Thursday, May 17, 2018

Two Wagers on Tattooine Decide the Fate of the Republic, or Why didn't Qui-Gon Jinn free Shmi Skywalker?

This question has been discussed at length here,with a few (in- and out-universe) explanations, but the simplest answer is: he didn't want to free her. This answer is given as one explanation in the above link, but I'd like to expound on it here. Follwing is a simple break down of two intertwined (and somewhat confusing) wagers that, together, ultimately bring about the downfall of the Old Republic. An extensive amount of knowledge of the Star Wars universe is pre-supposed for anyone reading this; I'm not going to explain every detail or situation. Besides, no one without said knowlege would give a rat's ass about this topic anyway.

Almost certainly the main reason Qui-Gon Jinn didn't free Shmi Skywalker was because he wanted to train her son Anakin as a Jedi, and the Jedi were forbidden to have any attachments to family members as they needed to focus solely on their training. When this rule was violated, the results tended to be catastrophic. (See Count Dooku aka Darth Tyranus, in addition to Anakin Skywalker. There are almost certainly other Canon and Legends examples that I'm missing.)

We know Qui-Gon had the means to free her, or at least make the effort, even at the time they were originally on Tatooine. The terms of the initial wager he made with Watto were as follows: Watto supplied the entry fee and the pilot (Anakin,)  and Qui-Gon supplied the pod (a great bit of subterfuge as the pod was already Watto's to begin with; presumably as the slaveowner he also owned any property of the slave, in this case Anakin's 'fastest pod ever built.')

If Anakin lost, Watto was to get the Nubian starship (which really wasn't Qui-Gon's to bet in the first place, as he didn't own it). If Anakin won, then Qui-gon got the hyperdrive needed to fix the ship. (Watto was to keep the rest of the winnings he would've made by betting on Anakin, hence Qui-Gon's 'either way you win,' but since Watto bet on Sebulba he lost out big time.)

When Qui-Gon was attempting to free both slaves in his second wager with Watto, the terms of this wager were: Anakin wins, he's free. Anakin loses, he's not free, and Watto also keeps the pod. Again, slick trick, since the pod was already Watto's to begin with.

At first Qui-Gon makes a cursory attempt to free both Shmi and Anakin, but Watto's 'no pod is worth two slaves' put an end to that. Once again Watto's greed gets the better of him; ostensibly the question as to which slave will be freed should Anakin win is left up to chance, but of course Qui-Gon uses the force to settle that question by literally influencing the roll of the die, and it is Anakin who is to be freed if Qui-Gon wins this second wager. Both wagers hinge on whether Anakin wins or loses the Boonta Eve race.

Maybe no pod is worth two slaves, but clearly it is worth one slave to Watto, or he never would have accepted Qui-Gon's second wager at all, and couldn't have been influenced to do so since Toydarians were immune to the old Jed mind trick.  The key point left unspoken (or at least unacknowledged in-universe), and the key to the hypothesis that Qui-Gon never wanted Shmi to be freed, was that after all was said and done, in addition to freeing Anakin and getting the hyperdrive components needed to repair his ship, Qui-Gon still owned the 'fastest pod ever built,' at least as far as Watto knew.

Why didn't Qui-Gon attempt to trade the pod to Watto for Shmi? In neither the film nor the novelization of The Phantom Menace is it ever stated or implied that he did so. From the book we know that he sold the pod (most likely to Sebulba) and gave the money to Anakin, who gave it to his mother. The book states that the money from selling the pod was not nearly enough to by Shmi's freedom, but the pod itself, and its potential to earn future money for Watto, might have been a different inducement entirely. Watto just might have been willing to part with his one remaining slave in order to take possession of this incredible pod, which had just defeated the galaxy's premier pod racer (and his presumably top-notch pod) in Sebulba.

This brings up an ethical conundrum, because clearly Qui-Gon Jinn had a vested interest in seeing that Anakin Skywalker's mother remained in bondage (see paragraph 2). He may have been fooling himself by his half-hearted second wager with Watto, but the fact remains that had Shmi accompanied them off Tattooine, Anakin would almost certainly never have been trained as a Jedi. This isn't the only ethical problem that Qui-Gon's behavior presented; for one thing he was gambling with items that weren't his (the Nubian starship belonged to the government of Naboo, the pod to Anakin and hence Watto.) All very interesting behavior for a member of an order that was supposed to represent peace and justice in the galaxy. Here, he flirted with both thievery and slavery.

