Friday, April 11, 2014

Insect Politics

(Originally Written to Jedi News)

No, this article is not about the deleted Separatist Kangaroo Court scene, though I will say that if George ever does a Special Edition of Attack of the Clones, I’d love to see it put back in, in one form or another.


"Machines making machines - how perverse!"

The Trade Federation B1 Battle Droids were, at least in the Phantom Menace, a formidable fighting force in spite of their inherent disadvantages. However, the biggest complaint against them from certain audience members wasn’t their limited programming. It was their propensity to be cannon fodder.

You see, Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars movie to show the Jedi in their prime, and the weapon of the Jedi Knight is the Lightsaber, which has been shown to cut through even metal like a hot knife through butter. We’ve seen numerous times what they can do to living flesh, and it ain’t pretty.

Apparently, this vocal group of viewers wanted to see the damage those lightsabers could do full-force to some living things, and saw the Battle Droids as George Lucas trying to get away with politically-correct bloodless carnage for the kiddies.

If you’ve been following my column, you know I think there’s all kinds of things wrong with that sentiment.

"Never Forget."

First off, this actually is a series of kid’s films, so what’s the problem? Second of all, why would you want to see that in the first place? Third of all, have we forgotten the impalement of Qui-Gon and subsequent bisection of Maul? Not to mention the fiery deaths of various podracer pilots proving that Lucas doesn’t pull his punches as much as he’s accused of.

Well, regardless, Lucasfilm apparently heard these cries and gave the people what they wanted in Attack of the Clones. Not that anybody seemed to notice.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the Geonosians.

"Need a Hand?"

Don’t you remember how these living beings where sliced up by Anakin’s lightsaber in the Droid Factory? Not to mention graphically dispatched in a number of other ways during that sequence and the subsequent Arena scene?

"Out to Lunch"

Well, I have, and to tell the truth it always bugged me.

Pun not intended.

"He'll never be the head of a major corporation."

Well….maybe a little intended.

It’s not so much that Lucas gave such graphic demises to living beings in Star Wars; though that part does disturb me, it’s not as though Star Wars has ever been bloodless. What bothers me more is that nobody reacts with the same sense of unease at the Geonosians’ deaths as I do. And I think it has to do with the fact that they’re Insectoid. They push the fringe of the Humanoid classification so much that the audience doesn’t sympathize with their deaths.

That is, for lack of a better term, severely messed up.

"Two days to Retirement."

It further complicates Anakin’s character that he willingly ends all these lives instead of finding a way to disarm them. Even though he’s protecting Padmé, he’s also still trying to repent internally for the Tusken incident. Is it further foreshadowing how far he’s willing to drop to keep himself and Padmé safe? Or is it indicative of the Jedi order at this time, paying lip service only to using their skills for defense and not attack?

"Love to stay, but I've got to split."

 As much thought as George Lucas puts into things like this, I have my doubts that he intended for his audience to be thinking so much about the lives of these unfortunate Geonosians and the impact of their deaths. But at the same time, I hope he did, because this is a debate I wouldn’t mind having about Star Wars. Not, you know, fighting against unfair criticism.


  1. Is that seriously what some people felt about the battle droids? A really disturbing point of view to have...

    The complaints I always heard about the droids were that they never really posed a discernible threat to the Jedi- which seems fair (and I know it's a view I subscribed to a while ago), but is also kinda bollocks when you really look at it...I mean, did we ever *really* think Luke/Leia/Han were gonna be gunned down by stormtroopers? Was that ever *really* a possibility? Of course not- anyone with half an awareness of genre tropes would know the heroes are impervious and are gonna get by relatively unscathed- heck, even kids pick up on that pretty quickly. So what if the battle droids are an easy threat- if they were harder the heroes would win anyways, and I'm not confident there's a real advantage to making them "more difficult" anyways.

    I have lots and lots of issues with the prequels, obviously, but I stand by the battle droids as a really good concept with a lot of good potential behind them. The one complaint I heard that I actually did agree with was that they acted almost too human to be really interesting- like, if they functioned more as a hive consciousness and like actual robots they'd appear more menacing and a bit more memorable. Which is fair.

    On the subject at hand though- I oddly never had an issue with the Geonosians. I think because the morality involved in having them as de facto villains is pretty by-the-book when it comes to science fantasy tropes, so isn't something that immediately sticks out. You're right, though- there is something there that merits discussion.

