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SWR Balance of the Force 1

Balance of the Force: Harmony

Balance of the Force: Harmony
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“May the Force be with you.”  Nearly forty years ago, movie-goers emerged from theaters with the phrase in their minds and on their lips.  For decades, it has prevailed in pop-culture, eventually leading to “May the Fourth” being regarded as “Star Wars Day” globally.  The Force has become part of our language, our heritage, and, for some, our mythology.  This pervasive concept struck a chord in the twentieth century that continues to intrigue the masses today.

Shrouded in mystery, elevated in mythology, the Force is the singular aspect of Star Wars that fuels imaginations, inflames passionate debates, and drives fans to theaters and television screens time and again to visit that galaxy far, far away.  From Old Ben’s vague explanation of the Force to Luke to Qui-Gon’s specific description of how the Force is sensed through microscopic midi-chlorians, viewers have learned about the Force through dialog and demonstration as characters on-screen have divulged what lies in the minds of George Lucas, Dave Filoni, Lawrence Kasdan, Christian Taylor, and other creators of the movies and shows in Star Wars canon.  Every revelation about the Force presented to audiences brings more questions as fans want to know more about this mystical energy field.  Fans want to know what the Force is, who can use it, how it works, and, of course, what “Balance of the Force” really means.

When Qui-Gon Jinn stood before the Jedi Council beside his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, he revealed that he had discovered a vergence in the Force — a boy he believed may have been conceived by midi-chlorians.  Mace Windu countered, “You refer to the prophecy of the One who will bring Balance to the Force.”  This revelation of an ancient prophecy which may or may not relate to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader penetrated the minds of fans and has generated debates and discussions (and essays like this one) for seventeen years.  What do we know and what can we infer about this “balance” from what we’ve seen on-screen in movies and television programs?

Obi-Wan explains the Force

Balance of the Force: Harmony
For those of us who saw Star Wars in order of release, rather than in chronological order, the Force was first mentioned by Obi-Wan Kenobi on movie screens in 1977.  “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us.  It penetrates us.  It binds the galaxy together.”  The words resound with the depth of hidden meaning in simple statements that sound as if they’ve been memorized from a catechism in the early years of a Jedi’s training.  For the moment, they satisfy the curiosity of young Luke, but on further reflection, there is much left unsaid.  However, the idea of balance is inherent in the harmony implied.  All living things touch the Force as well as create it.  The unity of the galaxy is dependent on each of the myriad components of the Force operating together in concert — each one gives and takes as the Force flows around and through everything.  Although all living beings contribute to and participate in the Force, Ben later explains, “…a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.”  Years later, on Dagobah, Yoda reiterates the same picture of harmony in the Force: “Life creates it, makes it grow.  Its energy surrounds us and binds us.  Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.  You must feel the Force around you.”

Yoda explains the Force

This idea of harmonious balance between all living things continued in the prequels.  When Anakin asked the question for all viewers, “What are midi-chlorians?”, Qui-Gon explained, “Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life form that resides within all living cells, and we are symbionts with them — life forms living together for mutual advantage.  Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force.”  While some fans charged that this seemingly scientific explanation removed the mysterious nature of the Force, Qui-Gon’s words did no such thing.  He simply expanded this idea of the unity of all living things inherently linked to the Force.  In the first episode of The Clone Wars, “Ambush”, Yoda encourages the three clones with him by explaining that each of them the nature of the Force and their connection to it as individuals, even though they may not sense it, “All around us is that which we need to prevail…In the Force, very different each one of you are…Clones, you may be, but the Force resides in all life forms.”

SWReport Balance Ambush

With this picture of the essential harmony of all living things in the galaxy connected by the Force, we gain some insight into what balance means.  Through the give and take of each living thing, the currents of the Force flow between every component part, linking distinct individuals together for the benefit of all through the penetrating, surrounding presence of the Force.

