planned on crashing this celebration — in the vein of Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty, the Ghost crew bomb the reveal of a brand new TIE advanced prototype — a seemingly small act which could potentially draw comparisons to the fated Boston Tea Party incident of 1773. Though only one of these ships was destroyed in the raid, after which the team was forced to run, imagine if this is a watershed moment in which, by season two or three, they are able to round up a much larger crew of supporters, who somehow saw and were inspired to rebel because of that incident? “Empire Day,” as an episode, could turn out to be far more important than we were led to believe.

Tseebo and the Five Year Plan

While running from the Empire’s agents, upon the ruin of Empire Day Lothal, the team takes respite in Ezra’s forbidden former home, where we learn that his parents ran underground resistance operations against the Empire. The Rodian that Imperial authorities were after is found hiding in the Bridger’s secret compartment in the floor, and he has been retrofitted with a cerebral-computerized device that allows living beings to work with the efficiency of droids. Sabine is able to reprogram this device to determine why he’s so valuable to the authorities, as it is determined that he’s carrying classified military plans and blueprints for future Imperial endeavors. In essence, the Empire has a “Five Year Plan for Lothal and the rest of the Outer Rim.” In a previous article, I discussed the comparisons of this Five Year Plan to Stalin’s own:

The Imperial presence on Lothal, as depicted in Fighter Flight, channels yet another early dictatorship — that of Stalin’s Soviet Union. While on a supply run in the town of Kothar, essentially a border town from the Old West, Ezra runs in to a colleague of his parents — farmer Morad Sumar. Soon thereafter, an Imperial officer with a stormtrooper cadre approaches his stand, giving him one last opportunity to sell his farm before the Empire procures the property without his assistance. Farmers like Sumar are depicted as frontier homesteaders, not unlike the adventurers headed out to the Great Plains of mid to late 19th century America, forging fresh opportunities while seizing upon the 160 acres of “free land” afforded U.S. citizens via the Homestead Act. Joining that charge were European immigrants who were invited to heed that “Ho! For Kansas!” call, though the vast majority of the millions venturing here couldn’t afford to leave the metropolis ports 3rd class steerage could book. Under the banner of Manifest Destiny, a concept not all that dissimilar to the Empire’s fundamental goals in Star Wars, the homesteaders — families that could turn acres of “wild,” fallow land into a thriving plot of wheat, where animals could also be nursed and slaughtered for food — became icons of the pioneer, rugged individualistic ethos that defined what it was to be “American.” One can also similarly imagine Morad and his wife emigrating to the grasslands of our principal locale, hoping to begin a new life, in an age of increasing war and instability; though the ocean of stars would not be vast enough to separate them from the great galactic struggle that would enshrine their society.

A direct contrast to that sense of individual ownership and sacrifice, as symbolized by Sumar and his homestead along the Lothalian plains, is the command economy of state-sponsored communism. Not as adept as the military and economic powerhouses of Europe at the start of WWI, Russia suffered tremendous casualties against the Germans, who greatly out-produced Czar Nicholas II’s weak domestic industrial base. Upon the success of the Bolshevik revolution, which afforded Russia its famous communist empire, and with the succession of Joseph Stalin to the head of the regime, the burgeoning Soviet government sought to correct past weaknesses. Enter Stalin’s Five Year Plans, which sought to ensure the creation of an economic powerhouse via complete government control of heavy industry, transportation, and farm output — with varying success. While the large Soviet manufacturing infrastructure grew considerably in a ten year period, the general standard of living continued at low levels. Wages were low, consumer goods and conveniences were scarce, and workers were forbidden to strike. Concerning agrarian pursuits, Stalin forced all peasants to farm on state-owned collectives (communal farms), where the government would provide all equipment, seed, and implement modern farming techniques. It was his wish to significantly increase production of grain to feed the workers in the urban manufacturing centers, and to export excess grain for additional profits. But his heavy handed approach to farming fostered resistance, as many peasants simply grew enough to feed themselves, sabotaged farm equipment and tools, killed state-owned animals, and burned crops. In his fury, Stalin blamed the resistance on what he believed to be influential wealthy farmers known as kulaks, whom he banished to labor camps upon confiscating their lands and assets.

Prior to the release of Rebels, Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg were both quoted as suggesting the time period for the storyline of the show would place the audience at a period five years prior to A New Hope. In a recently-released trailer for upcoming episodes of Rebels, Sabine can clearly be heard stating that the Empire has, “five year plans” for all Outer Rim worlds. As an aerial shot establishes Morad Sumar’s property, which appears rather large and elaborate in comparison to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, one could assume the role of he and his wife as the kulaks of this far away galaxy, while Tarkin — the Imperial enforcer for the Outer Rim — has his agents move against them in the pursuit of additional land and resources for the augmentation of Imperial assets. Perhaps we have found the deeper reason for why the producers decided to begin this show where it does on the grand Star Wars timeline.

Adam Bray’s Star Wars: Rebels Visual Guide already sets up Lothal to be a rustic world that gives way to Imperial manufacturing demands, that affords the galaxy with a litany of TIE fighters, star destroyers, AT-AT walkers, among other monstrosities; and reception of this knowledge is none too soon, as Tseebo apprises the group that, “TIE fighters will begin mass production on Lothal within the next six weeks.” In the end, worlds like Lothal will be left in ruin as the Empire is solely interested in absorbing natural resources for its own efforts, and then moving on to newer taps. One of the most intriguing elements of the Force Unleashed game is the board that lands the central protagonist on a quest to kill a Jedi Master, who has survived Order 66 and has sought refuge on a junk-filled world. Filled with a galaxy of transport parts and toxic waste, similar to the planet Darth Maul was found, the world in the game is called Raxis. Ironically, the Clone Wars series told a story in which the central government of Dooku’s separatist movement held court on an autumnal world of the same name. I was always intrigued by the possibility that, upon the conclusion of the Clone Wars, the Empire decided to destroy Raxis and turn it into this insane junk heap that makes for such a dangerous, yet gripping adventure during the intercession between Episode’s III and IV. Though a bit dramatic, Lothal could share a similar fate by series end.

 The Belly of the Beast

 As one avails themselves to the story that is “Gathering Forces,” perhaps the strongest pull for Star Wars fans is its skillful use of the emotional and dramatic in-universe tropes from The Empire Strikes BackStar Wars zealot or not, Empire is often exalted as the apogee of the existing films (a shift from the past, as anyone old enough to remember the 80s recalls that Return of the Jedi or the original film was considered the best, with Empire serving a tolerable bridge between the two). As some might consider an ironic conspiracy, Empire magazine conducted a poll of 250,000 film fans to determine the greatest 301 movies of all time. Surprising some, The Empire Strikes Back was voted the best — surpassing The Godfather (#2), Raiders of the Lost Ark (#9), Jaws (#8), and Pulp Fiction (#5) (see also Jason Hughes, 2014, “‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’ Voted Greatest Movie of All Time”). Unlike the period in which it was written, the fifth story in the saga is a very dark and emotional tale of discovery, filled with psychological and affective motifs exhibited throughout Joseph Campbell’s exploration of the greater human religious and philosophical mythologies.

Mary Franklin (1997), in her seminal volume Star Wars: The Magic of Myth, traces the evolution of the original stories from the schema of Campbell’s exhaustive exploration of Earth’s legends and religious tales, along with the ideas of John Lash (1995), Timothy R. Roberts (1995), and Debra N. Mancoff (1995). It is from these elements that “Gathering Forces” shares a narrative approach to Empire: The hunt motif, where predator and prey are spiritually bound; the separation of the hero from the world for greater spiritual enlightenment theme, of which Campbell illustrates using the path of The Buddha as a paradigm; and finally the cave and wilderness element — informed by Dante’s Inferno and principles of Zen Buddhism.

Upon the successful sabotage of the festivities, provoking the ire of Imperial operatives, “Empire Day” and “Gathering Forces” sets the Inquisitor and his minions into a chase of our heroes through the streets of the Lothalian capital, into the dark bowels of outer space, and finally back to the asteroid perdition we witnessed in “Out of Darkness.” As in Empire, the hunt as a motif is commonly found throughout the annals of human drama, as one of the first dramatic set pieces for any human being was the pursuit of food, and potential mates — both of which require a courage drawn from within, if success were to be achieved. As Franklin writes, “Hunter and victim were bound like kin, for they both mystically participated in the transmutability of the life force (p. 60).” After Agent Kallus passes off the chase of the Ghost crew to the Inquisitor (who has commandeered a new advanced TIE interceptor), he uses a combination of Sienar technology and his own spiritual attachment to Kanan and Ezra (whom he encountered previously within the bowels of Stygeon’s prison) as a means of tracking them. Kanan’s own awareness of this spiritual attachment to his pursuer, as Luke will come to realize, informs him of the necessity to leave his friends behind, in an effort to keep them safe. Unlike Luke, however, Kanan cannot take this path alone, as Ezra is equally susceptible to the Inquisitor’s intuition. So, as Luke must separate from his world with the Rebel Alliance, in order to achieve a greater mastery of the Force (and his place in schema of the mythology), the spiritual protagonists of this latest Star Wars tale must also separate from their world for greater enlightenment. Campbell refers to a circle diagram at the beginning of “The Hero and the God” as a nuclear monomyth — a concept he borrows from James Joyce (1939), in Finnegans Wake. It essentially describes the hero’s path, who begins the journey at position [x], must separate from his world to achieve greater enlightenment and spiritual power (circumnavigating below the horizon to position [y]), and finally returns to his world with a renewed sense of understanding and power (back to the horizon at position [z]). Campbell writes,

Prometheus ascended to the heavens, stole fire from the gods, and descended. Jason sailed through the Clashing Rocks into a sea of marvels, circumvented the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece, and returned with the fleece and the power to wrest his rightful throne from a usurper. Aeneas went down into the underworld, crossed the dreadful river of the dead, threw a sop to the three-headed watchdog Cerberus, and conversed, at last, with the shade of his dead father. All things were unfolded to him: the destiny of souls, the destiny of Rome, which he was about to found, “and in what wise he might avoid or endure every burden.” He returned through the ivory gate to his work in the world (p. 23-24).

One could also add the story of Sogolon Djata, the founder of the 14th century Mali Empire, to this list (See D.T. Niane, 1993, Sundiata — an epic of old Mali), as the original “Lion King” was forced into exile as a crippled child, upon the death of the King, only to later emerge from his journey (with his health fully restored), and reclaim the throne as a fully-grown spiritual warrior. The origin of the story of Buddhism, as exhibited by the path of Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, is equally applicable to this nuclear monomyth. Born of privilege, and essentially cloistered behind the palace walls at the behest of the King, Gautama grew increasingly interested in the plight of the average person. During a scripted excursion into the city of Kapilavastu, the young prince made it a mission to leave his retinue behind, and witnessed for the first time the elderly, the sick, and the dead. Disturbed by what he saw, and driven to find the enlightened peace he had witnessed from visiting with a local ascetic, the 29 year old prince left his wife and son behind to venture out into the world in pursuit of this greater understanding. The journey brought many challenges, self-imposed abstemiousness nearly killing him, but greater enlightenment came to him at the base of a fig tree near the town of Bodh Gaya. While under deep meditation, Gautama entered a great battle with Mara, a destructive demon who used all his powers to corrupt the former prince. Metaphorically representing the passions that work to entrap us (anger, aggression, greed, lust), Gautama emerged from these trials victorious — achieving what Buddhists refer to as nirvana. Becoming The Buddha, meaning “Enlightened One,” it is said that the Hindu main God Brahma convinced him to return to the world to teach. In “Gathering Forces,” Kanan and Ezra leave the “walls of the palace,” take shelter in the wilderness, are challenged by monsters and demons, and finally emerge with a renewed sense of understanding and determination. But first they must be swallowed up into the great dark belly of the beast, a seemingly deliberate act of self-annihilation, but in actuality an inward journey of spiritual rebirth. Campbell (p. 74-75) documents a number of myths that contain heroes who are swallowed by great creatures, only to emerge renewed. The act of devouring, and swallowing, is meant to symbolize the annihilation of the old self. Some of these heroes who are swallowed are referred to as having died — though death in mythology often serves as a transition from the old life to the new. But Campbell also points out that some heroes (Moses and Perseus, for example) traverse a similar path, where a box or sarcophagus serves as the “belly.” Franklin refers Star Wars fans to the realities of Han Solo’s hero’s journey, in which he must twice travel through maws and bowels in an effort to digest away his smuggler’s past, prior to becoming the hero General of the Alliance (p. 76-82). First, there’s the belly of the asteroid creature, where he fulfills the destiny of the sacred marriage by opening up to his feelings for Leia. His second descent occurs within the hellish confines of the carbon freeze chamber — the block of carbonite serves as the sarcophagus transporting his listless body through the dark belly of space. The belly is meant to serve as that inner quiet place where one can truly find enlightenment, as Gautama once did. It is therefore synonymous to the temple, which features monsters (gargoyles, dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarves, winged bulls) guarding the entrance from those who are not worthy of ingress. These temple guardians, Campbell teaches, are also synonymous to the many rows of teeth emanating from the great maws of the whale, the wolf, the leviathan, the elephant of Zulu consumption legends, and even the whale-cow of the Inuit tradition. In Han’s case, the rows of Vader’s stormtroopers, accompanied by bounty hunter Boba Fett, serve as those temple guardians — Boba chiefly escorting him through the great trial Solo must face. Traversing the “night-sea journey” in a box is akin to Moses drifting in the ark of bulrushes (See Exodus 2:3), and Ausar of the Nile Valley being dismembered and placed in an ossuary and cast down the Nile by his brother. In Empire, Luke is similarly sent away on his journey in his X-Wing — which is suddenly rendered inoperative upon his descent into the bowels of Dagobah (an aerial ship careening toward the ground is an event most might consider a death sentence). And in “Gathering Forces,” Kanan and Ezra are sent away onto their “night-sea journey” via the Phantom — a vehicle that contains no hyperdrive, but must somehow break away into the confines of folded space, find its way back into real space, and then “sail” to the abandoned “temple of solitude,” the “belly” that will serve as the crucible for which both Kanan and Ezra emerge renewed, and which is guarded by many monsters who serve as threshold guardians willing to prevent those deemed unworthy from entering. In essence, they will experience a metaphorical death that will send them to the bowels of perdition. Like Luke in Empire, and even Siddhartha Gautama, Kanan and Ezra both enter the “cave,” where challenges wait to teach them more about the enemies that lie within themselves. Franklin reminds us of Dante’s Inferno, where the middle of a hero’s tale sends them into the dark forest:

Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! Its very memory gives a shape of fear. Death could scarce be more bitter than that place! (p. 60)

Indeed, Ezra dreads the appropriately named fyrnocks, who were encountered on a previous mission, though Kanan wishes to teach his young ward a lesson in attachment with other beings through the Force in the midst of danger. Previously, on Lothal, Kanan was unsuccessful in instructing Ezra to attach himself to an aggressive Lothcat, as Ezra was distracted by his own anguish concerning his turbulent relationship with Empire Day. Learning to become a better teacher, who wishes to entertain the strengths of his students during the learning process, Kanan surmises that the teen who’s used to surviving on his own, and learning while on the run, could faster absorb this lesson under duress. What he finds, as the Inquisitor arrives for the engagement, is that Ezra wasn’t ready to enter this struggle of spirituality, as he had no warning of the pitfalls dark side temptation entail. Part of Kanan’s own journey to greater enlightenment is becoming a stronger teacher, but his pedagogy lacked critical safeguards needed to defend against dangers far critical than creatures of the wild. In a way, he attempted to teach his student to “cross the street without warning him about the dangers inherent with crossing the street,” hoping he’d figure it out for himself. What occurs, in essence, is that Ezra learns after he is struck by the proverbial car (or train), even though he survives the encounter. This trial of the flesh is similar to an encounter my uncle endured, as he was chasing after my father, as a six year old, out into the street — upon which he quickly learned why that wasn’t a good idea, as he was promptly hit. Fortunately, he was struck by a doctor, who assisted in his stabilization until he could be evacuated to a hospital. Ezra’s melee with Mara’s demons — taking the form of the fyrnocks and the Inquisitor — affords him the opportunity to embrace what was truly bothering him. Franklin (p. 68) documents that parts of the Force, as witnessed in Empire, emphasize enlightenment by means of direct, intuitive insights. She says,