    1. I think that the droids were pretty inhuman in their monotone and ("Coruscant...that doesn't compute" notwithstanding) were a legitimate threat in Phantom. Actually, one of the few beefs I have with Clone Wars (and technically Revenge of the Sith since that's where it started) is that the voice work there not only made them too human, but too ineffectual and stupid.

    2. The complaints I was hearing was talking more about logistics- the fact the ships mostly all had pilots and the droids all communicated to one another- all very human ways of looking at an army. Would've been interesting to have seen an army where even the ships were automated machines and the robots stayed mostly silent, functioning as they would on a single wavelength.

      Agreed, though- Phantom gets them the best, and it's really the later films that muck them up like that.

    3. Well, the so-called Vulture Droids, regardless of mechanics in video game adaptations, are meant to be automated.

    4. Yeah (I was actually reading a review recently of the new LEGO set of that ship where the central complaint was "they gave it a stupid pilot"). Unfortunately, they're the exception to the rule (think stuff like the AAT, MTT, etc.), though if I recall AOTC did have more automated ships than the other two films.

    5. That sounds about right, what with the Battle of Geonosis.

    6. ROTS had quite a bit of automated ships with the Tri-fighters and droid gunships, that is besides automated ground forces such as Tri-droids, tank droids, and crab droids.

      The reasons the battle droids talk in human ways is more for audience convenience which alot of films dealing with robots are guilty of. Much like Nute's hologram orders to the battle droids.

  2. The TF shuttles in TPM and AOTC are also automated ships, while Grievous shuttle in ROTS had a cockpit. As far as film canon goes the MTTs could be automated, we never see a dorid operating them like with the AATs. I don't count those cross section source books as true film canon since they blend in EU sources. I only go by what is seen or said in the films anymore.

    Back in 2002 when I first watched AOTC in threaters, a woman in the threater strangily laughed whenever a Geonosian was killed. It was weird. Many PT detractors complain about the Clones Wars in the PT films just being "toy armies" with "no one to care abou"t, such BS. Forgeting about the Naboo, Gungans, Geonosians, Wookies, etc fighting and dying to protect their home planets in the different battles. Too many people turn a blind eye to such details. Plus they are forgeting that clones are still living beings and it is really wrong of the Republic to use them. Of course cloning beings as troops is something the Empire would do and foreshadowing.

    1. I always forget we don't see if the MTT has a pilot in the films- my memories are always clouded by the LEGO sets, which always included pilots.

      And re, "toy armies"- beyond the fact that the *majority* of the conflict in the Clone Wars is clones vs. droids (we barely if ever see the Naboo and Gungans fight, and the Geonosians and Wookies are in isolated battles), I think the complaint has more to do with how much the conflict is "army vs. army" with little actual stake in what's being lost. It's what the Clone Wars show did well (from I what I remember of it)- it actually gave us people and characters to care for in the battles themselves, instead of it being faceless masses shooting each other down.

    2. Actually, that's kind of the entire point - the Clone Army was popular in-universe because it was faceless rather than sending people's children to fight a war they don't believe in. As an audience, we're meant to raise an eyebrow at this reasoning.

    3. Yes the idea of the clones is they would fight and save the Republic without it's people having to fight and die. The irony is the clones were set up to later oppress the very people they were supposed to save. The two armies are supposed to have little to lose, though the droid armies have the least to lose since they are easily replaced machines. The films show that alot of different races get caught in the conflict, and the series showed more of this. I think it is mainly that it was something the fans weren't expecting, the Stormtroopers were once "goodguys" who fought with the Jedi against a group of quasi-government megacorporations over free trade. (Which according to Biggs from a deleted ANH scene, the Empire would take over all trade, destorying capitalism).

      Common with fan rewrites is having the Jedi with a recruited stormtrooper type army fighting a clone army, usually a Sith one. Why some fans are so obsessed with recruits is beyond me. Personally I find clones and droids more interesting since they are faceless.

      Speaking of deleted scenes there is another one from AOTC where Ki-Ai-Mundi (I think that is how it's spelled?) leads a grop of Jedi onto the bridge of a droid control core ship, only to find the droids could no longer be shut down by taking out the control ship.

