With the impending release of Star Wars Episode III, speculation runs rampant about George Lucas' ability to craft a groundbreaking work equal to his original trilogy. Has CGI elbowed out the Hero's Journey? Has Mr. Lucas lost touch with the underlying mythos that made the original trilogy such a groundbreaking work? Is Joseph Campbell even now spinning in his grave?
One thing remains certain, although Mr. Lucas' reliance on the works of Mr. Campbell may wax and wane, his reliance on the grappling hook as a thematic and symbolic device only grows stronger with each movie he makes.
At some level, I'm down with that. I think we all are. Who, if we were to be honest, hasn't woken up pantless at the bottom of an elevator shaft in an abandoned building in the bad part of town and NOT thought, "What I could really use right now is a grappling hook?" Be honest. And put on some pants.
But life doesn't always give you grappling hooks when they would be most useful. George Lucas, however, does. Let's look at this situation from its foundations in the original trilogy through the most recent movies:
1. The Millennium Falcon is pulled to the Death Star via a "tractor beam"—a nerd's term for grappling hook.
2. Luke Skywalker makes gutsy jump across chasm in Death Star after incestuous moment with sister via grappling hook. Note—the grappling hook was not something he brought with him, it appears to be standard equipment in stormtrooper uniforms.
In retrospect, many things about this scene strike me as odd. As far as building exciting scenes goes, this one isn't all that exciting. Yes, chasm, stormtroopers right around the corner, but Luke and Leia are really just standing there on a ledge, after all. And as far as physical contact goes, they could have just as easily found their way into one another's arms through a desperate dive under a door, or Luke shielding his sister from an explosion of some kind.
Clearly, the use of the grappling hook in this scene means something.
It is also important to note that Luke, in treading the hero's path and all that, learns from his lack of grappling hardware as we shall see.
1. Luke and Wedge bring down unstoppable ATATs using convenient rear-mounted magnetic grapples on Snow Speeders. As to what the normal use of a magnetic tow cable on a snow speeder is, I have no idea. Bitchin’ fast sled rides?
2. Finding himself speederless, Luke uses a personal magnetic grapple (whether standard issue in rebel pilot gear or just something he's decided he's not going to be without is unknown) to disable yet another ATAT.
3. After an unspecified amount of one-on-one training with Yoda, Luke uses the Force to compensate for lack of grappling paraphernalia when he jumps out of the carbonite pit.
I include this item to demonstrate a very important point—as Luke's ability to manipulate the Force grows, his reliance on more mundane grappling hook hardware lessens. Chance? I think not.
4. Lando Calrissian, having just lost everything to the Empire, secures himself to the interior of the Millennium Falcon via a safety harness before he opens the hatch to rescue Luke.
Technically this isn't a grappling hook at all, but it does show that Lando is, in spite of Han's tales about his wild youth, a man who takes personal safety very seriously—one suspects that worker safety issues on the cloud city were not handed off to some flunky on Calrissian's watch.
1. Boba Fett uses a grappling hook in a futile attempt to detain Luke during the fight over the Sarlak Pit. It would appear that, in comparison to his father's similar technique, the apple fell pretty far from the tree.
2. The Ewoks use a lasso (a stone-age version of a grappling hook) to trap and destroy an Imperial speeder-bike. Cunning little bastards.
As the Emperor is falling into the main reactor of the Death Star, I'm pretty sure that the irony of Darth Vader's turn is only compounded by the knowledge that, with all the stormtroopers onboard, there are thousands of grappling hooks—any one of which could save him from fiery atomic doom. Emperor Palpatine, while powerful in the Dark Side, does not possess the razor-keen grasp of the obvious that Luke does.
1. En route from the hidden city of the Gungans, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Jar Jar's submarine is attacked by a giant fish—the fish's method of attack is to extend a long, grapple-like tongue, to trap the sub. This is an odd departure for Mr. Lucas, this biological grappling hook. More telling, Jar Jar has a long sticky tongue as well, deployed twice on Tatooine. One cannot help wondering if Lucas' curious attachment to Binks has something to do with this built-in grapple.
2. Padme and her posse (1) use grappling hooks to escape the droid heavies of the Trade Federation and sneak into the throne room. This is the first use of a grapple by a female character. I will leave it to the Freudians among the reading audience to delve any deeper into this.
1. Grappling hook deployed by Jango Fett against Obi-Wan (with remarkable success).
2. That same grappling hook is used by Obi-Wan (in conjunction with the Force) to save himself from falling into the raging sea of Kamino.
I find it interesting that, not only are grappling hooks curiously common in the STAR WARS universe, but so are surfaces and protuberances upon which they can easily snag.
3. In the final battle in the coliseum, R2D2 uses a suction cup grapple to retrieve and drag C3P0's severed head back to his body. This is the first droid-only use of grappling hook, but I really don't think that means anything other than R2D2 is, like, the Batman Utility belt of this series.
And so there is the evidence. Overuse of grapple technology? The hell you say! Sojat, you mad fool, you might as well claim that he overuses blasters, or light sabers, or hyperdrive, or drool (2), or try to convince us that our closely-held bigotry re: Ewoks is merely our own misplaced insecurities.
Can't argue with that...I sense your knee-jerk reaction and your desire to strike me down with it is understandable. Yet one cannot deny that, on a gut level, the grappling hooks must mean something. But what? Clearly, George Lucas is a man with vision. And as an artist, he is a man whose artistic grasp sometimes exceeds his reach- thus the need, albeit subconsciously, to rely on the ubiquitous grappling hook.
1 I said POSSE, you perverts. And put on some pants. [back]
2 Tan-Tan drool, Gamorrean drool, Rancor drool, Jabba drool, Admiral Ackbar drool, strange little Millenium Falcon co-pilot drool, Ewok drool, Boss Nass drool, Luke even drools when he opens up the can o’ whoop-ass on dad. [back]