Monday, May 07, 2018

The Droid Emperor (+ Criticism of the New Trilogy)

by Jean Paul aka Ivanuss

I saw this cool concept for a Star Wars character on r/ImaginaryJedi and it got me thinking...

How awesome would a story line in the new movies have been where the main antagonist was an A.I. like this- who could somehow wield the Force, or simulate it? What kind of interesting dynamics could have been explored if there was a dichotomy established between cybernetic intelligence vs. organic life?

In the artist's page for this rendering, he talks about this being from an alternate timeline, where the Separatist Droid Army prevails and eventually leads to artificial intelligence that can manipulate The Force:

"Some alternate history path lead to the early death of Darth Sidious (possibly at the hands of Mace Windu) before the infamous order 66. Then the separatist suddenly came with a new AI development in superior tactical droids. But something didn't went as plan. And then the AI took over and began the systematically eradication of all organic life in the galaxy. In response the fallen Republic built a response, another type of new AI that could replicate "the force" in synthetic ways. Like manipulation of gravity, magnetism, anti-matter, photon particles, etc."

How would a human (or any other sentient, biological species) address the threat coming from a computerized or robotic being that had a cold, calculating decision to destroy all life? Perhaps it isn't even a single being. Maybe there is a hive mind or collective intelligence in which the droid is just a vehicle for a digital cloud consciousness.

There are so many mind-bending possibilities, and to some extent some ideas have already been explored in other media, such as Marvel's Ultron storylines, Mass Effect games and many others. The complex relationship between human & machine is always a very relevant topic. So why didn't Star Wars go this route in the new trilogy?

I've been waiting to write this post, & thinking about level to which this single illustration intrigued me. So, to be honest, it made me realize just how un-creative the new trilogy has been when you really consider it. This is coming from a lifelong Star Wars fan, who credits these movies with heavily influencing my outlooks & perspectives on many aspects of life. I've written reviews for both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and I truly enjoyed them for what they are. However, they have serious flaws and the stories are pretty unimaginative after seeing how they are unfolding so far.

For instance, instead of something compelling like The Droid Emperor, we got Supreme Leader Snoke, whose enigmatic potential was literally cut down unceremoniously by his apprentice Kylo Ren in Episode 8. As I explained before, I understand the attempt to have a contrast between Snoke & Luke's worldly exits, but it seems like there was so much left hanging or completely untouched there. When I got my first glimpses of him in the gold robes, I thought there would be some study of him as the conniving ultra-capitalist or social elitist, with opulent gold or decorative surroundings. It would have been a great contrast to Luke's simple hermetic existence.

Nope, we got him sitting in The Emperor's Throne Room 2.0, with the exact same techno-bland "Imperial" color scheme (with some more red). Again, I understand echoing aspects of the movies or creating rhythmic patterns in visuals or storytelling, but it doesn't seem like any real conceptual risks were taken. Before Episode 7 & the first look at Snoke's hologram, I remember seeing concepts for him that looked like a snake-like alien. That would have been so much more terrifying and compelling than a disfigured old humanoid:

Which also reminds me of the overall lack of cool aliens in these movies, either new or from existing species. As someone said in a comment thread- There is a casino planet... but no Hutts are around? The crazy, yet familiar aliens are one of the main factors that define Star Wars. They were mostly absent from The Last Jedi. This, and the lack of interesting locations, led to Episode 8 feeling shallow and not very rich in world building. 

In addition to a more alien Snoke or a robotic villain, what if they drew from the Legends material & had an extra-galactic alien threat like the Yuuzhan Vong that invaded the Republic? ...Nah! Lets just have The Galactic Empire 2.0... I mean, The First Order, somehow running the galaxy again despite being comically inept. Then the Republic reverts back into the Rebellion & we're back where we started in A New Hope. Again, this is all simply a lack of imagination.

Probably the best part of The Last Jedi was the revelation of Luke's Force projection power & transcendence into the equivalent of a light body. Unfortunately, there was way less focus on Force training (both light & dark) than I had hoped. There is so much metaphysical depth to be examined, but it seems like The Last Jedi sacrificed this potential for inane side plots and nonsensical space chases.

My final complaint is how Luke was handled. I didn't mind that he exiled himself to an island on a remote planet. The fact that it was the location of the first Jedi temple made it interesting. The absurd part is that Luke "cut himself off" from The Force while in exile. This is so dumb. How can you even do that? It's like saying, I cut myself off from the quantum field. Even worse, he proceeds to teach Rey about The Force. Why would he share that knowledge if he didn't want to be connected to it? It would have been much cooler to see Luke as a wise (but still hardened) old master who sought solitude to deepen his connection with the Force and achieve understanding- not act like it doesn't exist! On a more positive note, they did do the right thing by making him win by not actually fighting at all in the final battle, a very Taoist approach to his showdown with his nephew.

Ok, so those are my rants, inspired by the excellent & imaginative concept art at the top of the post. I still love the Star Wars movies and I'm hoping that the conclusion of the Trilogy of Trilogies in Episode 9 is satisfying. It should tie up loose ends and encompass the entire saga. It is a tall order based on what has been produced so far in the new series, but there are definitely ways to bring this epic story to a fitting ending. We'll see what Disney & Lucasfilm deliver...

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