Friday, December 29, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast – CCAD016 – Last Jedi Predictions

Sean and Andrew get ready for THE LAST JEDI by going over their last minute expectations of the new STAR WARS movie. How will the philosophy of the Jedi and the Sith be represented? What is the fundamental Taoist philosophy of the Jedi and the Sith? Get ready to have your mind blown.

And don't forget to buy Sean's new book, THE MYTH AWAKENS, which explores the mystery and the philosophy of EPISODE VII! Now available on Amazon... just sayin'...

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD015 - Unknown Regions

Sean and Andrew continue their pre-EPISODE VIII discussion of what the future may hold. The secrets of Snoke's orgins in the Unknown Regions, the fate of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and the Jakku operations of Gallius Rax... This one's got it all, folks.

You can follow even more theories of what might be and what might have been in Sean's new book, THE MYTH AWAKENS, available on Amazon in Kindle and print!

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD014 - Balance of the Force

Sean and Andrew catch up on STAR WARS theories leading up to the release of the new STAR WARS movie. Gotta get this stuff out there now, since the movie’s quickly rendering these theories obsolete.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017



Here’s another example of a visual effect that initially seems like it’s just there be cool but is actually symbolic of deeper meaning in the story: Before Poe is captured, he fires at Kylo Ren. Astonishingly, Kylo is able to stop the blaster bolt in mid-air. This is so shocking to Poe, in fact, that he is too stunned to offer any further resistance. At the end of the scene we see that Kylo just as casually allows the bolt to complete its original course, striking the spot where he had previously been standing. This imagery of the bolt, which looks like a lightning bolt hanging in mid-air, likens Kylo to mythical masters of the elemental aspects of the storm. Even his lightsaber looks more like a living flame or a harnessed thunderbolt than those seen in other STAR WARS films. Palpatine evoked the same imagery in a much more powerful way in EPISODE VI, when he literally hurled lightning at Luke Skywalker. Storm Gods and their accompanying imagery play a major role in mythology, for good or ill. Later on I think we’ll see their symbolic importance in this story as we begin to understand more about Kylo’s nature and his past.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Myth Awakens, Part One!

With the first STAR WARS trilogy, George Lucas successfully translated the classic hero’s journey from ancient myth into the mainstream understanding of modern popular culture. We witness young Luke Skywalker, a humble farm boy, receiving a Heaven-sent message with a call to adventure which leads him to a kindly old wizard who gives him a magic sword and takes him beyond the limits of the world as he has always known it. From there he storms a fortress, saves a beautiful princess, travels through the belly of the beast to discover his true nature in a celestial temple, and comes into contact with a spiritual power that allows him to face off against a black knight and destroy a near-indestructible monstrosity capable of devouring entire worlds. It is a story resonant with the classic mythological motifs that Joseph Campbell identified in the first part of his book, THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. George Lucas followed up on Luke’s adventure by outlining the history of Luke’s father Anakin Skywalker, the hero fated to doom the galaxy to the evils Luke would later be tasked with undoing. In Anakin we find a more primordial archetype of the hero. His fate is not defined by moral pretext, but rather by a mandate to uncreate the world he is born into and recreate it in his own image. This too is echoed in THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, but instead of following the young hero as he assumes the role of the World Redeemer, the hero of the prequel saga is the pitiless embodiment of the Cosmogonic Cycle. He is the inevitable dissolution of one generation and its ideals as it is being succeeded by the next. So we have two trilogies of films covering the spectrum of classic hero stories and archetypes. This also represents George Lucas’ complete contribution to the STAR WARS saga in film. Is there anything left to say? When Lucas sold the franchise to Disney in 2012, it certainly seemed that the core story was over. Even when Disney announced that they were planning a third trilogy of films that would continue the story in EPISODE VII, the question remained as to whether there was anything new that could be introduced to the overall mythology of STAR WARS. In order to address that question, it’s worthwhile to analyze the latest addition to the saga as its own story, as a continuation of the original films, and as a return to the mythic themes the STAR WARS movies have always so successfully explored.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS podcast - CCAD012 - Han Solo Dos and Don'ts

Sean, Andrew, and Lynn discuss the recent troubles with the HAN SOLO spin-off film, providing a few dos and don'ts for the project moving forward.

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TV Ate My Dinner Episode 272: Wonder Woman!