In Japan, the study of Zen gave the samurai warrior an awareness of the transitory nature of all things, particularly human life. Thus, every action was to be performed as if it were the last. Warriors did not live in the future or the past but in the present. Yoda echoes this concept when he complains to Ben about Luke,” All his life as he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing…”

Within the deep and dark recesses of the clone base, which serves as our “belly,” “temple,” and “cave,” Ezra struggles to tame the fyrnocks, to which Kanan implores him to “let go of [his] fears.” Ezra replies he can’t, and as the snarling beasts ready themselves to pounce, he admits to Kanan (and to himself) that his affixed trepidation is associated with the knowledge of his parents’ fate, and his refusal to deal with those feelings — extended and projected upon the person of Tseebo. Once he can let go of his attachment to the pain of the past, as a Zen Buddhist samurai must, he could concentrate on the “here and now,” as Qui-Gon instructed Obi-Wan a generation before. The next time we see the duo, the fyrnocks are peaceful, passive, and silent — the only energy that emanates is from the blinking of their glowing yellow eyes. Though we’re fairly certain Ezra has not yet achieved nirvana, the experience will serve to change him forever, as the cave on Dagobah did Luke. The taming of the temple guardians serve as a signal that Ezra has finally opened himself to that “larger world” Kenobi would later open up to Luke aboard the Falcon. When the Imperials venture to Fort Anaxes, as was the plan, of course the soulless troopers would not be deemed worthy enough to enter the temple, and are subsequently devoured by the “guardians.” That the Inquisitor enters with no consequence suggests the spirit world entertains negative energy just as it does the positive. He, along with the dark side, provides the greatest challenge these heroes must learn from. That they materialize from this trial at all serves as a pang of guilt for the Inquisitor, but the two heroes return to the Ghost, both transmogrified — a level of which concerns Kanan enough to share those details with Hera in private. As to the direction Ezra will venture next, we’ll have to wait until January to find out.

Flotsam

  • The Color of Oppression. I thought it was appropriate that the Empire signage for the festivities matched those of Nazi Germany. The huge red banners emblazoned with the black and white Imperial cog in the center harks back to Swastika-laden Berlin of the 1930s, particularly as one could see in the color footage from the 1936 Olympic games (see The Perilous Fight: America’s World War II in Color, 2003, DVD). It is very apparent that, even with the propaganda posters along set walls, the creators of the show wish to give Rebels an authentic mythology draped in human history, as George had always intended.
  • Folding wings. As a pilot and aviation enthusiast, I was intrigued to see the Inquisitor’s TIE advanced prototype docked in the hanger with its wings folded. Of course, this borrows from the World War II adaptation for fighter planes to be stockpiled aboard aircraft carriers underneath the carrier deck. An airplane like the F-4U Corsair, or even the modern F/A-18, fold their wings at an angle towards the fuselage in an effort to pack as many planes as possible. If TIEs are packed vertically aboard Star Destroyers, models like these would afford them much larger numbers than with your standard hexagon-winged models. One has to wonder why this wasn’t implemented as part of the Empire’s Five-Year-Plan (perhaps the sabotaging efforts our intrepid crew has something to do with the Empire sticking to standard box-TIEs). Of course, this wing configuration ties (no pun intended) this back to the Episode III Jedi starfighter.
  • Racial Profiling. The Expanded Universe, in an effort to merge impressions of George’s intent to pull from Nazi Germany as a source of inspiration for the Empire, has always furnished the Imperial zeitgeist with a sense of racial superiority — in the sense that humanity is superior to non-humanity. Though never explicitly stated in the films, though heavily implied in that there are no aliens in the employ of Imperial forces beyond the occasional bounty hunter, Rebels appears to subtly point in this direction. Unlike the Prequel Era, where it was common to see various alien species surrounding every scene (including among the Sith), so far this period in Star Wars lore exhibits TIE pilots and Agent Kallus attempting to track down a Rodian they find difficult to determine from the average Rodian they encounter on the street. Earlier in the season, Minister Tua attempted to procure an arms deal with an Aqualish that required a translator droid; a moment in which she became increasingly frustrated once the translator was removed from her convenience. So, why was she not able to speak his language, while Sabine could, though she also admitted to have shared the experience of being a “level five academy student?” It might’ve been a language she never studied, though perhaps, in her arrogance, she didn’t care to recall these skills, as she might have deemed them a nuisance. After all, this is the same Minister Tua who, along with Kallus, relished in the recollection of the Lasat’s genocide.
  • The continuing debate over Fulcrum. As everyone has been debating as to the identity of Fulcrum, typically believing it is someone we already know, rather than a new character, I have been arguing that Fulcrum is Senator in exile Gall Trayvis, as voiced by Brent Spiner. There are a number of key points that support this possibility:
    • If we were only going to see his face in hijacked Holonet broadcasts, they could’ve picked someone less notable than Spiner. I’m fairly certain we’ll be seeing Fulcrum in a few episodes or so, if not the Season 1 finale. Spiner should be voicing a character that will appear, at some point, in the flesh.
    • While it would be intriguing for Fulcrum to be a legacy character from the Clone Wars, like Ahsoka or Lux, I think those fans, who believe this as a strong possibility, are chasing ghosts. If Filoni and company are truly attempting to have this show stand on its own, a mystery character like Fulcrum should be new.
    • As to Organa, we’ve already seen him once, and it appeared then that the crew didn’t know him, nor he them, until that encounter. Fulcrum, on the other hand, appears to have been cultivated over time as a contact. So, that just didn’t gel with me as a choice.
    • Finally, the big issue that sets Sabine off, concerning Fulcrum, is that its intel hasn’t always been reliable. Recall that Luminara’s presence on Stygeon was also passed to them via Trayvis, which turned out to be faulty. So, there’s a pattern.
    • In “Gathering Forces,” the crew drop Tseebo with Fulcrum, who uses a Corellian Corvette, just like Bail’s. The difference is Bail’s Corvette has red trim, while Fulcrum’s Corvette has blue trim. In the films, it is established that these Corvette’s are known for carrying diplomats. Trayvis is a Senator, and therefore a diplomat. And as he is in exile, that would give him a reason to use a sobriquet like “Fulcrum.” I guess we’ll see who’s right in the coming weeks.

    The Case for Fulcrum2

Advertisements

“Out of Darkness” Analysis

Defending Democracy — Be Careful What You Wish For

“Out of Darkness” follows a story in which teenaged Mandalorian revolutionary Sabine Wren begins to express her discontent with the secrecy surrounding a covert contact apparently aiding the rebel cause, but whose intel doesn’t always engender the accuracy that would abate her anxiety. Though Kanan and the rest of the male crew appear to not share in this dubiety concerning “Fulcrum,” instead affixing their trust to Hera’s judgment, Sabine’s enigmatic past experiences at the Imperial Military Academy on Mandalore will not avail a healthy dose of skepticism. It is quite clear that these rebels are champions of democracy, as they poignantly fight a dictatorial regime in an attempt to restore a representative system it replaced. Yet, this episode illuminates the very infirmity critics of such a bureaucracy often target: In an effort to champion the ethos of free speech and individual liberties (the worth of every person’s intellectual volition), the sheer volume of these opinions, coupled with the vested interest in the “right to know, and be informed” particularly when capital investments (such as that person’s own life) are on the line, the great democratic machine bogs down. Though a bit of secrecy, even among team members, bears some consideration, if victory is to be achieved, simply relying on “faith” in leadership, which is Hera’s appeal to Sabine’s angst concerning the identity of Fulcrum, can be just as destructive, if the fruits of that leadership prove to be unwise, or not grounded in some universal sense of morality.

One of the reasons totalitarian regimes often sprout from major crises in leadership stems from the need to make sound decisions quickly and efficiently in the name of avoiding chaos. Analogous to an airplane experiencing a critical emergency, where there is no room for debate — only calm, rehearsed and decisive action — people are often willing to give up their liberties if they believe their trust resides in a person wise enough to steer them clear of oblivion. And history, on many occasions, bears this out. The Great Depression of the 1930s elicited a pandemic outbreak of dictatorial rule, probably to the posthumous delight of England’s Civil War survivor, and early Enlightenment thinker, Thomas Hobbes (1651) — who once mused in Leviathan that humanity, without a governing power that had a ruler with total decision-making authority, in possession of the  mythic sea monster’s tenacity, would devolve into a morass of “…every man against every man.” He wrote,

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (p. 78)

In his view, only through the giving up of one’s personal volition to a strong leader, thereafter dubbed the Social Contract, would humanity gain the security of civilized society, despite its “natural” tendencies to barbarity. In Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker appears to agree with certain aspects of the Hobbesian approach to governance. While secretly protecting his future wife on her home planet of Naboo, in a setting reminiscent of The Sound of Music, he lays out his prescient support of Palpatine’s dictatorial rule:

ANAKIN: I don’t think the system works.

PADME:  How would you have it work?

ANAKIN: We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem…agree what’s in the best interest of all the people, and then do it.

PADME: That’s exactly what we do. The trouble is that people don’t always agree.

ANAKIN: Well then they should be made to…

PADME: By whom? Who’s going to make them?

ANAKIN: I don’t know, someone…someone wise.

Much of the success behind Germany’s strength — following a calamitous bout with Treaty of Versailles sanctions post-World War I (in which they were billed $33 billion to the coffers of Britain and France for war damage, not to mention stripped of the very colonies that could’ve assisted in meeting that demand) added to the ruinous effects the Depression brought — centered around Hitler’s incessant desire to ensure his power of decision absolute. This was true of many other European and Asian societies of the 1930s, as General Franco of Spain, Mussolini of Italy, Tojo of Japan, Stalin of the Soviet Union, and Ioannis Metaxas of Greece worked to stave the effects of the viral economic storm. Though World War II officially thwarted the Depression for all, quick decisions — sans debate and inquiry (albeit for nefarious purposes) — to put people back to work afforded recovery faster in these locations. Conversely, the democracies of the world (the chief of which, the United States, propagated much of the Depression’s origin) struggled to survive amidst debate as to who was responsible, and how to go about prosecuting a solution.

Managing an infant rebellion against a superior authoritative power certainly bears comparison to a crisis like the Great Depression or World War II, where the giving of executive privilege merits efficiency. Still, it’s often ironic when the champions of democratic principles wish to eschew those very values when deemed inconvenient. How is one to ascertain the validity of the decision-making of a “wise” leader if their decisions cannot be questioned? After all, what is often considered wise and virtuous leadership carried out the unjustified internment of Japanese American citizens post-Pearl Harbor, and the firebombing of millions of civilians in an attempt to appeal to the “humanity” of a maniacal  regime in both corners of the globe. Father George Zabelka, a chaplain to the crew of The Great Artiste that dropped the atomic bomb over Nagasaki, in his interview with famed oral historian Studs Terkel (The Good War, 1984), mulled the morality behind the firebombing of Tokyo, and the nuclear attack upon Nagasaki, lamenting the lack of desire to question such decisions:

We were living on an island where every day hundreds of planes were taking off, dropping blankets of napalm, burning out hundreds of thousands of people…We had read about Dresden and Berlin…A whole city destroyed…Instead of a feeling of horror, which I should have felt as a Christian, as a priest, it just went by me. We had heard from other pilots who came back from raids how they saw firestorms in Tokyo, hundreds of thousands burned to death. We should have felt horror then that these were civilians. We had gone through the “just war” theory of Saint Augustine: ‘civilians were not to be harmed.’ Yet it never occurred to usWe never got into the morality of the bombing. I guess we all felt it was terrible, but necessary. Remember, we demanded unconditional surrender. This is also against the principles of Saint Augustine’s “just war” theory: you cannot continue fighting when the other party is ready to capitulate. It doesn’t mention unconditional…We would have lost a million soldiers invading Japan. But, as a priest, I should have considered: We’re killing little kids, old men, and old women, burning them to death. I don’t recall any feeling of guilt at the time. I must say that there was a little difference in my feelings when I found out that Nagasaki was a Catholic city….[the atomic bomb] was dropped within a few hundred meters of the central church. It was an almost totally Catholic settlement. Saint Francis had come four hundred years before and brought the faith into Japan…Here was Charles Sweeney, a good Boston Irish Catholic, piloting the plane, dropping the bomb, killing our fellow Catholics. Brothers and sisters killing brothers and sisters…(p. 534-535).

Terkel also interviewed retired Los Angeles music teacher Dellie Hahne, where she balked at the appellation “The Great War,” as is often affixed to World War II. While coming out of college at the outbreak of the conflict, she later criticized the rampant propaganda used within American society that fostered a sense of patriotism and energy toward the war effort, but often painted a horribly inaccurate picture of the Allied governments involved, their enemies, and of war actions at large — especially those that didn’t make it past military censure.

The good war? That infuriates me. Yeah, the idea of World War Two being called a good war is a horrible thing. I think of all the atrocities. I think of a madman who had all this power. I think of the destruction of the Jews, the misery, the horrendous suffering in the concentration camps. In 1971, I visited Dachau. I could not believe what I saw…I know it had to be stopped and we stopped it. But I don’t feel proud, because the way we did it was so devious…I feel I’m standing here with egg on my face. I was lied to. I was cheated. I was made a fool of…If they didn’t hand me all this shit with the uniforms and the girls in their pompadours dancing at the USO and all those songs — “There’ll Be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover” — bullshit! (p. 118)

So what is Sabine’s “nightmare” she lived through on Mandalore that causes her to question Hera’s decision to trust the enigmatic Fulcrum in this episode? I’m sure subsequent iterations of Star Wars: Rebels will reveal those secrets. But one is almost compelled to consider that Sabine has a lot in common with Father Zabelka and Dellie Hahne — forced to engage in, and/or justify, the actions of horrendous conduct in an effort to preserve the chain of command. What Star Wars equivalent to Saint Augustine’s “just war” theory (perhaps one that comes from former Duchess of Mandalore Satine Kryze) plagues the young warrior’s conscience in these moments — impelling her to inject her perceived wisdom into Hera’s covert activities, in an attempt to avoid the nightmarish road once again? And once the dust has settled, assuming Sabine survives the galactic conflict, will she look upon her sojourn on The Ghost with the musings of an enthusiastic and patriotic veteran, or akin to the sardonic commentary of a Dellie Hahne? Rumblings surrounding the break-up of the Ghost crew, upon the completion of Season 1, have already permeated Twittersphere — a “shatterpoint” surrounding the identity and credibility of Fulcrum. Perhaps future events will cause Sabine to preempt falling into yet another trap, where secrecy and blindly following orders paves a path to questionable morality, and she will voluntarily leave the team. Perhaps she will be joined by Zeb — after all, the strong-willed Lasan’s feelings have already been overruled by Kanan surrounding the sale and use of the very disrupters responsible for the destruction of his race. Perhaps later issues amplify this development, leading Zeb to join the young Mandalorian, until Hera and Kanan can trust the rest of their team with collaborating in the decision process.

The Paradox of Leadership

That champions of democracy would eschew those same ideals while prosecuting a movement, and stop to question and argue those decisions, further adds to the relevancy of this episode. Even without her past, one can certainly sympathize with Sabine’s skepticism surrounding, not only Fulcrum’s authenticity, but the organizational paradigm within The Ghost’s quest to take down the Empire. After all, why shouldn’t those who risk their lives be privy to the complete business the ship’s crew undertakes?

