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Editorials

1997-1998 - 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002+



Ritual and Romance
An Analysis of the Episode Two Trailers

"I have undertaken a labor - a labor out of love for the world and to comfort noble hearts: those that I hold dear, and the world to which my heart goes out. Not the common world do I mean of those who cannot bear grief, and desire to bathe in bliss. Their world and manner of life my tale does not regard: its life and mine lie apart. Another world do I hold in mind, which bears together in one heart its bitter sweet, its dear grief, its heart's delight and its pain of longing, dear life and sorrowful death, its dear death and sorrowful life. In this world let me have my world, to be damned with it, or to be saved."
- Gottfried von Strassburg
Though these words were written in the thirteenth century, they are still every bit as applicable in the modern world. In them are contained all the stuff of the hero's journey, the ever-beckoning call of the adventure that always lies beyond the horizon of the known. Writing of his "Tristan" epic, Gottfried makes it clear he is speaking of an esoteric experience that is realized only by the chosen few willing to take the trip. A new way of seeing and a new way of feeling was making its way onto the world scene, a very personal kind of love not built by necessity or tradition, but rather in the spontaneous meeting of eyes and the dizzy rapture that follows.

Flashfoward centuries after the end of the Middle Ages, and one can find another kind of poet - armed not with words and parchment but digital film and the latest computer graphics - ready to once again sing a tale of courtly love. The mighty steeds that once galloped over field and meadow have been replaced with sleek starships traveling through hyperspace, the bumbling jester of the king with a clumsy Gungan, and Arthurian knights sporting lances with Jedi ones brandishing humming lightsabers, but the story is no doubt be the same. The poet is no longer Gottfried but George Lucas, who looks to be setting out once again to cater to the "noble hearts" of the world.

The archetypes of the romance involved here are nothing if not competent shapeshifters, and where they once had evolved from pagan Celtic myth to Christian Arthurian knighthood, now they transform once again to fit the ongoing "Star Wars" saga. Lucas has said that "Episode Two: Attack of the Clones," will be the most romantic of all the films, with Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala coming together and marrying, a union that will of course eventually produce the Skywalker twins of the original trilogy. From the early trailers and teaser posters, it is not at all difficult to speculate how this love story will unfold on movie screens this summer.

Even the simple image on the first "Attack of the Clones" trailer poster provides a wealth of possible clues. Anakin and Amidala have their backs turned to one another, the words "A Jedi shall not know anger. Nor hatred. Nor love." serving to seperate them. The stunning visual competently echoes the courtly tales that came out of the twelfth century, the lovers standing close to each other yet with their backs turned, being together and apart at the same time, a societal wall of impersonal Thou Shalt Not's keeping them from consummating their relationship.

According to Lucas' friend and mentor Joseph Campbell, the troubadours of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries discovered and brought forth a new kind of love that was unlike anything that had come before it. In "Creative Mythology," the last book in his "Masks of God" series, Campbell noted that this was the beginning of the idea that individual experience held some precedence over institutional authority. Marriage up until that time had largely been dictated by the church and state, and so the courage to love outside those systems constituted a daunting challenge that could end with death in this life and damnation in the next, but represented a turning point in Western civilization.

One of the most pivotal romances that came out of the Gothic Middle Ages was that of Tristan and Isolde. Isolde is engaged to King Mark even though the two have never even met one another. Tristan is sent to take care of her and safely escort her to her arranged marriage. Before this happens, however, Isolde's mother prepares a love potion so that her daughter and King Mark will truly be in love when they wed. As it turns out, the potion is accidentally consumed by Tristan and Isolde, and the two young lovers then act on a passion they had already felt for one another even before they had drank the love potion. They find their own identity reflected in the other person, and are willing to die for their heretical love that conflicts with the demands of both church and state.

Up until that time, Campbell points out there had really been only two types of love dominate in the West. The first was "agape," the spirtual love for one's neighbor, and the second was "eros," or the biological love of sex and lust. During the period of courtly love, however, a third type presented itself, and it was known as "amor." This was a form of person-to-person love that elevated mere romance to the level of a sacrament. It informed not only the tales like Tristan and Isolde, but also the lives of the people reading them. Such ideas are reflected nicely in the love letters of Abelard and Heloise, for example, many of which are printed in "Creative Mythology."