Sean, Andrew, and Lynn discuss Wonder Woman, contrasting it with (of course) Batman v Superman and speculating about the possible future of the DCEU. Now that Patty Jenkins has introduced a brighter, more hopeful model that can make money and satisfy fans and critics, could this be a turning point for the DCEU? With Joss Whedon overseeing the new direction of the Justice League movie, what might we be able to expect from that movie too?

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD011 - The Cosmic Force

Sean and Andrew explore the physics and mythology of Force Ghosts and how they relate to the prequels, THE CLONE WARS, and the original STAR WARS trilogy. What did Qui-Gon Jinn return from the grave to teach Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi? Why do Yoda and Obi-Wan vanish when they die? Why does Anakin return as a Force Ghost? From their experiences on Mortis to Morabund, what do the Jedi learn from the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn and what will it mean for Luke Skywalker in the STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI?

Listen Now!

 Here's the official info on General Hux's cat:

Check out this awesome cover of The Force Theme by Scandroid!

Here are the articles being discussed in this episode:

The Living Force: The Gods of Mortis
The Living Force: The Trial of Yoda
The Living Force: The Redemption of Qui-Gon Jinn

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD010 - The Living Force

Sean and Andrew explore the physics and mythology of Force Ghosts and how they relate to the prequels, THE CLONE WARS, and the original STAR WARS trilogy. What did Qui-Gon Jinn return from the grave to teach Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi? Why do Yoda and Obi-Wan vanish when they die? Why does Anakin return as a Force Ghost? From their experiences on Mortis to Morabund, what do the Jedi learn from the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn and what will it mean for Luke Skywalker in the STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI?

Listen Now!

 Here's the official info on General Hux's cat:

Check out this awesome cover of The Force Theme by Scandroid!


Here are the articles being discussed in this episode:

The Living Force: The Gods of Mortis
The Living Force: The Trial of Yoda
The Living Force: The Redemption of Qui-Gon Jinn

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Body Worship in the Age of Superheroes

This isn't a new development in the world of movies, especially with the advent of superhero films, but body perfection in movie stars and heroes is becoming more and more of a troubling necessity. In an age devoted to the shaming of body-shamers, there's still no end to the amount of scrutiny that goes into the physical state of any actor with the misfortune of being cast as one of our heroes.

Including, but not limited to, armpit airbrushing scandals...

But that's too broad a topic to tackle and it's not news to anybody that it's happening. What I really want to focus on is an odd bit I noticed during my obsessive investigation of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. One of the standout items that made the movie not work for me was the fixation on portraying Batman and Superman not as men of heroic character, but as unrepentant badasses. This is comically embodied in a scene where Batman is dragging tires around the Batcave in preparation for a fist fight with Superman.

The scene goes on for a really long time during what is supposed to be an emotionally resonant sequence for Batman. So why does Zack Snyder think he's expressing Batman's mental state by showing him drag stuff around and beat a tractor tire with a sledge hammer? I just figured "so, Zack Snyder's a crossfit buff or something, I guess, right?" I don't know anything about crossfit or workout fads or, to be honest, exercise in general, but the details of Batman's training regimen were so oddly specific that they seemed like they must be part of some sort of extreme workout plan.

Then I saw this promotional picture of Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill...

"Wait a second..." I said out loud to myself for no reason. "Does that shirt say 'GYM JONES'? What the hell is a GYM JONES?!"

GYM JONES sounds like a suicide cult for fitness freaks, but I thought surely the obvious reference had to be inadvertent. So I checked out the GYM JONES web site to see what it was all about. This exploration did not make it any less weird."We call you to join our movement," their web site says, offering two levels of membership: Monk and Disciple. The site uses religious terminology throughout, encouraging prospective members to adopt a "daily ritual" to find a "path to salvation". But, more germane to my purpose here, the site boasts that it offers "TRAINING FOR SUPERHEROS [sic] AND EVERYDAY HEROS [sic]".

And that's the part that brings me to the point of this article. If you follow Zack Snyder's promotion of his films, it becomes apparent that he's a pretty big fan.

You can find pictures of Snyder in his GYM JONES T shirt on so many occasions that it's practically his superhero uniform. From a promotional panel at Comic Con (so you know he's not wearing it for the purpose of product placement), to a promotional picture for BvS, and even on the set of BvS. This last time he's even completing the outfit with some kind of Under Armor arm brace. My vision of Zack Snyder is that, at any given moment, he could cast off whatever clothes he's wearing and be prepared to engage in an impromptu workout. You know, just in case someone randomly accuses him of not being able to do a thousand one-handed push-ups.

