Tuesday, October 29, 2013

C-3P0 and Diminishing Returns

<I promise - this actually comes around to a relevant point.  Eventually.  >

Around 4 AM this morning I became vitally concerned with an essential truth.

Like most essential truths discovered at that hour, this was Star Wars related.

I should preface this by saying that I have absolutely no idea what I was dreaming about prior to this, nor do I know what brought the thought to mind.  Nonetheless, there - in the wee hours of the night - the unvarnished truth of it became clear.

C-3P0 works in Episode 4 (A New Hope (or simply Star Wars if you're not terribly pedantic about these things)) largely due to the fact that George Lucas never intended him to be like that. 

(This is where I traditionally would include a photo of C-3P0 with some sort of snappy caption.  But have you seen Lucasfilm's legal team?  No thank you.)

I'll explain (again for the non-pedants among you.*) 

* No, it means 'overly concerned with the small details at the expense of the larger picture'.  Yes, I'm sure.  No, you're thinking of either 'Pederast' or 'Pedophile'.  Yes, those are very different.
In the script for the Original Star Wars (1977) the character of C-3P0 is very different from how he ended up being portrayed on screen.  George Lucas' original intention was that C-3P0 had the personality of a sleazy used car dealer (this is how he himself describes his original plan for the character.

Anthony Daniels was hired to play only the body of C-3P0 - largely because he was skinny enough to fit in the suit and had at one time been trained to move properly.  Because the voice was going to be dubbed in later, Tony was just speaking the lines on set so that others had something to react to.  It was only later that the decision was taken that Tony should be the voice as well, once George Lucas had been won over by Anthony Daniels' take on the character (and, one supposes, Anthony as a human being, as the two do seem to be genuinely fond of each other in a way that - say - he and Harrison Ford do not.)

What makes this relevant is that none of the scripted lines changed, only the way that they were said.  If you go back and actually read the lines themselves you'll see that in that first film 3P0 is a gigantic prick for pretty much most of the film.  He calls R2-D2 names, Blames R2 for his own earlier mistakes, and sucks up in the most obsequious way possible to every human being he comes into contact with.  If you imagine the part as Joe Pesci would have played it you pretty much have what George originally wanted the character to be.

It's only at the end of the movie when 3P0 (if I might use the familiar) comes around and volunteers to donate his own parts to R2-D2 after he gets shot by crossfire during the end run sequence in the Death Star trench.  One imagines that George originally wanted this to be played terribly earnestly, making the crux of the story 'Little C-3P0 grows a heart'

Not a subtle writer, George.

In the finished product, that offer of spare parts comes across as one more example of character fussiness, and an expression of the genuine affection the two droids have had for one another all along under the surface rather than the sort of ham-fisted 'What is this thing... 'love'...?' moment so beloved by a certain thread of science fiction.

My point is - for this one film and one film only there in a beautiful dissonance between the words being spoken and the character being played and it makes him a billion times more interesting than the straightforward C-3P0 who was scripted in every Star Wars film after this point.

It's a mistake to get too much of your own way too often.  Quite often the most wonderful things are the result of somebody unexpected coming along and completely screwing up your plan.

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