Friday, September 3, 2010

A Fateful Moment In Star Wars

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?"

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.

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.

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.

Anonymous 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. . .

Post a Comment