Supposedly the great Jedi Order knows best in separating children from their families at such a young age they will remember little to nothing about their families: those ties are a distraction, and clearly the worry is that such strong attachments form too many avenues, too many inducements to start down the dark path. Presumably Qui-Gon, in his nascent belief that Anakin might be the chosen one, was attempting to prevent such entanglements for the soon-to-be Padawan. He believes that Anakin will be the one to bring balance to the Force. Ultimately this feels like a very Sith-like proposition, which can be boiled down, simply, to the ends justifying the means.

Fat lot of good that did him; in the end it was Shmi's death that finally pushed Anakin over the edge and firmly, irrevocably down the dark path when he went on his genocidal revenge rampage against the Tuskens who tortured his mother to death. (Let's leave alone for a minute the fact that Padme still loved Anakin even after he admitted to being a mass child-murderer. WTF?)

So ultimately Qui-Gon might have been better off freeing Shmi in the first place: he didn't because he knew that would've rendered impossible the already daunting task of getting the Jedi Council to accept Anakin as a Padawan.

So did Qui-Gon Jinn's two wagers ultimately set off the dominoes that led to the downfall of the Republic and the birth of the Empire? The argument can be made. Hopefully I just made it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

March and the Popcorn Tree

Photos by Theoden M. Wilkerson.
There is a stunningly beautiful tree in my front yard. It’s been there ever since I moved here more than ten years ago, but I still don’t know the name of the tree. I’ve always called it the ‘popcorn tree’ because of the profusion of white blossoms it produces every spring.  Right now it is an absolute riot of the purest white imaginable; the branches are crazy and grow in every direction, and every inch is covered with a blanket of the fluffiest, most fragrant, irridescent blossoms imaginable. In bright sunlight it hurts to look at this tree with the naked eye, so reflective and radiant are its flowerets.

My wife and I are getting ready to sell our house. It is an interesting and conflicting proposition for me; there are things I love and hate about this place. It’s old (for our part of the country); just five years ago in 2011 we celebrated the house’s 100th birthday. The reasons for selling are many; it’s definitely a seller’s market right now; Portland is a hot place to live and our location is great. I have gouty arthritis at the ripe old age of 44 and am incredibly allergic to all the miracle drugs now available for this condition, and as the years go by it gets harder and harder to navigate the stairs necessary to live in this 3-story craftsman. It needs someone with the time, money and/or skills to keep on top of living here. We live on the corner of a busy street; for an introvert (and yes, sometimes a borderline misanthrope) that’s never a plus.

Having lived here for over ten years, after a long and relatively unsettled life (I once counted and lost track after about 35 moves) it’s the first place I’ve ever called home for any significant amount of time. I’ll miss my spot on the couch, the locus of comfort and centeredness in my world. I’ll miss the proximity to the incredible Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants all within walking distance (even for a mobility-challenged individual like myself.) I’ll miss the memories of our two wonderful canine friends, Riley and Jackson, who both passed away last year within a few months of each other.  But I think most of all I’ll miss the tree in the front yard.

During the late winter and early spring, when the red berries weigh down the branches, it is life-sustaining for the robins, varied thrushes, and hordes of noisy, devastatingly handsome, pompadour-spouting cedar waxwings who depend on those berries. Not long ago I counted seventeen of them in the branches at once; for those who have ever tried to count birds you know how difficult it is to get an accurate count of even modest numbers of small, fast-moving critters; in this case they all sat stock-still, transfixed by something going on down the street. In the summer my popcorn tree’s glossy golden-green leaves provide a welcoming haven for dogs and their walkers (and yes, their messes as well.) But it’s mostly the springtime blossoms that I will regret not seeing every day.

