Triumph of the Whills Or Everyone Knows It's Windu By Mike White. Afew weeks after the release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I received an email from a posting on a "Phantom Edit" Yahoo...
Afew weeks after the release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I received an email from a posting on a "Phantom Edit" Yahoo.com Group. The writer was seeking more information about the "Journal of the Whills," a document which he believed to contain the entire outline of George Lucas’s Star Wars hexad. Coincidentally, only days before I had been speaking to a friend who had been living under the mistaken impression that Lucas had long ago published a series of books which he has since been adapting for the silver screen. Where were the ideas that the Star Wars films published pre-existence originating?
According to Laurent Bouzerau’s Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, "It all began in 1973 when Lucas sat down and wrote a forty-page outline entitled ‘Journal of the Whills.’" Later, this phrase would be re-used as subtitle for a few of Lucas’s drafts of the original Star Wars screenplay ("From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whills "). In these later instances, the "Journal of the Whills" served only as a fictional tome that contained the entire history of Lucas’s inter-galactic setting. In this way, Lucas’s "Journal of the Whills" became a nod to the many books to which Frank Herbert referred in his Dune series. Often, chapters in Dune begin with quotes from more "official" historical records of the "known universe," making Herbert’s story feel like the inside scoop on the life of Muad’dib.
The original "Journal of the Whills," however, was a forty-page outline about "Mace Windy, a revered Jedi Bendu of Ophuchi as told by C.J. Thorpe, Padawaan learner of the famed Jedi." From this proximal incarnation of the Mace Windu character name, one might begin to get the impression that Lucas had his six films laid out some four years before the release of Star Wars. However, I opine that Lucas has been myopically struggling to piece together his "grand scheme" for the last three decades and will continue to do so long after his two trilogies are complete.
Why should I blaspheme the holy word of Lucas? Why would I doubt that Lucas has had every detail of his Star Wars films nailed down from the get-go?
First, I should remind the reader that Star Wars didn’t have the "Episode IV" title until after its initial release. More than the confusion of an audience when they saw that they were watching the fourth part of a series, Lucas had little knowledge of forethought that his film would spawn such a following. When Lucas announced that Star Wars: A New Hope (a title not instituted until the late ’90s) was indeed the fourth film-making his first of many changes to his completed work-he stated that there were to be nine films in the Star Wars saga. He also claimed that only three characters would be in all nine films: C3-PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca.
If you ask George Lucas about this today, he’ll deny that he ever said that there were nine films in the series. His "original vision" called for six and that’s all he’s going to create (and, damn it, the title for that third film was always going to be Return of the Jedi...). Meanwhile, it seems that Yoda has replaced Chewbacca as the series third recurring character (most likely at the behest of Hasbro). And, more than being an expansive tale starring the droids, the Star Wars films have become the creation and unraveling of the Skywalker family.
Rather than expanding the universe, Lucas has been narrowing the scope of his tales with each subsequent film (and, perhaps, will revise his earlier films to fit this new vision). On the surface, it is "cute" to have cameo appearances in the newer films by characters who will show up in the original trilogy. But, what Lucas doesn’t seem to realize is that he’s making the universe a very small place.
For example, did the fate of the Fett family really need to intertwine with the Skywalkers? Does this enrich the narrative or merely cheapen it? Perhaps the only benefit of introducing Boba Fett’s father for the film series is making the death of Boba less embarrassing in Return of the Jedi. Instead of being a cool, competent bounty hunter, Boba seems sired from rather inept stock. In Attack of the Clones, the senior Fett, Jango (Temuera Morrison), subcontracts a simple job that gets botched twice, allows himself to be sought out twice, and dies with less of a bang than a whimper.
Certainly, it’s understandable that some of the character and place names in the Star Wars universe might have shifted and mutated from the earliest outlines to later drafts. Lucas tended to grab onto words and move them about until they fit his fancy. For example, the aforementioned Mace Windy was to become Windy Starkiller-seven year-old twin brother of Biggs Starkiller. It wouldn’t be until The Phantom Menace that Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) made his appearance and it wasn’t until Attack of the Clones that this character actually did anything.
Apparently, names and places weren’t nailed down until the shooting of Star Wars began. In a bootleg tape of auditions for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa, the dialogue has a familiar ring to it but is oddly skewed (see sidebar). Instead of Alderaan being destroyed by the Death Star, Han and Luke visit the remains of Organa Major. Meanwhile, they discuss the plausibility of venturing to the Alderaan system, as if it were the heart of the Empire.