    4. It's Ki-Adi-Mundi, and that's interesting.

    5. "As an audience, we're meant to raise an eyebrow at this reasoning."

      Really, though? How is this displayed tonally through the film? It feels like for the most part we're invited to revel in the spectacle of the battles instead of being forced to consider the consequences.

      "The films show that alot of different races get caught in the conflict"

      Offhand I can think: Utaupans, Wookiees, and Geonosians. That's about it- everyone else are either Clones, Jedi, or Droids.

    6. "Really, though? How is this displayed tonally through the film? It feels like for the most part we're invited to revel in the spectacle of the battles instead of being forced to consider the consequences."

      "Victory? Victory you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun the Clone Wars has." Followed by clonetroopers boarding at the republic battleships under the sinister red sky underlined by the Imperial March Theme. For me that was enough of a tonal display.

  3. The 3 races the films show imply that there are other races also being caught up in the war, but the main bulk of the fighting is done by the Jedi, clones, and droids since they are the bulk of the two main fractions' forces. There is a scene in ROTS with Ki-Adi-Mundi leading a charge in a battle ravaged city, that local race got screwed with their city now in ruins. Plo-Coon is seen flying over another city before being shot down. ROTS also showed Neimoidian soldiers at CIS HQ besides battle droids. The Mustafar natives also seemed friendly to the CIS with a few standing guard at the landing platform which Vader lands on. I think the films make it clear that locals joined sides when war came to their world. Showing 5 examples is quite a bit really.

    1. The scenes with Ki-Adi and Plo-Koon weren't even a minute long, and were spent entirely focused on their deaths. Same goes for most of the other races- they're *there*, but the films don't really focus on them at all and they're eclipsed in the face of the Clones vs. Droids conflict.

      Which, depending on how you approach it, isn't even necessarily a bad thing- but if your point is that the films were showing planets getting caught up in a meaningless war, it didn't really do a lot of actually *showcasing* those planets. Like, I seem to recall the Utaupans getting a nice scene in ROTS, but that's about it- the actual effects of the war on the varying planets is not developed substantially at all.

    2. That's because the focus is the Anakin/Padmè/Obi-Wan story, just like the focus of IV-VI is Luke/Han/Leia. In either case there's enough in the background to indicate the bigger picture if you know where to look, but it's the personal stories that Lucas feels is more important.

    3. And I don't even think I would argue that the original displays that much of a "bigger picture" beyond what's immediately important to the characters. Like, it'd be difficult to point towards Nien Numb and Admiral Ackbar in ROTJ as the films showing us multiple planets joining with the rebellion, and it's not an argument I would make. Is there evidence for it? Yeah, of course, and you definitely point to proof that such a thing is happening, but it's not something the film decidedly chooses to show us.

      And again, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing- it really depends on the goals of the films and where their focus is meant to be. In this particular case, I do feel the lack of focus on the wars' effects on the systems weakens ROTS's initial impact- for a variety of reasons, but the chief one just being that it always feels like it's supposed to be a much more destructive war than what we actually end up seeing. The lack of consequence in this case rubs up against what it feels like ROTS is trying to do.

      Now, that last point can certainly be argued (and I think a discussion on what Lucas's point with the Clone Wars is certainly has merit), but I don't believe you can make a substantial argument that the later two films meaningfully show us multitudes of planets getting caught up in a destructive and ultimately meaningless war.

    4. Again, most of this stuff is window dressing for the personal stories of the main characters and thus more implicit than explicit. You can argue whether or not this was a wise move, but it's consistent with Star Wars in general.

    5. Yeah, "window dressing" is I think an accurate term. Like I said, totally not at all a necessarily bad thing, it just depends on the goals of the specific film.

    6. It also doesn't mean there wasn't thought and meaning put into it.

    7. Oh, absolutely- but it does impact the effect it has on the story at large, and how that gets parsed out to the audience.

      Ex. say there's a background character in a movie that you spend a huge amount of time crafting a story and character out of, and he's complex and interesting and all this, but he only shows up in the film for maybe 30 seconds. You can't deny there was thought and work put into that character, but it's not a thought and work that the audience is going to care about.

      (that point isn't meant to be analogous to anything in SW, btw- just an illustration to highlight what I'm meaning. Though EU fanatics do seem to have an inability to parse out that distinction from time to time)

    8. "Like I said, totally not at all a necessarily bad thing, it just depends on the goals of the specific film."
      And the goal of this specific film is to tell a personal story with the clone wars being just a "window dressing".