In an age so rich with irony, it may be difficult for us to understand the power and dynamism of such concepts. This is not simply romantic love, but the love Dante wrote of when he first saw Beatrice, a "divine Love which moves the sun and the other stars." And I think this is precisely what Lucas is trying to convey with Anakin and Amidala in the prequel trilogy. Many have noted "The Phantom Menace" seemed to bring with it a scarcity of emotions, but in retrospect the story may have called for it. Aside from the antics of Jar Jar and the occasional sly grin from Qui-Gon, the characters were deeply serious, living in a galaxy that was ruled over by the Jedi and the Republic, the "Star Wars" equivalent of the church and state. Perhaps the weeks and months on the eve of the Clone Wars are meant to represent a kind of age of chivarlry, one in which the budding love between Anakin and Amidala will change everything.

Much of the groundwork for this has been laid by "The Phantom Menace." In classic troubadour style, Lucas establishes in the script that the young Anakin is captivated the moment he sees Padme in Watto's junkshop. According to the poet Guiraut de Borneilh, true love always develops at first sight, springing from "what the eyes have made welcome to the heart." Such is clearly the case here. Anakin is also quick to attribute divine qualities to his beloved, inquiring whether or not she is an angel. Other parts are slightly modified, as instead of jousting for his lady's affection, he takes part in a pod race, and wins a hug from her when arrives in first place. Also, the lady fair usually gives her knight a token of her love, but here, Anakin presents Padme with a porch snippet he has carved for her.

Everything is set for this Arthurian-style romance, and while no one knows for certain how it will continue in "Attack of the Clones," it is quite interesting that in an interview with Star Wars Insider, Ian McDiarmid, who plays Chancellor Palpatine, describes Anakin and Amidala's relationship as having a "courtly delicacy" about it. If his choice of words is anything to go by, this seems to tie-in perfectly. The scenes in the "Forbidden Love" trailer likewise help confirm the kind of love story this will be. Anakin speaks of how "intoxicating" it is simply to be around her, and in courtly love, the man is the one who is overcome with passion, not the other way around. It is also interesting to note that both Obi-Wan and Anakin use the phrase "m'lady," which certainly echoes back to a more chivalrous time.

Just as in courtly love, the tension in Anakin and Amidala's relationship derives largely from institutional authority. Obi-Wan lectures his padawan about his "commitment to the Jedi order," and Amidala also mentions how "it must be difficult having sworn your life to the Jedi." So for Anakin, the problem is the ecclesiastical dictates of the Jedi Code. There are also rumors that Amidala's family or the Naboo ruling council likewise frown on the relationship, so she has to deal with the political claims of the state. The two at least temporarily rise above the pressures of their respective environments and wed by the time the film is over, moving beyond dogma and ritual in their attempt to forge a sacred marriage based on the middle path of "amor."

From simply the short scenes in the trailer, this is a love story carrying a lot of mythic weight even beyond the twelfth century troubadour tradition. Traditionally, the consummation of gods with goddesses has been very important in the cosmogonic cycles of the universe. Gods are usually associated with the heavens, while goddesses are closely linked to the fertility of the earth. In the Vedic hymns of marriage in India, for instance, the groom often tells his bride, "I am heaven, thou art earth." Clearly, "Star Wars" follows this pattern. Anakin is meant to walk the sky as his name says, while Amidala is bound to Naboo, a fragrant green world always in bloom. The scene where they are sitting in a green field with waterfalls in the background evokes the "Odyssey," with Demeter lying with Iasion on the fertile ground at the beginning of spring. Both are symbolic of regeneration, for the couples as well as the land. It is the union not only of male and female but heaven and earth.

Watching the secret meetings of Anakin and Amidala in the trailer as they discuss their future, however, it is clear the closest mythic bond "Attack of the Clones" shares is with the songs of the troubadours. Though largely created by the majesty of CGI, the film is no doubt a new spin on what remains an old story. With the Wagnerian power of John Williams' music in the background, there should be little doubt one is indeed seeing the latest incarnation of Tristan and Isolde forever enacting their romantic drama. The question of the individual's relationship with society will again be addressed, only this time framed by a Jedi Knight in love defying an antiquated Jedi Code that makes no allowance for the cries of the open heart. The ramifications will be felt across the galaxy as a queen loves a former slave, and inadvertently paves the way for a princess to love a former smuggler decades later.

Of course, the "Matrix" crowd might roll their eyes at the very idea of George Lucas directing a love story, smug behind their sunglasses and cynicism. The dialogue will no doubt be dismissed by some as hopelessly corny, unaware Dante found fame saying much the same thing to Beatrice centuries ago. The lines will inevitably sound horribly cheesy and even lame to those unfamiliar with the letters of Abelard and Heloise. But hopefully, the "noble hearts" of the world will know better, and leave theaters next summer with smiles on their faces.

Paul F. McDonald
TheForce.Net Guest Editorial
November 17th, 2001

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