SWReport Balance Aleena

Nowhere is this harmony more evident than in examples of this recurring theme throughout The Clone Wars.  One example of this harmonious balance between living things is seen in in an episode which was initially disdained by many and likely largely forgotten.  in “Mercy Mission” from season four, while C-3PO and R2-D2 investigate the cause of earthquakes on the planet Aleen, they travel below ground and discover the source of the disruptions is due to a disturbance in the peace between the surface and underground realms.  Orphne, a peculiar entity seemingly composed of tiny, luminescent creatures, tells Threepio of a covenant between the Aleena and the subterranean world, saying, “We survive because the ground keeps us apart…Without going through the natural filtering process, the surface air is deadly to us.”  Those who dwelt underground believed the Aleena had broken the seal that separated their two worlds, responding by causing the earthquakes that followed.  This corresponds to what Kindaloo had already told Threepio when he rebuked the ‘droid for entering the subterranean realm:  “Why have the surface dwellers destroyed the peace?  The ground shakes to keep out the foul air which poisons and destroys us.”  It is notable that the surface dwellers were blamed for destroying the peace — the balance that had long been maintained between the two worlds — even though no evidence of this was ever mentioned in the episode.  Also intriguing was that Kindaloo seemed offended by the presence of the ‘droids, emphatically declaring that they did not “belong”.  Could this have been a reference to the idea that ‘droids, as mechanical beings, do not have a connection to the Living Force?

SWReport Balance Kindaloo

In the third season, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka experience an unexplainable phenomenon called “Mortis”.  In “Overlords, we discover that Mortis was “unlike any other, a conduit through which the entire Force of the universe flows.  This planet is both an amplifier and a magnet,” according to Obi-Wan’s vision of Qui-Gon Jinn.  On this unique world, days passed like seasons, as plants emerged with new growth every morning, matured, aged, and lost all signs of life as evening drew its last light.  When night fell, storms prevailed and visions emerged as the sleep of death overshadowed its domain.  This “conduit” of the Force reflected balance between life and death, as well as darkness and light.

SWReport Balance Mortis

Later, in the sixth season, Yoda learns more about this natural cycle of life and death as it is reflected in two distinct aspects of the Force which were sometimes alluded to but not previously explored.  In “Voices”, Yoda hears Qui-Gon’s voice while he is meditating.  Qui-Gon claims to be part of the Living Force.  When Yoda confesses that he has heard a voice from beyond the grave, Ki-Adi-Mundi responds, “The dead are part of the Cosmic Force and lose their individuality.”  The Living Force and the Cosmic Force are aspects of the Force that had been given little more than passing mentions previously.  On Dagobah, Qui-Gon’s disembodied voice instructs the old Jedi Master about these aspects of the Force: “Living beings generate the Living Force, which in turn powers the wellspring that is the Cosmic Force.  All energy from the Living Force, from all things that have ever lived, feeds into the Cosmic Force, binding everything and communicating to us through the midi-chlorians.”  In “Destiny”, Yoda reaches a planet inside which, he says, “life emanates.”  On this planet, he encounters five priestesses who again explain the balance between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force, saying, “When a living thing dies, all is renewed.  Life passes from the Living Force into the Cosmic Force and becomes One within it.  One empowers the other.  One is renewed by the other.”  After passing the various trials required by the priestesses, they inform the old Jedi that he would “learn to maintain [his] consciousness after death.  Enlightenment, spirit, balance.  There is another Skywalker.”  Yoda would be trained to retain his identity and individuality even after he died — perhaps in doing so he could help this unknown Skywalker…

When considering this harmony between all living things relative to both the Living Force and the Cosmic Force, the extreme positions of both the Sith and the Jedi seem to be disrupting this Balance of the Force.

SWReport Balance Witwer

The Sith are marked by their unrelenting desire for power.  Sam Witwer remarked in “The Mind of Maul”, a featurette on starwars.com, that the Sith cling to life because that’s all they have.  For years, fans of Star Wars have accepted that the Sith have no expectation of anything beyond this life.  Therefore, to retain their power, they seek to extend their own lives.  This, even Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Darth Sidious himself, admits “some consider to be unnatural,” while telling Anakin the Sith legend of The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise. “He became so powerful, the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power…Ironic, he could save others from death but not himself.”  To the Sith, death was to be avoided, for that would mean the loss of power.  As the final temptation to lure Anakin to the Dark Side, Sidious promised the confused Jedi, “To cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we could discover its secret.”  Cheating death would disrupt the balance between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force, refusing to return the Force of life to the wellspring of renewal and rebirth.  The thirst for power and selfish passion of the Sith had tipped the scales.

