Fall of the Empire: Return of the Jedi vs. “What’s Past is Prologue”

Great storytellers are influenced by great storytelling, and the creative minds behind Star Trek are no different. Each week the CineTrekkin’ blog will place a memorable film under the microscope and examine how it adds valuable context to Discovery’s latest episode.

By Cam Smith

The relationship between Star Trek and Star Wars has long been a strange one.

Although passionate fans of each endlessly debate which franchise reigns supreme, creators on both sides have consistently borrowed and paid homage to one another for decades. It’s actually strongly reminiscent of the eternally raging Marvel vs. DC conflict.

George Lucas himself freely admitted in 2011’s Trek Nation documentary to taking inspiration from Roddenberry’s utopian vision. As for Wars’ impact on Trek, glimmers of influence are liberally strewn throughout the films and series (Enterprise especially). J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reboot was a barely veiled tribute to the 1977 classic, years before he was able to officially repeat the formula in The Force Awakens.

And, come on people, let us never forget the Breen!

Discovery hasn’t been shy thus far about hiding its fondness for the famed galaxy far, far away either. Much of the show’s action has clearly aimed for the intense immediacy of Wars’ space opera, and scenes often recall cherished memories of the series. Think back to “Into the Forest I Go,” where Burnham faced down Kol in hand-to-hand combat aboard the Klingon Sarcophagus ship while encircled by unmoving, emotionless enemies. A little like Obi-Wan facing down Darth Vader on the first Death Star, no? Especially given that both fights ended in a surprise vanishing act.

This week’s Mirror Universe arc wrap-up, “What’s Past is Prologue,” proudly continued the connections, albeit by honouring 1983’s Episode VI instead of more popular go-to IV.

The stage was set early, as Stamets and Tilly determined the true nature of the spore-powered super-reactor aboard the Empire’s flagship, the Charon. It had enough power to destroy a planet (cue traumatic Alderaan flashback) as well as the unfortunate capability of ending “life as we know it!”

Certainly, this description echoes A New Hope as much as Return of the Jedi, however the devil was in the soon-to-arrive details.

Jedi is famed for its triple-pronged finale, consisting of three simultaneous clashes seamlessly edited together (Luke vs. Vader & the Emperor, as well as the ground and space assaults making up the Battle of Endor). This trio of propulsive, brilliantly-executed conflicts adds up to a masterclass in ambitious blockbuster spectacle, one which few have managed to replicate. Lucas himself even tried to summon up the magic again with his prequels, to mixed results.

Alas, while “Prologue” lacked the budget and time to shoot as many extended sequences, it did condense their specific storytelling beats into two evocative halves.

Firstly, you had Burnham embarking on the mission to knock out the containment field protecting the Charon’s energy orb, which was akin to Han and Leia storming the Empire’s stronghold on the forest moon of Endor to lower the Death Star II’s shield generator.

Then the writers folded this section effortlessly into a more emotional Luke-esque segment, with Burnham – Lorca’s chosen one: “I see your power!” – seemingly turning herself in only to engage in a tense throne room brawl. But unlike Mr. Last Jedi, she was dealing with not one, but two dark parent figures (Palpatine always seemed closer to that weird old uncle no one wants to invite to Christmas dinner).

Ultimately, though, the results proved mighty similar. After Burnham took the Skywalker non-violent approach, Vader-ish pseudo-mom Emperor Georgiou attacked Lorca (the true Emperor, also eager to “seduce” his younger adversary) from behind, sending him plummeting into fatal oblivion.

And like Vader, Emperor Georgiou’s choice to aid Burnham in toppling the greater evil, and sacrifice her own life (in theory, given the unexpected transport) in the process, allowed her to be redeemed in the eyes of the protagonist and audience to a certain degree. Never mind all those pesky past mass-murders, y’all!

As for the episode’s big finale, where Saru captained the Discovery on a deadly course straight into the heart of the Charon to knock out its Mycelium-powered super-reactor with photon spore-pedos, you could practically hear the spirits of General Lando Calrissian and Nien Nunb whoopin’ it up! Especially once the explosion erupted and, as the Millennium Falcon co-pilots once did, the crew breathlessly endured a white-knuckle escape, just barely evading the deadly expanding radius of the uncontrollable blast.

It’s too bad Mirror Universe Landry apparently went up in smoke with her ship. She would have made a killer season 2 Kylo Ren stand-in! Just sayin’. #fandry

All in all, “Prologue” was both a satisfying end to this recent Discovery saga, along with an above average riff on Jedi’s iconic material. The honored elements blended into the fabric of the show’s aesthetics and storytelling approach as impeccably as an Andorian in front of one of Lucas’s cherished blue screens.

That said, major points deducted for flubbing a golden opportunity to include the line “Many Kelpians died to bring us this information.”

Click to download our review of “What’s Past is Prologue.”

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