Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?
Never appearing in a single movie, nor The Clone Wars animated series, this line uttered by Chancellor Palpatine to Anakin Skywalker has set-off a firestorm of speculation and debate across the world wide web. Dare to make the jump and herein discover the case for Darth Plagueis . . .
I’m not going to lie, as the kids like to say these days, but this article was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. I’ve pried this Rubik’s Cube apart several times and put it back together again, only to find that the colors aren’t completely solid, thus I’m not completely sold. I compare trying to decode this enigma kinda like trying to navigate the world with prism-lens glasses — there’s a lot of angles on it, very distracting and distorted. Still I will attempt to shed some light on this mystery so we all can crack the case of the Episode VII “Big Bad.”
The Beginning is the End, so that’s where we’ll start. For the sake of argument the Sequel Trilogy is the last of this series, which would have a sense of symmetry. In the sale video to Disney, George said, “We’ve got a plan for seven, eight and nine. Which is the end of the trilogy,” I take to mean the “trilogy of trilogies,” (but of course Disney will have the final word on that.)
IF the ST is the end of the current series then Disney/LFL can pull out all the stops. So what do we require of our main villain? Let’s take a look at what Harry Knowles, the Grand Pubah of genre Blogging, had to say on the matter:
“My original source had told me back in January that Abu Dhabi was a location, and when that came to be, he sent me a scoop that the title for STAR WARS EPISODE VII was THE ANCIENT FEAR.
Tonight… a source that I’m told to call Col. Mustard claimed completely on his own that “the working title” was THE ANCIENT FEAR….
He also stated that “it refers to Max Von Sydow’s villain who makes Pazuzu look like a pussy!”
For the uninitiated, Pazuzu was a demon, one of Satan’s minions, in The Exorcist. We’re talking PURE EVIL!
What else is required of our villain? According to John Morton who played “Dak” in the Empire Strikes Back, the villain is going to bridge the whole franchise together. Of course he had no “official information” about this but was making logical assumptions. He’s right. The villain should be someone who binds the Star Wars universe together. So the villain IS NOT someone completely new and unknown. These will be our working theories, so now to build a case…
Recall Episode III: Revenge of the Sith:
[Chancellor Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker talk about Skywalker’s dreams]
Palpatine: Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?
Palpatine: I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you. It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise, he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create…life. He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could even keep the ones he cared about…from dying.
Anakin: He could actually…save people from death?
Palpatine: The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.
Anakin: What happened to him?
Palpatine: He became so powerful, the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power…which, eventually of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew. Then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. Ironic. He could save others from death…but not himself.
Anakin: Is it possible to learn this power?
Palpatine: Not from a Jedi.
Was this a simple bit of throw-away dialogue written by George Lucas to motivate the plot OR is this the key to the entire Star Wars mythos? I’ve already mentioned The Power of Myth and Joseph Campbell’s influence on George Lucas. If anyone needs a refresher check out the provided video.
There can be no doubt that mythology informs Lucas’ work, especially as it pertains to Star Wars, thus we can move forward under the presumption that it wasn’t just a “throw-away” and does have more meaning. But what meaning exactly?
The tale, a tragedy, of Darth Plagueis is the perfect starting point for setting up a mythological exploration into life and death in the galaxy far, far away. After all, we have seen that those especially strong in the Force have managed to survive beyond death in the form of Force Ghosts —
A method of, or conduit to, immortality that Qui-Gon Jinn discovered and passed-on to Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It stands to reason that the Sith would also have a similar ability or at the very least seek some form of immortality. James Luceno, author of the “Darth Plagueis” novel, gives us some insight as to this mystery:
“In dealing with Plagueis’ quest for immortality, I originally structured part of the book as a kind of race between him and Qui-Gon Jinn, they inadvertently sabotaged one another without either of them realizing they were pursuing the same goal. In the end, Qui-Gon succeeded by making contact with the Whills- the mysterious species of immortals George Lucas mentioned in an epigraph for the first Star Wars novel.” ―James Luceno, Star Wars Insider, Issue #130, 2011
While the Jedi don’t attain a corporeal, tangible immortality they can influence those living in “reality.” And so Darth Plagueis the Wise was on a similar exploration of this mystery as the back of his book intimates:
|“…The only one who never died?”|
But we don’t have much at all to go on in terms of material to dissect Plagueis or his exploration into immortality, except for the novel entitled “Darth Plagueis.” First and foremost it should be noted that the “Darth Plagueis” book, part of the “Expanded Universe,” is no longer considered canon. However, until something from the books is directly over-written, IE contradicted by a film or show, I think it’s safe to use them as guidance in our speculation.