SWReport Balance Jedi Loophole

But the Jedi were complicit, as well.  Though they gave lip service to the relationship of all living beings united together, they held themselves aloof from others, forbidding Jedi to form attachments and develop relationships.  They resided in their ivory towers and Jedi temples as guardians of peace, failing to recognize that in doing so, they, too, had disrupted the balance by failing to fully interact with other living beings except to solve problems and find promising young pupils to train as Jedi. Anakin, frustrated at the Jedi doctrine, strove to find a loophole, telling Padme, “Attachment is forbidden.  Possession is forbidden.  Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is central to a Jedi’s life.”  Later, when counseling Anakin about his visions of Padme’s death, Yoda displays this calloused view towards others:  “Death is a natural part of life.  Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.  Mourn them do not.  Miss them do not.  Attachment leads to jealousy.  The shadow of greed, that is.”  It seems that through their understanding of the relationship between the Living Force and the Cosmic Force, the Jedi had forgotten that life consists of more than simply being born of the Force and returning to it at death.  Life is to be experienced in relationship to other living beings.  Their cold devotion to doctrine may have disturbed the harmony between all living things.

Both the Sith and the Jedi expressed and demonstrated extreme views which could effectively unbalance the status of the Living Force and the Cosmic Force.  Bringing balance to the Force may imply a return to the peaceful, harmonious relationship of all living beings to one another.

Keep watching StarWarsReport.com for the next article in the “Balance of the Force” series addressing the symmetry between the Light and Dark sides of the Force and what that may entail in bringing the Force into balance.

 

The Blu-ray Awakens: Our TFA Review

Just like you, I have been spending the past few days voraciously consuming all of the bonus content on the recently-released Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray.

(Thanks to the kind folks at Lucasfilm for sending us a review copy.) As always, spoilers from here on out. 

When it comes to special features and home video releases, Star Wars has had something of a rocky history. So how does the TFA release stack up? In short it is thorough, entertaining, and well-crafted. The TFA Blu-ray provides some of the best behind-the-scenes looks that I could have hoped for.

The three-disc combo pack includes an HD Blu-ray disc, a DVD, and a third Blu-ray disc that’s set aside entirely for the bonus content. For this review, I mainly want to focus on the bonus content. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the film multiple times in theaters, so how does it look at home? The presentation is absolutely gorgeous. A nearly flawless transition to home video which, with the appropriate home system might even be a superior experience to seeing it on the big screen. (And you can save $8 on theater popcorn.)

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There is one reason why you should absolutely pick up the Blu-ray release. And that is the special documentary Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey.

This is divided into four chapters and offers a remarkably in-depth look at the entire production process of the film. Expect in-depth interviews with the likes of Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and much of the cast and crew chronicling the entire production process from an inside glimpse at the audition tapes, to the pre-production art phase, the construction of all the amazing creatures, and finally the incredible creation of the final tragic moment of Han Solo’s death.

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What really surprised me about the documentary is how it takes a rather raw and honest look at some of the difficulties that come with revisiting all of these beloved characters so many years later. For both the actors and storytellers, there were a number of challenges which were highlighted by Carrie Fisher and her transitioning back into the role of Leia, Mark Hamill and how to approach the mystery of Luke, and of course Harrison Ford.

God bless Harrison Ford.

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The man gets the character of Han Solo more than I dare say many fans do. At one point during the documentary, Ford spoke to the need to have Han Solo add weight to the story through personal sacrifice. That kind of understanding of the impact of the character Han Solo has on Star Wars fans and cinema in general coming from the mouth of the actor who portrayed him was just incredible. But, there are many such moments in the documentary. Touching moments with JJ, wondering if he could succeed, from Fisher, who was nervous reprising her role, to Ridley, apprehensive about her first day on set with all the attention focused on the scene she was filming. This is the single best feature of the entire Blu-ray release, and takes the viewer on a true behind the scenes experience not just with the technical movie-making process, but the emotional part, the challenges of creating a film, and the reverence that its creators had for the source material. The responsibility felt by everyone involved in creating the film was tremendous, and that dynamic shows clearly in the documentary.  

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The single issue I might have with the Blu-ray is how some of the more dramatic, insider elements of the production are either briefly covered, or not even covered at all. The writing process and transition from Michael Arndt to Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams is very quickly covered, and the entire faulty “hydraulic door” ordeal with Harrison Ford was simply omitted from the documentary. I imagine this is still an ongoing issue for the studios, so they simply didn’t cover it, but I think it would have been nice for fans to get an inside look at how that affected the production process of the film. However, that might best be saved for a making-of book years down the road.

