Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Fateful Moment In Star Wars

Since we're doing Questionable Star Wars these days, I decided to revive this article.

Today, I want to talk about one little scene at the beginning of Star Wars. It’s not a scene most people remember, and the two characters involved don’t even have names. But it presents us with an amazing “what if” scenario.

As I'm sure you know, the movie opens with an Imperial Star Destroyer attacking a rebel ship, supposedly a diplomatic shuttle from Alderaan. On board this ship is Princess Leia with stolen plans for the Imperial Death Star. On board the Star Destroyer is Darth Vader. After stopping the rebel ship, Imperial Stormtroopers board the rebel ship and capture the crew. During these events, Leia puts the plans to the Death Star into R2D2, and he and C-3PO head for an escape pod. Our scene takes place right after they launch the pod.

As the pod leaves the rebel ship and heads toward Tatooine, an unnamed Imperial trooper notices the escape pod and asks his commander if he should destroy the pod. The commander, in a decision that will bring down the Empire, decides that they don't need to bother because they scan no life signs in the pod.

If those two bozos had destroyed the pod, R2D2 would have been destroyed along with the plans that eventually allow the rebels to destroy the Death Star. Even more significantly, had R2D2 not reached the surface, there would have been no reason for Stormtroopers to kill Luke’s family, giving Luke no reason to leave Tatooine or to fight the Empire. Moreover, there would have been no reason for Ben Kenobi to begin training Luke -- seeing as how he never bothered to contact Luke until he tried to take R2D2 to Anchorhead to have his memory erased.

Thus, by not destroying the pod, these two unnamed troopers allow to be set into motion a series of events that will eventually bring down the entire Galactic Empire.

What’s even more interesting is that if Vader had not pursued Leia in the first place, there also would have been no reason for them to go to Tatooine and to bring Luke into the story. And since Luke is the one guy in the universe who can destroy the Death Star and ultimately bring down the Empire, Vader essentially sets into place the chain of events he's trying to prevent.

Cool huh?

Lots of movies have little moments like this that often go unnoticed, moments where some minor action on the part of an insignificant character either causes a series of events or fails to prevent a series of events that have galactic importance to the story, or moments where a character’s actions bring on the very events they are trying to stop.

I think it’s a clever bit of writing that inserts these sorts of moments into films because it adds a sense of irony and raises questions of fate. How would things have gone if these two troopers had fired? What if Vader hadn’t decided to chase Leia? What if these weren't the robots you are looking for? I think these are interesting questions for us because we are very good at seeing our mistakes in hindsight, but we're very bad at seeing the future consequences of our actions. Seeing this in film is a way to live vicariously. . . to wonder if we shouldn't have shot down a few more pods in our lifetime, or if maybe we aren’t causing our own problems?



Joel Farnham said...

"Sliding Doors" a 1998 movie that stars Gwynneth Paltrow. It involves a woman who becomes late for an appointment and misses a train. Shortly after, you see the same scene and she doesn't miss the train. It involves the consequences a few seconds might mean.

There is also a current commercial with a ballerina downloading to her phone. On one side, the phone we should get downloads faster and she fatefully meets the man who propels her into her career. On the other side, the slower phone schleps her into waiting tables.

The path I did not take.

Good article, Andrew.

Tennessee Jed said...

"For the Want of a Shoe" Shakespere?

There is a theory that mosquitoes passing wind in West Africa help the conditions that cause tropical depressions to form in the south Atlantic which becomes storms such as Katrina. Or, it may have been an executive order President Bush signed.

No questions, inconsequential actions can cause big consequences.

Never fear though, things will crank back up after labor day :-)!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Joel!

I saw "Sliding Doors" and I liked it, I thought it was an excellent concept. I haven't seen the commercial.

Another movie that does this in an interesting way is "Run Lola, Run" -- a German film that repeats the same 15 minutes several times to see how it could have turned out each time and shows you the futures of people who the heroine comes across. It's an interesting film.

