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 Back. Star 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.
- 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.