Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Star Wars Opera, Part I - the Tragic Hero

I was watching Star Wars II and III the other night and feeling quite disgruntled as I usually do when watching these movies. And yet, I cannot look away...

The reason is that because I am a writer, whenever a story irks me, I start taking it apart and figuring out how it could have worked. This may seem like arrogance on my part--who am I, after all, compared to George Lucas?--but writing and storytelling is my trade, and my education included analysis of great books and stories. It's not dissing Shakespeare if you analyze Romeo and Juliet to see how it works and why. Or even why it works for you and why it doesn't.

But I think that though the movies are fairly entertaining, if a few things had changed, Star Wars I, II, and III could have been a classic epic tragedy on a Shakespearean scale. It could even have been translated into a Wagnerian opera akin to the Ring Cycle. I mused briefly on this during my lunch hour on Facebook, and Emilie Storrs, an opera singer, mentioned the potentially Wagnerian aspect of the series.  She is quite right.

The thing about classic operatic tragedies, however, is that like classic stage plays, the characters must be bigger than life, and it must be clear that they encapsulate some very noble characteristics as well as some serious tragic flaws.  They must have tragic heroes/heroines.

In classic tragedy, the hero of the piece is generally a good person, but has a fatal flaw that propels him to eventual destruction of body, mind, and/or soul.
If you look at Shakespeare's Othello, for example, Othello is basically a good man. He is courageous and has integrity. You know he is because he is admired for those characteristics even amongst people who are not of his own race or country, so much so that he is given a position of great responsibility, which causes the villainous Iago to become envious and plot his destruction. However, Othello's fatal flaw is jealousy, so that it overwhelms his good sense and  and propels him to destroy, ultimately, all that he loves, including himself. Yet, Othello is clearly a man in charge, who knows how to command respect until his fatal flaw overcomes him. In the end, you grieve that such a man is destroyed; he was noble and good once, a man of honor, until he let his jealousy get the best of him.

I wish I could say the same of Anakin Skywalker. It's clear to me that his impatience arises out of an extreme need to prove himself, which is the essence of arrogance. That, in turn evolves into Anakin creating a shield of invulnerability around him, a shield made of a need to protect himself from any idea that he may be weak or unable to control his environment. And if, in the end, it means accusing those who love him as being his enemies, so be it.

All along, it's pointed out that he has the talent, but not the discipline or the patience to become, for example, a full member of the Jedi council. He is, in essence, immature and remains so until we see him as Darth Vader in Star Wars IV. He can love, it's true. But it's a childish love, not a fully adult love.

Even as the adult Darth Vader, it's clear he's as impetuous and easily manipulated as a child; he is a slave to the Emperor Palpatine until the very end of Star Wars VI. Darth Vader is clearly powerful, more powerful than Palpatine. Why doesn't he ever strike out on his own? Even become an Emperor himself? He could. He has the natural power.

The immaturity persists. In essence, Anakin never really grows up. His death in the end is the death of a stunted child in a broken man's body.

What would Anakin Skywalker as a true tragic hero look like? What would make a noble and fully-adult Anakin turn against the Jedi?

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