Monday, December 05, 2005

Lucas theories - part 1 - Mace & Race: a saber of another color

Well, I just finished re-watching Star Wars episode 3 finally. After the miserable experience I had at the theater at the midnight-opening-night showing, I thought it unfair to make any decisions on how I felt about the movie until I saw it again.

Some of you have already heard some of my theories on Lucas and SW. They are numerous to say the least. So I won't even try to attempt them all in one sitting. I thought we'd whet appetites with this topic, since It's a good one for discussion:

Mace Windu, played by Samuel L. Jackson, (if memory of the other 5 films serves) is the only lightsaber-wielding character in all of the SW series to have a lightsaber that is a color other than green, blue, or red. (His is purple). What to make of this?

It is difficult for me to consider this without considering SLJ's race. I know some of you are rolling your eyes thinking: not EVERYTHING in a movie has to do with race & social issues. But when you are looking at it from that angle it sure does. A director isn't always aware the reasons he does things. Sometimes his subconscious might creep in and societal influences may creep in and make some decisions for him. He isn't in a vacuum, he can't create something that isn't at all influenced by his society or his own beliefs. How a man or a culture produces a work of art informs us on the maker's psychology and ideology. Let me ask you this: Do you think that Lucas (master and commander of all things SW) would want or allow a different color to be used for the character if he weren't black? Think about it. If one character gets a different color, then why not all, then we have to decide what all colors everyone is getting. Then actors would start putting in their input. "I really see my character as having a pink saber" or "I have always been partial to the color yellow, can I have a yellow one?" It just seems to add too many more variables. And from what I have seen on Lucas, this man is all about controlled decisions, especially in later life. Plus, if you have too many colors, audience members would have a harder time immediately identifying the saber-wielder, and he couldn't have that kind of imperfection in his film, right?

I had a couple initial thoughts on why SLJ specifically was given a different color. All of them lead back to race for me. Was it because of racism outright? A man of a different color needs a saber of a different color? Was it because black men & SLJ in particular are badass and he needs to have a more badass color? Even if SLJ requested the color himself, don't you think that leads back to race? Again, why would Lucas allow one actor to request a color and not all? What makes SLJ different from the other jedi actors?

There is such perfect and simple symbolism with the other colors. Red, of course, signifies passion, anger, evil, blood, danger, etc.. This is why siths have red sabers, since they find strength in succoming to their most intense and dark emotions such as anger. Blue signifies purity and light, good for the iconic jedi who are purely good-deed doers, and seers of "the light." Green signifies also good things: growth, birth, vigor, innocence, fertility, prosperity, harmony. Also perfect for the jedi whose work is constructive and brings peace, properity and harmony to the galaxy. (also good since one of the leaders of the jedi is a little green man!)

With such simple, and pure symbolism, why complicate things? Good versus evil. Why not use color to underscore that Manichaen symbolism rather than undermine it? It has been known to work well already with black versus white, why not go with two colors like red and blue or even color opposites like red and green to emphasize the two poles? You must be one or the other, you can't be both. Or can you?

Why bring other colors into this? Was it as simple as one of the reasons I mentioned? Was it also to do with symbolism? Purple as far as I know, symbolizes spirituality, royalty, and nobility. How does that fit Mace Windu? He is not royalty; he doesn't seem to be of any higher standing than the other jedi. I have no other clues to determine his degree of spirituality. So maybe they are just trying to mark him as 'noble.' Nobility, hmmm... that IS interesting, since one thing we discussed in my class on Colonialism is how "natives" and dark-skinned people in general are often represented as the "noble savage." This concept in it's beginnings discussed dark-skinned natives of Africa (etc.), primarily, but came to be applied to their decendents as well. "The concept arises in the 18th century as a European nostalgia for a simple, pure, idyllic state of the natural, posed against rising industrialism and the notion of overcomplications and sophistications of European society... The crucial fact about the construction is that it produces an ostensibly positive oversimplification of the 'savage' figure, rendering it in this particular form as idealized rather than a debased stereotype." (Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Conepts, page 210) We see this in film all the time, right? Black characters since the early days have often been comical, dangerous, or quietly noble. Ever seen IMMITATION OF LIFE, GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, or THE GREEN MILE? Those are just a few I can name off the top of my head. Of course, the nobility was slightly different in GUESS WHO'S... because that was used as device to highlight the father's racism, because other than his skin color, he couldn't have found a more perfect (or idealized) suitor for his daughter than this Sydney Poitier character. (That is a discussion for another day too: Why black people in film have to prove they are EVEN BETTER than white people in order to show they are worthy of the same things.) In the other two films this nobility is of the simple variety, and the nobility of the otherwise seemingly simple people. So simple in the Green Mile in fact that he is downright mentally challenged! But they understand something simple and pure that the rest of us don't.

