The True Meaning of Christmas

This Christmas season has not been an easy one for me. Here I am, Christmas Day, and I’m unemployed, with no idea when or whether I’ll find another job and barely enough money to get me through another month–and that’s after spending several weeks, a month or two ago, looking for work. Financially speaking, this has probably been the most difficult time of my life, and it hasn’t been terribly easy in other regards either: I’ve felt distant from loved ones often, have suffered a lot of fear and uncertainty about my future, and struggled against the crushing feeling that I am sinking back into a routine of life that is going nowhere and profiting me nothing. It has certainly not been a time of carefree joy and happy togetherness.

And yet, as all this has been going on, I have also been more deeply aware of the true meaning of Christmas than ever in my life before. “The true meaning of Christmas.” That’s a phrase that gets bandied about a lot nowadays, especially in those sappy “family films” that we all know and love (or hate, as the case may be). And yet, with all this talk, it seems that the meaning of Christmas is still surprisingly elusive. The modern world, by and large, takes that meaning to be as follows: Christmas is a time for giving, for being together with loved ones and reconciling your differences, for being magnanimous towards others and for spreading good cheer wherever you might find yourself. Then of course, there is the commercial side of it, fueled by that very spirit of giving but still all too often erupting into something unhealthy, dry, withered, and ugly. Those things are not bad things (not even commerce, if kept under control–after all, buying and selling brings prosperity!). Yet it seems to me that the secular modern (and all too often, even the religious) world’s understand of Christmas is like a person who looks at an empty house and mistakes it for a home. The soul is missing from the modern notion of Christmas.

So, what is the true meaning of Christmas? The things I listed before are not that meaning, but only its effects: they are a celebration for which the cause has been forgotten or pushed to the background. And that cause is the most profound event in history: that God Himself, the eternal, changeless being, the cause of all that is or ever shall be, the Infinite, Who know human can ever understand or comprehend, chose to become incarnate in human flesh; and what is more, in the flesh of a helpless baby, born of a human woman lowly in all respects save for the extraordinary graces that she was given. Let that sink in. God is infinite, immanent and yet transcendent; He took on a face. God is too vast to be named; He took on a name, and one as common as Jack or Bob, at that. God is all-powerful; he became a helpless baby, utterly dependent on His mother, so fragile that to be left alone for a day could have spelled His death. And He came so that we humans, the oath-breakers, who by right should be cast aside, might become adopted into God’s family and made brothers and sisters of Christ, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone.

That is the mystery that we celebrate, the great paradox, the incredibly wondrous event which is at the heart of all the joyful outer trappings of Christmas. Christmas as we know it, with all those things that have come to be misidentified as its “true meaning,” would not exist without the Incarnation. The festival has become so great only by the power of faith which has borne it up all through the years; and even though the soul has gone out of it in so many places, that ancient wonder is still there holding it up, and will surely continue to do so as long as it is remembered.

Back to the beginning: this Christmas season has been pretty tough for me. But even in the most difficult times, there is still beauty to be found, and I think it is very fitting that I have seen the beauty of Christmas more strongly than ever before in this, my most difficult Christmas season to date.

Merry Christmas!

~ Jared

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Home Again

And so, after about five and one half months, I have returned home to the United States. This is going to be the last post in my “Journal From Honduras” series, even though it isn’t being written there. It feels strange to be back… good, but strange. I’m still working through my thoughts and feelings, and it may be awhile before I’m through with that, but as I doubt I’ll want to share all those things on a public blog, I shall go ahead and make this last post now.

 

….but it’s difficult to know what to say. How does one just sum up such an experience? I’m very glad that I went. There were certainly disappointments–one of them being that I didn’t get to do as much mission work as I had hoped. But on the other hand, some of the disappointments I learned from, and others worked out for good–if I had done as much mission work as I’d hoped to do, it’s doubtful that I would’ve had the time to think and pray that I so very much needed. So all in all, the trip was very good; I feel like a new person now. I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and about life, have found some much needed healing, have grown closer to God and gone much farther in my spiritual life. I’m not the same person that I was before I left. I still have a long way to go, but here I am, and life is open before me.