I think this stuff is very interesting because of all the choices we do make every day and our ability to look backwards and ask, "what if I had done that differently?"

BevfromNYC said...

Isn't this the "butterfly effect"? A butterfly flaps its wings and eventually causes a hurricane.

It's a recurring theme in many movies - "It's A Wonderful Life" comes to mind too.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I know that theory, though it's usually presented as a less-gaseous butterfly flapping its wings. It's an interesting theory, though I don't know how literally to take it.

Good quote (I think it's Shakespeare, but I'm not sure) -- it proves that human's have been asking "what if" for a very long time. I suspect it's part of our nature. On the one hand, it's part of learning and processing the information we collect. On the other hand, it's probably a byproduct of free will.

In any event, I always like it when films toss these things in.

rlaWTX said...

Isn't there an idea out there that every option not taken spins off an alternate reality where we chose differently?

I have no idea what spark in my brain made this jump, but... I thought of Asimov's Robot series (that is the foundation for the Foundation series) where the robot "discovers" the Zeroth (hehe) Law of Robotics and starts a nuclear (?) leak that will eventually poison the earth and force humans off the planet.
[I now feel the need to go through storage and pull those books out!]

As for "what if"... it can be a dark, poisonous, dangerous road in real life, but makes for great fiction!!!

Happy Long Weekend, y'all!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, It is the butterfly effect. Or as Jed has called it, the gaseous mosquito effect. LOL!

Good catch on "It's a Wonderful Life," that uses the same theory, though that's a less ironic version that what "Star Wars" does with it -- also, "Star Wars" doesn't highlight the whole effect at all.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, It certainly can be a very bad thing for real life if you become obsessed with what you "could" or "should" have done. Otherwise, it should just be a learning experience for the next time.

There is a theory in physics that there are an infinite number of universes out there where each decision is made the opposite way. I actually don't buy that one -- it's to human-centric to make sense to me (the universe goes on with or without us). But it's still an intriguing idea.

I thought "The Foundation" series was great, but I have to admit that I never read "I, Robot."

CrispyRice said...

WHAT???! WHY isn't there a spoiler warning at the beginning of this! You've ruined this movie for me, RUINED, I say!!!

j/k ;)

Very interesting thoughts to ponder on the long weekend. Happy Labor Day all!

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, LOL! I didn't put up the spoiler warning because if you don't know how Star Wars starts (or ends) by this point, then . . . well, it's not good. ;-)

Have a nice weekend!

JG said...

Brings to mind Oedipus, and his parents being the architects of their own destruction.

Heavy thinking for a Friday, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

Good point JG! The Greeks were good at causing their own problems!

Admittedly, it is a little heavy thinking for a Friday, but it's been sugarcoated by being stuck inside a "Star Wars" reference! That makes it go down easier! :-)

JG said...

Very true. I've been in a Star Wars mood this week anyway. :)

StanH said...

Very thought provoking read Andrew! Most great stories have a pivot point, where by letting a moment pass, sets in motion a series of unintended events or consequences which spiral out off control…sometimes for the good.

AndrewPrice said...

Excellent! The article was well timed then! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I think you're right. I think most great stories have that moment because they usually come to a point where a character needs to decide how to act. If they do the right thing, then good consequences ensue. if they do the wrong then, then fate comes after them with no mercy.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Bev got there ahead of me. The first thing I thought of was the butterfly effect. If we just kill all the butterflies, we can stop all those hurricanes.

AndrewPrice said...

Good idea Lawhawk! I think that's the very point to that theory! What could go wrong?

BevfromNYC said...

You conservatives are always pickin' on the defenseless and vulnerable butterflies and the poor!


AndrewPrice said...

Oh Bev, baby bunny rabbits are the worst. They're the real cause of global warming and receding hare lines. ;-)

Ed said...

I never thought about that scene! Ha ha. I guess I need to pay more attention to movies.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, You should always be paying attention to everything in film. This is your assignment. . .