One of the greatest arbiters of modern democracy was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, within the earlier stages of the movement to resist legally-sanctioned racial segregation and disenfranchisement, King adhered to a traditional model of leadership that required, not a democratic committee of opinions, but a central authoritative leader that was strong and charismatic enough to convince all willing participants their vision was the correct path to victory. In essence, the organizations that worked to change American culture would be structured in the vein of the church, with King as the minister to all ministers. To challenge this conventional thinking was the older, and politically seasoned, Ella Baker. Born in 1903 to a Southern  family that touted a rebellious slave preacher, Ella was a valedictorian graduate of Shaw University, and moved to Harlem, New York in 1927 at a time of considerable political and cultural fermentation. Over the next 30 years, Baker would build an extensive resume surrounding the logicality and practicality of running legitimate organizations fostering social change within various communities. According to The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement by Aldon Morris (1984), between the years of 1941 and 1942, Baker was the National Field Secretary for the NAACP, where she attended 362 meetings and logged 16,244 miles developing new branches and conducting membership drives throughout the South (p. 102). In 1943, she became the Director of Branches, attending 157 meetings during membership campaigns, and logging 10,244 miles between Birmingham, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama; and Tampa, Florida. That, along with stints as president of the New York chapter of the NAACP, as well as a position within the New York YMCA, afforded her a wealth of organizational experience and contacts someone like Dr. King could exploit. However, at the outset of establishing his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in the wake of the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, King chose to use Baker in a more administrative management position — operating mimeograph machines, writing correspondence, and other secretarial tasks. Rarely did they entertain her enlightened positions on engaging the community to affect social change. Morris writes,

Here was a woman, twenty-five years older than most of the SCLC’s leadership, who possessed a solid organizational background, entering an organization controlled by black ministers. During that era men in general, and many black ministers in particular, were condescending toward women and could not envision them as full-fledged leaders. This stance of the ministers was bound to generate friction with Baker, who was self-directed and did not feel that women should automatically defer to men (p. 103).

In addition, Baker was a firm believer in sharing leadership responsibility throughout the community — a view that clashed with the ministers’ charismatic leadership paradigm, something Georgetown professor and minister Dr. Michael Eric Dyson (2000), in I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., characterized as, “…the top-down and personality-driven leadership” (p. 204). Instead of one person, a male specifically in her day, expressing that vision to the masses, the community at large should be empowered to direct the movement as the community saw fit. In an interview in 1978, Baker said,

Instead of “the leader” — a person who was supposed to be a magic man — you would develop individuals who were bound together by a concept that benefited larger numbers of individuals and provided an opportunity for them to grow into being responsible for carrying on the program (Morris, p. 104).

Once the newly-minted SCLC had grown to success throughout the South, Baker continued to work within the organization, eventually gaining a few accolades, though they continued to ignore her organizational expertise. The increased tension between Baker and SCLC leadership was further dismissed by SCLC activist C.T. Vivian, saying, “She wasn’t church” (Dyson, p. 206). Nevertheless, Baker’s success as a community organizer saw the leadership among students effloresce. She developed a large contingent of college-aged activists but refused King’s directive that they be integrated into the framework of SCLC. Rather, Baker believed they should form their own organization to encourage their own path toward affecting change in the South. This development conference of student leadership led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC — largely responsible for the massive Sit-In, Freedom Rides, and Freedom Summer voter initiatives, which became some of the most successful, albeit the most violent, encounters in the Civil Rights Movement.

Though there may be merit in Hera’s belief to make critical decisions without having to explain everything to Sabine, sometimes blind faith in one person alone isn’t enough to satisfy the direction of the movement. Sabine understands, as they all should, that placing blind faith in one person is what led to the issues on her home world, and within the Galactic Republic at large. As with Baker, Sabine is beginning to venture beyond conventional reasoning that affords too much trust in one person or entity, who especially suggests that, We can’t tell you critical secrets in case you get captured by the Empire, as they have the capacity to compel you to divulge. Instead, the more she risks her life, and the more this “Fulcrum” entity passes along faulty intelligence, the more she will be committed to the notion of a shared leadership responsibility within the greater mission of the ship — perhaps even a separate path aligned with Hera and crew, though one in which Sabine’s own ideas are brought to fruition, just as SNCC continued the path to freedom alongside, though not under the purview, of SCLC.

 Flotsam

  • Effective Revolutionaries. One cannot look upon “Out of Darkness” without recalling the cacophony of arguments surrounding the marketing campaign for Star Wars: Rebels action figures this past spring. In addition to an Episode VII principle cast announcement that was initially castigated as anemic concerning diversity two months later (see O’Connor, 2014;  Marcotte, 2014; Dunc, 2014; Newitz, 2014; Ratcliffe, 2014; Baker-Whitelaw, 2014; Faraci, 2014; Thompson, 2014; Burton, 2014; Barr, 2014), the Disney marketing campaign for Rebels emphasized a traditional and archaic marketing archetype that emphasized the toy isles of young boys — essentially rolling out the only two female figures in the principle cast last, during San Diego Comic Con. Amy Ratcliffe (2014) and Tricia Barr (2014) each joined Teresa Delgado and others in expressing their dismay at Disney and Hasbro’s announcement, wishing benign neglect to not become a recipe for Star Wars moving forward. Indeed, as Her Universe creator and Clone Wars actor Ashley Eckstein often reminds, approximately 40% of all Star Wars fans are female; a fact that suggests these corporate entities could learn something from the marketing team of the Dallas Cowboys’cowboys. That war and armed rebellion is the providence of men is an old misconception often not congruent with the real world. As this blog post is too minuscule to account for the entire military record of women serving in combat, at large, I wish to glance over a few models that serve to inform Star Wars female characters. I was recently informed of Hera and Sabine’s Kurdish counterparts in the war against ISIS in Syria by NBC’s Richard Engel (2014). 26-year-old Viyan Peyman and her other female and male compatriots are the only troops that prevent the other half of Kobani from falling to ISIS. Already shot twice (in the leg and stomach), this former teacher holds a sniper position with a rifle and box of homemade hand grenades, firing on ISIS fighters whenever they appear. The two women highlighted in Engel’s written and video piece, aired last week on NBC’s Nightly News, are not the exception, but the rule, as visually documented by photojournalist Erin Trieb (2014) last August. In the vein of myriad noted historical figures like Joan of Arc and Hua Mulan (of which the Disney character is based), world history is replete with female combatants, particularly when necessity called for everyone to take up arms in defense against a marauding hoard or state, but also as a matter of utility. In the tradition of Sabine and Bo Katan of Mandalore, and by extension Ahsoka and Asajj Ventress, consider the all-female warrior corps of the Dahomey Kingdom of West Africa (Dash, 2011). Called the “Black Sparta” by some because it was the duty of this fiercely militaristic society to strike fear into the hearts of its neighbors, Dahomey’s all-female warrior group (called Amazons by the French) trained by climbing fences full of thorns, and had to execute prisoners of war prior to ever serving in combat. Deadly with knives, swords, and firearms, they became legendary over a 200 year period in the region, often parading the severed heads of their enemies. French troops, who conquered the zone during the Age of Imperialism, complimented their bravery, their ferocity, and discipline while, “…[fighting] with extreme valor, ahead of the other troops.” Even after the successful French campaign, these “Amazons” would often hide themselves among the many concubines serving officers, wait for the invitation to their tents, and slit their throats at night. In the tradition of Hera, women have been flying in service of self and to country since the early days of aviation. Famed pilot Jacqueline Cochran successfully persuaded the Roosevelt administration, and Lt. General “Hap” Arnold, to form the Women’s Ferrying Auxiliary Squadron, given the success of her volunteer missions of ferrying bombers to England as part of the “Wings for Britain” program (when she became the first woman to pilot a bomber). Later, she would also spearhead the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) along with Nancy Harkness Love, heading up their ferrying division — which provided an absolute necessity during the war, as new airplanes would need to be transported from the factories of North America to the combat theatres in Europe and the Pacific. In 1953, given her close friendship with Chuck Yeager, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier and to land on an aircraft carrier — some 24 years before any moviegoer would never see a woman pilot a starfighter through the trenches of the Death Star. In 1993, Jeannie Leavitt became the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, serving aboard an F-15E Strike Eagle, and later commanding an attack wing with over 300 combat hours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, serving in the United States Marine Corp, became the first black female fighter pilot while serving two tours in Iraq. Even a college acquaintance of mine, Nicole Washington, flew Blackhawks in Afghanistan, and at one point commanded a mission with an all-female flight team in the air. And who can forget the UAE’s Major Mariam Al Monsouri, who not only became their first female fighter pilot while flying her F-16 into Syria against ISIS strongholds, she was the commander of the mission. Yes, the problem is not with a lack of female representation in combat or armed rebel initiatives, the problem is a lack of acknowledgement once the wars, and the rebellions, have been prosecuted.
  • Who is “Fulcrum?” There has been a lot of discussion as to the identity of Fulcrum — the central focus of the conflict for this episode. Some have weighed in that it might be Ahsoka, some have said it might be Lux Bonteri or another of the Onderon rebels as seen in Season 5 of The Clone Wars. There’s quite a bit of traction for this being Bail Organa (though I believe this to be the least likely candidate, particularly considering the fact that we’ve seen him in the show already). While each of these shares a degree of plausibility, I feel that this character is a new one, as I feel the creators of the show wish to construct a unique framework for storytelling — and the best way to do that is with brand new characters. After all, though Anakin and Obi-Wan had a rather strong presence in The Clone Wars, and we really got to know them better from the exploits of their sojourn through that world, the vast majority of its audience became primarily attached to two or three characters: Ahsoka, Ventress, and Rex. As these beings had no attachment to any of the films, and because Filoni and company took considerable time fleshing them out in interesting ways, we were left in suspense at various points in the course of the show — and to this day, we are still awaiting the final outcome for these characters (to the point of “chasing ghosts,” as is my opinion that Fulcrum is Ahsoka or another character from the upcoming “Empire Day” is Rex because he is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). So, in the spirit of believing that the Fulcrum character is a new one, my belief is that it is Brent Spiner’s exiled Senator Gall Travis, the guy who continues to interject himself into the Holonet to instigate messages of rebellion and discontent against the Empire. He seems the most likely candidate if Fulcrum is a character we’ve already seen. After all, you don’t hire someone like Spiner if his character is a one-and-done presence on the show (particularly via hologram rather than “in the flesh”). Second, he’s new, which means that as we never see him in the films, his fate is unknown, and therefore his story is original. Third, the largest issue for Sabine is that Fulcrum’s intel is shoddy at times, leaving the team in jeopardy. Travis was first seen providing information concerning Luminara Unduli’s fate at the hands of the Empire — imprisoned on Stygeon. While that turned out to be true at one time, what was not included in that message was the fact that she’d already been executed prior, and that the Inquisitor used this bit of information as a Jedi trap. I’m seeing a pattern with this guy. He discovers whatever he feels is useful for dissidents, and then “informs” those who are willing to listen, but his information isn’t properly vetted — most likely because he’s constantly on the run, and doesn’t have the time (or resources) to properly vet the information. Time will bear out as to whether I’m correct or not, but my chips are on Travis as Fulcrum right now.

“Breaking Ranks” Analysis

From Filicide to Fratricide: Yet Another Set of Empires Influence Star Wars

Episode four of Star Wars: Rebels, “Breaking Ranks,” ventures into the world of the Lothal branch of the Imperial Academy — eminently discussed by one Luke Skywalker in the original 1977 release. In my previous article for “Droids in Distress,” I noted the propensity for ineptitude of stormtroopers during the Imperial era as akin to Maryland counterfeit speed cameras that are used simultaneously with the veritable. In essence, while quality troops still exist in the galaxy, it’s better to boost your numbers via conscription (albeit sacrificing quality for quantity) when attempting to pacify an expansive galaxy, where the essence of the white imperial armored visage incurs a withdrawal from the intimidation capital built by Clone Trooper planetary seizures during the preceding conflict.

Given the mission the Inquisitor has inherited from the Emperor, via Darth Vader at the inception of this series — that all children of the Force be identified, verified, approached, and either recruited or destroyed — it should not take anyone by surprise that he ventures  to the Lothal Academy as Ezra’s covert mission coalesces. One of the first observable aspects depicted within the hallowed walls is a series of skills tests for the young cadets, each approximately 14 years old, that resembles the monstrosity previously witnessed by Clone Wars aficionados in Season 4’s “The Box.” That story, part three of the Rako Hardeen or Obi-Wan Undercover arc, saw Separatist leader Count Dooku and his crime partner Moralo Evol recruit the greatest bounty hunters in the galaxy, in an effort to kidnap Republic Chancellor Palpatine. The giant hovering labyrinth of deceptive floating platforms and weapons-abundant boobytraps was uniquely designed to simulate various elements of the mission, to a ludicrous level of difficulty, ostensibly to weed out any weak links — though ultimately to fish out any Force users or Jedi in disguise. As Count Dooku was secretly the apprentice of Palpatine, co-conspirator of the mendacious civil war that built the wily politician his empire, it is understandable that utilitarian devices of this nature would be found in the new government’s arsenal. While Darth Vader and the Inquisitor are busy hunting down the last of the Temple-honed emissaries of the Light Side, now deemed heretics by the New Order, it would be the task of the military academies to filter out any consanguineous users of that higher spiritual power. But what purpose would it serve for a burgeoning empire to eliminate its best recruits, demonstrating a proficiency in physical feats while innately ignorant of any cosmic boost, if not simply to appease the fears of its leader? Commandant Aresko, upon witnessing magnanimous physical performance feats from Ezra, laments to Grint that he’s, “…impressive; perhaps too impressive. Make a note of that…” We later see the same Aresko contacting the Inquisitor, informing him that “Morgan” (Ezra’s pseudonym) and his fellow cadet Jai Kell, match the “special requirements” necessary  for his purview. The backstory of a third character introduced in this episode, Zare Leonis, we’re told in exposition (and at the behest of a junior novel entitled Servants of the Empire), suggests that his older sister was equally a standout performer, who abruptly disappears at some point. If Lothal serves as a microcosmic case study for a galaxy-wide initiative, then we’re to assume the best and the brightest are universally syphoned, damning the general military population to draw from a pool drained of unique talent and leadership. Perhaps another part of the key to deciphering the morass of ineptitude, concerning the general plight of the Empire’s rank and file, lies with an inherent characteristic of the Dark Side — of the Force, and within politics as well. In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine tells Anakin Skywalker: “All who gain power are afraid to lose it…” As Luke astutely observes in Return of the Jedi, the Emperor’s greatest weakness, in this age of Sith victory and imperial reign, is his overconfidence. Who cares if my troops are mediocre at this point, he must muse. What they lack in individual wit and talent they make up for in sheer numbers. Indeed, the single honey bee means nothing when compared to the force of the boot heel, or the spray of the Raid can. But a swarm can wreak havoc; even cause death. That much is also true of army ants and a whole host of nature’s prized possessions. What I fear the most is a resurgence of the Force, not only in the form of rogue Jedi, or their trainees, but among my best troops, who may seek to supplant me if their power lust exceeds mine.

