WELCOME BACK TO THE DYM OFF-SEASON STAR WARS SPECTACULAR!!
If you're just joining us, check out the intro here, PART 1 here, and PART 2 here.
PART 3: THE TRILOGY OF CIVILIZATION
In PART 1 we established the first principle of The DYM Ultimate Star Wars Theory - the calculated synchronicity between the trilogies. Within the instances of synchronicity, we also began to identify ways the Trilogies have changed - we see the same themes treated in increasingly mature ways. That's the second principle of our theory, and the topic of PART 3.
Which brings us back to our initial thesis:
It's preposterous that some people love the old Star Wars and hate the new ones.
Now, in real life when people tell us they "don't like Star Wars anymore because it changed," we usually don't hit em with the "Synchronicity" part first. What we usually want to say is: "You shoulda changed by now too, dontcha think?"
So when we say "every new Star Wars is made to appeal to a new generation" we don't really mean the stories are ripped from the days headlines. Rather, every new* Star Wars conveys the Saga's ongoing intellectual development - the same sort of development the audience presumably undergoes over the years as well.
As people grow, there is a basic pattern to the way our minds develop. The rough overview we'll describe here is more-or-less the accepted view of western science and philosophy since Plato (see "Allegory of the Cave" here). On a macro-level this is the way our intellectual faculties develop over the course of our lives, on a micro-level this is the process we go through any time we learn new concepts or skills:
Experiencing something new always begins with confusion, and we interpret things we don't understand at first through images and metaphors.
At some point we begin to notice patterns, we now can begin to extrapolate concepts from the particular examples we have seen.
Finally, a formal understanding is reached, where we behold more complex ideas and reflect on their relationships to other ideas.
The father to our style of poetic irony here at DYM, the great Giambatista Vico, gave an artful account of this development pattern in his magnum opus “The New Science.” He masterfully combines both the macro and micro level phenomena we just described in a "Philosophy of History" which describes the evolution of the human mind through changes in language, art, and civic organization throughout history. He identifies three distinct eras of humanity as the Ancient, Medieval, and Civil eras.
The corollaries between the three modes of intellect, Vico’s three eras, and the three Star Wars Trilogies will be quite clear.
Vico's formulation characterizes each of the three eras in three ways:
Each of the three eras is distinguished by a predominant intellectual bent or “school of thought” (Imagination for the ancients; objectivity for the middle ages; reflection for the civil age).
The nations of each era take on distinctive forms of civic order and government (theocracy, monarchy, democracy).
The literature of each era is marked by a characteristic figure of speech (metaphor, synecdoche, irony).
These eras repeat throughout history in cycles as civilizations rise and fall. For instance - the fall of the civil age is what he calls a "barbarism of reflection." Where devastating wars are fought over material gains instead of for any moral cause. Huh. Through the corso and ricorso of time (cycle and counter-cycle), the height of reasoned reflection will always be succeeded by a return to imagination and myth.
Vico's "History of Nations" is primarily a metaphor for the development of the intellect, not a factual historical discourse. You may experience this cycle within your own mind many times over during your lifetime. The experience is described, quite unintentionally, by Obi-Wan early on in the first Star Wars film:
On Tatooine, old-man Obi-Wan lives in the barbaric "ancient" times.
When he introduces the lightsaber to Luke, he calls it "an elegant weapon for a more civilized age ... before the dark times." Of course the Republic Era was cold and brutal in ways Obi-Wan is well aware of. A little later in the film, he won't be shy about publicly dismembering people with that "elegant weapon.” Then, in Episode III we'll see that that was a go-to move back in his "more civilized age." But now in this "ancient age" of the Original Trilogy, his experience is defined by mystery and confusion, and no one feels more out of place here than the sober, rational Obi-Wan. His disposition is clearly more suited to the Medieval Age of Objectivity in the Prequels.
The real message here is that old people, taken aback by the way things have changed during their lifetime, will always believe that the world used to be "more civilized" back when they better understood their place within it.