AndrewPrice said...

Could you imagine the inquiry, being called before the Senate... "now you admit, you failed to push the button, correct?"

Jrggrop said...

I've always liked these sort of "what if" moments. They've happened plenty of time in real life historically - and sometimes the results can leave you shaking your heard and just wondering. Like how because Private 2nd class Kikujiro Shimura of the Imperial Japanese Army got lost trying to find a latrine, more than 20 million people would go on to die in the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed the "what if" moments, which is in fact the stream of which made the original trilogy so entertaining, when first watched, it kept you on your feet as to what would happen next. Would Han Solo really ditch helping out with the rebellion after getting Luke and Leia to Yavin? Was Lando really a traitor to his friend Han in ESB? Why was Vader so obssessed with Luke? And so on. The fact that the film series had so many moments where you had to sit back and get the new revelation thrown back at you was what made it great, plus the characters like the antihero Han Solo, added plenty to the mix. And yeah, among all the roles Harrison Ford actually played, I would rank his character Han Solo up there in his top five.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I was wondering what you were going to do for this article!

You know if this film was released today, every geek website would be complaining, "How could they not detect the droids? Isn't that a little too convenient?!" And droids are pretty common in the galaxy - it's not like C3PO and R2D2 were the only ones!

I imagine people complained about plot holes and various dei ex machina all the time back then but there was obviously no instantaneous feedback. You had to wait till your local fanzine or Starlog arrived in the mail!

tryanmax said...

So... I guess no Life Day bonuses for those two, huh?

PDBronco said...

A great Doctor Who episode addressed this "small decision/big impact" question quite well. What would have happened if Donna Noble had turned left instead of right at a key moment of her life? By turning left instead of right, she never met the 10th Doctor, so he died and was not able to save the Earth from a number of incidents. The story did a great job reliving earlier episodes from a different and far darker point of view.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I figured it was time to revive this one.

Yep, if Star Wars came out today, the whiny geek faction would be nitpicking it... because they are very unhappy people and it makes them feel better to think they are smarter than other people.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Actually, if the Empire is as bureaucratic as other governments, they'll probably get promoted.

AndrewPrice said...

PDBronco, I remember that episode. I think ti's an interesting concept how small changes can alter the course of a life. We think about those things ourselves all the time... what if I hadn't done ___ or had been ten minutes late, etc. Something about the idea fascinates us.

T-Rav said...

I've heard people bring that scene up before, and it is kind of fun to think about. Kind of a "my kingdom for a horse" scenario.

It's also a good example of overconfidence being such a big reason in the Empire's downfall. These two blockheads don't consider one little pod to be worth their attention. Moff Tarkin won't evacuate the Death Star during the attack, because the rebels are scum and shouldn't be given the satisfaction. And Palpatine gets himself killed at the end of ROTJ, largely because he's so sure of his control over Vader, he thinks the guy'll just stand by and watch his son being tortured to death. The Jedi would never make these mistakes.*

*(Except they did in the prequels.)

Tennessee Jed said...

those fateful scenes are no doubt a hell of a lot less fateful to the writer who already knows the story line ;) I suppose it actually is the same plot device that is often used so lamely to build tension. It would seem the key for the good writer is to find a way to do it artfully enough the the audience doesn't groan out loud at being hit in the face with the irony of it all.

Anonymous said...

I love "what if" or "alternate history" so I really like this article.

I also love Star Wars and have read a lot of the books as well. Between the movies and the books I seem to remember that Luke was already busting his but to leave Tatooine. The death of his aunt and uncle were not the catalyst, in fact he would have already left to join his friend Biggs Darklighter in joining the Imperial Academy (from which Biggs then joined the Rebels) if it wasn't for his uncle.

So if the droids were destroyed the next season or the one after that Luke would have left to join the Imperial Academy and found a way to join Biggs in the Rebels. And maybe Obi Wan would have contacted Luke before or during that time and trained him. And while they may not have destroyed the Death Star like they did in Ep4 Luke still could have 'turned' Darth Vader.