Indeed, Palpatine’s Empire shares yet another systemic attribute inspired by Earth’s vast experience with imperial regimes. The great Muslim empires of the 15th century were so inclined to repeated filicide and fratricide, given their fears of a direct challenge to the sultan’s rule. Typically, as most human kingdoms and empires were ruled by men who wished to be replaced by their strongest sons, the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires endured periods of mediocrity as a sultan’s strongest successors were often the targets of house arrest or outright execution. Under Mehmed I (upon killing his brothers and taking control of the Turks after their previous conqueror Timur-i-Lang was distracted with China), the Ottoman Turks assisted in building one of the grandest empires in the Middle East. His son Murad II defeated the seafaring Venetians, invaded Hungary, and took out a phalanx of Italian crusaders in the Balkans in a daring effort to weaken their Byzantine neighbors. Murad’s son Mehmed II accomplished this task outright, sacking the Byzantine capital Constantinople (renaming it Istanbul), along with surrounding trade-rich regions. At one point a declining city of under 50,000, under Ottoman rule, Istanbul grew to a thriving metropolis of Muslim/Byzantine amalgamated culture, artistry, and streamlined administrative government. Even the ancient cathedral Hagia Sofia was converted into a grand mosque, akin to what Palpatine did to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, as recently detailed in James Luceno’s Tarkin. Mehmed’s grandson Selim the Grim expanded the Empire to its greatest extent, defeating the Safavids of Persia, and then sweeping through Muslim holy lands in Arabia and North Africa. The Golden Age of the Turks was managed by Selim’s son Suleyman, the “Lawgiver” (or “The Magnificent,” as he was known in European circles), who presided over perhaps the world’s greatest empire of the 16th century, further expanding his Istanbul reach into the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, throughout the Mediterranean region, and down into central and southern Asia. Suleiman’s empire encouraged the study of various disciplines, including poetry, artistry, astronomy, geometry, history, mathematics, and architecture — reminiscent to the renaissance movement in Italy occurring coextensively. He initiated a code of laws for his religiously and culturally diverse domain, affording Christians and Jews the Qur’an-endorsed freedom to worship, within millets — literally “small nations.” His army exhibited legendary discipline, the latest in muskets and cannon-based weaponry (the reason for the fall of Byzantium), and were led by an elite force of 30,000 janissaries — highly educated, highly-trained soldiers who were completely loyal to the sultan.

So what became of this once great empire, leading up to its final defeat in World War I? Unlike former Ottoman rulers, who statutorily engaged in fratricide to avoid conflicts of succession, Suleiman was spared this ritual as he was the only son. In the waning years of his reign, the great leader became inextricably entangled in a web of maneuver wars between his many wives, as they vied to secure hegemony for their son, and avoid the inevitable perdition afforded those unlucky to miss the call of the caliph. Having his greatest son strangled, in an attempt to thwart him from taking over his reign, Suleiman inadvertently provoked a civil war between his other two sons Selim II and Bayezid, the latter of which fled to Persia. Sending assassins to take this son out, Selim II was the final son left for the succession upon Suleiman’s death. Dubbed Selim the Drunkard, the weakest of Suleiman’s heirs would rather spend his days cavorting in harems, satiating his addiction to wine, and writing poetry. This development led to an extended history of poor leadership development, as future generations of sultans maintained their fratricidal tendencies, and kept their sons secluded in harems (removed from education and contact with the evolving world) rather than prepare them adequately to favor strength, power, and wisdom.

The Safavid Empire of Persia also fell into this timorous inclination. Shah Abbas, ruling from the grand capital of Isfahan,  ushered in a Golden Age for Persians in 1587, hiring Chinese builders to assist in the intricate designs of the classic city, and overseeing a massive boom in carpet and tapestry production for clients as far away as European kingdoms. Unfortunately for the legacy of his domain, prior to the end of his reign, he killed or blinded his best sons, leaving an incompetent grandson — and inescapable decline — to succeed him.

Even the great Mughal rulers of India, during the same historical period, could not escape this fratricidal and filicidal course. Shah Jahan, who ordered the building of the world-renowned Taj Mahal to memorialize his beloved wife, moved to kill all of his rivals upon assuming the mantle of leadership. Once he grew ill in 1657, analogous to the Ottoman tendencies, his four sons initiated their own bloody war of succession. The eldest sibling, Dara Shikoh, was chosen by Jahan to assume control upon his death. The third son, Aurangzeb (could it really be “Zeb” for short???), grew bitter and quickly moved against him. He defeated and executed Dara, imprisoned his father, and had several of his family members (including brothers, his nephew, and one of his sons) killed as well. Though his martial dictatorship led to the peak of Mughal authority in southern Asia, his intolerant policies and endless wars led to its decline.

Palpatine, fearful of those with Force talents and abilities rising up to challenge his rule of the galaxy, could be invoking the essence of these mistaken trends, hoping to curtail the possibility of a cosmic schism akin to what Maul, Savage, and Mother Talzin elicited during the Clone Wars. Giving in to his own fears, fortunately for those freedom-loving rebels, afforded an opening to his eventual defeat, as mediocrity was encouraged from the academy level up.

Flotsam

 

  • The mental image of conscription. One of the explanations offered for stormtrooper miscarriage is the often unjustified perception that a draft will produce a cadre of inefficient and undisciplined soldiers. Much of that reputation is the product of a post-Vietnam cognizance where alcohol, drug abuse, demerits, fragging, and Oliver Stone permeate the subconscious. As there were considerable issues surrounding the war, its draft, and the politics surrounding its prosecution, the mobilization of WWI and WWII proved to produce a considerably effective fighting force. Likewise, the Israeli military has maintained the strength of its security via conscription virtually since its modern inception. Has this model proven efficacious in every scenario globally? There is considerable data suggesting that a blanket statement such as “employing conscripts, in general, is proven to be less effective when compared to an all-volunteer force” is inaccurate. It is often when troops receive poor training, are only employed for short durations (necessitating the recruitment of fresh and inexperienced batches with short turnaround), and have no fundamental understanding or logical interpretation for what they defend do conscription services fall short. Researchers Andrew L. Spivak and William Alex Pridemore (2004) have shown the weaknesses in Soviet conscription, given changes in policy beginning in 1967. Because officials feared nuclear holocaust would yield massive incipient casualties, young people were indoctrinated in military culture and civil defense training during their elementary and secondary school years (not unlike Zare and his compatriots, all of 15 when they are put through their course of training in this episode). By the time they reached conscription age (18), all of their basal indoctrination had already been fulfilled, and soldiers were sent to active duty immediately, without the benefit of a formal training often granted U.S. and equivalent forces. A lack of a competent non-commissioned officer corp also contributed to an ineffective model, creating a leadership vacuum among the rank and file. In the beginning of “Breaking Ranks,” Commandant Aresko can be heard telling the cadets that, “… in a few short weeks, you will leave as soldiers. By the time you complete your training, you will be prepared to serve your Emperor… Are you ready to become stormtroopers?!” It would appear that the Empire is following yet another Soviet paradigm, though further detail is required to confirm. Perhaps in the coming seasons.
  • Calling all Dexter fans! Star Wars: The Clone Wars, have always attempted to throw in subtle shoutouts to personal passions and fandoms — especially as it pertains to sports teams and hometowns. A fellow descendent of Pittsburgh, and an avid fan of the Steelers and Penguins, Dave has given us a black and gold antagonist droid, and a Zabrak Maul sibling with black and gold tattoos (of which a famous New Orleans Saints fan has “stolen”). Many have pointed out that the pit droid from Season 5’s infamous Droids Arc was painted red and gold, and had a 47 affixed to its shell — an homage to former Washington tight end, and favorite, Chris Cooley. Then, of course, the purple and yellow tactical droid in the Citadel Arc of Season 3 — aptly named “K2-B4” — served to directly invoke the legacy of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (who wore no. 24 for those uninitiated). So, it comes as to no surprise if Ezra’s undercover moniker, Dev Morgan, is a play on Cable TV blood spatter analyst/serial killer Dexter Morgan’s sister, Deb (played by Jennifer Carpenter).

 

 

“Rise of the Old Masters” Analysis

Animated Morbidity

“Rise of the Old Masters,” the latest episode of Star Wars: Rebels,  sends us to a much darker place than the quotidian moments seen in “Fighter Flight,” which squares with statements Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo made at New York Comic Con in 2013 — also the moment in which the primary villain, the Inquisitor, was revealed. In an early effort to challenge the grousing of fans who exalted the notion that Star Wars would be neutered by Disney, Inc., Hidalgo entertained a question concerning the level of violence exhibited within the show, and whether any characters would meet their demise. “Will people die? Well, yeah. It’s a war. The stakes are high.” Other observers and bloggers took to Twitter during his panel presentation, paraphrasing Hidalgo saying that the 4th episode of the show will observe, “…a real tone shift…” in the series. Technically, “Rise” is the 3rd episode of Season 1, not counting the pilot, but considering the two previous adventures, the outcome of “Rise,” and the events of Monday’s “Breaking Ranks,” if we count the pilot as two individual iterations, this would be that “4th” episode in question.  And, indeed, there was a major death to add to the official canon, though perhaps not what I might have predicted when first happening upon this news online.

So, rather than hark back to the days of 1980’s G.I Joe series, which is adored but often maligned for unleashing 25 minutes of fluorescent artillery fire without a single death, Rebels would, as its predecessor Star Wars: The Clone Wars, match the violence of the Lucasfilm theatrical icons. Though fun-loving and campy in moments, the films were always rated PG rather than G because there have always been grim costs for engaging in a justifiable rebellion against tyranny — a fact Star Wars never ignored. Besides, I already knew that co-executive producer Dave Filoni, heavily influenced by Harmony Gold’s American adaptation Robotech, as I was growing up, understood that children could handle a show with triage among its main characters and villains. As the ageless nursery rhymes and fairy tales (how morbid is Ring Around the Rosie?) have always taught us life lessons, Robotech (and other Japanese Anime) was capable of reinforcing the notion that warfare (unlike G.I. Joe) always came at a cost. It was rather shocking in 1985 to venture from an animated show where no one lost their lives to one where some of the main heroes died in combat within the first few weeks, and the Earth itself was engorged in a holocaust that saw the demise of 70% of its population. That didn’t appear to happen even in the live-action cinema I consumed at the time — quietus solely reserved for background characters and sidekicks. And at the death of the first main stalwart, writers and animators took the time to flesh out the consequences his violent ending reaped upon those who were close to him. His fiance, a senior bridge officer, attempts to hide her pain while on duty, remaining strong and chipper — even as her colleagues surmise it’s all a ruse to hide her pain — but then sneaks off to wallow in sorrow and Kleenex in solitude. His best friend, the star of the show and often a callow, yet capable, fighter pilot prior to these events, begins to internalize his shock and dismay, turning it into a greater sense of maturity and responsibility — making it a watershed that changes his character forever. But before the ink is fresh on his beloved’s tombstone, the main hero is yet again thrust into a scenario in which one of his subordinate pilots, another memorable character, is tragically eviscerated by an accident while defending their ship from the primary antagonists. Not even able to fully process the passing of a friend he’s known since he was a small child, who even influenced him to become a pilot in the first place, he must now turn to the solemn duty of writing a formal death notification to the parents of yet another friend and wingman whom he’d grown close to — a task he finds almost impossible to complete. And the show only grows from there in its 85 episode reign.

Equally so, “Rise of the Old Masters” lingers in the shadow of the events surrounding the slaughter of the Jedi, as seen in Revenge of the Sith. That film graphically details the immediate destruction of the Order, though not every Jedi in existence. While some survive the speedy carnage, the Empire relentlessly pursues any stragglers wherever they may hide — yet we’ve not been privy to any of their fates officially until now (unless you count the “legends” The Force Unleashed video game). What awaits the dignified Luminara Unduli is addressed, as the crew of the Ghost encounters evidence of her imprisonment on Stygeon Prime — cognate of the Citadel from The Clone Wars, specially astute in Force user segregation. In recent statements (IGN) (Rebel Force Radio), Filoni revealed that what Kanan and Ezra saw within Luminara’s cell was a holo-recording of her actual execution. She’s seated in her prison jumpsuit, the dignity of her robes and traditional headdress removed, serial number fully emblazoned upon her bosom…she stands, walks toward them with a sad resolve to her visage, and slowly walks to an encasing mounted to the wall, where she shockingly evanescens into the skeletal remains of the once proud and elegant spiritual master.

Though we receive no briefing upon the technology used to actually kill the Jedi, with this new information, one is almost compelled to liken this ossuary to a Chelmno, Treblinka, or Auschwitz gas chamber/crematorium amalgamation. Beginning in 1942, Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution was forged and enacted — targeting any  populations the National Socialist German Workers’ Party deemed “unwanted” — though previous years had already witnessed Nazi atrocities perpetrated on Jews, Roma (gypsies), Poles, Russians, homosexuals, Africans, the disabled, those suffering from considerable psychological disorders, and those terminally ill. Initially using his most trusted and elite Schutzstaffel to shoot Jewish captives one at a time, which proved odiously inefficient and psychologically destructive for their purposes, the former head and architect of Hitler’s SS, Heinrich Himmler, as Minister of the Interior, was tasked with overseeing the political administration of all German occupied territories. Himmler oversaw the construction and maintenance of the Final Solution, which amounted to a series of killing centers throughout Poland acting as a genocidal assembly line capable of taking the lives of 6,000 people a day. The “unwanted” were removed from their neighborhoods and property, their businesses and wealth were liquidated and meticulously cataloged. Whole families were forced into walled “ghettos,” a revival of a 16th century Italian practice, where they were eventually transported to these killing centers under the guise of forced labor, told they would be deloused in specialized showers, but ultimately were doused with fatal doses of Zyklon-B gas, with the bodies afterwards being sent to crematoriums — affixed to smoke stacks bellowing tremendous amounts of ash into the sky each day.

What we see of Luminara’s fate, reinforced by the look, color scheme, and tapered trousers of the Inquisitor’s uniform, reminiscent of the dreaded gestapo, serves as an analogy for the Holocaust I often believed was the fate of the Jedi when I was very young. Sans the events of the Prequel era fleshed out over the last 16 years, I envisioned the Jedi being scapegoated and persecuted in a similar fashion to the Jews of Europe — Obi-Wan and Yoda serving as a bantam diaspora. Given the particulars of this moment, and my congruent ages with the co-producers, it appears as though I wasn’t alone in that vision.

Inquisition: The Counter-Reformation of the Sith

Another major scoop that hit during 2013’s New York Comic Con was the introduction of the Inquisitor himself. As the concept for Rebels was first bantered about, there was always this singular question surrounding who the new heroes (as yet unrevealed this time last year) would battle. Would they most likely encounter Darth Vader — an enticing, yet wholly problematic proposition, given his sacrosanct position in pop culture. After all, unless this new cast was meant to lose their heads within the pilot episode, running from Vader’s grasp for five or six seasons would cheapen the character in most eyes. Someone else, particularly one capable of tangling with a Jedi or two, was meant to step into the fray. That void, I immediately felt, was filled by an historical reference most appropriate to the state of the galaxy, the nature of Palpatine’s sense of strategy, and also given what was witnessed in The Clone Wars previously — an inquisition targeting the Light Side of the Force. As Palpatine’s alter ego Darth Sidious once established in an earlier time, referring to Force-sensitive children soon to be cultivated by the Jedi Order:

…The natural talent these children possess is too great to be wasted by the Jedi. I foresee an army of Force-talented spies in my service, trained in the Dark Side to peer into every corner of the galaxy from afar…and my enemies will be helpless against such vision.

That moment on Mustafar during The Clone Wars’ episode entitled “Children of the Jedi,” sight of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker’s fateful melee, served to presciently guide a new era in Star Wars animated TV unbeknownst to producer and viewer alike. Though adept with one or two lightsabers, Palpatine’s primary weapons have always been everything and everyone else. Converting the Force’s favorite son, akin to Mephistopheles in Goethe’s version of Faust, would not be enough to successfully defeat his enemies and assume hegemony over the galaxy. Though not deviating from the Darth Bane-established rule of two, Palpatine understood that Force-sensitive allies, ill-equipped to challenge him, but filled enough with Dark Side abilities to mitigate low-level light side operatives, would be useful. Though the children we see onscreen were eventually rescued by the one who would later provide our Rebels’ antagonist his marching orders, the seeds we were not privy to have fully bloomed almost two decades later — ready to continue the inquisition against the religion that had now been deemed heretical.

