Thursday, October 09, 2014

Guest Expert James Kennedy On Why We Love Luke Skywalker, Part 3

Heres the rest of novelist James Kennedys keen analysis of Lukes introduction in Star Wars (He also had a tangent that I snipped out for now, but Ill run that next week as part of another discussion)...
25:50 Luke goes back into the garage and C3P0 is hiding. Why? Because R2D2 ran away and C3P0 is ashamed he couldn’t stop him! Luke goes right back to being a realistic kid in trouble: “Oh no! How could I be so stupid? He’s nowhere in sight. Blast! ...Boy, am I ever gonna get it. That little droid is gonna cause me a lot of trouble!” R2D2 himself problem-solved, bamboozling Luke into removing the restraining bolt so he could travel on his own to Kenobi’s. Everyone, not just the hero, is ingeniously problem-solving all the time. This is much more satisfying than just saying “the robot ran away why I wasn’t in the room” -- by introducing this technology of “the restraining bolt” that Luke was definitely responsible for removing, it makes R2D2’s running away a direct function of one of Luke’s choices, and so makes his agency feel more important in the story.

27:00 The next morning, we don’t see Luke on the farm. Uncle Owen asks Aunt Beru, “Have you seen Luke?” and she replies something like “He left early” and after some conversation Uncle Owen says that Luke had “better have those units on the south range by midday or there’ll be hell to pay.” He’s still a kid, under his uncle’s thumb, and the stakes are established: he’s in trouble, he’s got to get that robot back, it’s an expensive piece of valuable equipment!
27:25 Luke and C3P0 are in a sandspeeder looking for R2D2. They spot something that might be him on the scanner. Hit the accelerator!

27:40 We see sand people preparing to take a shot at the sandspeeder. Luke is in danger, and he doesn’t even know it! They are following Luke, coming after him! He’s in their territory.... this makes us pity him, hope that he doesn’t get hurt, that the sand people don’t get him.
27:55 Luke finds R2D2 pretty quickly, which again demonstrates that he's a resourceful problem-solver -- with a whole desert planet to look in, Luke is able to succeed at this. He’s capable of solving small problems, so we trust him to solve the big problem of the plot, eventually. Much more effective than if he had wandered in circles forever. C3P0 says to R2D2, angrily: “You’re fortunate he [Luke] doesn't blast you into a million pieces right now!” But Luke, with mature, take-it-down-a-notch calmness. says “No, it's all right, but I think we'd better go” because he knows this is a dangerous area and he's not an idiot -- again, he's good at being a canny, practical farmboy who knows the territory. When R2 says he detects “several creatures approaching from the southeast,” Luke immediately knows what's up and says, “Sand people! Or worse.” He’s informed, he’s qualified to take us on this adventure!
But then Luke does something that always made me love him. Instead of running away in fear after he concludes there might be sand people about, he grabs his rifle and says, “C’mon, let’s go have a look. C’mon!” That is: even though it’s a dangerous situation, Luke has some grit, some spirit. He doesn’t turn tail and scurry away home afraid. He faces danger, but not foolhardily -- or actually, maybe a little foolhardy, because at 28:45 a sand person attacks, and Luke is in real danger, and we hope he doesn’t die! His rifle gets broken, he rolls out of the way avoiding the sand person’s battle stick (not his first time in a fight with a sand person?) Then horrifying howl, and cut away to empty desert valley. We feel how desolate this movie would be without Luke.
29:00 The sand people drop an unconscious Luke and loot his landspeeder. There comes a scary noise and the sand people run away as an even more scary figure appears. The scary figure approaches Luke . . . what will it do?!. . . but it removes its hood and it’s just a nice old man! We know he’s nice because he’s nice to R2D2. And we also know Luke will be OK, because he says so: "Oh don’t worry, he’ll be all right.” to Luke: "Rest easy son, you’ve had a busy day.” And Luke, as always quick on the uptake, says "Ben? Ben Kenobi? Am I glad to see you!” All these cognitive jumps that Luke makes add up.
30:48 When Luke says how came to own R2D2, and mentions Obi-Wan Kenobi, he gets significant suspicious looks from Kenobi, same as with Aunt and Uncle. WHAT IS THE SECRET EVERYONE IS KEEPING FROM LUKE?? Since it’s being kept from both Luke AND us, we identify with Luke more closely.

