Friday, January 18, 2013

Right Lesson, Wrong Message

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

For all of George Lucas’ so-called “tin ear for dialogue,” we forget that he’s also responsible for some classic and thought-provoking phrases. Usually these are put into the mouths of Jedi not named Skywalker.

The first such character we meet when looking at when the films were released was the venerable Obi-Wan Kenobi. For years, he was the perfect pop-culture representation of the wise old mentor (with Yoda popping up in that slot now and again). When The Phantom Menace was released, we finally met the Jedi responsible for a lot of Obi-Wan’s training, and the terrible truth.

As wise as Obi-Wan is, as powerful and loyal and dependable, he really is just a poor man’s Qui-Gon Jinn.

Qui-Gon represents what the Jedi should have been, and the fact that he’s labeled as a heretic in the order just shows how complicit they were in their own downfall in the end. Obi-Wan starts out extremely by-the-book and stuffy, and only after his master’s death does he loosen up. Sadly, he doesn’t loosen up nearly enough to effectively train a wild card like Anakin and even after the fateful duel he fails to take away the correct lesson.

Even becoming one with the Force does not give poor Obi-Wan the insight to fully understand one of his former master’s most important lessons.

When Luke Skywalker confronts Obi-Wan’s spirit about how the latter basically lied to him about his father’s true fate, Kenobi insists that he basically told the truth…from a “Certain Point of View.” He goes on to say:

“You’re going to find many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

And as much as it’s a dodge, it’s completely true. Our own points of view do in fact have great influence on every aspect of our personality and the choices we make.

Now let’s take a look at something Qui-Gon says in Phantom Menace:

“Your focus determines your reality.”

At first glance it looks like the same message. It’s not out of line to think that Obi-Wan got this lesson from Qui-Gon more than once. But there’s a huge difference in wording and context that really tells me this was one of many lessons that Obi-Wan never completely got.

Both quotes are essentially saying the following: Your view and your focus influences how you act and process information. But take a look at how it’s said. Obi-Wan is obviously using it as justification for bending the truth. “He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader.” Qui-Gon on the other hand seems to be coming from a stance he always takes: That of the living force. Your focus and point of view can influence your reality, but a focus and a view can be changed.

Both quotes implicitly say that there are many ways to look at something, but Jinn’s lesson is more about empathy. Put yourself in the other being’s shoes before you take any action you’ll both regret. Change your point of focus, and you’ll change how you feel about someone or something. It’s this last point that Obi-Wan’s version gets the closest to, but he’s using it in a more negative connotation. Which is understandable, since turning back from the Dark Side is all but unheard of because going Dark in the first place is akin to spiritual death. However, it’s still the wrong application of the lesson Qui-Gon was going for.

But maybe I’m being a little harsh on Obi-Wan. There’s nothing suggesting that he hasn’t applied the right message from that lesson before. For that matter Qui-Gon is mortal, hardly perfect, and certainly fallible. However, I personally find it fascinating to see the evolution of this thought between the bookends of the Saga, and I live my life by both iterations.


  1. "we forget that he’s also responsible for some classic and thought-provoking phrases."

    Is he, though? Anything in the prequels, yes, but the dialogue in the original films is largely attributed to (I think) Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett, who stepped in and assisted the dialogue in Star Wars and wrote Empire (Return was cowritten by Kasdan and Lucas).

    1. Assisted sure, but George wasn't resting on his laurels. The actual breakdown of who wrote what line in Empire, Jedi, and Clones may be impossible to prove, but you can bet George got a few good ones.

    2. Lawrence Kasdan didn't work on "Star Wars" (his first collaborations with Lucas were nearly simultaneously Raiders and ESB--the husband-and-wife team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz helped Lucas refine the fourth draft of the "Star Wars" script), and virtually nothing in ESB comes from Leigh Brackett. "The Making of The Empire Strikes Back" by J.W. Rinzler is a great resource, as it includes large chunks of the transcript of the initial ESB story meeting between Lucas and Brackett (wherein Lucas laid out every plot point and character he wanted included in Brackett's draft), and relevant chunks of each successive Lucas or Kasdan draft. There are also excerpts of the Leigh Brackett draft included in the book, and even tonally, it's nothing like what ended up on screen. She died early in pre-production, in March of 1978, and Lucas gave her a story credit basically out of the goodness of his heart, as there were none of her ideas in the final film.
      Here's the Brackett draft:

      Dialogue-wise, Kasdan did add a lot of "punch" to ESB, but as seen in the Rinzler book, in some cases, he simply added or omitted a word or two to Lucas' own lines (which definitely elevated the material). The idea that Leigh Brackett was the beating heart and soul of ESB is just another tired internet fantasia, borne of ignorance, and the inexplicable and venomous hatred of George Lucas.

    3. Thanks for that, Eddie. I didn't know a lot of that.

      Also, sorry I haven't commented on TPM Holiday lately, but it won't allow comments from my browser anymore (not quite ready to upgrade).

    4. Yeah, thanks- I wasn't entirely certain on my facts, especially with who helped on the original script.

      Though I do think there's a case to be made that Lucas's scripts generally work better with collaborators, as the first two films would attest to.

    5. Except that Jedi had collaborators Moreso than Hope did.

    6. Hope at about four separate people actively working on the script at any point in the production, while Return (to my knowledge) only had two.

  2. My favorite character in Star Wars is probably Obi-Wan. I do agree that Qui-Gon was probably the wisest of all the Jedi, but Obi-Wan is pretty heavily responsible for training Luke who would eventually redeem his father. If nothing, Obi-Wan is still a pretty legendary character.