As a series that often draws upon our own Earthbound history for grounding, using the inquisition as the foundation for villainy is equally apropos and problematic. There is often a collective consciousness surrounding the inquisitors of Europe’s Catholic past that may align with the aura of our new antagonist. However, throughout much of the Catholic Church’s history, inquisitors could be relatively benign.

Inquisition history is often divided into three phases: the sometimes mild Medieval  and Roman Inquisitions, the latter of which was founded upon the schism instigated by Martin Luther, with the middle phase belonging to the infamously violent Spanish Inquisition.

The first iteration arose from 13th century northern Italy and southern France, under the purview of Pope Gregory IX, to combat the many iconoclastic organizations challenging church doctrine and legitimacy. The inquisitors, from the Latin inquiro, meaning one who “inquires into,” were essentially specially trained judges with the permission of the Pope to deal with offenses against the faith. Highly educated in church doctrine and theology, Dominicans and Franciscans were often tapped for the inquisition because they already retained the requisite knowledge and detachment from secularism administration deemed necessary. Though initially tasked with stamping out any heretical uprisings within a court in which the threat of torture and death could be used as a persuasive tool, inquisitors were not given authority to torture until 1252 by Pope Innocent IV.  Most likely, upon the sermo generalis where sentencing was pronounced, persons found guilty in an inquisitor’s court were condemned to pray, they could be imprisoned, or for severe cases turned to secular authorities where a death sentence would be meted out. Torture, when deemed necessary in extreme cases, was only used to gather a confession, but was highly discouraged as one couldn’t trust the information often drawn under duress. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, however. Helen Ellerbe (1995), in The Dark Side of Christian History, writes that, by 1262, inquisitors were given the freedom to absolve themselves from the crime of bloodshed, which means that if a victim’s neck was broken under their care, it was explained as having been caused by the Devil (83). Dressed in all-black, inquisitors sought to draw out confessions from varied devices, often with the motto, “Glory be only to God” affixed. The infamous rack, tearing limb from trunk, stocks used for foot roasting (hilariously applied to droid feet in 1983’s Return of the Jedi), water torture methods, and even gibbets — cages suspended in the air where people could die from exposure (also featured in The Clone Wars episode “Escape from Kadavo”) — were also used. A particularly grisly practice was the dreaded dish of mice, which was turned upside down upon the victim’s naked stomach, after which a fire was applied to the dish, and the mice would claw, bite, and dig into the subject’s flesh in their attempt to flee the heat. Though prior to this self-absolution from bloodshed, burning at the stake — afforded the victim during the auto-da-fé, or ritual of public penance — became a common means for extreme cases of heresy, or for those who refused to confess. Justification for capital burning was derived from an interpretation of John 15:6, which states, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

Perhaps the most famous case that appeared before Phase III Roman inquisitor courts was that of Galileo Galilei. The 17th century in Europe exhibited the exploration, the revision, and the expansion of human knowledge of the sciences — aided by Gutenberg’s printing press, which afforded these ideas a much broader audience. Upon the observations and mathematical computations of Nicholas Copernicus, the Ptolemaic geocentric model of the universe (championed by the church) was successfully challenged. In existence, via the minutia of telescopic observations and mathematical formulae, was hard evidence that proved the Earth was not the center of the universe, but that it revolved around a much larger luminous body, along with various other planets in the solar system. Innocuous as this seems in today’s world of practical space travel, satellites, GPS, and Google Earth, for 17th century Europe, this was rather provocative. After all, if the Ptolemaic explanation that the Earth was the center of the universe, and therefore the zenith of God’s physical creations, was officially certified by church officials as ecclesiastic, to disprove this axiom would call into question everything associated with the faith. In 1610, Galileo — having already studied Copernicus’ observations, having already built his own telescope from the lessons of Dutch lens makers — published his Starry Messenger, detailing his own contributions to the field of astronomy; shattering the theories of Aristotle while bolstering the arguments of Copernicus. By 1616, the Catholic Church sent official warning to Galileo about his activities, arresting his public support of Copernicus, though he privately continued his observances. In 1632, Galileo produced Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which detailed the fundamental astronomical theories of Copernicus and Ptolemy side by side, but feted the heliocentric model over the Ptolemaic. Ultimately, Pope Urban VIII ordered the 69 year old scientist before the Inquisition, forcing a confession denouncing Copernican theory from the old man, under threat of torture. Galileo eked out his last nine years under house arrest, vilified and disgraced in Catholic lore (until 1992, when the Church officially certified his ideas).

The inflammatory reputation often associated with the inquisition largely stems from its Spanish iteration, beginning November 1, 1478, under the authority of Pope Sixtus IV, at the behest  of Columbus-era’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Having been previously dominated by North African Muslims, at a time in which 200,000 Jews also inhabited the country, the Spanish crown believed their rule, and the unity of their country, required all to be baptized in the name of the Church. There were to be no pretenders nor agnostics, and certainly practitioners of either Judaism or Islam within the purview of the Spanish monarchy. The Pope, Ferdinand, and Isabella agreed that the inquisition could be a valuable tool to uncover those who proclaimed their loyalty to the Church in public, but continued to believe in their hearts, reinforced by observance in secret, Gods and traditions antithetical to Jesus, the Pope, and the divine right of the throne of Spain.

During its early period, up to 1530, inquisitors sought to snuff out converted Jews who feigned fealty to the church. Deputized in defense of ecclesiastical rules and procedures, inquisitors  were to be at least 40 years old, of maintaining an incontrovertible reputation, documentable sagacity, and conversant in Catholic theology and canon law. In less than a year, they were already known for their cruelty — the office of the Pope logged cases of unjust imprisonment, torture, and seizing the property of the executed. No one was more vile, however, than Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada, the very official who pushed the monarchy to expel all Jews from the beginning. Not until the defeat of Muslim armies at Grenada in January of 1492 did Ferdinand and Isabella agree to pass the Edict of Expulsion. Even Columbus, in his personal diary, makes note of the mutable situation for Spanish Jews in the wake of his fateful voyage, as extreme evangelism was noted as one of his many objectives for that year:

Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet [sic], of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith…So after having expelled the Jews from your dominions, your Highnesses, in the same month of January, ordered me to proceed with a sufficient armament to the said regions of India…and ennobled me that thenceforth I might call myself Don, and be High Admiral of the Sea…

Torquemada believed the Jews of Spain to be the greatest threat to Catholic unity. Uprooting a population that previously retained residency for hundreds of years wasn’t enough for the Inquisitor General, who then targeted Marranos (Jewish converts) and Moriscos (Muslim counterparts) under the guise of religious subversion. By the end of his life, Torquemada had presided over 100,000 convictions based on heresy, sorcery, or even sexual perversion (who were frequently tortured while in custody), and over 2,000 executions — where the preferred method was burning at the stake. Similar to the Nazis of World War II, he had also organized book burnings of sacred Jewish and Islamic literature. His legacy set a precedent that continued well into the 16th and 17th centuries. Between 1540 and 1700, it is believed that nearly 50,000 cases were brought before the Inquisition. During much of that time, torture was applied liberally — reaching its apogee under the reign of Emperor Charles V.

Within Star Wars: Rebels, the Inquisitor character appears to draw from elements of both the Medieval and Spanish traditions. Elegantly voiced by Jason Isaacs, and accompanied by the quasi-religious dulcet baritones from Kiner’s choir, the Inquisitor is granted the authority by Darth Sidious, communicated via Darth Vader, to “hunt down” a new threat from “children of the Force,” potentially guided by surviving Jedi, “…who would train them…” — as recently witnessed within the special edition of the pilot episode “Spark of Rebellion.” As the Sith have all but completely driven the Jedi from the galaxy, deeming discussion of their lot an act of treason against the Empire, the Dark Side has become the official “state religion” for the galaxy of Force users. With this new mandate, Force-sensitive children should be sought, approached, converted, or destroyed if they don’t swear fealty to the Emperor. And all discussion of the Jedi, within the Empire, has been effaced, similarly to Copernican discoveries within 17th century Christendom. Jonathan Jackson Miller’s novel A New Dawn highlights this fact during an early Kanan/Hera mission, as they team up with a Sullustan planetary station security agent named Zaluna Myder. He writes,

Kanan looked at Zaluna, who was clutching her bag tightly to her and shaking her head over the thought of losing her homeworld. “The Jedi used to take care of these things.”

The remark startled Kanan. Jedi were a topic people weren’t supposed to speak of. “What do you know about the Jedi, Zaluna?”

“More than that silly story the Empire put out about them.”

Of course, to be an inquisitor, Vader would not recruit someone ill-equipped in the “old religion.” Akin to the Spanish version, inquisitors should demonstrate sagacity and proficiency in the Force, they should be erudite in the history and lore of the Jedi, and they should be accomplished saber practitioners. “Rise” affords the Inquisitor’s character each of these attributes, as he lures our “heretical” heroes into the prison trap. Capable of dissecting Kanan’s technique to the point of determining his master’s identity, upon studying the completely preserved Jedi Temple records, he sentences Kanan and young Ezra, via his Stygeon auto-da-fé, to death — presumably in the manner in which Luminara was eviscerated bloodlessly. This, of course, comes upon his obligate invitation to join the Dark Side. Fortunately, for our heroes, and for the longevity of the story, the Hebrew appellative Kanan and Ezra escape their captor’s secret court and flee, just as the Sephardim became the fate of Spanish Jewish survivors of the Inquisition. The question that awaits Star Wars fans is whether or not there is more than one inquisitor prowling the galaxy for additional Kanan’s and Ezra’s. My vote is hopefully yes, and that one would be the remnants of Barriss Offee (the former apprentice of Unduli, who used the Dark Side to strike against the hypocrisy of the Jedi during the Clone Wars), who perhaps is inquiring as to the whereabouts of one Ahsoka Tano. Another could be the as-yet unidentified sibling of potential rebel spy Zare Leonis — recently introduced in the latest episode, “Breaking Ranks.”

To Teach or Not To Teach

Yeah, this episode features dark themes…yeah, this episode introduces its primary villain…yeah, this episode infuses a Prequel Trilogy-type saber battle into the Original Trilogy era…Yeah, the setting was borrowed from what would’ve been the continuation of Darth Maul’s story arc within The Clone Wars

As each of these elements infuse the episode with a sense coolness, at the heart of its tractability is the logos inherent within the mentor/student relationship exhibited with the Hebrew-appellates Kanan and Ezra. Inherent within this 22 minute story is a faithful interpretation of the endeavors and challenges one must endure when attempting to teach or mentor young people.

From the moment Kanan crosses paths with Ezra, recognizing the potency of spiritual power he possesses, his own jaded past conflicts with his commitment to end the reign of the Dark Side in the galaxy. Jedi allies would be necessary and powerful in their struggle against the Empire, but given the immaturity of his own skills, and the time that has passed since his Jedi world was violently eradicated, only through direct prodding from Hera is Ezra reluctantly trained. Anyone adept in the field of education, be it in the classroom with young children to flight instructors on the line at a given fixed based operator, will tell you a good teacher is never reluctant to teach their students. A lack of desire often breeds contempt within the teacher for their students, it translates consciously and subconsciously with their interaction, the students pick up on this cosmic vibe, and often become defensive — partly because they feel picked on, partly because they fear poor teaching associated with negative experiences of the past. Educating is an art form — one that must be cultivated through nurturing, and more so with older adolescents. Duke Helfand (2003) highlighted the findings of researchers in the book, Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers by High School Students, written by Kathleen Cushman, for the Los Angeles Times. She and other researchers catalogued the responses of 40 high school students from across the country, emphasizing what they believed was most important for their educational success. Among the wisdom they shared: teenagers crave the relationships that make learning possible. “What we’re hearing from students is that they want partnerships,” he quotes Cushman. “…People who think of teaching as simply the delivery of information are missing the point.” Did you hear that, Kanan?…Mr. “Do, or do not — there is no try…” The robotic regurgitation of classic Yoda at the beginning of the episode is fundamentally indicative of most people surrounded by great teachers, or any masterful professionals — regardless the countless hours, months, years, decades required to work at their present level, to the uninitiated, it appears easy. A local news reporter once complained via Twitter that someone approached him, while on assignment, to inquire about potential jobs at the station, as the work appeared superficial; to which the reporter replied, “you don’t know how hard this job is, and how much preparation goes into appearing before the cameras every evening.” I felt the urge to reply to him, saying, “But that’s the mark of a strong professional, when you make it appear that anyone can do your job.”

Another student profiled in the book, then 17 year-old Luiz Martinez from Oakland, California, felt that, “…good teachers are always there for you, always helping you out. They are like friends. They tell you about their own life experiences. The more you know about your teachers, the more they can help you.” Even under the threat of death, Ezra continually endeavors to build a greater understanding of his teacher. As the Inquisitor pulls out his tricked out “spinning wheels” sabre, Ezra looks to Kanan and quips, “Does yours do that?” A throwaway moment of levity to the uninitiated, but such a sentiment speaks to his inherent desire to build a bond with his new instructor. To learn about the Force from Kanan means to learn about Kanan the man, and the Jedi — a notion even he hasn’t quite figured out. Unlike Hera, who acts as a soothing presence for the troubled youth, Kanan is afraid to get close to his new apprentice. Discovering the possibility that Unduli is alive serves more as a relief valve for retreating from a potential attachment to Ezra than for the potentiality of adding the experienced sage to the Ghost crew.

At 19, Vance Rawles, of New York, must’ve felt that all great teachers were proven Jedi, as he stated they should have the telepathic acuity to identify and adapt to teenage shifting moods, and the perception that stems from empathic bonding. In the fictional world of Star Wars, Kanan certainly does have the literal, albeit limited, capacity to do this with Ezra. This is a kid who’s been orphaned, lived a good portion of his life on his own at a time of military dictatorship, but ultimately still a child — assumedly undisciplined, unfocused, and prone to error. The worse thing Kanan can do with his young ward is yell when Ezra commits errors; faults should be assumed and anticipated. Such an axiom guides the skillful teacher, and affords appeasement of the many stressors associated with mentoring young people. In the educational field, students with learning challenges and disabilities are often attached to Individual Educational Plans, or IEPs. Though the circumstances surrounding said IEPs involve serious concerns, in jest, I once said to a Special Education colleague that students should receive IEPs just for being 14. Indeed, the level of development surrounding the adolescent prefrontal cortex, the decision-making center of the brain that inhibits impulsive activity and also governs goal setting behaviors, is far behind the rest of the brain, until about age 25. Neuroscientist Dr. Sandra Aamodt, author of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College, told NPR in 2011 that the prefrontal cortex of children emanating from deprived childhoods exhibits even further instability:

…so, somebody who has had an unstable home life is more likely to have trouble with planning and organizing behavior and with inhabiting impulses than somebody who has had a stable life.