 

Some highlights: traveling about with my friend Rick to Copán, Utila, Costa Rica, and seeing all those beautiful places and going on those adventures; bringing food to the scavengers in the city dump; all the times I saw the ocean and heard the waves and smelled the salt; enjoying new foods I’d never tasted; getting to talk about Jesus and the Bible in a school. But the most enduring aspect of this trip, or at least, what seems so at this point in time, I think will be the way God spoke to me while I was there. It was a time that He used to minister to me far more than He used me to minister to others, which is not really in line with the way I would have planned it, but has proven to be precisely what I needed at this point in my life. I am so much more at peace than I was before I left. I feel stronger, calmer, more centered, and ready–because this was, I believe, a time of making ready. I don’t know what will happen next, but I am eager to see what awaits me.

 

And I would like to say thank you, very much, to everyone who prayed for me, provided for me, and talked to me while I went off on this adventure. I couldn’t have done it without your help. And an extra thanks to my lovely aunt and uncle, who so kindly gave me a place to stay and food to eat all the time I was there. I couldn’t have done it without them, either!

 

I feel like this is barely adequate to cover the experience. But ah well; these things are hard to describe. I hope that your lives may be joyful, dear friends. Be courageous. Take up adventures wherever they find you.

~ Jared

Musings on Writing

Lately, I have been considering in depth my place as a writer, what I want to write, the mark I want to leave on literature, the direction I want to take my storytelling–my “writing identity.” This is occasioned by the fact that my methods, aims, and storytelling interests have changed significantly in the past year or so, but my conception of who I am as a writer hasn’t changed with them. Before I was writing out of an intent to get published and be famous (in fact, my goal was to be published by the time I was 20. Look how that’s turned out!); I wrote very quickly and without much thought; my stories tended to be concerned with “big things” like saving the world and whatnot. My style tended to be abrupt and action-focused (though I do think I’ve usually had a fairly decent balance of description and interior exposition in my stories). But all those things are different now. I write because I enjoy it; because it’s good for me; out of the pure joy of creation; because sub-creation is a way of worship. Many of the ways in which writing is good for me I’ve outlined in my last writing-related post, and I’ll add here that it helps me to maintain a calm emotional center. I always get a little unhinged if I don’t write often enough. My writing process itself has slowed down considerably, as I’m generally inclined now to take frequent breaks and think about each sentence and paragraph, take time before and after a writing session to contemplate the scene I’m working on, take breaks of days or more in the middle of chapters to allow my subconscious to work on a difficult plot problem.The subject matter of my stories has become “smaller,” and I’m much more inclined now to write character-driven stories with strictly localized consequences. My style has become (I think) much deeper and more poetic, and I take much more time now to produce vibrant descriptions–but on the other hand, I also try, especially in my short fiction, to master the power of the unsaid, and imply just as much as I write explicitly.

 

At any rate, all that meant I needed to rethink a little bit, and the thought process and its implications seem worth sharing. It really didn’t take me long to come to a conclusion, and that conclusion was born out of this realization, which I’ll quote from my Facebook page, where I originally posted it.

It was fantasy and adventure stories that sowed the seeds of wonder and joy in my childhood, nourished and kept them alive during my dismal teen years, and, with the water of the writings of Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton, brought them forth to grow and blossom as I became an adult.

I want to add my own contributions, even if they’re very small, to that pool of wonder.

Those fantasy and adventure stories were mostly written for children or young adults. And ever since my childhood, whenever I have longed for a story, to escape this world and enter another, to go on an adventure, my mind always went back to that kind of story: to the children’s sci-fi/fantasy adventure and/or slice-of-life tale. The epitome of that style is what I most want to write, deep down in my soul, and generally what I most want to read. The merits of children’s spec-fic are many, and I won’t go into them all here. But in my opinion that genre is one of the best. It’s surprising, really, that I didn’t come to this realization of what I most want to write sooner. But at any rate, that’s where my heart is, and now my mind has caught up to it.