As an atheist who firmly believes in the wonder and remarkableness of those things called life and consciousness, I’m often non-plussed (or straight-up pissed) at those who suggest that I’m somehow missing something by not believing in a "higher power." When I stand in front of the tree, looking at it assaulting the world with its ravishing comeliness, I’m dumbfounded with reverence, literally moved to tears with the simple, sheer joy of being alive, now, in this place and time, and with the experience of sharing the world with such a marvelous, fellow living traveler as the tree in my front yard. Somewhere back in time, beyond eons uncounted, this tree and I had the same parent. What is more wonderful, more awe-inspiring than that?

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if I were to imagine heaven I think the trees would look something like this one. I will miss this tree when I move. But it will live on; hopefully longer than I will. I’d like to think that in a century or so the owner of this house, or perhaps their child, will stand in the lamb-like end of March in awe and wonder at the beautiful popcorn tree in their front yard.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some New Tidbits

Visiting my sadly neglected blog once again...although I'm working on some new developments that hopefully will allow me to focus a lot more time writing about music here, at NW Reverb and at Oregon Music News. Neither James nor I have been writing as much at the 'Verb since we started the OMN gig but as I said hopefully that will change soon.

That said, if anyone out there is still paying attention here are a couple of things:

1. Classical Revolution PDX
has incorporated as a non-profit and is seeking 50 adventurous souls to become Founding Revolutionaries by joining at a $10/month support level or donating $100 outright. This is a worthy cause and Mattie Kaiser and Co. have been hard at work for a long time now. Check it out, give it some thought, and any contribution large or small is welcome...

2. My friend Mel Downie Robinson, a fabulous soprano specializing in early music, is doing a recital at PSU with countertenor Tim Galloway, Doug Schneider on harpsichord and Michael Wilhite on theorbo and viola da gamba. I have heard all of these musicians perform before and they all know their stuff; this should be a great show. It's this Saturday at 8pm at Lincoln Hall on the PSU campus.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New stuff at Oregon Music News

Just a quick link to a couple of new articles up at Oregon Music News:

An interview with Bobby Ray of The Electric Opera Company
proved most enlightening! I'll be at their show with CRPDX at the Alberta Rose Theatre tomorrow night. I guarantee you won't have more of a blast anywhere in the 503 for 8 bucks on Friday.

I reviewed Hideki Yamaya's latest CD
: a recording of Roncalli's Capricci Armonici sopra la Chitarra Spagnola for baroque guitar. Hideki is one of my very favorite solo baroque stylists in a city that is absolutely crazy for early music, boasting many top-notch performers. Simply put, this CD is marvelous.

Click on the links above for the articles and further linkage.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

CRPDX and Electric Opera Company team up in 'Sympathy for the Devil'

Electric Opera Company and Classical Revolution PDX Present:
Sympathy for the Devil
A classically inspired rock concert at the Alberta Rose Theater

Portland’s favorite Electric Guitar Orchestra collides with the city’s
most accessible Chamber Ensemble to show you a side of classical music you’ve never even dreamed of, but will never want to leave behind…

PORTLAND — Alternative Classical Music. You could say they’re polar opposites. The guitarists of Electric Opera Company bringing their modern instruments into classical settings play the Ying to Classical
Revolution PDX’s Yang of chamber instrumentalists playing at bars and other comfortable settings. But this is a case where opposites
attract for a common goal: Making Classical Music more accessible to
the everyday listener!

Classical Revolution and Electric Opera Company will bring their
trademark stylings of 18th century masterworks to the Alberta Rose
Theater on August 19th for a concert that won’t soon be forgotten.
The theme is “Sympathy for the Devil” and there’s a heavy helping of
“Diablo in musica” in store including the Danse Macabre, selections
from Gounod’s Faust, Chopin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and
plenty more surprises. Bring your beer drinking fists and wear
whatever you want, its classical music for the 21st century!

Classical Revolution PDX in a Nutshell
Classical Revolution PDX offers chamber music performances in highly accessible venues, such as bars and cafes. By taking chamber music out of the recital hall and making it more accessible to an audience who does not otherwise hear such music in a live context, Classical Revolution strives to make the public aware that classical music is still relevant and can be enjoyed by all.