As a 14 year-old orphan and “street rat,” it should come as no surprise that Ezra has a hard time “focusing,” to the consternation of his impatient, inexperienced and undisciplined teacher; which leads me to yet another critique of Kanan’s failings. In “Miscommunication in the classroom: What teachers say and what students really hear,” author Joseph Simpllico (2002), for Education, documents a number of deceptively simplistic common phrases uttered by teachers that do not convey to students their intended message — leading to a disruption of effective teaching. One such phrase on his list is You need to… Simpllico says that when teachers declare, “You need to study…” or, “You need to do your homework,” students don’t often  internalize that this is something to be assessed or measured as a performance goal. Instead, they associate it with yet another common misunderstood phrase: This is important. Both, for the student, according to Simpllico, imply that the activity or information is important to the teacher, but doesn’t apply to them. The value of the message isn’t shared between the teacher and the student, and therefore the student doesn’t feel the need to do what the teacher insists. Inevitably, the fundamental question that arises in their collective minds is, why? So, in that vein, why should Ezra learn how to focus; especially as The Ghost is cruising through the clouds, potentially on an imminent collision course with an unidentified space cruiser or mountain ahead, while taking a ribbing from his analogous older brother? Simply repeating what he’d heard at the temple, without inherently understanding those lessons, serves neither Kanan nor Ezra. Only through a deeper understanding of the principles he wishes to convey will he find the proper path to enlightenment, can he then lead Ezra to his own understanding of said principles.

Finding a deeper, participatory understanding for each skill that must be mastered is a requirement when working with older adolescents. In “Do teachers and students agree in their perception of what school discipline is?,” for Educational Review, authors Ramzi Haroun and Christine O’Hanlon (1997) published data given what students perceive school discipline to be in their eyes. While younger children (aged 12 to 14) asserted that students should respect and obey their teachers, older children (aged 15 to 19) added that teachers should also respect students and treat them positively. They further reinforced the necessity that developing positive relationships between themselves and the adults in the building to be paramount to school discipline, as compared to younger students. The teenaged years are the moments in which, simultaneous with prefrontal cortex development, the independent psyche of the adult, who’s responsible for oneself, emerges. So, it’s to be expected that the older student would perceive school discipline as more of a partnership than a mandate, and it is wise for their supervising adults to be mindful of this knowledge as they guide them. Perhaps this is the reason for Master Yoda’s declaration that older children and adults are “too old to begin the training.” In fact, it’s far more difficult to teach older children (and adults), whose natural inclination is to build an intimate understanding of a concept by calling it into question — a potentially dangerous notion when one possesses super powers. Indoctrinated in the confines of the temple since infancy, socialization acts as the handcuffs that bind older Jedi Padawans to the Order’s incessant structure. Moving forward, Kanan will need to make due with a student not previously primed as he was, which makes for wonderful storytelling.

In the Clouds

What a spiritual turn of events it was for fans to see Jedi training take place in the clouds. Not only was it breathtaking from an animation perspective, and of course it harped on the Empire Strikes Back nostalgia chords as it invoked the beige atmosphere of Bespin, while affording them an excuse to use the howling winds sound files from that place, but there’s a sense of serenity when one trains in the light side of the Force while surrounded solely by nature, somewhat removed from the realm of technology — as exhibited also in Empire’s Dagobah setting.

As an instrument-rated pilot, I’ve experienced first hand how powerful and wondrous the grey matter we take for granted, or wish away, can be. Next to mastering landings, nothing gives a pilot more of a sense of accomplishment like filing an instrument flight plan with the FAA and traveling from one airport to a distant location safely without largely seeing the ground until 700 feet or lower from touchdown at your destination. The instrument rating is one of the toughest to attain, and maintain, for pilots, as it has its own set of rules, procedures, and skills one must master on top of those required to fly under normalized visual flight rules. Not to mention our body’s internal sense of balance and orientation are not suited for mastering the air, unlike the organs of birds and flying insects, which have the biological equivalent of spinning gyros that feed directly into their nervous system. With our eyes feeding the vestibular system of the inner ear, human beings can accurately determine a sense of orientation with the ground and horizon, given the changes in motion that occur while suspended in flight. Once our vision is robbed, that same vestibular system projects errors and false sensations, leaving even the greatest of pilots susceptible to spinning out of control. While flying in a day time rain system, with the sun shining brightly above, the IFR pilot is instantly surrounded by nothing but bright, white light — very much as Benjamin Sisko, of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine lore, witnessed while flying a shuttle craft into the wormhole to visit the “aliens” that resided there. For the brain, there is no up, down, left, or right, and without any visual cues, the vestibular system confuses the brain. In aviation physiology, this is called spatial disorientation. More than a few pilots, including John F. Kennedy, Jr., have succumbed to the dangers of spatial disorientation. From wind resistance and convective currents, an airplane can begin to turn and lose altitude at such a slight amount the pilot’s inner ear fluid will stabilize, fooling the brain to suggest no movement is occurring. So while the pilot feels the plane is traveling straight and level, it’s actually corkscrewing toward the ground. The more the plane descends, while still in a turn, the greater the speed increases, which can also be detected by increased RPM output from the engine and a rise in the airspeed indicator. The inexperienced or untrained pilot seeks to compensate by pulling up on the control yoke in an effort to increase altitude and level off, which results in a steeper turn, an increase in G-forces, and a sharper corkscrewing moment, resulting in a crash or an in-flight break up if gravity tolerances are exceeded. So flying in the clouds, or without a visible horizon at night, without the proper training all IFR pilots must master and maintain, can be considerably dangerous…but it can also be absolutely stunning. Depending on the depth of the system, with multiple layers, in the daytime, it can appear as though one is flying through underground caverns — complete with stalactites and stalagmites; at night, with openings underneath the plane, cities appear to be engulfed in flames. Unbeknownst to the non-flying community, one also learns that turning off exterior lighting is a common and wise practice in the clouds, as light reflects back at you. This was a lesson I learned the hard way, as there weren’t any opportunities to fly into actual Instrument Meteorological Conditions during my training, beyond simulation. He had forgotten to tell me about what happens when lights are used in the clouds, and so my first trip on a night mission in such conditions was rather surprising at first. On approach to Baltimore, from Pennsylvania, not more than a few weeks after my checkride, I turned on my landing light while still in a cloud deck, and it appeared as though phantoms and poltergeists were flying toward me at considerable speeds! It was pretty shocking to see, to say the least.

Speaking of Dagobah, while on a recent trip to my alma mater Penn State University, I flew a pattern for landing in State College that reminded me of Luke’s trip to the swampy world. Almost the entire trip was flown in IMC, and as I approached the State College area, New York ATC instructed me to increase my altitude to 6,000 feet as they wanted to get a few airline commuter flights on the ground prior to my arrival. Normal approach to State College airport along their instrument procedure for runway 24 is flown at 3,900 feet. So, they had me flying away from the field above the cloud deck, and as the larger planes touched down, they cleared me to intercept the localizer (a radio signal that expresses itself as a needle reading on the instrument panel, aligned with the runway) and continue the approach , which meant I had to execute a descending turn toward the field, all while entering the cloud deck identical to  Luke’s visit in Empire. Breaking out of the clouds 900 feet above the ground, between two mountains, aligned with the runway, thank goodness my landing was much better than his!

In the clouds, en route to State College, PA.

In the clouds of Maryland, en route to State College, PA.

 

Circling State College @ 6,000 feet.

Circling State College @ 6,000 feet.

IMC 3

Flotsam

  • Saber as phallic symbol. One of the many humorous scenarios exhibited in this episode occurred in the opening training sequences. After Ezra’s failed attempt at balancing himself in a single-armed handstand, amidst Zeb’s ribbing, Kanan approves his attempt to practice deflecting objects with a lightsaber. Almost immediately, Ezra’s eagerness to ignite the famed weapon nearly leaves Kanan speared, to which he directs his young charge to adjust the length of the blade for his height. This was wonderful to see, as we’ve often seen explanations of lightsaber controls in various books, but there was never an on-screen canonical demonstration of this attribute. Without missing a beat, however, Zeb buttresses this illuminating moment with a humorous, “I think it should be a little shorter,”along with the obligatory index finger/thumb pinch for added humiliating effect. Indeed, infusing adult subjective humor into animated “children’s” programming is nothing new, including for Disney, so I’m sure they couldn’t resist. This laugh-out-loud moment also reminded me of another hilarious Star Wars parody, in which the concept of the lightsaber as a symbol of phallic supremacy was significantly more blatant. But these “schwartz is as big as mine” jokes are rooted in the psychology of a male-centered world for thousands of years. Controversial psychiatrist Dr. Frances Kress Welsing (1992), in The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors, argued that cultural symbols were powerful tools to reinforce subjective images in society, and that nothing was more commonly reinforced in a male dominated world than the phallic symbol. The Christian cross, the knife and the sword (by extension), even the gun, are all shaped in the vane of the external male genitalia — essentially a long shaft flanked perpendicularly by a straight outcropping in testicular positions. The most powerful of these weapons and symbols, naturally, would be those associated with length and thickness. If one is confused with how the gun is an extension of this legacy, she offers a profile view of the male genitalia, as if a man is prone on a table or ground (i.e. — in death), and one sees the trigger housing is situated in the testicular association with the barrel. Aligning spiritual and cultural symbols with physical genitalia is nothing new in human societies. In KMT (or what the Greeks called Egypt), the famous ankh is a symbol that signifies “life,” the creation of the universe, even the belief that God ( Neb-er-tcher) willed itself into existence. Inherent within the “cross” is an amalgamation of the male and female genitalia, with the female vagina represented in the upper oval. Indeed, phallicism throughout the world, as a subject, has often been explored by psychoanalysts, anthropologists, and cultural theorists for some time. In fact, 1950 saw the first publication of Samuel Aun Weor’s The Perfect Matrimony: Why Sex and Religion are Inseparable.
  • Speaking of Sabers. Since the introduction of Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the double-bladed lightsaber, originally appearing solely in comics and dreams, has officially become canon. Initially designed to separate an era where saber skills had either tarnished or disappeared completely, George Lucas set out to establish an age in which Jedi skills were fluid, proficient, and flashy. This extended to the Sith, where audiences became privy to the first Sith lord sans life support equipment and old age. By the time Phantom Menace debuted, I had been studying the martial arts for four years, beginning with Bong Sul Staff (a Korean form), and eventually landing on my primary martial arts home: Yoseikan Aikido and Kobudo. As each involves weapons training, and forms, I was ready to critique the new choreography with a newfound sense of enlightenment. I was highly pleased with what I saw on-screen, beyond the obvious “woodstock” sentimentality one expresses when a new Star Wars film hits theatres. In hiring a choreographer and an actor/stuntman to bring Maul to life, there was a sense of technical proficiency inherent in the performance. The first time we see Maul “introduce” himself to Qui-Gon Jinn, he doesn’t ignite both blades — only one. This is perfectly in line with the execution of Bo and Jo staff strategy, as these weapons are largely held in the way that swords are commonly held (with a few minor variations). In essence, you really don’t hold a staff in the center — as is commonly seen in the movies — until it is time to go on the defensive. When someone is striking at you, particularly with speed and ferocity, both Korean and Japanese schools teach a technique known as “hiding behind the tree.” The weapon is held with one hand in the center, at a slight angle toward the opponent, while the body is in a slender side-stance — as one who is literally hiding behind a tree from an attacker. With this in mind, the staff remains static, and the body moves away from strikes, adjusting to the distance and position of the blows. When Maul must face both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon in the Theed hangar, this is where he immediately ignites both blades, holding the saber in the center of the hilt, and Maul largely uses this “hiding behind the tree” technique to near perfection. He may ignite his weapon horizontally, but the melee exhibits his saber in a vertical position, as it should be while on the defensive. It is often discussed that to use a lightsaber required considerable technical proficiency and Force talent (else the practitioner sever their own limbs); it was assumed that only the greatest fighter could wield two blades simultaneously. After witnessing Episode II, III, and The Clone Wars series, and now watching the Inquisitor in action, I believe we have to revise this notion. Apparently, the use of two blades doesn’t discern one’s proficiency, but rather serves as a necessary crutch to equip one for handling multiple opponents at once. For the Jedi, Ahsoka had proven through two and a half seasons that Clone Wars combat sometimes proved too much for her abilities. Therefore, her second and final character model change has her carrying a “wakizashi” lightsaber until the end. When it was time to bring Maul back to the fray, his brother Savage Opress became a student of the Dark Side — initially under Count Dooku. Upon moving to using a lightsaber, Dooku builds one similar to his own, but it is double-bladed. Many of us assumed that Maul, once psychologically healed, would rebuild his original saber, but he kept his damaged single blade in tact. Now, we have the Inquisitor, who also wields a double-blade, which as Dave Filoni states, makes up for any weaknesses in his technique and abilities. We can even extend this principle to Anakin, during the duel with Dooku in Attack of the Clones. With Obi-Wan on the ground with an injured leg, Anakin was left on his own to handle a significantly more powerful former Jedi. Obi-Wan tosses his weapon to Skywalker, wishing to even the odds a bit. Finally, though Darth Sidious carries two blades himself, as Bane-descendant Sith are naturally expected to fight off multiple opponents, he only uses one at a time to engage Jedi masters, including Yoda. The only time we see Sidious use two blades simultaneously is in The Clone Wars, where he doesn’t underestimate his newly-resurrected former apprentice nor the magic that imbues his sibling (I won’t count the encounter in Season Six, as that was a force-induced vision rather than an actual physical rumble, though you can imagine Sidious using both blades anyway if he had to tangle with the two most important Force beings next to himself).
  • It’s all about the lighting. Earlier in the year, Lucasfilm released a clip from this episode featuring the Inquisitor battling Kanan and Ezra in the prison hallway. This was prior to the show beginning, and all of us were wondering what the quality of the animation would be. With a significantly reduced budget, would it compare to the Clone Wars? Most of us viewing this clip weren’t concerned, beyond the fact that the Inquisitor’s teeth appeared a bit too long, but the main difference with that clip and what we see in its completed airing is lighting. It’s obvious that the lighting for those shots was tweaked, compared to when USAToday released the exclusive — the image of which was significantly brighter. With the proper lighting in place, the set looks more real, and the lightsabers take on a theatrical aura not present this past summer. The colors were richer, and therefore the presentation was stronger.

‘Fighter Flight’ Analysis

 

2_lothal arrival

Pedestrian ‘Star Wars’ v. epic ‘Star Wars’

Fighter Flight is a rather enjoyable episode on many levels, but one of its main characteristics, for good or ill, is that it debuts something perhaps unfamiliar to the average Star Wars fan — the everyday pedestrian’s view of that galaxy, far, far away.

One of the many taglines for Dave Filoni’s previous Star Wars helm was that each episode should feel like a  “mini-movie.” Indeed, each iteration of all six seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars begins with a microcosm of John Williams’ staple brassy arpeggio, with the main titling spread across the screen, followed by an auditory monologue serving as an ersatz opening crawl. As many have attested, each of these elements serve as modern obeisance to the Hollywood traditions of mid-20th century science fiction and action/adventure storytelling, visual design, and musical score. In its debut volume on November 27, 2013, Rebel Force Radio’s Star Wars Oxygen podcast co-host David Collins spoke at length about George Lucas’ and editor Paul Hirsch’s use of temporary musical cues to establish the tempo, expectations and atmosphere for what would later become composer John Williams’ Oscar-winning score. For what served as the ephemeral main title theme prior to the treasured film’s release was 1952’s Ivanhoe overture, while elements of the Mars movement from Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite pulls us into the conflict between the iconic star destroyer and rebel blockade runner. Each of these pieces establishes a heavy brass and percussive motif that infuses the adrenaline of high adventure, swashbuckling, warfare, and a hero’s journey about to begin. Of course, that is Star Wars set to unfold on a super-sized screen, with merely a two hour window to resolve its crisis.

Conversely, Star Wars: Rebels is primed for the small screen, propagated by a publicly traded corporation which can enable an expedition through a narrative that spans (hopefully) multiple television seasons, featuring the same six protagonists. With this in mind, one should almost expect the regular abandonment of opening artistic homages and flourishes that defined the main cinematic experience for some of the more quotidian moments in a character’s life. Ultimately, television is about the slow build — those simple human moments that, if executed effectively, set the stage for a stronger and deeper dramatic experience that bares witness to the ascension of cable dramas surpassing the theatrical experience in quality.