Zack Snyder's not just a fan of GYM JONES. He's also a client. A pretty big client, it would seem, because he has brought GYM JONES co-founder Mark Twight in as the personal trainer for the stars of Batman v Superman, Man of Steel, and 300. Twight is renowned for whipping stars into shape to become literal supermen for their roles. And he does an amazing job of it.

So what's wrong with that? Don't we expect to see superheroes bursting with muscles in these movies?

Yes, but we also accepted Michael Keaton as Batman because of his performance. He didn't actually have to physically become the paragon of physical stature that Batman is in order to convincingly play the role. His preparation was more mental than physical.

In "The Cult of Physicality" a 2011 NY Times article by Brooks Barnes, Mark Twight admits that the GYM JONES name is an overt reference to the infamous Jonestown cult leader who orchestrated the deaths of over 900 of his followers. Since they knew they were going to be likened to a cult, he and his wife decided to "own the joke". That's a hell of a joke to stick your flag in, if you ask me. No matter how zealous your program is, a tongue-in-cheek homage to a mass murderer is, to say the least, in poor taste. But I guess the measure of good taste depends on who's pouring the Kool-Aid and who's drinking it.

If it were me, I probably would have gone with Scientologym. But that's just me.

GYM JONES' entire mission seems to be to forge humans into superhumans. Even their logo depicts the same graduation to physical perfection that Bruce Wayne originally attained to become Batman:

Of course, the one-handed lift isn't good enough for GYM JONES. 
If you really want that defined muscle tone, you've got to counter-ball it too.

"Meet the Trainer Building Hollywood’s Most Fit Superheroes", a 2016 Vanity Fair article by Michael Joseph Gross, outlines the arduous training of Zack Snyder's superheroes, but more importantly it explores the history of his relationship with Mark Twight. Before either of them had risen to their current stature in their respective careers, they worked together on commercial shoots that Snyder was directing. They found such a kinship in their mutual devotion to physical fitness that they have worked on numerous projects (most significantly, Snyder's films) since 2001. According to Twight, Snyder even inspired the GYM JONES name by joking that Twight could get people to "drink poison in the jungle".

This over-emphasis on body-building gives us some insight into how BvS was such a festival of greased-up man-wrestling that it could have been directed by Mac from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. You think I'm overreacting? Look at Ray Fisher preparing for the role of Cyborg in the upcoming Justice League film:

For more details on Fisher's workout regimen, you can check out an article from Men's Fitness called, and I'm not at all kidding: "Damn, Ray Fisher Is Getting Unbelievably Jacked to Play Cyborg in ‘Justice League’" (written by Matthew Jussim).

This isn't so weird, since Fisher is preparing to play a member of the Justice League, until you think about who he's playing. In the movie, Cyborg looks like this:

"I was just nuts and bolts before I started hitting the weights."

Notice anything different about Cyborg? Yeah, he's 90 % CGI in the movie. Fisher's whole face isn't even showing, but he has to get so jacked up that even Men's Fitness is taken aback by it? Seriously, for the amount of the actor that is actually used on screen, Peter Dinklage could play Cyborg, so what makes this physical transformation necessary?

You may be thinking (hypothetical devil's advocate that you are): So what's the big deal? Zack Snyder is a fitness buff who believes in literally transforming actors into their comic book counterparts. If that means making everybody look like they just got back from a sabbatical in Eternia, that's just the price of making a movie that is a real life comic book, right?

That's where I think it's interesting to note the character who didn't have to go to He-Man boot camp: Lex Luthor. Like most comic book characters, regardless of their origin or purpose, Lex spent a lot of time parading through the comics in a spandex jumpsuit that required a certain amount of muscle (and self confidence) to wear.

Both of which apparently allowed him to survive getting punched in the face by Superman.
There have been a lot of versions of Lex throughout the years, but he's usually portrayed as being physically fit for a human being.

Even in the old Super Friends cartoon, Lex is a muscleman in purple spandex who just happens to be the evil genius inventor of... whatever the hell this thing is:

"Pay no attention to that thing back in the corner. In fact, let's just forget you ever saw that, okay?"

