‘Star Wars’ – The Original Series (Part Three): A Film Saga by Any Other Name…

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Obi-Wan Benobi (Alec Guinness) businessinsider.com
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) businessinsider.com

What’s in a Name?

The characters of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda represent the positive mystical aspects of the Star Wars films. More precisely, they are two exalted high priests (one hooded, one hairy and a little green around the gills) of the old Jedi order. The negative aspects of this decidedly unglamorous duo (the Yang to their Yin) fall to the evil Emperor (the former Senator Palpatine) and his intimidating protegé, Lord Vader.

With the years, our perception of the three original films in the trilogy has indeed changed. To be clear, it’s been colored significantly by the fluctuating political scene, as discussed in our previous posts. We, the good ole U.S. of A., are now the Empire (or, if you so choose, the equivalent of a modern-day Roman Empire), a concept that producer, director, and writer George Lucas was in favor of challenging in the late seventies to early eighties.

We have become our own worst enemy, in the sense of the classic cartoon-strip character, Pogo Possum, who used to say as a running refrain: “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

To recap, the first film in the series was shot on location in the desert of Tunisia in North Africa — Tatouine, to be exact (which also happens to be the name of the planet where Luke Skywalker lives), and along the Arizona desert near Yuma. Desert sagas from Lawrence of Arabia to Khartoum influenced the look and clothing worn by the characters. The saber wielding Jedi Knights of yore were modeled on samurai warriors and Akira Kurosawa movies, purportedly the Japanese master’s The Hidden Fortress.

Both the timeliness and timelessness of the films are what strike the viewer as unique, and that also makes them essential classics of the science fiction-war picture genre. They can mean many things to many people, at different times and in different places.

Luke confers with Yoda
Luke Skywalker confers with Master Yoda

For example, let’s take our young hero Luke (Lucas) Skywalker, the naïve, innocent, geeky, short of stature, but big of heart teenaged adventure seeker. Full of boyish enthusiasm and an overabundance of bravado, Luke is itching to break out of the boring, hum-drum life on his Uncle Owen’s “farm.”

Mark Hamill, the actor who played Luke, fit the profile of the gung-ho future fighter pilot to perfection. It’s been noted that his character’s name is derived from the ancient Greek word leukos, which means “light.” Somehow, I can’t quite picture Luke or any Jedi Knight’s apprentice wielding a leukos-saber against his or her foe, can you?

To get back to a more “biblical” connotation, there’s always the Evangelist Saint Luke of the Gospels, who, according to accepted knowledge, was a physician before he converted to Christianity. He was also a follower of Saint Paul, another well-known Evangelist and a prolific letter writer, at that.

So where does all this leave our friend, Young Skywalker (whose original name happened to be Starkiller)? Among the immortals, one hopes …

Here are a few more examples:

Han Solo (“solo” = by himself, alone, acting on his own), played by Harrison Ford and always acting unilaterally in his own self-interest, is a “scoundrel,” according to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). His name may have been derived from Han, a variation of the German form of John, as in Johan or Johann. Maybe even Johannes, as in Johannes Brahms (“Check out Brahms … He’s good too,” hinted Gary Oldman in Luc Besson’s Leon, the Professional).

Han Solo & Chewbacca (glamorama.cl)
Han Solo (Harrison Ford) & Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) (glamorama.cl)

Solo’s close friend, colleague, and partner in intergalactic crime, is a creature called Chewbacca, or Chewie for short. He (it?) belongs to a race of towering fuzzballs known as Wookiees, whose name may have come from a possible ad lib found in Lucas’ earlier sci-fi actioner THX 1138 (“I think I ran over a Wookiee back there”).

Now, the “Chewie” part probably refers to his carnivorous diet and razor sharp teeth. Incidentally, Wookiees are the best star pilots in the galaxy (but don’t tell them that, or they’ll get a swelled head). GGGRRRRRRHHHHHH!

Princess Leia Organa (aka Fata Morgana, or Morgan Le Fay of fabled times), spunky, feisty, self-sufficient, and, of course, lovely to look at. She sports dual side braids that make her look as if she’s wearing cinnamon rolls over her ears (thank the New York Times for that description). She may even evoke fondly remembered memories of Lady Galadriel from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (another excellent film series, I would add), although Leia happens to be about a foot shorter.

Princess Leia
Princess Leia

The Organa portion of her surname could be a hint of her “organic nature,” or that “back to the land aesthetic” so favored in the 1970s. I like to think it came from her adopted dad, the late Senator Organa (he and his planet were blown to smithereens, you will recall, in the first Star Wars feature). He’s played by the tall and handsome Jimmy Smits. But of course, we won’t know that until we arrive at Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. “Patience, young padawan, patience …”

Darth Vader (Dark Father, or even Der Fuehrer), voiced in sepulchral tones by James Earl Jones and portrayed under the mask and cloak by British bodybuilder and physical fitness trainer Dave Prowse, was originally named Anakin Skywalker. Now, Anakin is a variation on the name of a race of giants found in the book of Genesis (there’s that biblical reference again). Someone had the nerve to suggest that Lord Vader’s face mask, or breathing apparatus, was “inspired” by the front grille of a ’56 Chevy. “I hope so, for your sake!”

Ben Kenobi (Uncle Ben) or Obi-Wan Kenobi (the one and only), played by the redoubtable Sir Alec Guinness, has the most impressive sounding lineage of the lot. We know that “obi” is the Japanese word for sash, which is used to tie one’s kimono. Along those same lines, the “wan” part may imply the honorific term “san” attached to most Japanese names (as in “Joe-san,” for example). Hah, and “OB” could also be a shortened form of Old Ben, which Luke likes to call the wizened geyser at various points in the story.

Finally, there’s our metallic buddies, the Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy of droid-dom, R2-D2 (or is it Artoo Deetoo?) and C-3PO (Threepio, if you don’t mind). R2 sounds more like a “whistling Hoover vacuum cleaner,” as one wag described him. Supposedly (now I haven’t been able to verify this, so don’t quote me) the little droid got his name from some sound editor’s shorthand for “Reel Two, Dialogue Two,” from Lucas’ American Graffiti. That may well be, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch … Skywalker Ranch, that is.

As for Threepio, well … he’s more of a butler than a robot, and a prissy little snit at that. For a protocol droid, he certainly has a lot of ennui. He’s good at math, of that we are more than certain. But he’s been known to be wrong … from time to time … Oh, dear, dear, dear …

And there we have it. These play-on-words and fancy put-ons on top of put-ons are both fascinating and delightful, but do not necessarily add to or detract from our enjoyment of the trilogy as a whole. The best one can say about them is that they’re plain old fun!

(End of Part Three)

Source and Suggested Reading:

• “The Names Came from Earth” – Eric P. Nash, The New York Times, January 26, 1997

Copyright © 2013 by Josmar F. Lopes

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One thought on “‘Star Wars’ – The Original Series (Part Three): A Film Saga by Any Other Name…

    kidney impaired function said:
    August 24, 2013 at 12:44 am

    Hi, Ive recently been a lurker all around your blog for some months. I enjoy this article along with your entire web site! Looking forward to reading through more!

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