To be sure, Star Wars: Rebels does feature a Kiner-composed, Williams-inspired brassy six-note arpeggio that accompanies the plastering of the official logo filling our screens. But rather than accompanying the exposition, it delineates the demarcation between the exposition and the rising action of each episode — a common practice for much of the 21st century’s major network programming. Customary productions of my youth (Alice, The Jeffersons, Laverne and Shirley, Three’s Company, Sanford and Son, The Facts of Life, Diffrent Strokes, Eight is Enough, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Dallas, Knots Landing, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, A Different World, Cheers…) universally began with often memorable opening tracks while introducing the cast opposite hilarious sequences taken from moments during the current and/or previous seasons. By about the mid-1990s, a shift toward placing the opening theme between the exposition involving the characters on set and the rising action occurred — most notably among the upstart Fox Network’s new programming like Married With Children and Living Single, the latter of which hilariously starred Clone Wars’ Mace Windu actor Terrence T.C. Carson as Kyle Barker. Author Jon Burlingame, in his 1996 TV’s Biggest Hits: The Story of Television Themes from Dragnet to Friends, states that, even during this period, an opening montage would last 40 – 60 seconds. Though these shows still featured full length themes, their early 21st century predecessors began a trend that truncated the refrain to just a few notes, with the cast credits fading in and out of live scenes, as commonly found in cinema. Others simply flashed logos, most notably ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (which departed from its 26-second theme in 2005), Ugly Betty, and NBC’s Heroes. Such an approach, in the modern era, may make more business sense. Not only can producers maximize their storytelling time with shorter or non-existent themes, most people in the DVR age simply skip past these themes, if not outright changing the channel when watching during the regular broadcast time. Tara Ariano, co-founder of Television Without Pity.com and a contributor to MSNBC.com, was quoted in 2006 by the Associated Press as saying, “full-on opening credit (and) theme song is kind of a waste, from a business perspective. The networks sort of assume we watch the show, so we don’t need to have the premise explained to us each week…In the era of the DVR, half the people watching the show are just fast-forwarding that anyway.” Indeed, I often hit the ‘skip’ button on my blu-ray player when binge watching entire series on disc when their opening montages emerge — the exception of which is HBO’s Game of Thrones, as their theme is admittedly addictive. Another angle driving this trend, according to TV historian Tim Brooks, is the role of our perceived instantly gratified, attention-challenged, contemporary audience who presses producers to, “…[tighten] everything, making it go from joke to joke, from action to action, from shootout to shootout, so that you won’t press the dreaded remote control.”

Contributing to this discussion was Slate writer June Thomas, who in 2010 argued that episode runtimes have shrunk as advertisement breaks have grown longer, contributing to this demise of the 60 second hummable lead-in.

Over the six years that Star Wars: The Clone Wars has aired, either on Cartoon Network or via Netflix, I have not heard of a single person criticizing the show for simply having a more traditional Star Wars exposition, modified to simulate a 1940’s World War II-era newsreel narration — even as I have read a few critiques of the style and design of that opening. Ultimately, viewers are used to this if they are fans of the franchise. Rebels, under the purview of new management and a differing economic business plan, has thus far demonstrated a penchant for aligning itself with the realities of television in the digital age.

Contrary to last week’s Droids in Distress, this episode opens with the Ghost in a lazy stroll to the surface of Lothal, accompanied by composer Kevin Kiner’s leisurely interpretation of the Star Wars main title — not the triumphant “call-to-action” reminiscent of Ivanhoe or Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1942 opening score to Kings Row, but a version one might expect at the lead-in scene of a Star Trek prime, or spin-off, television series. We cut to Ezra attempting to move a bowl with his latent Force abilities, with Chopper serving as the foil. The humorous play between them, which extends to Zeb, further reinforces the intended homage to Stephen J. Cannell’s 1980s-era The A-Team. Thus far, Chopper serves as silly and practical joke-playing Murdock, while Zeb is the slumbering B.A.”Bad Attitude” Baracus, who wishes to “end” rather than “pity” anyone who awakens his slumber. Ending up in a tussle that wreaks havoc on the ship, Hera banishes both Ezra and Zeb to a quest for a fruit that should be impossible to find. As the “mother” figure of this newly expanding team, her solution to the ailing crew is a common one parents of older children will identify with — i.e., “I don’t care where you go, but you got to get up outta here!” Though not intimately connected to Hera, Kanan serves as the “father” of the group, supporting Hera’s decision for disciplining the crew members, though waiting until their departure to remind Hera that these ‘meilooruns’ Ezra and Zeb were sent to procure do not grow on Lothal. So far, beyond simple flirtatious bantering between the two, there has been no confirmation of a burgeoning romance here, and Jonathan Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn suggests that Hera is far too dedicated to ending Palpatine’s imperial reign to allow a distraction like a romantic relationship into her life when Kanan first crosses her path. As he embarks on his first tour of the Ghost, right at the end of the book, Miller writes of Hera’s thoughts:

He obviously liked her starship, she could see as he walked around it. That was good. He was also smitten with her, she could tell — and she was all right with that, too. She didn’t want to tell him that her war had already begun, and that in war, there was no time for anything else. He would probably understand that eventually.

Fast-forward a number of years and we see that he apparently has gotten the message, but that doesn’t stop the two from attempting to entertain themselves together, when the mission runs long, awaiting the call from the quarreling “brothers” as to their whereabouts. Slipping right into that traditional father role, Kanan nearly has a nervous breakdown when the sounds of an Imperial TIE fighter’s engines can be heard in the background — it’s as if older children were sent on an errand in the family car, only to hear police sirens in the background of a cell call. In essence, this is the average Joe’s Star Wars, where writers and creators have a lot more time to develop the social dynamics of the characters, during an era in which the audience demands it from their television characters.

Tarkin’s Five Year Plan

Each year, as I teach basic historical concepts to high schoolers, I’m often amazed at how many of them are unfamiliar with the principle aspects of an empire. I have to thank George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for teaching me those elementary concepts without us ever coming in contact, and without ever entering a classroom involving their intuitive instruction. Both the ‘Empire’ of Star Wars and the Hollywood Nazis of Indiana Jones served as generic analogies which made studying their earthbound ancestors rather facile. With Lucas and Spielberg, one finds a genius in fostering a fictional world which serves their intended dichotomous objective of entertaining an audience while honing in on the deeper lessons humanity must engender. While placing a fictional character within the confines of recognizable historical villainy (during a period prior to world cataclysm that many audiences either celebrate or directly recall) may appear to be a simpler task, Lucas managed to traverse the confines of our atmosphere and transplant crowds the world over into a far away, yet immediately recognizable, galaxy capable of teaching the same lessons surrounding the cost of tyranny.

Though it is seductive to immediately draw parallels between Palpatine’s Empire and Nazi-era Germany, one finds attributes in Star Wars that many Terran empires exhibit:

In a general sense, there is an excessive emphasis on industrialization — particularly as it pertains to military hardware over the needs and concerns of citizenry, nor the preservation of nature. This is front and center on the fictional outer rim world of Lothal, as the Star Wars: Rebels Visual Guide (2014) tells us the Empire is using the grassy world to mass produce TIE fighters and other weapons, as the agrarian sector is slowly replaced. (16-17)

There is the exaltation of nationalistic fervor, as witnessed in the rhetoric and demeanor of last week’s Minister Tua, who aggrandized the Imperial academy, and Empire in general, while basking in the overt genocidal victory of Agent Kallus over Zeb’s Lasan.

And there is a thriving culture of militarism, which eventually eschews, and later supplants, a fatigued and ailing democratic body — as recently depicted in Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series.

But as George is a visual and auditory storyteller, his Imperial officers are dressed in the trappings of fascism, while speaking often in high British cadance. In 1997’s Star Wars: The Magic of Myth, author Mary Henderson states that Lucas inspired costume designer and military historian John Mollo to draw upon late 19th and early 20th century European Imperial uniforms as the impetus for his Empire’s standard officer issue. The old ulanka, or uniforms of the 19th century German mounted lancers (called Uhlans), also made famous by Baron Manfred “Red Baron” von Richthofen, informed the tunic, trousers, and boots of Imperial officers; the cap borrowed from that of Alpine trooper divisions. (184-185)

The Imperial presence on Lothal, as depicted in Fighter Flight, channels yet another early dictatorship — that of Stalin’s Soviet Union. While on a supply run in the town of Kothar, essentially a border town from the Old West, Ezra runs in to a colleague of his parents — farmer Morad Sumar. Soon thereafter, an Imperial officer with a stormtrooper cadre approaches his stand, giving him one last opportunity to sell his farm before the Empire procures the property without his assistance. Farmers like Sumar are depicted as frontier homesteaders, not unlike the adventurers headed out to the Great Plains of mid to late 19th century America, forging fresh opportunities while seizing upon the 160 acres of “free land” afforded U.S. citizens via the Homestead Act. Joining that charge were European immigrants who were invited to heed that “Ho! For Kansas!” call, though the vast majority of the millions venturing here couldn’t afford to leave the metropolis ports 3rd class steerage could book. Under the banner of Manifest Destiny, a concept not all that dissimilar to the Empire’s fundamental goals in Star Wars, the homesteaders — families that could turn acres of “wild,” fallow land into a thriving plot of wheat, where animals could also be nursed and slaughtered for food — became icons of the pioneer, rugged individualistic ethos that defined what it was to be “American.” One can also similarly imagine Morad and his wife emigrating to the grasslands of our principal locale, hoping to begin a new life, in an age of increasing war and instability; though the ocean of stars would not be vast enough to separate them from the great galactic struggle that would enshrine their society.

A direct contrast to that sense of individual ownership and sacrifice, as symbolized by Sumar and his homestead along the Lothalian plains, is the command economy of state-sponsored communism. Not as adept as the military and economic powerhouses of Europe at the start of WWI, Russia suffered tremendous casualties against the Germans, who greatly out-produced Czar Nicholas II’s weak domestic industrial base. Upon the success of the Bolshevik revolution, which afforded Russia its famous communist empire, and with the succession of Joseph Stalin to the head of the regime, the burgeoning Soviet government sought to correct past weaknesses. Enter Stalin’s Five Year Plans, which sought to ensure the creation of an economic powerhouse via complete government control of heavy industry, transportation, and farm output — with varying success. While the large Soviet manufacturing infrastructure grew considerably in a ten year period, the general standard of living continued at low levels. Wages were low, consumer goods and conveniences were scarce, and workers were forbidden to strike. Concerning agrarian pursuits, Stalin forced all peasants to farm on state-owned collectives (communal farms), where the government would provide all equipment, seed, and implement modern farming techniques. It was his wish to significantly increase production of grain to feed the workers in the urban manufacturing centers, and to export excess grain for additional profits. But his heavy handed approach to farming fostered resistance, as many peasants simply grew enough to feed themselves, sabotaged farm equipment and tools, killed state-owned animals, and burned crops. In his fury, Stalin blamed the resistance on what he believed to be influential wealthy farmers known as kulaks, whom he banished to labor camps upon confiscating their lands and assets.

Prior to the release of Rebels, Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg were both quoted as suggesting the time period for the storyline of the show would place the audience at a period five years prior to A New Hope. In a recently-released trailer for upcoming episodes of Rebels, Sabine can clearly be heard stating that the Empire has, “five year plans” for all Outer Rim worlds. As an aerial shot establishes Morad Sumar’s property, which appears rather large and elaborate in comparison to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, one could assume the role of he and his wife as the kulaks of this far away galaxy, while Tarkin — the Imperial enforcer for the Outer Rim — has his agents move against them in the pursuit of additional land and resources for the augmentation of Imperial assets. Perhaps we have found the deeper reason for why the producers decided to begin this show where it does on the grand Star Wars timeline.

Flotsam

  • The TIES that bind. Earlier in the year, prior to the debut of the show, Producer Dave Filoni showed clips of Zeb flying the TIE fighter from this episode, and suggested that the central premise for the story  came from his desire to play with the TIE fighter toy, and have hero action figures piloting the craft through his fantasy melees. Maybe it’s just a Pittsburgh thing, which is my home town as well, but ultimately I did the same thing growing up playing with my set of toys. Many of my friends had various vehicles, ranging from the Millenium Falcon to X-wings, to even AT-ATs. While I had a considerable number of figures, I most certainly didn’t have many of the vehicles and ships other kids had — EXCEPT ONE, which was Darth Vader’s TIE fighter. I can distinctly recall a moment in which I recounted the events of Empire Strikes Back while visiting with my mother, and I strategically positioned myself next to her book case, which served as the ersatz Cloud City lower levels, with one book sticking out horizontally from the shelf, serving as a ledge for Vader and Luke to do battle. The twist in my plot, however, was to have Luke lose his hand, dangle for dear life from that book, scream over the realization that his own flesh and blood had maimed him for  life, and tumble down the pit of Russian literature of his own volition…and end up NOT suspended over the gaseous planet core, but comfortably seated within Vader’s own craft for the getaway. And this was a common twist in my adventures (largely because that’s the only vehicle I had). But that toy, as well as the sounds of the engines, really made me intrigued with the fighter. It was a wonderful experience to explore this craft amidst the fun Zeb and Ezra were having.
  • Cue the music. It was stated on a number of occasions that Kiner’s latest music would be informed quite a bit by the original scores of John Williams — the lack of which was often a criticism  from some fans (not myself!) of previous scores from The Clone Wars. The music in this episode drew from intimate moments throughout the entire six film Lucas treatment. Within Empire, Williams developed a distinctive Droids theme, which can be heard when R2 and 3P0 are first introduced, but also follows their adventures up through the escape from Bespin. Fighter Flight sees Kiner use a high-key flute iteration of this theme  while Ezra and Zeb spot the coveted meilooruns being procured by the Empire — a take on this elusive motif I thought was wonderfully composed. And in an interesting take, in the wake of fears from some fans who felt that Disney would ignore the Prequel era in light of those who found them abhorrent, the music that accompanies Ezra and Zeb’s interception of the troop transport carrying the imprisoned farmers is inspired by the Williams queue that accompanies Anakin Skywalker’s trip into the Tusken camp, where he finds his captured mother. So much for having nothing to do with the Prequels…
  • Blocking the shot. In a recent press conference, after the Los Angeles premiere of Spark of Rebellion, Dave Filoni discussed how vastly divergent his youthful tastes ranged, compared to his contemporaries, as his favorite character in Star Wars was the AT-AT driver. As a direct homage to his love of those moments in Empire, as the camera followed the action of the Imperial Troop Transport, the scene is framed identically with those scenes from Hoth. Within the cockpit, depicted in reverse-angle Go-Pro fashion, one sees two drivers positioned at the edge of the frame, with the officer positioned in the center, as General Veers had in our 1980 theatre houses.

‘Droids in Distress’ Analysis

Opening

After thoroughly enjoying the series pilot, via streaming as part of the Disney X.D. app, as a participant in the Washington, D.C. screening at the AMC Gallery theatre, and also during the TV airing, it was a pleasant surprise that I didn’t have to wait until October 13th to view the next episode. Fans received notice that the Disney X.D. app would be streaming the new episode, Droids in Distress that evening, and of course I spared no time in viewing what was available.

I have to admit that once I was privy to the title, and nature, of the next episode, droid wariness via Star Wars: The Clone Wars entered my mind. It’s no secret that the R2-D2 and C-3P0 centric episodes of that series didn’t always work for most fans, while the Season 5 droids arc was almost universally panned. Not so with this episode of Rebels, though the perennial duo only served as guest stars rather than foreground protagonists.