 

There’s a reason I said “adventure and/or slice-of-life tale.” That’s because I think a slice-of-life element is crucial to creating a story that a person can really lose himself in. The best children’s spec-fic stories, Harry Potter, for example, almost always have some slice-of-life element. Getting to see the daily lives and achievements of the characters makes them seem so much more real and human. And beyond that, I think there is an important philosophical reason to show the small and mundane, and that is that normal life, simple and mundane things, regular emotions and institutions, are really extremely important, romantic, exciting, adventurous. This is illustrated in a simple and profound fashion by Christ in the Parable of the Mustard Seed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. Matthew 13:31-32 (NKJV)

and also in a more complex fashion by G.K. Chesterton (one of my favorite writers, and one who has had a huge influence on my life) in many of his works, especially Orthodoxy. Whether or no a person happens to take the words of Christ to be authoritative, I don’t think anyone can deny that great things very often start from seemingly small and insignificant seeds. And I will take it a step further and say that the great things that start from small seeds often go in disguise as very mundane and normal things, when really they are quite fantastic. And the heart of slice-of-life is those things. One of the strengths of children’s literature in general is a tendency to have a stronger slice-of-life element, and that is something I want very much to carry through in my writing.

 

This view of the world which has sprung up in me in the past couple of years is integral to the shift in my writing. And that’s because, as I finally realized in the past few days, the way that someone tells a story is inextricably linked to the way that person sees the world! This is another realization that it seems I should’ve had much sooner. I suppose it was so obvious it went right over my head. The way that I process and think through stories, the way that I relate them and tell them, the aspects of story that I dwell on, the words I use to describe things–all of it is affected by a change in worldview. And perhaps this is why we like some authors more than others, and feel a subconscious connection to them; because the way they see the world is more in line with our way. At any rate, I see the world differently now; I see the importance of the small and mundane; I see the value in planting a spark of wonder in a person’s mind, itself something seemingly small, but with great consequences; and my writing has changed. 

 

How have personal growth and new realizations shaped your writing?

~ Jared

Snorkeling and the Sea

Well, I’ve got just about a month left of my trip to Honduras. I think it’s fitting that this last stage has been opened by a lovely trip to the Caribbean, from which I just returned last night. I was staying on the island of Utila (off Honduras’ northern coast) with a few friends, and I  really had a lovely time. One of the friends I was with, Amanda, has been interning here for the past two months; the official reason for the trip was to debrief her before her return to the US, but we spent most of our time enjoying the island and the ocean.

 

Oh, the ocean! Every time I see it I fall more in love. During this trip I got to go snorkeling for the first time in my life, which showed me a whole other side of it that I’d never really seen before. I’ve been to some very nice aquariums and seen videos of the undersea world, but never experienced it personally, and it was absolutely enchanting. On the first day we snorkeled in the very shallow water right near the beach. At this part of the shoreline, the sand only extended a short way into the ocean before being overtaken by weeds and sea grass, which were mostly too near the surface to swim over (the spiny sea urchins living in the grass would’ve made it dangerous to crawl or walk over it). But swimming along the edge of those weeds was still fascinating. It was like going along the edge of a tiny cliff, with a whole host of life living there. Dozens of varieties of tiny, colorful fish lived along the borders of the weeds, so that it was like swimming through a painting alive with splotches of color. At times the weeds would circle around the sand, creating a sort of very shallow underwater grove, which was delightful just to hover in and watch as the fish swam by. At other times a whole school of minnows would dart in front of me and swim off into the distance, so that I would feel almost as if I was flying along with them. I never knew how much life there was along the shoreline! Looking at the water from above, even if it’s clear, doesn’t show a fraction of the fish that live within it. A little later I found a section of shoreline where the weeds were deeper, so I was able to swim out over them, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of looking down upon a vast underwater field as you swim over it, the occasional fish darting past the water receding into gloom in the distance.

 

The next day, we took a dingy out to Water Cay, a tiny island to the southeast of Utila. It was like being on a little desert island, like the sort you would imagine being shipwrecked on, though it was much closer to the shore than those generally are. I could walk across its length in probably five minutes or less. That was fun in and of itself; but more exciting was snorkeling around the island, which had much more variety of environment than the shoreline of Utila (or at least the section of it where we had been). There were rocky portions, fields of grass of a different variety than at Utila, sunken trees, open sands… and most exciting and beautiful of all, a coral reef. How lovely that was! How magnificent! I can’t adequately express the delight of the place. I swam in between the reefs until they opened out into the wider sea, a sandy bed which stretched off further than I could see. I was afraid to go out too far, so I stayed close to the reef and didn’t go looking to see if there might be even more impressive reef on the other side. I wish I had! But snorkeling uses muscles I’ve never really used before and I was pretty tired by that point, having had to take a somewhat circuitous route to reach the reef around all the rock beds. Swimming amongst the coral was like swimming between panels of stained glass. It was so lovely.