But who really knows.


AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, LOL! Right, the Jedi would never do that! ;)

I think it is interesting that the idea of overconfidence runs throughout the original films, but it's also never done so blatantly that you feel like they are just setting you up. It's there, but it's also very subtle and that is a sign of excellent writing.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's the key and that the huge difference between the original films and the follow ups, is the subtlety of the writing. You never groan in the originals, but you can't stop groaning at the nearly melodramatic writing of the prequels.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's an interesting point. While this would have entirely changed the movie, it might only have delayed the inevitable because Luke may have found another reason to move forward. Interesting!

And you are right, it could be that Ben is just waiting for Luke to leave home?

Anonymous said...

Well Andrew the books go into quite a lot of the back (and forward) story then you'll see in the movies. They offer quite a lot of info that you'll not see from just watching the movies.

To me it is quite clear that Luke wants out of Tatooine just from watching EP4. With our without his Uncle/Aunties death he would have left in a season or two. And he would have joined the Rebels the first opportunity he had, he was too straight to stay with Imperials.

Also the only reason I can see for Obi Wan settling on Tatooine was for the chance to train Luke. He took both kids after their mother died and he left Luke with his Uncle and stayed there to look over him and to eventually train him.

Plus something that is never talked about, why didn't they change Lukes surname and het him grow up elsewhere? A lot of people know what Anakins surname was before he became Darth Vader so why would they let Luke grow up in Anakins home planet with his family and to keep his name? They went to the effort of adopting Leia into the Royal Family on Alderaan but left Luke with his Uncle not far from where Anakin grew up. How crazy is that?


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think the idea was that Vader didn't know about the kids, so they were safe. Otherwise, it was pure stupidity to give them to Vader's brother in the first place. That's the first place Vader should have looked if he was looking for them.

What troubles me about Ben's plan is that while he is close to Luke, he's clearly done nothing to train Luke or to prepare him. If it wasn't for this coincidence, then it seems that Ben would have just died of old age as Luke went on about his life.

I agree that from the film alone it's clear that Luke would have left to join the rebels. But without Ben to train him, I'm not sure he would ever have been able to turn Vader. Plus, Leia would probably be dead too because no one would have saved her.

BIG MO said...

The first "Family Guy" Star Wars spoof made fun of this scene:

Officer 1: Hold your fire. There's no life forms aboard.

Officer 2: Hold your fire?!? What, are we paying by the laser now?

Officer 1: You don't do the budget, Terry. I do.

T-Rav said...

Scott, we have to invoke the rule about the movie-based books: They don't matter. The movies are what matter.

I could mention that the books say Vader could never go back to Tatooine himself, as the memory of his past there would burn too much, which makes a lot of sense. But that's not spelled out in the movies, so it doesn't matter.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, I need to agree with T-Rav on this... I don't consider the books, just the films themselves.

Big Mo, I'm going to go counter to their point and say that I like the fact they didn't shoot because it made them seem more rational. If they had been running around blowing up everything, even if their scanners said it didn't matter, then the Empire would have struck me as more cartoony.

Anonymous said...


First of all, thanks for reviving this goes thread to Andrew. Life is busy, but for the first time in a while, it's nice to be in with the Tuesday film discussions again. To Scott (Anonymous), the surname issue seems to come up a number of times to me, but at the same time, I don't believe the films ever indicated how common of a surname "Skywalker" was. It could be that it was a surname common as say, "Smith" or "Stewart" in English, or it could be a name unique to the family, either way, that's never laid out. It's hard to think in a galaxy with potentially quadrillions of people, as this mass colonization of a whole galaxy and literally many millions of habitable planets and orbiting space stations, that you could have a unique name, at the same time.

But still, I would wonder why Vader wouldn't try throwing his stepbrother Owen Lars under the bus after getting messed up and rebuilt as the cyborg Darth Vader. He wouldn't have much purpose to keeping someone who knew about his past self.