Original Trilogy: Ancient Age of Imagination
In Vico's account of the "ancient age," people understood the physical world primarily through the imagination. Without even rudimentary scientific explanations for their world, they crafted mythological tales as a way of describing their experience* of that world. They understood themselves and their own minds better the rest of the things around them. So, they imagined gods as the motive forces of the nature, and made those gods in their own likeness: “for when man understands he extends his mind and takes in the things, but when he does not understand he makes the things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them.” (Vico 405).
The defining trait of ancient language is metaphor - describing what is not seen by representing it abstractly with a more familiar image.
The civic and political order of the first age is Theocracy. So, embracing your community's religious symbols and traditions is the primary rite of passage in ancient social and civic life.
The Original Trilogy clearly represents this ancient age of metaphor. This part of the connection is simple, since George Lucas painstakingly incorporated so many classical mythological images into the Original films (more on that in PART 4).
But there are more contextual indications as well:
In A New Hope the Jedi are literally a myth, they no longer exist, and their order is a relic of a forgotten past. The most powerful force-wielder in the galaxy wears a mask at all times.
Nonetheless, Luke ventures to become a Jedi when there are no others. Luke must represent the Power of the Force entirely in his own person. He must become the Hero (the god) in order to survive in a world ruled by mysterious forces.
The Force is referred to as a ‘hokey religion’, yet it is clear that those who abide by its traditions rise to the greatest levels of power.
Prequel Trilogy: Medieval Age of Objectivity
The Second Age of man is defined by people with a more objective bent, but an incomplete understanding of that which they see. In this age people seek to understand the universal laws of nature, but objectivity without formal concepts leads them not to a scientific understanding, but a simplified, yet intelligible, projection of their imediate observations. So their language relied on simile and synecdoche - taking a particular instance as representative of the universal. Thus it is the age of monarchies and feudalism - where the Lord's will is said to be "the will of the people". It is a violent and oppressive time with draconian punishments for petty crimes, institutionalized duels, and the guiding principle is might-makes-right. All this is due to the mental habit of elevating the one above the many, and thereby ignoring that which is not seen: “Thus the term 'mortals' was originally and properly applied only to men, as the only beings whose mortality there was any occasion to notice.” (Vico 407)
The Prequel Trilogy is the medieval age of objectivity. The Prequels look markedly different from the Originals because they were shot almost entirely on green-screen sets. The CGI characters look objectively more real than the bulky costumes and animatronics of the originals, but the alien worlds and spacescapes we see in the films are actually computer generated facsimiles. They are only a rendering of an image of the real world.
In the Prequels:
We see Vader (Anakin) without a mask. He is real, the Jedi are real, the Sith are real. In fact, the entire galaxy is dominated by its most powerful force-wielders.
Jedi dogma is a contentious issue (see PART 2), where the Jedi are accused of inserting their own will as the will of The Force. The Jedi are embedded in the legislative bureaucracy of the Republic, and are the chief law enforcers. We see the wisdom of the ancients (as prophecy and visions of the future) questioned by both Jedi and Sith alike. There is a cold calculus at play in both the Jedi’s pragmatism and Palpatine’s criticism of the Jedi.
Anakin, the ostensible hero, tends to make choices based on emotions that rise in him in response to cursory impressions of the world, without a greater perception of right and wrong. His ill-begotten choices make Episodes II and III are the most brutal, and bleak of all Star Wars films.
This objectively realistic portrayal of Jedi life does help advance the Saga by open the messages of the Prequels to modern audiences. Instead of the Jedi being remembered gloriously through the rose-tinted glasses of their legend, we see the full power of the Jedi in the Prequels and also their failings. In The Prequels we can learn from observing the Jedi's mistakes. As Lindsay Romain wrote in a recent Medium post: "Repression of love and sex is what killed the Jedi. That is fact. Anakin’s great love for Padme — a forbidden romantic love—drove him to madness, and ultimately, to the destruction of the order that claimed to be above such frailties. That was the lesson of the prequels: that silencing your humanity is to annihilate it."