Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil: Outgeeking Bainbridge

« Getting Ready for Hong Kong | Main | Idealist? You must be joking »

Outgeeking Bainbridge

Now, I'd never take on Professor Bainbridge when it comes to wine: I haven't the taste buds. And on corporate law? More fool me to challenge the guy who authors textbooks. But outgeeking? There we're on more equal ground. And I'm afraid that his accusation that George Lucas has sold the soul of Star Wars to the Democrats just rings hollow.

Basically, the good Professor is upset because:

...Lucas betrayed the basic story arc of the Star Wars mythology in order to score these cheap political points. In the original trilogy, Luke struggled against the absolutism of Obi-Wan and Yoda. It was Luke who insisted that there was still good in Vader, which Yoda and Obi-Wan rejected.

The betrayal in question is in having Obi-Wan say to Anakin, after the latter has muttered some you're-for-me-or-against-me line, "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes."

Now, I've not seen the movie yet, and to the best of my knowledge, neither has Prof. Bainbridge, but to my mind his internal critique doesn't hold up. Bainbridge spends a great deal of time talking about how an older (presumably wiser) Obi-Wan was still doctrinaire and absolutist in his consideration of the Force. But if we consider this Obi-Wan to be less mature than Alec Guinness (and who wouldn't), then the plot still hangs together. Obi-wan may just be full of it. And there's no "betrayal" for "cheap political points" so long as the elder Jedi isn't doing anything more than the lightsaber equivalent of Godwin's Law: you know the conversation's over (and someone's limbs are about to go) when somebody mentions the Sith.

So why are so many assuming that Old Kenobi needs to be taken seriously? It seems that the New York Times found political meaning in the film:

"This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause," Padm observes as senators, their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. "Revenge of the Sith" is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70's engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back.

Dear goodness, we can only hope. I mean, if Democrats can't do better than Lucas's tin-ear for dialogue for their political bumper stickers, then I suspect the Republicans will get the geek vote. But now the New York Times has done the impossible: it's made me curious about the final Star Wars film.

Let's face it: Lucas is about as subtle as a chainsaw running through a screen door, at least when it comes to dialogue. I'd expect that even if Chewbacca were mouthing Bush-lite rhetoric, you wouldn't need to be Han Solo to figure out the reference. On the other hand, the New York Times could probably scan Beowulf and find hidden anti-Bush meanings.

So who is it? Is George L. taking on George B.? Or is this all a figment of the Times' fevered fantasies? Sadly, I'll have to see the film to find out, because when it comes to a conflict between the Lucas lack of subtext and the Greying Lady's determination to find same, we reach a level of difficulty almost equal to that of the Great Sci Fi Paradox: What happens when a bunch of clueless red-shirts, guaranteed to survive less than three minutes after a beamdown, meets a platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers, who can't hit a barn from inside it?


This article on a Cannes press conference might save you the trouble of going to the movie.
A wise man once pointed out that "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", and I think someone needs to remind Prof. Bainbridge that sometimes a trashy sci-fi B flick is just a trashy sci-fi B flick.....
The "wise man" was Freud, on the sometimes-noninterpretation-of-dreams. Less well known is his debt to Kipling. The original line went something like "Wine is only wine, but a cigar is a smoke."
I've noticed that people who are absolutist often think that they are nuanced. (Often because they know other people on their own side who are even more extreme, or have unexpressed feelings which are much nastier.)
TTP: I know it was Freud; I was under the impression that the quote was familiar enough that nobody (at least nobody well educated enough to be follwoing a first person narrative of American legal education) needed to be told who said it. :-)
Oh, perhaps I've underestimated folks. I was under the impression that a lot of people didn't know the source. Eh. Also I was trolling for the exact phrasing of the Kipling quote.
"Now, I've not seen the movie yet, and to the best of my knowledge, neither has Prof. Bainbridge..." And thus continues the conservative tradition of critiquing movies without having seen them. :)
If you notice, Dave, the above isn't a critique of a movie, but a series of questions about it. And having now seen the movie, if you want to carry water for Lucas's dialogue, I hope your back's pretty strong.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

NOTICE TO SPAMMERS, COMMENT ROBOTS, TRACKBACK SPAMMERS AND OTHER NON-HUMAN VISITORS: No comment or trackback left via a robot is ever welcome at Three Years of Hell. Your interference imposes significant costs upon me and my legitimate users. The owner, user or affiliate who advertises using non-human visitors and leaves a comment or trackback on this site therefore agrees to the following: (a) they will pay fifty cents (US$0.50) to Anthony Rickey (hereinafter, the "Host") for every spam trackback or comment processed through any blogs hosted on, or, irrespective of whether that comment or trackback is actually posted on the publicly-accessible site, such fees to cover Host's costs of hosting and bandwidth, time in tending to your comment or trackback and costs of enforcement; (b) if such comment or trackback is published on the publicly-accessible site, an additional fee of one dollar (US$1.00) per day per URL included in the comment or trackback for every day the comment or trackback remains publicly available, such fee to represent the value of publicity and search-engine placement advantages.