31:45 Before they leave the valley, Luke goes back for C3P0 and the wounded robot says, “Leave me behind, I’m done for.” Luke displays his can-do, never-say-die spirit: “No you’re not, what kind of talk is that?” and carries the robot. He’s helping out his robot friend, encouraging him! And you say he’s unkind?
32:17 at Kenobi’s house. Remember, everything that is said about Luke’s father is potentially true about Luke, since Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen agreed that Luke has a lot of his father in him. He was a "jedi knight,” the "best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.” We can legitimately expect all of this to be true about Luke too, and so we have another promissory note about his character we expect to be cashed later. When Luke gets the lightsaber, and when Ben Kenobi explains the Force to him, Luke is respectful and a close listener with intelligent questions. All of this makes us like him because we have similar questions and we care too.
34:50 Leia’s complete message plays (so Luke has, in a roundabout way, accomplished that goal. He’s the kind of person who accomplishes goals! Another thing to like!) We learn R2D2 is important to the rebellion and has important info. Obi Wan takes it seriously, so that gives Luke a warrant to take it seriously without looking like a hothead going off half-cocked. And we know we can trust Obi Wan because he saved Luke's life.
35:35 When Ben invites Luke to come with him to Alderaan and learn the ways of the force, Luke is very reasonable to say no, which makes him more believable. An unstable, fundamentally unserious person would say, “You’re right, old man I just met. I’ll ditch my aunt and uncle who need me. Let’s go.” Instead, Luke says quite reasonably, “Alderaan? I’m not going to Alderaan, I’m going home. It’s late as it is.” This shows he is responsible, perhaps too much so. Ben says, “I need your help, Luke! She needs your help! I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.” (Ben, whom we implicitly trust now, is basically guaranteeing the viewer that Luke is important, needed, and valued.) Even though this is exactly the opportunity Luke has been dreaming of, he’s a canny practical peasant, and he says “I can’t get involved...I’ve got work to do...my uncle, how am I never going to explain this?”
But even though Luke refuses to help Ben, he never refuses outright: he says, “Look, I can take you as far as Anchorhead. You can take a transport there to Mos Eiseley or wherever you’re going.” Another telling line! A bad screenwriter would have Luke say, “Look, I have to go home, so you’re on your own, here’s your droid, good luck, bye.” A slightly better screenwriter would have Luke say, “Look Ben, I have to go home, but I can drop you off somewhere on the way. Where do you need to go?” But Luke’s actual line is great because of course Luke KNOWS the territory, he knows that if someone wants to get off the planet, they have to go to Mos Eiseley -- and that Anchorhead is the place that’s on the way between here and home. Luke is knowledgeable about his own world, he knows the lay of the land, so we trust him to learn about any new situation with the same detail and depth. Luke is no idle, impractical dreamer -- he understands the world he’s in, and uses that knowledge, and that knowledge shows in nearly every line. That makes us like him!
36:35 The bad guys have a conference on the Death Star. Vader chokes someone. Vader mentions the Force. Wait, Kenobi just mentioned the Dark Side of the Force! This stuff is real!
38:50 Luke and Kenobi and the droids come across the Jawa’s transport on their way to Luke taking Ben somewhere, and the transport is totally blown up, Jawas slaughtered. Luke puts 2 and 2 together and figures out it couldn’t have been done by sandpeople. Kenobi agrees and proves it must’ve been stormtroopers. Luke does another chain of reasoning that makes him realize that those stormtroopers must be after the droids, and so they must be going to his . . . home! Luke figures this out all by himself mostly, which makes us love him: he’s smart, he can figure stuff out! Luke jumps into his landspeeder and goes home alone, even though Ben shouts, "Wait Luke it’s too dangerous!” Luke is smart but impulsive. What’s not to like there?
40:00 Luke comes home and it’s a smoking ruin. He sees the blackened skeletons of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Another 30 second scene of us silently FEELING stuff with Luke while the music swells, and he gets the same determined look as when he stared into the setting sun after his quibbling dinner with his aunt and uncle. We already feel he’s grown a bit since then. Wait, did we really only meet this guy 23 minutes ago? He's already been through so much! There’s an implicit promise that he’ll continue to cause a lot of stuff to happen for the remaining 80 minutes.
40:40 Back to the Death Star. Leia being tortured. Man, this Empire that Luke is against is some serious bad news! Luke is against this? We root for him as David against Goliath! We want him to help this brave princess he’s seen in the hologram before she’s tortured to death!
41:20 Luke comes back to Ben and plainly states what he wants, now that his family has been killed: “I WANT TO COME WITH YOU TO ALDERAAN. THERE’S NOTHING FOR ME HERE NOW. I WANT TO LEARN THE WAYS OF THE FORCE AND BECOME A JEDI LIKE MY FATHER.” Clear, understandable, awesome, brave, adventurous goal. Surely we’ll follow Luke anywhere now!