So could the novel have an influence on what will transpire in Episode VII? Perhaps. The book was closely guided by George Lucas via Howard Roffman. In an interview with author James Luceno published at TheForce.Net we read:
How closely did you work with Lucas Licensing on Darth Plagueis? How much did George get involved? What advice did he give you?
“George was involved in the early stages. When the book was first proposed, I wrote to him and asked whether there was any reason why Plagueis couldn’t be a non-human, and he wrote back that Plagueis could be a Muun and sent me some artist renderings of the character. From that point on, everything was approved, as they’re saying, “at the highest level.” I worked most closely with George’s right-hand man at Lucas licensing, Howard Roffman. It was a strange way to go about the book, because I kind of had to bypass both Del Rey and the usual editorial staff at Lucasfilm and work directly with Howard over the course of what amounted to about a year of preparation […] that a lot of the stuff came from the very top levels of Lucasfilm. Everything was approved at that high level. I had to make the assumption that Howard was speaking directly with George about a lot of this stuff. I didn’t have any meetings directly with George, but it seemed like a lot of the approval was coming through him to Howard.”
The book was published on January 10, 2012. This IS an important clue for one simple reason — George Lucas had already been working on the Sequel Trilogy. In fact George’s son, Jett Lucas told us his father was working on the treatments for the ST a full year before the sale was finalized:
“We knew probably a year prior (to the purchase) he had started writing and king of researching, starting his whole little process,” Lucas said about his father. “About half way through that process was when the idea of selling to Disney came up . . .”
According to Pablo Hidalgo Lucasfilm Ltd. employees learned about the ST on June 29th, 2012 and then the rest of the world was notified on October 30th, 2012. So roughly five months after the book was released the Sequel Trilogy was announced to his employees. And as we all know Lucas wrote the treatments for the Sequel Trilogy, which served as the foundation for Michael Arndt’s and then Abrams & Kasdan’s scripts, and sealed the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney:
At first Lucas wouldn’t even turn over his rough sketches of the next three Star Wars films. When Disney executives asked to see them, he assured them they would be great and said they should just trust him. “Ultimately you have to say, ‘Look, I know what I’m doing. Buying my stories is part of what the deal is.’ I’ve worked at this for 40 years, and I’ve been pretty successful,” Lucas says. “I mean, I could have said, ‘Fine, well, I’ll just sell the company to somebody else.’ ” Once Lucas got assurances from Disney in writing about the broad outlines of the deal, he agreed to turn over the treatments—but insisted they could only be read by Iger, Horn, and Kevin Mayer, Disney’s executive vice president for corporate strategy. “We promised,” says Iger. “We had to sign an agreement.”
Mythology is ALL about subtext and symbolism. Hego Damask. He got the Mask = very interesting. Damask comes from the medieval word “damaske,” which is derived from Damascus. I thought, incorrectly I guess, that damask was a type of fabric or material used in veils (form of mask) but is actually a fabric used in curtains, table clothes, or textiles. Perhaps, Plagueis is “the man behind the curtain” of course an archetype of sorts as seen in The Wizard of Oz as well as LOST (which referenced the idea as an episode title.)
Now, at this point I can’t seriously see George Lucas creating this kind of [META] mythic character as a “throw-away.” There is just too much potential here, especially now since he’s been established in ROTS, a novel, and action figure. Yes, I said action figure because it suggests to me that there is a reason why Hasbro would invest the time and energy in developing an action figure solely based on a brief mention in a movie and one book. Not only that, but they were directed to stop producing Expanded Universe action figures, except for Darth Plagueis and Mara Jade:
“Hasbro has been directed by Lucasfilm, Ltd. to avoid the Expanded Universe like the plague. Not only is it next to impossible that we’ll see a brand new Expanded Universe figure in the near future, older and hard to find figures will NEVER see re-release either.
Hasbro said, and I quote, to “not expect to ever see Jaina Solo or Jacen Solo or any other older Comic Packs figure re-released in any way to get out to collectors.”