 

I think it was snorkeling that made the biggest impression on me during this trip, although I did a few other things for the first time as well. Overall, it was quite excellent, and I look forward to my last month here and especially to going home.

 

~ Jared

What Writing Has Taught Me

Last night, a friend of mine posted a series of questions on Facebook, and one of them was the title to this post. It’s a very interesting question, and it was interesting to me to read the various answers that people gave. It seems that all the writers I know have learned a great deal from writing. It would seem that an author’s most extensive school, next to life itself, is his own writing. My own answer to the question was that I’ve learned how to better understand both myself and other people through writing. This is critical to telling a good story–an author must have a very solid understanding of humans and their nature in order to create memorable and convincing characters. An author’s daily exercise is (or should be) to imagine himself constantly in the shoes of others and to twist his mind around in order to think the way they think. This, combined with constant observation of other humans, is really fantastic for increasing understanding. But as I told my friend last night, that’s only the answer that was on the top of my head, and in order to fully answer the question, I’d probably need to write an essay. So, here I am, making a blog post about it.

 

It’s actually pretty difficult to sum up all that writing has taught me. Compared to many of my writing friends, I started late–though I’ve made up stories as long as I can remember, I only started writing them down when I was 15, and didn’t write more than forty or fifty pages during the next couple of years, until I was 17 and really started writing in earnest. Yet since then, writing (and the friends I’ve met through it) has had a huge impact on my life. I still think, after further reflection, that understanding, both of myself and others, has been the biggest thing that writing has taught me. Yet there are many other things that have come along with it. Writing has taught me to see the world in a way entirely different from the way I saw it before. Now I can see the threads of stories woven throughout the world, through the past and the present and extending into the future. I can see that each person is creating his own individual story, telling a tale of love and adventure with every new decision. I can see, if only in some small part, the way God tells His story of the world, and the infinite subtleties of His planning and foreshadowing (it is true, this realization is one that’s come more through study than through writing; but without writing, I wouldn’t have thought to find this conclusion in the midst of the things I’ve learned through study).

 

Writing has also taught me how to communicate my heart and soul, something which I had never known how to do before. I can still write better than I can speak, but writing has helped me to become a more confident speaker, to be better at finding words to say. This ability to communicate has been vital in helping me to understand and come to grips with my often violent emotions. Through writing, I’ve learned to find more joy and wonder in life, because it’s very hard to lose sight of the world’s beauty when you’re able to write an exciting and poetic description of the most mundane and prosaic thing. I’ve learned to see the way stories shape humans, and to find the threads of primal truth running through any tale. I think my writing has informed my life as much as my life has informed my writing. And the two become ever more entwined, because life is ingredients for writing, and writing is zest for life. Through writing and telling stories I’ve learned how to remake myself and my world, insofar as I’m able. I’ve learned to see how the forces of life shape a person and how a person can shape those forces. I’ve learned about truth, love, beauty, the heart, the soul. I have been able to see firsthand a microcosm, though a very imperfect one, it is true, of God in comparison with His creation. I think I’ve learned a little bit about pretty much everything through writing. It has been, along with the stories and other writings of certain authors, my friends and family, and the events of my life in general, a main thing that God has used to teach me.

 

I think I could go on. But that probably covers the most important stuff. I think everyone ought to write. It hardly matters if you can write well or if you’re particularly creative. Write poetry, anyway! Poetry is the song of the soul! Or write a story! Because stories are truth in symbols. At the very least write a journal, or write down your thoughts; it’s an ideal way to reflect and understand.

 

…well, there is my extremely biased opinion, anyway. Peace!

~ Jared

Charlas, and Other Things

Well, I suppose it’s time for a small update on my life in Honduras. Let’s see… in my last post, I talked about reaching the halfway point of my trip and also about going to Costa Rica. Well, now I have two months left before I go home, and I have to say, I’m really looking forward to being back. Not that I’m having a bad time; in fact, so far this second half of the trip has been a lot better than the first half. I’ve been able to get out more and do more work, see more places, and I’ve been doing a lot of studying, thinking, praying, introspecting, and have learned a lot. A lot of things inside me are changing and it’s pretty amazing when you start seeing almost daily progress on certain issues that have been with you for a long time. But, I’m ready to be home. Ready to see my family again, and my friends; ready to be able to talk to people without stumbling over my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary; ready to have good pizza and good hamburgers and Indian food and diverse ethnic cuisines again; just ready to be back and start moving on with my life again. But I still have two months left, and plenty more mental/spiritual/emotional progress to be made, as well as more work to do. I’m looking forward to that, but I will also be glad to be home.