"Will the demise of appreciation for classical music be reversed by the Classical Revolution movement? Time will tell, it's transformational, it's unforgettable and every pair of ears that hears it is going to pass the word on. Now that's the stuff of revolutions alright." - Zaph Mann, OPB Music

Electric Opera Company in a Nutshell
Electric Opera Company is dedicated to revitalizing the popularity of
opera and classical music through education and performance; and to
breaking down the barriers to these arts by presenting them in a
modern, accessible medium. This accessible medium is the Fifteen
Piece Electric Guitar orchestra, in which musicians play the exact
parts as written by the composer. But the instruments typically
associated with classical music are replaced with an army of electric
guitars, keyboards, and drums.

The orchestra has been making waves around town as both a rock band teaching adults that classical music is way more awesome than they think it is, a company that produces fully staged operas, and an educational outreach group teaching kids basically the same thing. They’ve been spotted in opera houses, rock venues, middle schools, elementary schools, music festivals, non-profits, and more, spreading
the gospel of classical music to the unsuspecting.

Calendar Listing
What: Sympathy for the Devil, a concert featuring Electric Opera
Company and Classical Revolution PDX

Who: Produced by Electric Opera Company and Classical Revolution PDX.
Arranged by Bobby Ray and Adam Goodwin. Musical direction by

When/Where: Friday, August 19th, 8:00 pm – Minors OK when accompanied
by a parent or guardian
The Alberta Rose Theater 3000 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR (503) 719-6055

Why: To bring the joy of Classical Music to those who might not
experience it otherwise, and to share a new lens through which to view
a timeless favorite.

Tickets: $8 at the door or purchased online at

Mattie Kaiser
Executive Director | Classical Revolution PDX

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Filmusik and Federale rock the house with 'The Grand Duel'

Filmusik, Portland's homegrown musical idea whose name expresses exactly what it does, delivered another bang-up performance with the live-soundtrack rendition of 'The Grand Duel,' a spaghetti western of the best (worst?) kind Thursday night at the Hollywood Theater.

Federale, a local band who specializes in the dramatic music of the kind found in this genre, performed a live version of the soundtrack. The main theme is probably better known to most audiences from its appropriation by Quentin Tarantino for the soundtrack to 'Kill Bill Vol. 1.' The iconic harmonium melody, doubled at various times by soprano or trumpet, was accompanied by a perfect high lonesome whistle from one of the band members (and quite an excellent display of whistling prowess it was.) After all, what's spaghetti western music without the whistling?

The performance gave you everything you want from this genre, in which, let's face it, the music is much better than the film. And much more intense from being live and in your face. The film itself was a delicious, laughable bit of nonsense, full of hyperbole, melodrama, gratuitous nudity, stereotypes, and hatchet-faced Europeans with bad teeth somehow trying to pass themselves off as Americans, replete with oompa-loompa-cum-John-Boehner tans. Starring the iconic Lee Van Cleef as a sheriff out to save an innocent man from hanging and bent on revenge agains the cruel Patriarch, this film needed great music to save it from itself.

Federale betrayed a keen understanding of the musical needs of this genre, from gritty verismo atmospherics in which inglorious death is all around, to sinister carefully layered mood music, full of atonalism and sound-effects that also showcased the droning surf-rock origin behind much of the guitar work.

Another worthwhile endeavor from Galen Huckins and Filmusik, the final performance takes place tonight at 8 pm at the Hollywood Theater.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Upcoming Filmusik Madness: The Grand Duel

Filmusik, the unique brainchild of Portland composer Galen Huckins that combines classic cinema with all manner of live performance elements, including live original soundtracks, voice dubbing and sound effects, is at it again this upcoming week with their new project The Grand Duel.

A spaghetti western starring the inimitable Lee Van Cleef, this film marks Filmusik's first collaboration with Federale, a local alternative band who just happens to specialize in writing and performing music that, in their own words, "recapture[s] the haunting, violent atmosphere illustrated in such classic films as A Fistful of Dollars." With their ranchero-style horns and the intensely powerful soprano of Maria Karlin, Federale, besides being an extremely talented ensemble that knows exactly how to achieve their musical goals, is a plain old-fashioned kick in the pants. Marvelously fun, Filmusik and Federale are a natural fit for each other, and for this enterprise Federale composed an entirely new soundtrack and will be on hand to perform for all three shows. The showings are Thursday July 28th, Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th at the Hollywood Theater at 8pm.