But not Zack Snyder's Luthor. His Luthor is the least muscular incarnation of the character ever. Jesse Eisenberg is a great pick to play Lex Luthor, if you're not trying to literally transcribe the look of the characters from the comics to the screen. But isn't that exactly what Snyder is trying to accomplish? Isn't that why he saw Henry Cavill as shown below and thought he needed a lot more work if he were going to be believable as Superman?

Sure, he's handsome and all, but he could stand to work out a little...
In a production where Snyder felt we needed an Aquaman who could beat up the Hulk and a Batman trained by a guy who trains actual Navy SEALs, he clearly went the other way when it came to the main villain. Suddenly it's ridiculous to transfer the comic book character physique to the screen, but what's the difference? Why is it necessary that everyone on the right side of the argument has to look like this...

... while the only villain in the movie who isn't a henchman or a cartoon cave troll should look like this?

In his defense, he's more of a cardio guy than a weightlifter

The difference is where it all breaks down, I think, based on a few basic assumptions I'm making that aren't overtly stated by anybody. Luthor is the bad guy. Eisenberg doesn't need the spiritual awakening of excruciating exercise that Snyder thinks is a necessary rite of passage for his heroes. Luthor can't be a model of physical perfection because that model is held as sacrosanct in its embodiment of everything heroic. So instead of GYM JONESing into a transliteration of his comic book counterpart, Jesse Eisenberg's Luthor is a whiny little nerd whose main mission is to make life miserable for the world's finest superjocks.

You might argue that Luthor has had many incarnations, not all of which were classic muscle men, just as you may argue that Luthor doesn't have to be physically strong because he is defined not by his strength but by his intellect.

To that I offer two points for your consideration. First, is the conflict between heroes and villains simply a contest of brains versus brawn? It may appear that way in Superman's case, but is that really the interpretation we want to land on in how we portray them? Superman is good and dumb while Luthor is smart and mean? Doesn't that decompose the concept into a presumption that intelligence is tantamount to wickedness? And in the case of Snyder's films, where the emphasis leans so heavily toward the physical aspect of the heroes, doesn't that suggest that those who are physically fit are also somehow morally superior? That's the ultimate expression of "might makes right".

My second point is that Luthor is not particularly smart in the film. He has a lot of convoluted plans that are supposedly smart but only work because Superman and Batman are too dumbfoundedly obsessed with each other to notice them. He doesn't really do or say anything smart in the movie; he's just a sniggering little sociopath with daddy issues so profound that they stand out even in a movie where everybody is twisted up in a state of emotional paralysis over parental loss.

It would be a fair argument to note that Lex Luthor has never been portrayed in the films as a muscled-up strongman. But that doesn't carry much weight considering the fact that Zack Snyder doesn't exhibit any desire to make his Superman movies anything like their predecessors. In fact, he seems baffled at the public's nostalgia for them. In a 2014 interview with Mark Hughes for Forbes, Snyder expressed how confusing it was to him that fans still clung to the Christopher Reeve interpretation of the character. He defended his portrayal of the character as being in a real world and illustrating real-world consequences to violence.

Such as, when you punch somebody through a building, the building explodes - that's just good science.

"If you really analyze the comic book version of Superman," Snyder said, "he's killed, he's done all the things...that we've shown him doing..." Snyder fully believed that audiences were offended because he made the character real and not because he chose to focus on all the darkest aspects of the comic books and call that real. In the end, Snyder's vision isn't any more realistic, it's just a lot more depressing.

But again, Snyder's concept of reality is largely based on how realistic the actors' muscles are in the film.

"How can you be depressed looking at these sick pecs, bro?"

In defense of Zack Snyder, I was and am a fan of Man of Steel. I didn't have a problem with the story, the portrayal of the character, or the violence of that film. But in BvS he cranked the "real" violence to 11 and broke off the knob when he had Superman getting nuked by the government while trying to punch Doomsday to the moon. So the argument that Snyder was shooting for realism in the action of that film is as valid as the belief that his portrayal of Lex Luthor was in any way rooted in reality either.

Snyder's cavalier attitude towards Lex is even more dramatically represented in his regard for the character he originally approached Jesse Eisenberg to play:

Bet I can guess what movie Superman is watching.

