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Friday, 2 March 2018

Things we DIDN'T see in Star Wars: How George Lucas hinted at a bigger universe

Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke about the
Old Republic and the Jedi Knights

The Kessel run. Spice freighters. The Clone Wars. The Old Republic. There’s a lot in Star Wars that’s mentioned but never explained. In the first half of a two-part post, Episode Nothing considers how George Lucas cleverly hinted at a much bigger galaxy than he showed on screen.

The best story-tellers know a lot more about their fictional worlds than they choose to put on the page or the screen. And in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, that skill is particularly important. 

If the story is set in a universe that isn’t ours, a character can’t really take even the most mundane action without the writer considering what rules apply in this made-up environment.

It’s easy to forget how cleverly George Lucas did this in Star Wars. We know he’d spent at least three years inventing his universe, writing four completely different versions of his story and accumulating lots of background notes in the process. And it shows in the film.

Visually, Star Wars is full of detail that makes the alien worlds seem as though they have a life of their own which we’re only glimpsing. And that’s reflected in the story, which implies a bigger reality that the characters know about, but we don’t. 

The top things in Star Wars that are mentioned but not explained

1. Galactic politics

Grand Moff Tarkin after announcing
the end of the Imperial Senate

“It is a period of civil war,” as the opening line of the Star Wars title crawl tells us.

But George Lucas doesn’t attempt to explain everything.

There is, we know, an Imperial Senate which Princess Leia says “will not sit still” for the attack on her mission.

We later learn from Grand Moff Tarkin that there is an Emperor and that he has just dissolved the Imperial Senate permanently.  In doing so, he has swept away the “last remnants of the Old Republic”. (See the paragraph on galactic history below.)

The Empire has regional governors who now have “direct control over their territories”, Tarkin says. 

But that, clearly, is all we need to know, for now.

2. Space travel and other worlds

Han Solo boasts about the Kessel run

There is, clearly, a vast and busy galaxy around our characters.

Spices – and particularly the spice mines of Kessel – seem to loom large in the galactic economy.

C3PO is afraid of being “sent to the spice mines of Kessel, smashed into who knows what?”

Han Solo, meanwhile boasts that his ship “made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs”.

Spices also feature in the Skywalker family history, because Luke thinks his father was a “navigator on a spice freighter”.

There’s apparently a thriving black market in the galaxy, going on under the noses of the Empire. Han had to dump a consignment because he “got boarded”. And he speaks of the spaceships he’s outrun: “Not the local bulk cruisers, mind you – I’m talking about the big Correllian ships now.”

3. The Jedi Knights and galactic history

Princess Leia brings up the Clone Wars

There’s something called the Clone Wars which clearly looms large in the galaxy’s memory.

“My father didn’t fight in the wars,” Luke says to Obi-Wan Kenobi initially, but he eagerly asks him “You fought in the Clone Wars.”

Princess Leia, in her hologram message to Obi-Wan, says Kenobi was a general and that “Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars.”

We know there was something called the Old Republic, and that for over 1,000 generations the Jedi Knights were the Republic’s guardians of peace and justice.

We know that there was once a more “civilised age” befitting an “elegant weapon” like a lightsaber.

We learn that the Jedi were hunted down and destroyed in Kenobi’s lifetime, by the Empire, with the aid of Darth Vader. The Imperial officer who dares to argue with Vader says theirs was an “ancient religion”.

They are now “all but extinct”, Kenobi says, although Grand Moff Tarkin says they are extinct. “Their fire has gone out of the universe,” he says, and Vader is “all that’s left of their religion”. 

4. The droids’ previous adventures

Luke quizzes the droids about their adventures

C3PO and R2D2 have clearly been with the Rebellion for a while and have been in some scrapes. 

“There’ll be no escape for the princess this time,” says Threepio. (Vader suggests he has had some run-ins with Leia or her ilk when he says “There’ll be no one to stop us this time.”)

Luke recognises that the droids have “seen a lot of action” because of their “carbon scoring” and asks whether they’ve been in many battles. “Several, I think,” says Threepio. The protocol droid has already said that “we seem to be made to suffer”.

We also learn that the droids’ last master was Captain Antilles – although in the context of the film, it’s not clear whether Antilles is a Rebel commander, or their previous owners before the Rebellion.

5. Life on Tatooine

Luke and Obi-Wan in the Jundland wastes

Tatooine is the only planet we see for a prolonged period on screen. It’s clear life there is hard yet often boring.

I don’t think a child would necessarily understand that Luke’s family make their living farming moisture. No one ever explains it fully, but it’s alluded to.

When buying a droid, Uncle Owen asks C3PO if he understands the binary language of moisture vaporators. (Threepio then likens them to things called binary load-lifters.) And we know that Luke is tasked with fixing some “units” on the south ridge. But it would be easy to miss Luke’s reference to the “moisture harvest” on which the farm relies.

We get some hints about the geography of Tatooine. Nearby, there’s a place called Tosche Station, where Luke is planning to “pick up some power converters” (or possibly waste time with his friends).

Somewhere, not too far away, is a place called Anchorhead, where you can get droids’ memories erased, and where you can get a transport to Mos Eisley. (We see Mos Eisley for ourselves, of course – a “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, with a bar that can “get a little rough” but where most of the best freighter pilots are to be found.)

We know that Tatooine is a hostile environment – both in its climate and the threat of attack. Old Ben Kenobi lives beyond something called the Dune Sea, but in that direction lie the Sandpeople. Going there is clearly foolhardy, because Obi-Wan tells Luke that “the Jundland wastes are not to be travelled lightly”.

It’s often said that George Lucas was not a natural writer, and he’s practically admitted as much himself. But Star Wars was a script that was laboured over for several years, and we can see this in the really artful way he reveals his exotic alien galaxy.

But that’s not the half of it.

Next time, we'll consider what Star Wars reveals about alien species, ancient civilisations, and tips on owning a droid.

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