The Blu-ray release features 5 additional featurettes:

  • The Story Awakens: The Table Read
  • Crafting Creatures: Building BB-8
  • Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight
  • ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force
  • John Williams: The Seventh Symphony

Of these, I have to say my favorite of these is The Story Awakens. It was absolutely incredible seeing Mark Hamill read the script for the actors’ first gathering together. The other amazing feature was John Williams’ 7th Symphony. The fact that at 84 years old, John Williams is still able to put such enormous effort, heart, and joy into a Star Wars score is just absolutely awe-inspiring, and it’s a great privilege to witness his creative process.

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Overall, The Force Awakens Blu-ray is nearly every bit the release I was hoping for. There might be some additional deleted scenes that would have been nice to see, or a little bit more of the dramatic creative process during the early production, but I have to say I’m very pleased with the with the TFA Blu-ray, and look forward to many more re-watches of the film itself and the behind the scenes content!

Go buy it now!

-@TheRileyGuy

Full TFA Review… Part 2 – CCC Ep. 031

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We’re back scoundrels! Finishing up our in depth review of Star Wars The Force Awakens with part 2 of our two part review! This film as just too packed to get into one episode, so if you haven’t already, go back and download episode 30 before diving into this one.

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Don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes!

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January 2, 2016

Star Wars: Before and After The Force Awakens
The Ever-Changing Han Solo
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For over two weeks, The Force Awakens has been rewriting history at the box office as ticket sales have catapulted Star Wars back to the front of the pack as it shatters records on its way to reclaiming the title of “Highest Grossing Movie” in our modern age.  But the bigger story is how J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have rewritten history through Han Solo: the Rebel Alliance General, smuggler, and war hero.

After the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm (for the explicit purpose of obtaining all rights to Star Wars), they clearly stated and widely publicized that the Expanded Universe was officially considered non-canon.  This announcement was met with mixed responses from fans of the saga as many who had invested time, money, and quite a bit of emotion in the books expressed disappointment, frustration, and even resentment at the news.  Other fans of the EU understood the need for this clarification, since the storytellers of Episodes 7, 8, & 9 would need the freedom to conclude the Skywalker saga without being restricted by hundreds of stories about Han, Luke, and Leia and their adventures after Return of the Jedi.  In effect, Disney would be rewriting the history many of us had accepted and appreciated for decades.  But that isn’t the biggest rewrite, either.

Star Wars artist Spencer Brinkerhoff III displays his opinion of the cantina showdown.  There's no smoking gun on Greedo's side.

Star Wars artist Spencer Brinkerhoff III displays his opinion of the cantina showdown. There’s no smoking gun on Greedo’s side.

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This is Why ‘Empire’ is the Best Star Wars Film

“No, I am your father.”

Anyone who hears those words, probably recognizes one of the most iconic cinematic revelations in film history. This was the very moment that Darth Vader revealed his true identity to his son, Luke Skywalker in the second film of the original Star Wars Trilogy. At that very moment, audiences around the world screamed “NO” in unison with the the hero, Luke Skywalker. This is the most impactful scene of the film, and possibly of the entire saga of Star Wars movies. This scene is an example of how well the movie was formed.

Father

Filmmaking is about capturing the imagination of the audience, it’s about being able to submerge the audience in the tale that is unfolding on screen. To accomplish this, the filmmaker must have have relatable characters. Those characters must also develop. They have to change and grow. Characters simply can’t remain the same throughout the plot and still be interesting to the audience. A main character or protagonist should be able to grow and mature in the story. These principles are at the core of great storytelling. Additionally, the writing  must be done well. One could have very interesting characters, but without convincing dialogue or convincing moments in the script, they have nothing. This is the aspect of filmmaking that makes the characters relatable. Nothing jerks the movie-goer out of an immersive, cinematic experience more, than poorly written dialogue. Cringe-worthy writing is nowhere to be found in Empire. A good film needs a good director, one who understands the cast and crew, and can get them work together to bring the best of their talents and abilities to create the best possible product. These are all absolutely necessary aspects of a good film, and The Empire Strikes Back achieves all of these with near perfection.