In "Batman v Superman: Jimmy Olsen appearance revealed", a 2016 article on, Anthony Breznica discusses Jimmy Olsen and Jesse Eisenberg with Zack Snyder. Snyder explains that originally he wanted to bring Jesse Eisenberg in to do a bait and switch cameo where he would come on, introduce himself as Jimmy Olsen, then get shot in the head. As Snyder put it: "...we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters, but we can have fun with him, right?”

And what's more hilarious than shooting someone in the face? It really puts this comment in perspective when you realize it comes from someone who thought naming a gym after a mass murderer was a funny idea too.

After meeting with Eisenberg, Snyder was impressed with how crazy he was and decided to cast him as Lex instead. Inexplicably, he left the Jimmy Olsen sudden-death scene in the film, but cast Michael Cassidy, a talented but less prominent actor, in the role and shot him in the head instead. I guess they realized that having an actor who hadn't been part of the marketing push get killed in the first five minutes wouldn't have as much impact, except to confuse the audience, so while Cassidy still gets to get shot in the face, the introductory scene that establishes him as Jimmy Olsen was cut from the film. Even more inexplicably, it's restored in the hardcore R-rated Ultimate Cut, because failing to provide any other narrative purpose for the scene, Snyder was still bound and determined to murder Jimmy Olsen.

Seems there's no room in the "big pantheon" of heroes for anybody's sidekicks.

I'm not trying to tear the man down, really I'm not. There's nothing wrong with being a fitness buff, even if your devotion to it borders on maniacal. A person as obsessed with Superman as I am doesn't have any business casting stones at people who have a much more useful outlet for their obsession. And it's admirable that Snyder and his actors have this level of dedication to their craft. So I'm not in any way saying that being fanatical about working out is a bad thing or speaks in any way toward your character.

You have to separate the artist from the work, but I believe these attitudes speak to Snyder's state of mind as a storyteller. There's no place in the world for Jimmy Olsen in Snyder's "big pantheon of characters" because there's no place in his story for mere mortals who lack the commitment to develop a god-like physique. Every heroic aspect that Superman and Batman display in BvS is expressed through a feat of athleticism. Neither of them seem to have an ounce of emotional maturity or a clearly defined ethic. Even when they confront each other ideologically, the only thing they can think to do is have a fist fight.

And that's where I wonder if body image in general is the problem. Superman doesn't have to have muscles. He doesn't work out, his powers come from the solar radiation emanating from our yellow sun. He'd be exactly the same hero if he looked like this...

Although his power to get through doorways might be a bit compromised.

The superhero aesthetic is athletic perfection for men and sexual contortion for women. Some of the same fans who balked at Zack Snyder's approach to Superman were questioning if Gal Godot were voluptuous enough to play Wonder Woman. I have to admit that when I first heard that Zack Snyder wanted to give Superman a villain he could go toe-to-toe with in Man of Steel I was on board, because I was sick of seeing Superman get outwitted by Lex Luthor in real estate scams that required a horrific amount of mass destruction. I loved Watchmen and I think Zack Snyder is a great director, so maybe this GYM JONES business has just been building to a head until it just reached a critical mass in Batman v Superman. Maybe giving Snyder free rein to craft an entire superhero cinematic universe was overestimating his creative vision. Cinematic Universes are a relatively new idea and so far the only people getting them right are the folks at Disney. And believe me, there is no single creative force driving the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the ever-expanding STAR WARS franchise. It takes a lot of planning and collaboration to create something of that magnitude, and DC's just gotten off to a bad start.

I can't even blame Zack Snyder exclusively for BvS or the DCEU, because Warner Brothers isn't exactly giving its directors free rein. They've wanted to do a Batman vs. Superman movie since 2001, so if that's a terrible idea for a movie (which I think it is), it's not Zack Snyder's terrible idea. Warner Brothers doesn't have a creative mechanism in place to drive the effort required to build a cinematic universe, but they have no problem stepping in and re-imagining a director's work halfway through the production. In that environment, you can see how easy it would be for otherwise good ideas to get lost in translation.

Even so, a lot of the ideas that are constraining the DCEU into being a showcase for strongman competitions instead of the modern mythology that Zack Snyder thinks he's creating are coming directly from him.