I could go on and on.

Time and again Luke indicates -- in countless tiny ways that add up -- that he’s ready for an adventure and has the chops to deal with it. For instance, before they go into the cantina, Ben says “Watch your step, this place can get a little rough” and Luke says “I’m ready for anything.” A dozen of these lines, sprinkled throughout the script, are more effective than one big engineered artificial moment in which he demonstrates those personal qualities. Luke is game for this story, he wants to be in this story, he is going to succeed in this story! He’s not moping, not petulant, not whiny, not unkind.

More little things: Even when he’s in the rough cantina, Luke yanks the shirt of the grizzled bartender who has his back to him and orders something. Luke’s no shrinking violet! Even after the monster at the bar threatens him, and Kenobi cuts the monster’s arm off, Luke picks himself off the floor, says “I’m all right” and then there’s not a further word about it. You’d think he’d be traumatized, but he’s tough!
Where we really see Luke's mettle is in the way he constantly stands up to the more experienced and sneering Han Solo. When Han Solo tries to overcharge them for the services of the Millennium Falcon, Luke immediately blurts, in his canny farmboy bargaining way, “Ten thousand? We could almost buy our own ship for that!” To which Han Solo contemptuously replies, “But who’s gonna fly it, kid? You?” At which point Luke stands up for himself -- justifiably, it turns out -- and says, “You bet I could. I’m not such a bad pilot myself. We don’t have to sit here and listen to this...” And he gets up to leave -- but when Kenobi indicates he sit down, Luke acquiesces, and Kenobi finishes the bargaining. Luke is a hothead, but he isn’t a dick, and he’ll follow the advice of the guy who has stuck out his neck for him twice. Another instance of Luke being a canny practical peasant: when he sells his speeder to pay for the Millennium Falcon trip (in itself an irreversible and therefore heroic action) he can’t help but say, “Look at this, ever since the SP-38 came out, these just aren’t in demand.” He knows the value of a space dollar, and we respect that.

And so when Luke says “What a piece of junk!” upon seeing the Millennium Falcon, we’re inclined to believe him, and it sets up another way that he can be less than impressed by the less than trustworthy Han Solo. When they’re trying to leave the Tatooine system, and the star destroyers are coming after them, Luke shouts “Why don't you outrun them? I thought you said this thing was fast!” which is EXACTLY the thing you say to someone who has been boasting about how fast is spaceship is. Luke is never a docile passenger -- when Han Solo tries to bullshit his way about how much trouble they’re in, Luke reasonably snaps back “Are you kidding? At the rate they’re gaining?” He’s invested, he’s knowledgeable, he’s challenging, he has his own ideas about what’s going on, and even when he gets smacked down with Han Solo’s contemptuous “traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy!” he still keeps asking questions and having ideas.

Indeed, when they get to the Death Star, it’s Luke’s idea to spring Leia out of her jail cell; further, it’s Luke’s idea to put Chewbacca in binders and pretend he's a prisoner so they can get access to the detention levels. At almost every turn, it’s Luke who has the great idea and is pushing everyone else along.

So, what’s NOT to like about Luke?

Well, I do in fact have a few things to say about that! Come back tomorrow for my rebuttal, in which I concede some points and hold my ground on others. In the meantime, let me thank James for his not-so-brief brief for the defense! Make sure to check out his novel The Order of Odd Fish and The 90 Second Newbery Festival.

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