Monday, 5 March 2012

An aside comment on the "Best Star Wars Film" debate

While I don’t want to wade too deeply into the argument, seemingly initiated by Kevin Drum’s rather absurd notion that Return of the Jedi is the best of the six* Star Wars films, regarding the relative merits of the various films in the series (see also: Doug Mataconis at OTB and Seth Masket), I do want to raise a minor point in response to Dan Drezner on the politics (or lack thereof) in the triology:

The conundrum that political scientists face is that even though the original trilogy contains the better films, the second trilogy has the better politics. There are no politics in Episodes IV-VI, unless one counts Vader and the Emperor’s wooing of Luke. In the prequel trilogy, however, there are lots of parliamentary machinations, tussles between the Jedi Council and the Chancellor, Anakin’s lust for power, and Darth Sidious’ grand strategy for converting the Republic into an Empire.

To a political scientist, that’s good stuff. To human beings interested in enjoying a film, it’s tissue paper without things like strong characters, a good screenplay, and decent plotting.

While I’m slightly sympathetic to Dan’s argument here, the reality is that the politics of the prequel trilogy are, in a word, silly, even leaving aside arguments about whether one would plausibly construct an elective, term-limited monarchy in which the only valid candidates for office are teenage girls, or what sane society would elect the likes of Jar Jar Binks to high office (ok, maybe that one is more credible). Sure, there are depictions of politics, but only within the context of political structures that make no sense, such as the Senate of the Republic (there’s a reason that real legislatures don’t have membership sizes in excess of the population of a mid-sized city) and the Jedi Council (there’s also a reason that real legislatures governing groups of people in the millions have more than a half-dozen, self-selected members).

Slathering on a layer of thinly-veiled BusHitler allegory doesn’t exactly help matters either, if only because in 20 years nobody will get the point Lucas was belaboring—to illustrate the point, imagine if Lucas had taken a 20-minute detour during Empire Strikes Back to establish some boring parallel between the political ascents of “black mayors” Walter Washington and Lando Calrissian, perhaps by giving Lando a bunch of long-winded, boring speeches that paralleled the racial politics of the early 1980s, and then imagine how that would play today.

The other problem of course is that the politics depicted in the prequels is boring. Politics of course need not be boring (for example, the writers of Parks and Recreation manage to make politics entertaining on a weekly basis), but in the hands of Lucas—who’s obviously more interested in the prequels in advancing plot only to serve as a scaffolding for spectacle rather than having the CGI elements there in service of a sensible plot—most of the politics gets reduced to tedious speeches and arguments in what seem to be shot-for-shot remakes of scenes from academic department meetings. In the hands of a skilled writer (or, perhaps more charitably, a writer who cared) I have no doubt the political machinations promised in the prequels might have been interesting; as presented, the Wikipedia summaries of them are positively life-like by comparison.

* Part of me wishes there were only three, but that might edge into the territory of Frequent Commenter Scott’s denial that the sport that is played in the American League qualifies as “baseball.”

1 comment:

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“the reality is that the politics of the prequel trilogy are, in a word, silly”

Indeed. In fact: that’s being kind.

The entire structure of the Republic made no sense. The utter lack of a military was weird as well.

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