This may sound harsh, especially because I think all the actors he's brought together for these movies are amazing, but Zack Snyder is becoming more concerned with how they fit into their costumes than how they fit into their roles. He's got a great eye for talent. Henry Cavill is a perfect Superman and you couldn't ask for a better Batman than Ben Affleck. Gal Gadot is awesome and Wonder Woman looks like it's going to be a much-needed breakthrough for the DCEU. From what I've seen of Ezra Miller's Flash, he's on point in that role. And as much as I cringe at the new Justice League teaser because it looks like a drab video game, I'm super excited to see Jason Mamoa as Aquaman.

But you have to give these guys something more to do. We see the posters, we get it, these guys are more shredded than Steve Buscemi going through a wood chipper. But what is their purpose? What are they trying to do? Extreme workouts may be a spiritual experience for Zack Snyder, but that doesn't mean all Ben Affleck needs to do is 9000 power-squats to wrap his head around the complexities of Batman's pathology. And just because everybody looks the part, that doesn't mean the movie's going to write itself.

Sculpting the cast into supermen without giving them a decent script or motivation is wasted energy. That's not a matter of the creative vision getting lost in translation. That's a failure to properly articulate it in the first place.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast – CCAD009 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS Story, Part 2

Sean, Andrew, and Greg return to conclude their discussion on ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. Where is the STAR WARS mythology headed after the saga has ended? Does the new Expanded Universe contain clues about the future of the franchise?

Monday, January 9, 2017


The Father Quest described by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth is a recurring theme in the STAR WARS saga.

The STAR WARS story is a classic Hero's Journey when we are first introduced to Luke Skywalker in EPISODE IV: He is an orphan seeking guidance from a mysterious mentor who sets him on a greater path and then dies, leaving Luke to complete the adventure on his own.

But Luke's mentor is not merely the mythic herald who helps Luke find his purpose. He bends the narrative a bit to set Luke on the path he believes the young hero should follow. The imperative of the Father Quest is introduced by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who does so in order to recruit Luke into his damned-fool crusade just as he had done with Luke's father before him. Luke is already aware of the actual mission (the delivery of the Death Star plans), but Kenobi offers the responsibility of honoring his father's legacy as an incentive to abandon his aunt and uncle. Even this is not sufficient to tempt Luke at first, but after their deaths he no longer has any local obligations and is therefore not restrained from joining in Kenobi's adventure.

Luke’s moral obligation is to help Obi-Wan and Princess Leia, even though he doesn't know either one of them. His personal motivation after being separated from his last living relatives is to realize what he perceives  to be his father’s final wish for him: the fulfillment of a greater destiny. This false perception comes thanks to some loose interpretations of history provided by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is emotionally manipulating Luke in order to gain both his trust and obedience. Kenobi establishes himself as an unassailable expert on all matters concerning Luke's history and his responsibility for his fellow man. He also dangles the irresistible carrot of teaching Luke to connect to a cosmic power no other living person can offer him. Kenobi informs him this path was also followed by his father, conveniently glossing over the terrible consequences that path had for Anakin. He tells Luke that his father died nobly at the hands of the evil Darth Vader, because telling him that his near fatal encounter with Anakin directly led to his former pupil's transformation into the worst villain in history may not have so easily won him Luke's awe and admiration. Luke is desperate for the level of affirmation offered by Kenobi's assurances that he is bred for better things, especially in the void left behind after his entire life on Tatooine was destroyed. He is more than happy to accept Kenobi's version of events without question.

"Vader Shmader... The point is, SOMEBODY murdered your father. Now what are you going to do about it?"

Obi-Wan becomes a surrogate father figure for Luke, which is apropos when you realize that all the hopes and aspirations Obi-Wan pretends Anakin had for Luke come in truth from Kenobi himself. He projects his need to redeem his mistakes onto Luke, just as he will repeatedly project Anakin's past failings onto Luke. This is one of the driving principles behind the Father Quest: The comparison between the son and the father that emphasizes the son's personal desire to (and often the universal responsibility to) surpass and succeed the father.

The death of Obi-Wan at the hands of Luke’s real father will have some far-reaching effects: Vader is literally tearing down the illusion of the destiny that Kenobi had laid out for Luke. The shock of seeing this in EPISODE IV is later intensified for Luke when re-visited in EPISODE V. In response to Vader's apparent murder of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke is finally able to confront him as a Jedi. But rather than vindicating Kenobi’s teachings through defeat and contrition, Vader tears down Luke’s philosophical understanding of his former master by telling him the truth that Kenobi had withheld from him. At this point in the original trilogy, the Father Quest is no longer based on Obi-Wan's deception. Now that Luke knows the truth about Vader, the Father Quest in the story is real.