Anonymous said...

This of course is speculation.

I understand that Vader didn't know he had kids and that he might never go to Tatooine himself. But if Luke had left to join the Imperial Academy (with the idea of trying to join Biggs in going over to the Rebels) someone there would have recognised his name and found out where he was from and put two and two together. Then reported it to either Vader who maybe would have trained Luke with the idea of overthrowing the Emperor or if the Emperor found him he would have trained him to replace Vader.

As to Ben not training Luke I think it all adds up to GL having the basic idea but not thinking it all the way through. Also I'd guess that after the destruction of Alderaan Ben would be forced to move and would approach Luke then to begin his training.


AndrewPrice said...

Obiwan, You're welcome! That's a good question how common the name is. Who know? Whether Vader would go after Lars out of spite, I don't know. But I think the logical explanation for why he didn't go hunting for Luke (and Leia) is that he thought his kids were dead. Otherwise, I think he would have tried to find them to either kill them or pull them to the dark side.

What's interesting is that neither he nor Vader could sense them.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's a reasonable guess of what might happen. I could also see the story going along the lines of "they will mystically be drawn together" because of the force.

I think you're right that this was an example of Lucas not really thinking through the entire story. It makes sense that Ben went there to hide. But given the way Ben acts in EP4, it doesn't really make sense that he went there to wait to train Luke, because he seems to have basically forgotten his mission.

It's the same way, I find it interesting that Luke and Vader can sense each other as father/son, but Vader has no clue who Leia is in EP4. Again, I think that part of the story evolved later.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing, Andrew, is that regarding Luke, the Force seemed to have some effect based on emotion, as Darth Vader sensed the existence of Leia by Luke's fear that he would find out about her too, in ROTJ. In that sense, based on my logic of the films, since Luke had a great deal of ignorance about the fact that he could potentially wield the Force, how detectable could he be? I would surmise very little. Combine that with Vader's intention, which would be little, given that he assumed the child died with his wife, and it would be explanatory to that extent that with little emotional "activity" stemming from the ignorance of the individuals, they simply wouldn't likely sense each other.

As funny as it sounds, the "Force" in Star Wars is highly similar to prana and bindu in Dune, in terms of the fact that "The Force" and its nature is heavily correlated with the emotional and mental states of those wielding and/or affected by it. And BTW, this is old, but thanks for the small recommendation on the Dune Movie, saw the three hour film version and was sufficiently entertained after reading the Herbert novel.

AndrewPrice said...

p.s. Scott, I've got a question for you. As our designated Australian representative, can you tell the difference between an Australian and a New Zealand accent?

AndrewPrice said...

obiwan, You're welcome. I really like that version of Dune. I know most people HATE the film and really hate the long version, but I think it's been unfairly maligned. I think it's solid and unique science fiction which presents a world unlike anything you will see anywhere else. It's very much old-school science fiction. And I think the longer version is much better than the shorter version because it takes its time to explain what is going on and it fills in a lot of gaps. In the short version, some things just seem to happen. In the long version, they are explained.

You could be right that Vader can't sense someone unless they have the ability to control the Force? I suppose that's possible. That would explain why he couldn't sense Leia or couldn't sense Luke on the Death Star, but could finally sense him in the end: "the Force is strong with this one."

Anonymous said...

Andrew thanks for the honour! And yes it is easy to tell the difference between an Aussie and a Kiwi accent. Well it is for us anyway, it's night and day really, there are a lot of them over here and they stand out.

I will admit that the accents are close and I do understand how people that haven't been exposed to either accent in depth cannot tell the difference. I remember watching old movies and whenever they had an Aussie or Kiwi character they had a Brit do the accent and mangle it.

Did you call some Kiwi an Australian? I'd guess they'd take that like a Canadian would if you called them American.