Giving The Devil His Due

And like that... he is gone (8)
Bateleur wrote: I tip my hat to you - not only for ... [more]

Law Firm Technology (5)
Len Cleavelin wrote: I find it extremely difficult to be... [more]

Post Exam Rant (9)
Tony the Pony wrote: Humbug. Allowing computers already... [more]

Symbols, Shame, and A Number of Reasons that Billy Idol is Wrong (11)
Adam wrote: Well, here's a spin on the theory o... [more]

I've Always Wanted to Say This: What Do You Want? (14)
gcr wrote: a nice cozy victorian in west phill... [more]

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


Projects I've Been Involved With

A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

Syndicated from other sites

The Columbia Continuum
Other Blogs by CLS students

Captivating Burma

Few are the travelers who add Burma to their Southeast Asia itineraries. But, as we discovered, those who do are profoundly rewarded.

Because the Burmese military regime rules the country with an iron fist, they dictate where tourists can and can’t go on a visit to Burma. The government tries vehemently to tightly control interactions between foreigners and the people of Burma and the mere discussing of politics with foreigners is under penalty of imprisonment. To that end, much of the country is completely off-limits to tourists and we were only permitted to go to certain, approved regions.

To no surprise, this hindered our ability to travel freely through Burma, but what it did not inhibit was a rich and authentic experience in an often forgotten land.

Here’s a bit more on where and how we spent our time in Burma.


Click on the video below for scenes from Yangon.

After readjusting to Western comforts in Thailand, I braced myself. We flew into Burma from Bangkok, arriving in Yangon. As the country’s largest city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the former capital of Burma. Although the military government recently relocated the capital to Naypyidaw in central Burma, Yangon continues to be the country’s largest city and the most important ‘business’ center.

Immediately upon arriving, we were brought back to our days in India. The smell of stale urine and sewage prevailed and the country’s infrastructure was little to none. Most roads are unpaved and many still get around on cycle-rickshaws. Most everyone was clad in traditional dress – men and women in intricate, ankle-length sarongs they call longyis – and we found women guarding themselves from the oppressive heat with colorful parasols. Accompanying the parasols, was a thick paste caked on their faces, which really caught my attention. I soon learned this paste is made from mixing sandalwood bark with water and rubbing it on the face. It’s called thanaka and is used by Burmese women as a sign of beauty and to guard their skin from the sun.

Thanaka Street Vendor Captivating Burma

Burmese street vendor displays traditional thanaka on her face

I found street markets bustling with every kind of item you could think of. Strong Chinese and Indian influences were visible and remannts of the British occupation were readily apparent in the crumbling colonial buildings on nearly every block. Electricity was scarce and comforts non-existent. It was then I realized two things: 1. I had to toughen up (Indian tough, as I told myself) as it wasn’t going to be an easy ride but 2. This was a special place and we would surely be rewarded.


The ancient city of Bagan is located in the dry central plains of the country. Home to more than 4,000 Buddhist temples in a 26 mile radius, it’s one of the most spectacular religious sites in Asia, and perhaps the world. The temples were built by Burmese kings between the 9th and 13th centuries at the height of the Burmese Empire. The skyline of temples leave an indelible impression with stone and brick stupas enveloped by mountains in the distance.

We spent two days taking in the awe-inspiring temples, first on the back of a horse-drawn carriage and then on bikes. Our driver we called Midnight (for lack of being able to pronounce his name) took us down the bumpy dirt path and past the temples on a horse-cart. With no other tourists in sight, the area felt deserted, almost as if we were discovering a place left untouched for thousands of years. The following day we went out on bikes, accompanied by a young artist (and gentlest of souls) who we’d met in a temple the day before. Strangers-cum(quick)-friends. He took us to all sorts of less-discovered temples and with torch in hand, he revealed beautiful frescoes and Buddhist relics fit for a world-class museum.

Bagan was submitted to become a UNESCO heritage site but many speculate corrupt politics as the reason for the exclusion. It more than deserves a spot in my book.

Inle Lake

We’d seen the sites and met the people, but still left to discover was the natural beauty of Burma. Along the still waters of Inle Lake, it was time.

Click on the video below for scenes of Inle Lake.

Inle Lake is Burma’s largest lake and our favorite stop on our Burma adventure. Refelcting a vibrant blue sky of puffy white clouds and stilted villages, Inle Lake is quite possibly one of the most scenic places we visited on our five-month Asia journey. Here, saffron-clad monks stream barefoot and solemnly poised out of crumbling, gold pagodas at the water’s edge. Narrow wooden boats cut like glass through the water filled to the brim with women from the surrounding hill tribe communities. They sit silently with gazing eyes under colorful head scarves, holding bamboo-woven baskets full of goods to trade at market.

Rows of barefoot fisherman stand on the stern of boats. With hands free they cast out nets almost in unison into the calm waters as they row the boats with their legs. Stilted villages, floating markets and crumbling pagodas, these are the scenes of mystical Inle Lake.

On a boat ride on the still waters, cycling through teakwood villages and watching the setting sun behind silhouetted pagodas and fishing boats shimmering on the lake, we were captivated by Burma’s natural beauty. Over hot cups of joe with the Burmese while rooting on the USA in the World Cup, bumping down a dirt road on a horse cart as our driver shared his life story and learning to eat rice with our hands as our rickshaw driver joined us for a meal, we fell in love with the people. It was here we confirmed Burma would become a part of us.

pixel Captivating Burma

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Comments are closed.