 

So, anyway, the main thing that I’ve  been doing lately, as far as mission work goes, is Charlas Biblias–Bible Talks.  I have been joining Rick and Amanda (the same people I went to Costa Rica and Copán with) to go to a couple of different high schools and give talks to the students about various aspects of Christianity and the Bible. It’s really been interesting, to see the high schools and the students, as well as to be part of sharing the Gospel with them. I also find it quite refreshing to be in a country where we’re even allowed to do that; if Christians in the US tried such a thing there would be an outrage. It’s rather silly, because isn’t school supposed to be about learning? Shouldn’t anyone have the right to present their beliefs to students, so the students can make an informed decision about their own? At any rate, the whole experience has been rather cool. It was interesting also to observe the differences between the students: in the one school, which Rick has been doing Charlas at for a long time, the students are more friendly and familiar, but also less attentive and participatory; while at the other school, which none of us had been to before, they were almost uniformly intent on what we were saying, and we had great results with those students. These Charlas are something that I will likely continue doing for the rest of my time here, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else happens as we advance.

 

What else is new? Yesterday I accompanied my uncle as he went to present a lesson to a church in one of the rougher parts of town, way up on the hill where all the roads are steep. I helped him to carry things and set them up, but unfortunately I couldn’t understand much of the lesson, since it was all in Spanish. Still, it was interesting; I got to see a part of the town I’ve never been in before and meet a few people. This city becomes gilded in the evening, and as ugly as some parts of it can be during the daytime, it’s all beautiful as the sun is setting. Lately I’m seeing more and more of the beauty of life and the world. It seems that the more I see of the world, the more in love with it I fall. It is a stunning creation, and nothing more stunning than the people who inhabit it.

 

At the end of the month I’ll be going up to the Caribbean coast again with Rick and Amanda, for Amanda’s debriefing at the end of her internship. That should be cool, especially as we’ll be spending at least one day with an island all to ourselves! I am blessed to be able to visit the ocean not once or twice, but three times while on this trip. This wasn’t something I expected, and I am grateful. I don’t think I could ever get tired of the ocean.

 

Well, I don’t think I have anything else to say at the moment. May your days bring you joy!

~ Jared

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Because I ought to do some writing but am not really sure what to write, I have decided that I might as well talk about this show and some of my frustrations with it. This show forms a sequel to Attack of the Clones and a prequel to Revenge of the Sith. Exploring the Clone Wars was a great idea, because I personally think that they are one of the most interesting periods in the Star Wars chronology. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly) this show was a disappointment on several levels. And so, I give you…

…or at least my review and criticism of it. This most recent Star Wars Day (May the 4th), I decided I needed to watch something Star Wars. Being in Honduras right now, I don’t have access to any of the movies, or anyone to watch them with, and so I thought “why not delve into The Clone Wars?” And so I did, and finally finished watching the series the day before yesterday. My feelings about this show are decidedly mixed. I’ll go into the good first:

 

  • Some of the characters. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka especially. I felt that this show added well to the already established characters of Anakin and Obi-Wan, even managing to make Anakin likable and sympathetic (most of the time, anyway), which I have never felt he was in the movies. The addition of Ahsoka was a nice touch (though I think her design is somewhat silly), because she gave the show something like a protagonist, added a new and interesting dimension to Anakin’s character, and was a fairly decent character in her own right. Also, I liked the clone characters, especially Rex and Fives, and enjoyed all the episodes that focused on them. Finally, Asajj Ventress, while stereotypical and melodramatic in the beginning, developed into a much more interesting and three-dimensional character by the end, and in my opinion was the show’s best antagonist.
  • Most of the episodes that focused on Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, or on the clones. These I felt were generally the strongest episodes in the series, the ones with the most interesting concepts and dilemmas, and the ones that actually make it worth watching. In particular the final four episodes of season 5 are very good.
  • The art and animation style. I’m not sure what the general consensus about this is, but I for one enjoyed the art style of The Clone Wars. Yes, it could be a lot prettier, but I think the style is well-suited for the show, and the almost video-game-ish look contributes to the fantasy feeling that I think Star Wars ought to have.
  • The music. The composer for this show combined many of the classical Star Wars elements we all know and love with new and diverse elements from all sorts of musical traditions, with the result of a dynamic and interesting soundtrack that always fits the mood and seems to go perfectly with Star Wars.