And I loved Dune, both versions and of course the books are masterpieces in Sci-Fi. I did watch the movie first so I didn't judge it on the book like I did with LOTR (which suffered as I'd read the books so many times). So I enjoyed the movie on it's own merits as weirdly great Sci-Fi and then read the book and loved that even more. I did like the extended version of the movie as well as it went into more depth. I think the movie needed to be done it two or three parts to really do the full storyline of the book justice.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I saw the movie first too, so I didn't have problems with the adaptation either. I agree too that a true adaptation would require about six hours to pull it off. I also think it would take some talented writing to get all the backstory of the universe in place without boring the audience. It might even be worth it to do a 2 hours "prequel" so to speak to establish what the universe is like and how it got that way.

On the Aussie/Kiwi, I have a friend in New Zealand and we got to talking about Flight of the Conchords. They do an episode in which they poke fun at the difference and the fact that outsiders don't hear the difference. And she said, "they really are very different" but I can't verify that because I've never heard them side by side and I have only rarely heard a NZ accent in any event. So I was just curious if this was a NZ thing or if Aussies noticed the difference as well.

Anonymous said...

6 hours would be great for an adaption of Dune, hell 8 would be better.

Well both Kiwis and Aussie can tell the difference easily. To us it's like the difference from an New Yorker to a Texan or something along those lines.

We can tell the difference between quite a few different American accents as well as quite a few different UK accents. There are also a few different Australian accents, compare the Australian actors like Hugh Jackman, Russel Crow (though he was born in NZ) etc against Steve Irwin! There is quite a difference (at least to us) between a country (outback) accent and a city accent and each major city has it's own quirks.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I can tell there are differences in the Australian accent, but I can't identify them or put them to a particular region. Good examples though, Russel Crow and Irwin are very different.

I can tell a lot of differences in the British accents, but I'm not sure I could place most into a particular region (except the obvious ones like Scottish or Irish). Plus, these days, they all seem to be devolving into this "thug speak" which makes them almost incomprehensible.

Anonymous said...

The Irwin accent is northern Queensland (or old school country) and you hardly ever see it in the city and virtually never on TV which amused everyone when we heard Americans copy it to do an Australian accent.

Most city accents are are nearly the same, the biggest differences are when you leave the cities (which account for 80% of the population) and go inland. Also the different ethnic groups have their own accents I was watching The Ultimate Fighter and heard a guy talking and new he was Greek and from Victoria and I later found out he was. I've heard that accent for years, we have one of the largest Greek communities outside of Greece and they have a way of speaking that stands out.

Yes the thug accent, there are variations of that in ever country and it is bad every time.

I can tell the difference between the largest accents in the UK and America and I think that comes from watching TV and movies from both countries growing up.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think Americans picked up on that one because it's the easiest to caricature. It's the same way foreigners way over-exaggerate the American southern accents when they want to do "American."

When I think of a generic Aussie accent, I tend to think of Irwin, even though I know that Jackman's accent seems to be much more the norm.

I can tell the major accents in Britain, I can spot a Canadian a mile away, and I know most of the US accents -- I can even tell the southern states apart (they are very different actually). The thug accent sucks. Here at least, it's still a very-low class thing and you don't hear it in any other class. So it's not at all common except in certain communities.

PikeBishop said...

I once backtracked and found that almost my entire adult life hinged on a general manager of a restaurant in the Pittsburgh area getting fired in June, 1995, when I was 30.

Career path, marriage, residence, friendships, you name it, it all stemmed from this event.

Individualist said...

How does it go

For want of a shoe the horse was lame

For want of a horse the message was lost

For want of a message the battle was lost

For want of a victory the war was lost

Something like that although I know I have not got it right

rlaWTX said...

(I was hurriedly reading through all I missed since 11/20 and I skipped the italics at the top. Surprise 1 was seeing a comment from me, but it rang a bell, so I skimmed on. Surprise 2 was seeing Lawhawk's name. At which point I went back to the beginning...

rlaWTX said...


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