As we explore further into the book we learn the Sith agenda to exact revenge on the Jedi Order and the galaxy at large was threefold:
1- To destroy the Jedi Order
2- To save the beings of the galaxy from destroying themselves . . . [by instilling a Sith-led Empire]
And the one that seems to get overlooked:
3- To destroy the “Rule of Two”
YES! To quote Plagueis as he speaks to his former Master Darth Tenebrous whom he just slayed:
“Go to your grave knowing that you are the last of the old order, the vaunted Rule of Two, and that the new order begins now and for a thousand years remain in my control.” — Chapter 1, Page 16
To me that line clearly states that Plagueis’ intentions, which could set up the ST brilliantly, is to allow for multiple Sith Lords, if not a Sith Legion, to exist at once. Perhaps different factions — one led by Sith Spectre Palpatine and one led by Darth Plagueis — battle for control of a galaxy in chaos. This could easily facilitate any “secret apprentices” that may suddenly appear. Remember that Latino Review posted a rumor about this:
Anyway, then came a rumor that actor Ian McDiarmid was to return for a role in the upcoming sequels […] Palpatine comes back as a Force Ghost..like Obi Wan. (Sith Lords learned similar techniques, which in some cases allowed them to physically interact with their environment.) […] Palpatine had a new apprentice before he got killed.
Moreover, that quote from Chapter 1 gives us explicit insight into Plagueis’ intention to rule for a thousand years. How is this possible unless he felt that the secret to etrnity was within his grasp?! Again from the novel we see that he wanted nothing short of physical immortality:
“Bane’s disciples, however, believed that he had experimented with a technique of even greater significance: that of essence transfer […] which involved the relocation of an individual’s consciousness into another body or, in some cases, a talisman, temple, or sarcophagus. […] But none of this amounted to corporeal survival. Plagueis had no intention of being a lingering, disembodied presence […] Nor did he seek to shunt his mind into the body of another […] or some vat-grown clone. Nothing less than immortality of his body and mind would suffice. Everlasting life.”
So, knowing all this, let’s take another, closer, look at the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise as told by Palpatine.
“Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew.”
Did Darth Plagueis really teach Palpatine everything he knew? Well, IF we presume he didn’t know the secret to immortality he could not pass it on. IF he did know the secret, we know he didn’t pass it on to Palpatine as this is revealed to us when he tells Anakin, “the power to cheat death is a power only one has achieved. Together, we can work to uncover the secret.” He clearly misled Anakin as to his power to teach this ability. And later, as he attempts to turn Anakin against Mace, Palpatine says, “I have the power to save the one you love! You must choose!” Essentially this evil politician and Sith Lord is, of course, a liar. We don’t know what the truth in his words is if there is any at all.
It appears very likely that Max Von Sydow, with his gravitas, is playing the villain. (Harry Knowles’ “source” confirmed this as well.) So it seemed a little odd that he was absent from the first table read as not seen in the April 29th cast announcement photo. Could it be that he is purely lending his voice? That seems like a waste of his talents but perhaps the Big Bad is going to be a CGI character as suggested by spidey1994 of ComicBookMovie.com. I doubt that they would choose Andy Serkis to play a tall, gaunt alien, but Darth Plagueis could be payed by an extra with latex prosthetics and CGI enhancements.
So let’s recap what we have going FOR our case:
1- We have George Lucas creating a great little myth within ROTS
2- We have George Lucas guiding a book about said myth, while . . .
3- We have George Lucas writing treatments for a Sequel Trilogy
4- We have Harry Knowles claiming that the Big Bad will make Pazuzu petals look like a pussy
5- We have John Morton speculating that the Big Bad will tie the whole franchise together, which Plagueis could through Sidious
6- We have Jedi with the ability to reappear in the corporeal realm, and Jedi and Sith have similar powers, yet the Sith don’t have this ability . . . yet
7- We have Hasbro directed NOT to make EU figures except Darth Plagueis
8- And we have legendary Max Von Sydow with his gravitas to play an epic villain
And here’s a brief list of the cons against our case:
1- Plagueis was killed, burned, and placed in an urn
2- Where was he during the OT? Easy enough, as in the man behind the curtain left the heavy lifting to Sidious and Vader. But where has he been in the 35 years since their defeat?
3- What does Plagueis being the real bad guy do to the OT? Does it make Sidous seem rather pointless?
While none of our “evidence” by itself points to any one specific villain, it does give the Darth Plagueis camp alot of ammunition. I mean, Who in the Star Wars universe could live up to this kind of mythic proportion? Well, Darth Sidious is rumored to be returning as a Sith Spectre. I’m not sure he attains the level that Knowles describes, unless the ancient fear is that Sith learn to come back as ghosts like the Jedi and influence the corporeal world. Sidious could tie everything together, of course, however we already defeated him. How many times will it take? And I’ve already written about the potential that the Inquisitor could be the Son of Mortis incarnate. BUT a Sith Lord that somehow found a way to become immortal would have to be the Big Bad to end all Big Bads.