I lost my faith in George Lucas’s ability when he undoubtedly felt that he was coming into his own. Lucas apparently bought into his own hype and felt that he could do no wrong. The resulting travesty was THE Return of the Jedi. This film serves as the most damning evidence that Lucas may have had some vague notion of the larger scheme of things but no clue about the execution of the later films.
If Lucas had known that Luke and Leia were siblings, he might have reconsidered the romantic overtones of their relationship. (That newlyweds Anakin and Padme are framed nearly identically at the end of Attack of the Clones as Luke and Leia were in The Empire Strikes Back serves as an eerie reminder of the siblings’ potential romance.) Likewise, did Lucas’s grand scheme include multiple reincarnations of the Death Star? And, were missing limbs a motif?
After Return of the Jedi, Lucas’s self-delusion spiraled out of control back at Skywalker (not Starkiller) ranch. It’s obvious that Lucas didn’t spend the years between Episode VI and Episode I boning up on his writing skills or cementing the details of the first three Star Wars films. Despite claims to the contrary, Lucas still doesn’t have a firm hand on these new films. The mercurial nature of the films is best evidenced by Lucas’s heeding of public opinion about The Phantom Menace. Nowhere in Attack of the Clones do midichlorians rear their ugly head. Likewise, Lucas diminished the role of the universally execrated Jar Jar Binks.
Stalker Wooing Can’t Lose
While a vast improvement from The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones is not free of flaws. Of all the disappointments in Attack of the Clones, the greatest has to be the movie not living up to its potential. The film’s most interesting character, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee)—the only Jedi who truly knows the score—alerts Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to the presence of Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid). Wouldn’t it have been far more interesting if Dooku, indeed, were the lone visionary? The longer the Star Wars saga goes on, the dumber Jedis appear. Not only do they not believe Dooku, the Jedi Council can’t grasp that if there are only "good" Jedis around that anyone meant to "bring balance to the force" is destined for the Dark Side!
Mid-way through Attack of the Clones I was terribly bored, listening to Anakin’s "stalker wooing" of Padme (Apparently the way to Padme’s heart is through appealing to her with constant jabber, digs at her profession, and psychotically slaughtering Tusken Raiders) I began to wonder how differently Attack of the Clones might look when it’s projected digitally. Suddenly, I felt ashamed. I realized something that George Lucas has yet to do. It doesn’t matter how good or bad a movie looks it’s the story that’s important.
Recalling the unneeded additional bits to the "special editions" of Lucas’s original trilogy, these extra scenes and shots constitute nothing more than bitter eye-candy. Lucas seems more intent on examining what he can show via special effects than what he can do with a solid story. Rather than enhance the films, Lucas has built in unnecessary distractions and destroyed pacing.
Like those new scenes, Episodes 1-3 of the Star Wars saga are extrinsic. While Lucas may not have nailed down enough about this universe to produce convincing storylines for Episodes 1-3, his early work with his myriad drafts and notes provided the original Star Wars with a rich back-story. The events outside of Luke Skywalker’s little world made for a narrative that felt truly galactic. Again, by strip mining the pre-history of Star Wars and dealing solely with the life and loves of Anakin Skywalker, Lucas has devitalized his work.
Rather than showing some panache and making films that break new ground, creating the first three episodes takes all the skill of shooting fish in a barrel. If the filmmaker and the audience are painfully aware of how these characters will end up, the journey from Point A to Point B should at least be interesting. Alas, so far Lucas has yet to recapture the imagination or accommodate the attention span of his audience. Lucas appears under the delusion that the only prerequisite for a grandiose film is that it have a running time over two hours.
For someone who claims to have had Star Wars plotted out to the last details, I contend that Lucas is stumbling through the dark when it comes to these new films. He knows where he needs to get these characters but he’s clueless about how to get them there. Don’t be surprised if Episode III: Revenge of the Sith has the same herky-jerk pace with more clunky dialogue. In order to keep his "small world" mentality chugging along, I reckon you’ll see cameo appearances by even more characters who shouldn’t be in these films-most notably any members of the Solo or Chewbacca family (perhaps the triumphant return of Itchy?). The only character that I would welcome would be Grand Moff Tarkin.
Lucas will certainly wrap up the events of these first movies and make sure that they tie into his original works. He’ll initially snip off every loose end and then cement the relationship by further digital integration of the first three episodes with the last three. Don’t be surprised to see Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) have a tearful reunion with his daughter, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) when she safely returns to the moon of Yavin in "A New Hope." I mean, we’ve already got Temuera Morrison and Ian McDiarmid coming back to redub Boba Fett and the Emperor and Hayden Christensen showing up as a ghost in Return of the Jedi. The madness won’t end here.
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