 

But now for the bad, which in my opinion outweighs the good, though I should say that I still enjoyed the show throughout despite these unfortunate elements:

 

  • Too broad in scope. I felt that the show tried to cover far too much ground. It attempted to show a galaxy-wide perspective on the Clone Wars, which was very ambitious, but did not end up working as well as I’m sure the creators hoped it would. Because of this, and also because I knew already how everything was going to end, it was difficult for me to connect emotionally with what was going on in many instances. The result of this broad scope is that you get many small windows and glimpses into different parts of the war, but rarely get to delve deeply into any one area–and that sort of deep-delving is what is needed to create a really engaging and emotional experience.
  • Too many characters. This is one of my major issues with the show, and is related to the first thing I listed. In order to cover this broad scope of the war, the show employs a huge amount of characters. There are stories that have done this successfully–such as George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga–but this show is not one of them. The individual episodes and story arcs are simply too short and unfocused to delve really deeply into any of the characters or, for the most part, to develop them in really significant ways.
  • Other issues with the characters. I liked a lot of the side characters that were added to The Clone Wars. But there were a lot that I didn’t like at all, and felt really detracted from it, such as the ridiculous Colonel Gascon in season 5 or Ziro the Hutt. Jar-Jar Binks, of course, deserves mention here. His inclusion in most of the episodes that he’s in makes very little sense. He’s not funny and the other characters seem to be selectively blind towards his idiocy, which definitely hurts the show’s immersion factor. Also, the treatment of battle droids makes very little sense. They act with too much intelligence and emotion considering their supposedly simple programming, and like Jar-Jar, are rarely ever funny. The attempt to insert comic relief with the battle droids usually fails pretty badly, in my opinion. And then of course there’s the villains, but I’ll go into that in my next point.
  • Simplistic villains. With the exception of Asajj Ventress towards the end of the series, I felt that all of the villains in this show were overly simplified and lacking in motivation or fierceness. Even Palpatine is not depicted as the incredibly cunning man that he is supposed to be, but as someone always gloating about his plans behind everyone’s back. You’d think that people would’ve started to notice all his evil grins by now. General Grievous is basically a joke–he’s too cowardly to be an effective commander and if the show was sensibly written he would’ve been relieved of duty very quickly. Asajj Ventress is also pretty cowardly, but she makes up for that by being sneaky and cunning, which General Grievous most certainly is not. Other villains for the most part have no subtlety, unrealistic or unspecified motivations, and a general “comic book feel” in the bad sense of that term. Count Dooku is okay, but is very little developed, and could have been much stronger than he was.
  • Simplistic morality. The simplistic villains in this show are perhaps a symptom of its deeper problem of simplistic morality. It gets better as it progresses, but still the entire show is based around very simple and unrealistic moral precepts. Pacifists are good. Fighters are bad. Peace is right. War is wrong. Good is good and bad is bad; with rare exceptions, the characters are shown without the moral complexity and shades of grey that real people have. This was really an irritation, because as the viewer you’re supposed to champion the side that is presented as good, but that is difficult when the show is so simplistic with its representation.
  • Apparent ignorance of major philosophical questions and ethical problems. And here is another point that I think is related to the show’s simplistic morality. There are some really major philosophical questions surrounding the Clone Wars that this show almost totally ignores. Those are the extremely questionable ethics of the Republic and Jedi in fighting with an army of slave soldiers; the development of identity and codes within that army; the psychological impact on the young Jedi padawans of being thrust into positions of command in a huge war; the psychological impact on the Jedi as a whole of becoming generals when formerly they were peacekeepers; the ethics of the Separatists in wanting to make their own laws and not be subject to the Republic, and even fighting with an army of droids instead of sending slaves or citizens to the front lines to be killed; the effects of propaganda on both sides–remember that the Separatists, while they have a noble cause, are essentially ruled by megacorporations who do not have the best interests of anyone but themselves at heart, and the Republic claims to be a champion of democracy and freedom while refusing to allow people to peacefully leave their rule and fighting with an army of slaves. All of these questions and more are implied in the basic setting and situation of the show, but none of them are explored except in the most basic levels, or not at all.
  • The movie. What more needs to be said? But actually, my main problem with this movie is that it’s kind of exhausting. Even when viewed as merely an episode or series of episodes in the overall show, it still has far too much action in proportion to everything else, and doesn’t do much at all for the plot.
  • Use of the Force. This was one of the most frustrating things to see in the day-to-day of the show. The Jedi did not fight like Jedi. They used only the most basic of Force techniques, and sometimes not even those. Even in the movies the Force is used to greater effect than this, to say nothing of all the complex and powerful uses that it’s put to in the Expanded Universe. The Jedi even seem to be ignorant of well-documented Force phenomena in the Star Wars universe, like Force ghosts. The Jedi in this show are essentially Chinese warrior monks with laser swords and some basic telekinetic powers. Even Anakin, who is supposed to be one of the strongest Jedi, doesn’t seem much stronger than your average Padawan in any other Star Wars story.
  • Contradiction of and/or blatant disregard for canon. Related to the above point. This frustrated me to no end. Yes, The Clone Wars stayed in line with the canon as established in the movies. But it appeared to exhibit a definite contempt for what had been established throughout the Expanded Universe. And maybe I’m just extra sensitive towards this point because of Disney’s recent stupidity in saying that only the movies and The Clone Wars will be considered canon, but really. Show some respect for the multitudes of artists and writers who have developed this universe. I think the worst offense was the butchery done to the Mandalorians, but there are numerous examples. Personally, I think that the creators of the show could’ve just as easily stuck with the established canon as make up new stuff. It would’ve been easier, even, and no difficulty to fit into the show.
  • Poor and/or nonsensical storytelling choices. Another perplexing issue. This relates to the issues I mentioned earlier with the characters and scope, but also manifests in things like the random Jar-Jar episodes and the terrible 4-episode arc in series 5 about Colonel Gascon. It simply doesn’t make sense to divert the watcher to these random characters that no one knows or cares about, and then never revisit them. Also I have very mixed feelings about the revelation of the control chip in the clones’ heads. On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense; on the other hand, it removes a good deal of the drama, horror, and moral complexity of the clones’ betrayal of the Jedi in Order 66. It was an explanation that wasn’t needed, which hurts a story as much as anything.