Obi wan is a noble guy, why isn't he marked with nobility, and what about Yoda? The jedi by definition are noble, aren't they? But this one is the only one marked? What does it mean? That otherwise we would see him as ignoble? That we need that help to see it? That he is nobler because of his ancestry? That he is more badass? That he should be segregated somehow? That he is both good and bad somehow (remember how purple is made by mixing red and blue?)? That Lucas made a weird decision based on no other reasoning whatsoever? I don't know about you, but the last seems the least likely to me.

Let's say it is because of his nobility. What are the implications? They could be as simple as: We haven't progressed. Even in a sci-fi when race simply doesn't matter in the same way, we still have to mark a black man as "other" in some way or another. And we still don't look at SLJ the same way as we would look at any other alien.

And for those who are asking... what if SLJ did in fact ask for the color change himself? How could that be racism? Well, there are a couple of things to consider there. First, racism is so ingrained in our society, so encoded in everything we say and do, that even the victims of it can't help but support it's perpetuation at times. Also, again, why would Lucas grant SLJ's wish when it is doubtful that he would grant any other? Why would he allow this character to stand out when he hadn't planned it that way?

I don't know what the real answer is. But everything just keeps coming back to race for me here.

NOTES: I draw on my memories of discussions on color theory in school from elementary through college and readings beyond, as well as my own connotations, but you can read a little on the topic on wikipedia.

Now of course, you can argue other meanings for these colors since I picked only the good connotations for the blue/green/purple sabers and only the bad for the red sabers. But, being that the "good" guys were given only blue/green/purple, and the "bad" guys were given red, I think those are the appropriate connotations to discuss.

Also, if you think that color choices are random, consider how western painters have used colors to signify things about their subjects that we otherwise wouldn't know: who is wise, who is royal, who is spiritual, it is often is reflected in the color clothing they wear, etc..

And you if want to talk about why general Grievous (an unquestionably bad "bad guy") is given green and blue sabers instead of red, that would be somewhat interesting as well. He is not a jedi (or sith) for starters, so the symbolism doesn't really apply since the weapons aren't rightfully his. My theory is simply that he took them from the jedi he killed. Convenient for the sake of visual symmetry that he killed two blue-saber jedi and two green-saber jedi, eh?


Elisabeth said...

Well, I knew the one thing that would shatter my arguments would be someone supplying proof that other colors were used. And so I thought I would deliver it myself. Wikipedia says that there were tons of different colors used. But it does not differentiate here between the books and the movies. I still don't remember other colors in the movies, but hopefully someone else will tell me if I am wrong there. So it is possible that Mace Windu had a purple saber in the books (written by people other than Lucus and based on the movies) and they made the movie consistent to the books in this regard as a wink to the fans. Maybe. But still, why no other colors? Still interesting to think about the possible implications, no?

Elisabeth said...

By the way, I am looking at the films an examining them independently of the books. That doesn't mean I won't consider the influence of the books, but ultimately it's the movies I am talking about. Obviously this discussion would be totally different if we were talking about Mace's representation in the books.

Teddi said...

I wondered the same thing after watching the movie. I couldn't figure out the significance. It seems his was purple because he asked and Lucas allowed it. That seems rather odd to me.

Useful Trivia

Elisabeth said...

I read that a couple places too, but they weren't credible sites. I figure, if it is the same color as in the books which came before the movies (no?) then maybe that was why. Hmm... didn't think about that. I don't know if the books came first, at least I don't know if the books with Mace Windu came first. Either way I find it strange that his is the only odd one out.

Teddi said...

I'm not sure what happened with my last link and I can't find it again. Here is a bbc interview with Samuel Jackson where he talks about how he got the purple saber.

BBC Interview

So it seems Jackson asked for it and Lucas surprised him by allowing it.


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