The final phase of this journey occurs in EPISODE VI, when Luke has had the opportunity to confront the memory of Obi-Wan Kenobi (conveniently available in the form of a literal ghost who offers up his rationalization for Luke’s judgment). The finale of the original trilogy and Luke’s emotional arc is when he can finally face Vader with all the information, fully realized in his purpose and having made his own choices as to what he intends to do to fulfill it.

This is the culmination of the Father Quest, the final reconciliation that Joseph Campbell calls the "Atonement with the Father". In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell further clarifies this as an "at-one-ment", a transformative graduation of the son replacing and subsequently becoming the father. If Luke had defeated Vader in EPISODE V, when Yoda and the spirit of Obi-Wan cautioned him that he was not ready for the confrontation, he may well have literally replaced Darth Vader and embraced the Dark Side of the Force just as they feared. Note that during the battle Luke gave in to fear, hate, and aggression, never once embracing the cornerstones of calm and passivity that Yoda told him were the hallmarks of the Light Side. If this had allowed him to defeat Vader, then he would have become him as a result.

But Luke's goal in EPISODE VI is not to destroy Vader in order to take his place as a Dark Lord of the Sith. His goal is to redeem Vader, allowing Luke to take his place not as the man Anakin Skywalker had become, but as the savior that Anakin Skywalker was always destined to be.

Followed by some traditional Skywalker father/son quality time.

That the state of “at-one-ment” is a transformative and redemptive process for both the son and the father is what is significant here. They are both redeemed in this confrontation and the son “destroys” the father both to demonstrate that he has outgrown the need for the father’s authority and also so that he can succeed the father in his role. Having fulfilled his purpose, the father is able to transcend that role and leave it in the capable hands of the son.

Luke has the purest expression of this atonement act, much more so than we see later in the failed quests of Anakin Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Anakin, in particular, had the worst possible circumstance for a Father Quest, considering he did not actually have a father. Outwardly, his initiation was similar to that of Luke in EPISODE IV: A kindly wizard removed him from his banal existence on Tatooine to introduce him to a world of magic and adventure. The devil is in the differences though: Unlike Luke, Anakin was not orphaned. He willingly left his mother and literally had no father.

"No dad, huh? Bummer. Maybe this blood test will cheer you up. Don't tell your mom."

Anakin cannot be too harshly judged for abandoning his mother because he is a child who shouldn't be forced into making decisions of this kind and certainly can't be blamed for their consequences. Shmi Skywalker has no desire to be separated from Anakin, but wants him to have better than a life as a slave. In any event, Anakin's mother is not taken from him. The absence of a father figure in his life may leave Anakin more susceptible to the influence of a strong male figure who seems to have real interest in him, but he isn't driven by a burning desire to discover himself through his father.

Qui-Gon Jinn is responsible for Anakin's downfall, when you come right down to it.  He pulls Anakin away from his mother because he is solely concerned with what Anankin means for the fate of the Jedi and he is in no way concerned about Shmi or Anakin’s wellbeing. He fails to instruct Anakin and passes the responsibility on to Obi-Wan, who has no real interest in being a surrogate father to Anakin. Meanwhile, Anakin is influenced by another false father, Palpatine, who may have directly manipulated the Force to create him but also has no interest in developing a familial relationship with him.

Palpatine exploits Anakin’s emotional need to have a father figure, exerting his influence for the same purpose that the Jedi Council exert their influence on Anakin: They are all concerned with reinforcing their ideology rather than nurturing who he is as a human being. This pressure and the absence of a nurturing mother or authoritative father push Anakin to the Dark Side. Initially he attempts the at-one-ment process by confronting Obi-Wan, his surrogate father figure who is influencing him to follow the path of the Jedi. Much like Luke’s initial duel will be later in EPISODE V, Anakin’s confrontation with Obi-Wan ends in failure and disfigurement, leaving him with no clear idea of his identity or purpose.

Though, of the two of them, I'd say Luke got off a lot lighter.