 

And so, what would I do to fix the show? Well, if it was in my hands, I would have done several things differently. First, I would have focused it much more closely around Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka. I would have made them the “power trio” of the show, like a Harry, Hermione, and Ron, or a Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. I would have made Ahsoka the protagonist, with Anakin and Obi-Wan being her main ally and her mentor, respectively. A lot of the other side characters could still come in, but I would never have focused on them, except maybe in a handful of episodes scattered here and there. The central thrust of the story would have been the relationships of those three and the way they grew as characters. Through Ahsoka the problem of Padawans becoming commanders could be explored. Anakin and Obi-Wan would’ve made great foils for each other because they would disagree on many of the philosophical questions mentioned above. Also, I would focus each season on one or two planets/battles and plotlines. This would allow each setting and plot to be explored much more thoroughly and mined for all its potential. Then, I would greatly expand on the use of the Force. I would contrast Ahsoka’s relative weakness with Anakin and Obi-Wan’s skill and strength–they are, after all, two of the most famous and popular Jedi in the Republic during the Clone Wars. The various questions I mentioned above would all be explored in various ways. I would delve a lot into clone culture and the way the Jedi affect it. I would keep Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress as the main villains, but I would make Dooku a much more compelling character. This is a charismatic man who holds together a galaxy-wide movement–he ought to be much more convincing in his arguments for his own side. I would explore his motives much more, as well as Asajj’s. In short, I would make the show much more complex, rich, and layered, while narrowing the focus to only a few characters and settings, and getting rid of several annoyances in the overall makeup of the show.

 

Now, I should probably say that I do know that this show was originally made for children, and that that is probably the source of some of the issues that I pointed out. But personally, I don’t think that should be an excuse. Children are able to understand fine shades and good storytelling. And also, the creators of the show had to know that it was going to be watched by thousands of people who are not children. Under the circumstances, it makes no sense to dumb it down.

 

Anyway! I would like to reiterate that I did actually enjoy the show. But I also enjoy picking apart its flaws. :P

 

~ Jared