When talking about good filmmaking, anyone would agree that character development is key. Sadly, often there is a very surface-level of character development in popular films, especially in science fiction. However, throughout Empire, there are numerous examples of how the main characters grow and change in totally unexpected and remarkable ways. For example, Luke Skywalker learns what it truly means to become a Jedi Knight through the teachings of Jedi Master Yoda. Throughout the middle act of the film, Luke trains with the wizened Jedi Master and learns that it takes more than strength of will or strength of physical force to defeat the evil in the galaxy. It will take a strength of character. Yoda teaches Luke that he must “let go” and “unlearn what he had learned.” Luke learns that he must be serene and willing to let go of personal desires to overcome his greatest challenges. Additionally, the scoundrel of the film, Han Solo, grows as a character as he begins to care more for Leia. He starts to put her needs before his. No longer is he just in it for the money. He comes to care for Leia and for his friends and willingly sacrifices himself for them at the end of the film, when Darth Vader freezes him in carbonite. This was an act of almost serene bravery that the viewer wouldn’t have expected based upon what we knew about Han from the first film, In the first film, he was a quintessentially selfish scoundrel nearly incapable of thinking about anyone but himself. These examples show how much care and attention was given to the characters and their development throughout Empire.

Yoda

Secondly, I’d like to address the quality I most enjoy about The Empire Strikes Back, the genius script. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, The Empire Strikes Back script is nothing short of brilliant. Primarily, the script is able to focus on the characters, not the story. As a film goer, we don’t usually care about the events in the movie nearly as much as we care about the characters in the movie. At least, this is the case when dealing with good writing. Furthermore, there is a sinister edge to the writing of Empire that goes against traditional cinematic conventions. Its not a “happily-ever-after” fairy tale. In the most traditional sense of the word, Empire is a tragedy. No one “comes together at the end.” No one rescues the girl, and things don’t “just work out” in the end. Empire has an old school, frustrating cliffhanger where the audience discovers the terrible truth about Luke Skywalker’s father. It’s almost like watching an old Flash Gordon serial. The film has a sort of “Tune in next week!” quality to it. It was a big risk telling a darker story with Empire because the first Star Wars film was so financially successful. It would have been tempting to recreate the formula that made the first film great. However, George Lucas and the creative team were willing to take the risk of telling the darker and grittier story. It was a bold move, and one that paid off in the end.

Lawrence Kasdan

Finally, I’d like to highlight the absolutely unparalleled direction of the film. Irvin Kershner, the director, was an absolute genius. As director, he was able to pull the best performances out of the main actors and bring forward a level of chemistry that is quite rare in Hollywood. Specifically, he was a master at facilitating remarkably compelling, off-the-cuff, off-script moments. An example of this would be Han Solo’s line of dialogue as he’s lowered to his fate in the carbon-freezing chamber at the end of the film. The audience isn’t even sure he’ll survive, and as Leia finally confesses her love for him,  Han simply says “I know.” Now, originally the response to Leia’s line was supposed to be “I love you too.” That was the boring, traditional Hollywood response anyone would expect. However, Harrison Ford didn’t like that dully predictable response so he played with the line until it felt right, and that’s when Ford came up with the “I know” response. This serves as an example of how Kershner, as director, facilitated a free-flowing, creative environment on the set.

I know.

This much focus on the organic, character driven aspects of the film is what made Irvin Kershner such a great director. He was never going to let the spectacle of a Star Wars movie get in the way of the story. that would have to have been the ultimate temptation. It happens in Hollywood all the time. Filmmakers are so tempted to showcase all of the brilliant special effects and computer generated animation that simply shows of the technological accomplishment of the film, and in so doing, they forget about the most important part, the story. Kirshner, came out of an old school Hollywood, an era of filmmaking that appreciated the characters, and appreciated the story.

Many agree that Empire is the best Star Wars film. There is an acceptance of the film that runs deep in our popular culture. Most people really enjoy Empire, but they don’t consider why. It’s important to contemplate what makes a movie great if one wants to fully appreciate it. Empire is by far the best Star Wars film, simply because of how the main characters are developed throughout the film, the absolutely genius script, and the unparalleled directing of the film. When Hollywood looks at the gold standard for a sequel film, they should look at The Empire Strikes Back.

Riley Blanton

Host of the Star Wars Report podcast, Tech enthusiast, AFROTC. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of… well… other people.