    9. "The scenes with Ki-Adi and Plo-Koon weren't even a minute long, and were spent entirely focused on their deaths. Same goes for most of the other races-"

      The sequence show the daths of other Jedi as well. They may not be minute long, but they are still there and therefore they can´t be ignored. Are you suggesting that they don´t count? Even those quick shots were enought to see other planets caught up in the Clone Wars.

    10. The whole Order 66 sequence was an homage to The Godfather anyway. I don't remember most of those victims getting a whole hell of a lot of development beforehand (haven't seen it in a while, so I could be wrong), but it still effects you.

  4. What lack of consequences? The Clone Wars had long lasting consequences that sets up the civil war in the OT. BTW, in ROTJ, the large Rebel ship was clearly seen being crewed and operated by Mon Caramari, their race was clearly providing support to the Rebels.

    "Meaningfully" as the way you put is is pretty subjective and can easily be used cas a way to "move the goal posts". Clearly we interpret the films very differently. To me and others the later two films do meaningfully show us multitudes of planets getting caught up in a destructive and ultimately meaningless war.

    1. "The Clone Wars had long lasting consequences that sets up the civil war in the OT."

      I was meaning more how we're shown the consequences of what the war is actually doing to the galaxy as it happens. The destruction on planets, the deaths and losses, how the galaxy is being ravaged by this war. A lot of this is production design stuff, but it's also intrinsic to the story as well.

      Because, yes, the consequence of the Clone Wars is that the galaxy is driven to accept an Empire led by Palpatine, and it's how he takes control over the systems. But we don't really see the *path* to how the galaxy got to this point- how the war got so destructive that an Empire seemed to be their last, desperate hope.

      (incidentally, because I feel I might be coming across this way, this isn't me wishing for "dark grittiness" infecting my Star Wars- I already don't care much for ROTS for how dark it gets. It's that I honestly feel this is what Lucas's intent was with Palpatine's masterplan and the overall arc of the film- my point is that I don't believe it was carried out as effectively as it could have been)

      'BTW, in ROTJ, the large Rebel ship was clearly seen being crewed and operated by Mon Caramari, their race was clearly providing support to the Rebels."

      Well, like I said, background aliens aren't really proof of the films providing meaningful evidence of "multiple planets joining with the rebellion". And what I mean by "meaningful" is- are there scenes devoted to the purpose of showing us this? Are these conflicts dramatized through character? Is this a fundamental part of what the film is showing us- is this point being dramatized through the narrative? And in either case, I don't think it is. Again, not necessarily a bad thing- it only is if that point *is* something you're trying to display meaningfully to you audience.

    2. There were other species there as well.

    3. "But we don't really see the *path* to how the galaxy got to this point- how the war got so destructive that an Empire seemed to be their last, desperate hope."
      And do we really see in OT how exactly does rebellion affect the galaxy as a whole?

  5. I have to say that part of why this doesn't bug me is because you could argue that most of the Geonosians don't really have free will or free thinking of their own (except for Poggle the Lesser), since they seem to be more like mindless drones that simply follow the Queen's orders and don't have free will or free thinking (this is fully fleshed out in TCW). Their not really individuals and it could be said that they are almost animal or beast like in nature.

    And since I don't see it as morally wrong to kill animals or such- I really don't have much of an issue with the Geonosians. Also we have to realize that Anakin is trying to protect himself (and Padme) from these creatures who several times try to kill him with these blasters, and other times he doesn't kill them at all and merely pushes them with mechanical hardware out of the scene.

    The difference with the Tuskens is that he isn't acting in defense, he is acting aggressively out of pure anger and hatred. Also, the Tuskens are probably more Humanoid in the sense that they are more individualistic and such (although to be fair they are a bit of a mystery). Also, I think that Anakin's conflictive feelings out of the issue speak for themselves: He clearly knows it was wrong to kill the Tuskens because of how he reacts in the homestead, realizing that they are individuals like him. We don't see anything similar with the Geonosians, so it's easier to come to a conclusion that the Tuskens are Humanoid-like aliens that simply live savage lives as nomads, where as most Geonosians are mindless drones that work for the Queen of the hive, and are basically animals.