The episode begins with a familiar Empire-esque chase, with Imperial TIE fighters and a Star Destroyer pursuing the Ghost crew into hyperspace — almost analogous to Bo and Luke Duke aboard the General Lee, rip-roaring through Hazard County while being pursued by inept police deputies in CBS’ The Dukes of Hazard (1979-1985). From there, we realize that the crew had to leave their shipment behind, affording them a ransom that would keep their mission alive, and therefore must detour to a new operation or put the ship on mothballs. Per Kanan’s recommendation, they head to the “space port” to begin, where we get our first glimpse of the familiar droids post-Revenge of the Sith.

Jim Crow Star Tours

It’s always interesting the varying approaches to critiquing the same works of art. If we walk into a gallery, prior to seeing any pieces, Yoda and Luke appear to have already prefaced the appropriate scaffold:

Luke: “What’s in there?”

Yoda: “Only what you take with you…”

As the episode in question hasn’t yet aired, most sites and podcasts have refrained from discussing the details, with the exception of Making Star Wars.net (at least as far as I’ve seen). Via a review, written by Jason Ward, and during their associated podcast Now, This is Podcasting!, it was mentioned that the shuttle sequence in Act I was a direct homage to Disney’s Star Tours, both in the design of the vehicle, and with recruiting ‘Pee Wee Herman’ actor himself Paul Reubens to voice pilot robot RX-24, I have no doubt this was the intent of the Lucasfilm crew (particularly since Filoni has used Star Tours material in The Clone Wars previously, in the form of a Republic deep space station in the final Droids Arc episode, Point of No Return). As I’ve never been to the Star Tours exhibit, I would not have caught that tribute. However, as a person of African descent who is also a historian that specializes in African and African American history, I complimented Greg Weisman over Twitter with sneaking in a number of deep Earth-bound issues in between the fun of droid/human banter. When the Ghost crew and Imperial representatives enter the transport (which I felt was more a salute to the shuttle models used in the JJ Abrams’ version of Star Trek), you’ll notice that droids are meant to be banished to the rear of the craft, even though our hero bots initially begin posted near their masters. In a ploy to draw C-3P0 and R2 back to the droid section, and away from Imperial negotiations between a minister and an arms dealer, Chopper begins to run amuck. And what does Kanan say in response?

“Hey, pilot! Isn’t there some rule against droids in the passenger area?”

To which the pilot responds,”I am sorry, sir (referring to Ezra). Your droid must proceed to the back (slight pause) of the craft.”

Naturally, Ezra responds, “Hey, if my astromech’s banished, then those two astromechs are banished, too!”

Of course, the haughtiness of 3P0 won’t allow being compared to his intrepid friend, and as the Imperial minister Maketh Tua, voiced by Mon Mothma and Mina Bonteri voice actor Kath Souchie, adamantly demands the interpreter remain present for her negotiations, the pilot reminds the minister that moving them all to the back are in accordance with, “…Imperial regulations.”

While it is a wonderful ploy to get 3P0 away from Minister Tua in order to afford Sabine the opportunity to infiltrate, I couldn’t help but notice the obvious Jim Crow segregation references inherent in this sequence. Of course, the original movie established that droids weren’t always welcome in certain venues of the Star Wars galaxy, and after exhibiting the Prequel Era, one could discern that an outcome of the Clone Wars would be a widespread distrust of droids. I think this angle to the story spoke to Gone Girl and Seven director David Fincher, who recently alluded to a wish to tell a mature and darker tale involving the perspective of Star Wars through the lens of droid slavery. As the Empire would be quick to capitalize and inflame the “…passions and prejudices…” of the general public, as Obi Wan so noted of its Emperor once, and as Lucas has always used Star Wars as a metaphor for human struggles on Earth, I thought it was a stroke of genius to build this Jim Crow angle into that scene. Not only is there humor present, along with complex plotting for the episode itself, there is an attempt to teach and provide the audience an opportunity to discuss real world issues without any preaching. This has always been the hallmark of Star Wars under George Lucas, and it is encouraging to see those who step into his shoes continuing that legacy effectively.

Zulus is to Zeb…

Act III begins with the Ghost crew making their way back to Lothal, in order to meet up with Vizago once again for their appointment to sell the arms (taken from the Imperial minister) for profit. During the sequence, with the Empire in hot pursuit, Callus shows up with walkers and troop transports to reclaim the disrupters and capture or kill the rebels that thwarted him in their initial meeting. While I’ve read and heard a number of people reference the analogy of Kallus as the Star Wars version of police inspector Javert from 1862’s Les Misérables, which could prove considerably true as the show develops, I also saw the dynamic between Kallus and Zeb here in alternative historical terms.

In the 19th century, Southern African civilizations, north of the Cape, exhibited a divergent dynamic once Shaka became king of the Zulus. Initially, prior to his reign, warfare in the region was almost non-existent. There was plenty of land and resources for one to use (contrarily exhibited in Europe and Japan, which had rich traditions of martial conflict, where you had large populations fighting over a lack of land and resources). In fact, if there was ever a conflict to be resolved “militarily” in Southern Africa, fighting would take the form of what Westerners might see as a javelin competition. In essence, the two sides would appear in a central location, with spectators surrounding the hills, and spears would be thrown by either side — though no one would be intentionally hit. When Shaka came along as a young warrior, he felt this tradition was ridiculous. He modified the traditional spear into the famous shorter weapon, the assegai. He reorganized the Zulu army, allowing them to become highly disciplined and competent warriors that actually kill, and amassed a considerable empire in the region.

With the coming of the Boers during the Great Trek — descendants of Dutch travelers and traders who had carved out an independent life in the Cape region until their annexation by the British Empire — the Zulus inherited a large scale and bloody conflict. Under the leadership of Cetshwayo, Zulu strategy and ingenuity allowed this conflict against Boers armed with firearms, and later the British armed with a Gatling gun or two, to last longer than it could’ve. Ultimately, they lost control of their lands by the late 19th century after having to battle both the Boers and the British imperial forces. Among the officers who distinguished themselves in this conflict was Sir Henry Bartle Frere and Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the latter of whom took over British military forces in the region during the Second Boer War, and expanded such ruthless tactics as the use of concentration camps after Boer farms were destroyed. So notable were the campaigns of Kitchener there, and in the Sudan region of Northeast Africa, that by the time WWI erupted, he was Secretary of War, where is visage was used in recruitment posters defining the British campaign against the Central Powers.

Kallus, Roman-style helmet et. al., fighting Zeb in a Lothal backdrop of small hill peaks surrounded by grassland reminiscent of Southern African geography, could serve as a metaphor for Imperial conflicts in that Earth-bound region, and throughout human history. We learn that Kallus was present at the destruction of Zeb’s home world of Lasan, a point of which he touts, and he revels in the bloodshed of those moments as he fights among the survivors of this deceased species — the use of the honor guard Bo-rifle and staff a tool for further cultural humiliation at Zeb’s expense. Normally a focused, confident, and fierce combatant, Zeb becomes unglued when he realizes the crate of weapons they secured earlier were a multitude of  long-barreled T-7 ion disrupter rifles previously used to destroy his people. In fact, his moment of recognizing these weapons in hangar 7 could be akin to a former Samurai, Bedouin, or Zulu warrior coming across a cache of Gatling guns — often the instrument that robbed these ancient and traditional warriors of life and liberty by the thousands during a period of shifting modernity. With the issue of nightmarish disruptors, banned by the Imperial Senate (of course, we now understand why Palpatine gets rid of this “inefficient” body once the Death Star is operational, as I’m sure he, Tarkin, and other Imperial military officials privately balked at such decisions), continuing to plague his mind, Kallus defeats Zeb in a one-on-one melee with the traditional Lasan weapons, and most likely would’ve killed him if not for the burst of Force power awakened within the young protagonist, Ezra. The intriguing aspect, moving forward, is whether this fight result was a fluke, or will the writers continue to milk the historical cow for further drama between Kallus and Zeb?

Psychological Inertia: Concerning Stormtroopers and Speed Cameras

There’s been considerable discussion online, and via podcasts, of the ineptitude of Imperial troops and pilots thus far, as depicted in Rebels. While the trooper and TIE pilot proficiency matches that of the original trilogy, affording the heroes a badge of elite prowess, this can become problematic over the course of multiple television seasons. So, while I understand the depiction, I share the long-range concerns of those who have entered this debate.  There is, however, an in-universe explanation for what we see of this current troop iteration, and why such a maladroit force could maintain an iron grip on the galaxy.

Largely, the Clone Troopers did the work of building the Empire into the feared dictatorship that gives everyone pause. For ten years, the Kaminoans grew artificial life, and train it in a sterile environment, which gives way to a more practical approach in the form of an equally engineered real-galaxy war — allowing Social Darwinism to afford Palpatine the best equipped, most experienced, and battle-hardened troops to survive and usher in the new era post-Revenge of the Sith. One of the greatest, and most subtle, lessons that one can take away from the Geonosis Arc of Season Two, and the Umbara Arc of Season Four’s The Clone Wars,  is the shear arduousness of occupying planets against their will. Human stormtrooper recruits did not distinguish themselves in the bloody conflicts akin to the carnage of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, or The Bulge, and once the Empire comes to fruition, any infrastructure that could’ve been used to resist Imperial occupation was already either destroyed or usurped, and the memories of combat against these clones, are still fresh.

Once the period of clone use begins to run aground, they are slowly replaced by inept volunteers with inferior training by comparison — a way for the Empire to save time, money, and resources while still maintaining control, as they bank on the realities of psychological inertia. It really isn’t different from the use of speed and red light cameras in and around the state of Maryland, and Washington, D.C. When speed cameras began popping up everywhere a few years ago in my area, it seemed as if everyone wished to defy them: “Oh, I’m not paying if it takes my picture…” Then, people began to get multiple violations, with fines anywhere from $40 to $75. It became such a consistent threat for people, particularly after municipalities didn’t hesitate to seek out those who weren’t paying, traffic quickly took them seriously and would religiously slow down in their location. By law in the state of Maryland, the cameras don’t trigger unless one is clocked at 12 miles over the speed limit, but often people are so paranoid that they’ll get a ticket (even after school sessions are closed, or on the weekends when many of these cameras are turned off), they are beginning to travel EXACTLY AT, or largely BELOW the speed limit. Just recently, I saw on the local news that there is a specific area where these cameras are placed, and they are inadvertently causing traffic jams because of this greater fear of being tripped up by the cameras’ eye for even trivial transgressions over the limit.

Ultimately, though these cameras work with slowing down traffic in their immediate vicinity (superficial compliance at best, but school zones and residential areas that post them are protected), they are expensive to maintain. Therefore, some municipalities (including the one in which I live) employ fake cameras strategically to elicit the same results while lowering the expense — essentially banking on this psychological inertia that was built. What’s interesting is that, over time, when certain rouges who live in the vicinity of these fake cameras repeatedly challenge their “authority” by exceeding the limit in spades, the majority of motorists still abide by the camera’s perceived authority and slow down to either the limit or below. The funny thing is even the local police chief had appeared on the news, talking about the existence of fake cameras in the area, and people still don’t want to take the chance that a camera isn’t real…even when one can clearly see there’s an empty box with a police logo on it.

In a similar fashion, this is how the stormtroopers enforce the will of the Empire in the age post-Revenge of the Sith. They are largely cashing in on the psychological inertia the clones have generated in the galaxy. They only need to show up in the intimidating white armor, with the personal weapons and mechanized equipment, and speak in an authoritative voice (see the lead trooper in ‘Art Attack’, pushing the guy from the McQuarrie poster around, saying, “Move along, this is a restricted area!”) The average person isn’t going to challenge them. They won’t take the risk…except those rebellious few.

My feeling is that, as this show progresses, and this band of rebels continue to succeed, they will attract more people to their ranks, and spread this sentiment of defiance further throughout the galaxy. I imagine officials like Callus will call upon reform in training and commitment behind the scenes, and the troopers will progressively get better. We will lose more rebels then, perhaps even one of the main characters. But, by the end of the show, they will be the troopers we are introduced to on the Tantive IV, gunning down Leia’s rebel crew. And we will look back on this season saying, “Yeah, the early troopers were just simply green back then…”

Flotsam

Ultimately, I felt this was a rather strong episode, and though I enjoyed the initial premiere immensely, I liked this more. Just some final thoughts:

  • The animation of familiar droids. While I felt the animation of C3P0 in The Clone Wars was superior to what we see of him here (though I liked it), I felt R2 looked much better in Rebels via this episode. Of course, the inclusion of the Return of the Jedi droids theme, as they trekked to Jabba’s palace, in this episode put a smile on my face.
  • Basket Case. It appears that Kevin Kiner continues to use Williams’ Basket Chase musical queue for Zeb’s theme, as it makes an additional appearance while the Lasat warrior fights stormtroopers in the hangar. While some may feel that this is an odd choice, I’ve always felt that Indiana Jones and Star Wars were close cousins, for obvious reasons. And the Lothal market square in which the Zeb musical theme first appears is somewhat reminiscent of those Raiders moments within Cairo. Indeed, the Spark of Rebellion premiere begins with a Indy-esque chase, sans a traditional Star Wars crawler opening. Why not tap Indy music as reference material?
  • Walkers. Since their reveal at New York Comic Con, I’ve loved the design of these new (or are they old) walkers. The inclusion of the Empire Strikes Back theme for the walkers, as blended with Vader’s theme by Kiner here, felt a bit over the top in this sequence to me. But it reminded me once again of something I believe absolutely needs to happen during the course of Rebels: if we are to be privy to Imperial themes, we NEED to hear the original Imperial theme from A New Hope. If Kiner doesn’t mine that during the course of Season 1, let alone the rest of the series, that will certainly be a missed opportunity that many will point out.
  • Visago v. Hondo. Though Visago has only appeared in two episodes thus far, one can’t help but compare him to Hondo Ohnaka, the famed pirate and smuggler from The Clone Wars. The sequence with him purchasing the disrupters, only to slip away as the Empire arrived, rang of the Onderon Arc, where Hondo was used to smuggle weapons to the rebels there(in exchange for knowledge of the Jedi kyber crystal complex on Illum, anyone?). The question, moving forward, is where does his character depart from that of Hondo’s, or we will have an issue of non-creative characterization where lightning does not strike twice.
  • Reusing character models. One of the notable features of The Clone Wars, in an effort to save money, was the appearance of the same few character models, in the background, often wearing different clothing, or exhibiting different skin tones, but ultimately the same face and body. We were treated to this phenomenon once again, as the model for Minister Maketh Tua first appeared in the pilot episode’s opening sequences on Lothal’s market square. Though the character didn’t speak beyond releasing a gasp as Imperial officials harassed the jogan fruit merchant, the model was there. So, as with the Mandalorian civilians, who appeared time and again on Coruscant, on Raxus, among other locals, be prepared to see this gimmick in use in Rebels as well.
  • Bail Organa and…I hope not the Sundered Heart. Yet another reason this show almost feels like Clone Wars Part II is the appearance of Bail Organa, once again voiced by the great Phil Lamar. Though his appearance in this episode wasn’t a surprise for those who purchased the Visual Guide for Rebels, it was a welcome edition. If the rebels will band together as an alliance of various cells, perhaps Organa will serve as the connective tissue. Though the pilots and personnel we see in A New Hope may not have any knowledge of the characters recently created for this show, Organa (and by extension Leia) may be the orchestrator of their coordination, and since we never see him in the original film, he’ll have a greater presence on Rebels prior to his death at the hands of Tarkin. This would effectively tie this show to Episode IV, and would flesh out why his home world was targeted in the first place — beyond the obvious conclusion that Leia was a rebel participant. Perhaps Kallus’ Imperial Security Bureau, in the final season, retraces Organa’s steps back to the formation of the Alliance, just as the plans to the Death Star are stolen. Though these new rebels may not have participated in that operation, there might be other critical developments Bail managed while Leia was away, directly tying him more to these new characters.