Friday, September 12, 2014

Anatomy of a Scene: Dooku Tempts Kenobi

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

One of my favorite scenes in the entire Saga actually comes from Attack of the Clones, in a scene labelled on the DVD as “Obi-Wan Captive”, but I always think of as “Dooku Tempts Kenobi.” For a while now, I’ve been meaning to put my (admittedly amateur) analysis skills to the test and really pick apart this sequence.

"Buzz Buzz"

First, a run-down. The scene begins at just about an hour and a half into the film (1:30:49 on the 2002 DVD), with an establishing shot of a Geonosian structure. We see inside as Count Dooku walks past some Geonosian guards, one of whom barely remembering to maintain decorum as he walks by. He enters a little circular room, in the center of which is a platform with a beam of light emanating from a small generator. Hovering in the center of the light bound in what looks to be something resembling force field tendrils, is Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom in the previous scene we had witnessed get captured and possibly injured through the hologram message sent to Anakin.

Having seen Dooku meeting with some of the more amoral groups in the Galaxy, and the battle droid factories making the Separatist movement seem ready for war, Kenobi treats him with contempt. Dooku appears nonplussed and appalled that Kenobi was captured, saying he’ll “Petition immediately to have you set free.” Kenobi plays cool as a cucumber as Dooku nonchalantly and subtly interrogates him as to his intentions. After some back and forth which will be examined more closely in the analysis proper, Dooku reveals the existence of Darth Sidious (though not his true identity) and offers Kenobi the chance to work together to bring the Sith Lord down. Kenobi doesn’t believe it for an instant and refuses, and Dooku, with resignation and a barely disguised smugness, says arguably one of the best-read lines of the Saga: “It may be difficult to secure your release.”

So, taking it back to the beginning, I want to really get into why I love this scene, everything it gives us, and the importance it has on the Saga as a whole.

"If it's not Baroque, don't fix it."

First off, while it’s certainly not the first time in the movie this is shown, the beginning does reinforce what we know about the Geonosians. The exteriors of their buildings are hive-like, not unlike African Termites, befitting their insect-like biology. Yet the interiors are beautiful gothic architecture that looks to have been carved into the living rock, yet with a few almost Gieger-esque biomechanical designs in the flourishes, further cementing their ingenuity and creativity as weapons manufacturers. True, this is all from seconds-long establishing shots, but it sets the mood – especially as the secret base of one of the more famous screen Draculas. There’s also the semi-humorous moment with the Geonosian guard that reminds us that the Geonosians are living beings with personalities (though, knowing George Lucas, he may have done something similar even with a Droid guard, since that’s the sort of thing that amuses him).

"Stay here, and make sure HE doesn't leave."

It should be noted that this is one of those scenes, due to George Lucas really putting digital recording through its paces for the first time and everything is clearer than normal, where it’s very hard to tell what is a blue-screen shot and what is actually on set. There are a few shots where, to the trained eye, it looks like a composite shot, and yet the background in the cell itself does look like a built set or at least a model. The visual effects holding Obi-Wan in place further muddy just what elements were filmed with the actors and which were not.


Anyway, Dooku enters the cell and we see Kenobi, and from here on out the entire sequence is meant to disorient us. First, the camera is placed seemingly on the floor so that we’re looking at an upward angle at these two larger-than-life personalities. This angle stays on close-ups of Kenobi, but when we close-up on Dooku during the conversation, we’re looking down on him from Kenobi’s point of view. Second, Kenobi is slowly spinning counter-clockwise through the whole scene, and Dooku occasionally circles his “cage” clockwise as he speaks to him, making the actual blocking somewhat muddled and confusing to where we’re not sure if Dooku leaves by the same door he enters (a door that, to be fair, does not appear to open as he walks into it before the scene transitions; let it never be said I ignore legitimate gaffes). This, coupled with what they’re actually saying, deepens the mystery thusfar and, while Kenobi is certainly sure Dooku isn’t trustworthy, as an audience we’re still unsure of his true motives.

Or, at least, the section of the audience who hasn’t yet seen the Darth Tyrannus action figure. Merchandising spoils everything sometimes.

"I wish Hasbro was...less spoiler-happy."

Now on to the actual dialogue. While some of it is very much the Buck Rogers Cheese that fueled the creation of the Saga in the first place, it is one of the better-acted scenes of any of the movies because Christopher Lee. His blustery and urgent “Oh no, my friend! This is a mistake! A terrible mistake! They’ve gone too far! This is madness!” is a perfect opener. Ewan’s delivery strikes one much like a generically stoic action hero, though since he is a model Jedi at a time when the Jedi were sure they were right about everything because they’re the Jedi dammit this attitude makes sense. He did just see Dooku cavorting with Nute Gunray and building Battle Droids, after all, why should he give Dooku the satisfaction of listening?

Well, because he did let some truth slip out.

But we’ll get to that. First, Dooku asks why Kenobi is here. Kenobi tries to turn the interrogation around and ask about Jango Fett’s whereabouts to no avail. The Dooku reveals an interesting piece of background information: he was once Qui-Gon Jinn’s master. This establishes a pretty cool mentor-to-student lineage that gets somewhat less cool when you realize everyone met with a sticky end, but still manages to give some insight into the evolution of philosophies and that each member is somewhat of a rebel (Kenobi the least rebellious, but still has that wry streak). You believe Lee’s performance when, as Dooku, he laments Qui-Gon’s death and wishes sincerely he were here to help.

This prompts Kenobi to utter an obvious reference to Empire. Hey, like George says, it’s poetry. They rhyme. What’s the fun of making so many of these films if you can’t be blatantly self-referential once in a while?

"That's not true! That's impossible!"

Then Dooku drops the big bombshell: the Sith rule the Senate. Darth Sidious is real, and only together can he be stopped. On first viewing, this can seem unreal, and another piece of the puzzle that you’re not sure whether to trust. Conversely, if you knew beforehand that Palpatine is The Emperor, you’re still confused – how does he know? IS he really good? What can come of this?

Now, in hindsight, knowing Dooku was a Sith Lord as well, there are several theories as to why he revealed this and asked for Kenobi’s help. To me, the most likely is that, well, treachery is the way of the Sith. If an apprentice is not trying to overthrow their master, they don’t deserve to be a Sith Lord. If he could get another Jedi to fall, even better.

But no, it fails. Obi-Wan makes another variation of the Empire reference and Dooku drops all but the merest hint of pretense.

"What...IS that you're standing on?"

So, as a brief recap, why do I love this scene so much?
1. The acting and, from Dooku’s side at least, the dialogue makes me extremely happy and is one of the better in any of the films.
2. It reveals a lot lore-wise.
3. I love a good mystery, and Obi-Wan’s story arc in the film has been a detective novel. At this point, everything is starting to come together, but there are still too many loose ends left to be sure of anything. Even with his snarky exit line, some people still aren’t sure about Dooku until he presides over the arena. Or until he’s handed the plans to the Death Star. Or, for some people, his true allegiance was even vague enough until he started using Force Lightning and pulled out a red lightsaber.

That’s when it’s safe to say he’s a bad guy.

Then again, some people knew he was a bad guy the second it was Christopher Lee, but that’s another matter entirely.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Isenguard to await some Hobbits."

Anyway, if there’s anything important you think I missed in this analysis, please let me know – I relish the chance to become better at reading these things without all the pretentiousness that, in my personal experience, film studies classes seem to engender.

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