Anakin’s next duel with Kenobi in EPISODE IV occurs, just as Luke’s will, after he is fully informed of his circumstances and fully realized in his role. He has accepted who he is and embraced his role as the Dark Lord of the Sith, so the murder of his original father figure is symbolic of a fractured and distorted version of the at-one-ment process. By striking down his former master, he believes he is completing his transformation to Master of the Force, definitively replacing Kenobi’s influence with his own ideals. Unwittingly, he is also replacing Kenobi as Luke’s father figure, something neither he nor Luke will recognize until later on.

The completion of Anakin’s atonement happens in EPISODE VI, in his final duel with his son. Not only is he defeated and succeeded by Luke (who also intends to overcome his father’s influence in favor of his own ideals), he finally faces his own corrupting father figure, turning on and destroying Palpatine. Rather than seeking his own atonement, Anakin aids his son by tearing down the pillars of his own corrupt ideology and leaving a brand new world in which Luke can, as his replacement, rebuild into something better. In this way the fulfillment of Anakin’s Father Quest lies in his acceptance of his role as the father.

Let’s compare this to Kylo Ren in EPISODE VII. From what we know of Ben Solo’s past, it does not mirror the circumstances of his uncle or his grandfather's initiation into the Force. Anakin was born lost, a slave from birth just like his mother. While Luke was born and raised to believe he was an orphan, he had loving parental figures to nurture him and build his character. Anakin's back story plays out more like a supervillain origin while Luke's is basically the Superman origin. In both cases, all of their best character traits are derived from their non-Jedi influences. Luke learns humility and responsibility from his aunt and uncle while Anakin's only sense of decency comes from his mother. It's only when removed from these positive influences that we see them begin to exhibit questionable qualities of character.

Ben Solo, unfortunately, was raised with an emphasis on the Jedi influence and a shocking lack of traditional emotional support. We know that Leia and Han both feared their son would be too susceptible to the Dark Side, so they sent him away to Luke to be properly initiated in the ways of the Jedi. This was in response not simply to any vulnerabilities of character young Ben may have demonstrated, but also to the physical threat of Snoke, who had already shown an interest in corrupting their son.

Unlike Anakin and Luke, Kylo is deliberately discarded by parental figures who choose to be unavailable to him. Anakin’s mother only let him go because she didn’t want him to live the life of a slave. Luke accepted Obi-Wan's call to adventure (a misguided effort to redeem the mistakes he made with Anakin by repeating them with Luke), but Luke did so only after his entire family was killed. He did not learn until later of his father’s abandonment, and even then it was more the result of his being secreted away rather than a lack of interest on his father’s part.

None of this is true for Ben Solo. His parents are alive and he is in their care, but they choose to send him away to be trained by Luke. It is not until years later that Leia admits this mistake to Han with the understanding that Ben did not need Luke to teach him how to be a Jedi, he needed his father to teach him how to be a man. This realization is delivered to Han in return for a promise that he will fulfill his duty to their son and put himself to the hazard of drawing him back again from the darkness.

Which did not  go quite as well as he would have liked.

Just as we did with Anakin, we see the ensuing chaos that comes from Kylo’s improper initiation. He rebelled against Luke and his teachings, allowing himself to be used and manipulated by Snoke. Like Anakin before him, Kylo rebelled against the chaos of his personal life by focusing on any path that promised the establishment of order.

Like Anakin and Luke, Kylo will also attempt a disastrous atonement with Han Solo, but this confrontation will prove to be even more disastrous in consequence.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - CCAD007 - Heir to the Empire, Extended Edition

In this special super-sized episode, Sean and Andrew re-visit the STAR WARS LEGENDS Expanded Universe by looking at the novel that re-launched the saga in 1991, HEIR TO THE EMPIRE by Timothy Zahn.

In addition to creating lasting new characters to the mythology like Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, and Talon Karrde, Zahn defined what the universe would be like in the aftermath of the original trilogy. What influence did that have on EPISODE VII and what elements of Zahn's STAR WARS are still active in the current canon?

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Cloud City After Dark: A STAR WARS Podcast - Episode 008: ROGUE ONE, Part 1

Sean, Greg, and Andrew discuss their impressions of ROGUE ONE. How does it fit into the STAR WARS saga as we know it and what does it mean for the future of the STAR WARS cinematic Expanded Universe?

This episode was recorded prior to the tragic death of Carrie Fisher, but everyone in the podcast was inspired by her life and her work. She will be greatly missed.

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