Nerdery by Star Wars expert Chris Kempshall & frequent contributor Sabrina Mittermeier
A long time ago, at a football club far, far away….
It is a period of Civil War. The brave players of AFC Richmond, striking from the not so hidden base at Nelson Road, have won their first points upon the return to the Premier League… and well you get the idea.
The team behind Ted Lasso have become adept at delivering a show which is never quite about what you might think it is. Is it really a show about football? Or is it a show about humanity through the medium of football? Or, and bear with us here, is it actually a show about Star Wars seen through the lens of a show about humanity through the medium of football? Come with us as we chart the Star Wars references of Season 3…
There have been numerous interviews with the developers of the show and other opinion pieces since the end of Ted Lassos second season that began to link events to the Star Wars franchise, with (now-)showrunner Jason Sudeikis referring to Season 2 of the show as their “Empire Strikes Back”, as it was set up in three acts, and Alec Bojalad running with this in his piece for Den of Geeks.
But how are these things now appearing on screen as the third season progresses?
The transfer of cast and characters between the two is not an exact science. Is Ted supposed to be Han Solo or Luke? Is Coach Beard Chewie? But some are easier to spot than others. (Editor’s note by Sabrina: Clearly, Roy has to be Han Solo just cause of how Brett Goldstein’s Dad is basically played by Harrison Ford on Shrinking, but this is an opinion formed after two margaritas).
Rupert Manion for example makes a pretty convincing Emperor Palpatine. In the first season he lurked in the background, very much as if some sort of Phantom Menace… whilst Richmond concentrated on trying (and ultimately failing to avoid relegation. In the second season, again, he had little airtime but his interventions were noticeable in the way in which they appeared to be flying under the radar. A gentle hand on the arm of Nate and a whisper in his ear at a funeral soon proved to be a foreshadowing of a betrayal to come as Nate, like Anakin Skywalker before him, fell to the Dark Side of the Force. If you want a fun play along game make sure to scream ‘YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE” at Nate every time he appears on screen.
This seduction of Nate away from the light of Richmond towards the evil of West Ham (presumably the real world club are being paid a nice sum of money in order to be painted as the bad guys on a hugely successful transatlantic TV show) effectively means that Ted Lasso is doing both the original and prequel trilogies at the same time.
The clearest sign of this lies initially in the first episode of the season. Darth Nate is busy putting his team through their paces, utilising the motivational tool of ‘the Dum Dum Line’ rather than actively choking people to death. But he is soon summoned to Manion’s office. We see it through Nate’s eyes and it is a clear reference to Palpatine’s throne room in Return of the Jedi complete with the circular window design directly behind Rupert’s throne. Production designer Paul Cripps even admits to have taken inspiration from the Death Star for the space.
In this early episode Manion coaxes Nate further down into his darkest emotions by acting delighted when his young apprentice puts the boot into his old club first in his office and then, more importantly, during a television press conference. At first Nate’s nerves begin to get the better of him but, after diving beneath the desk, the confidence and surety of the Dark Side reaches out to him oh so easily…
An underlying sub-plot of this episode is the fact Nate is driving a car which is, supposedly, unbefitting his new status and apparent confidence. In response, Manion provides him with a new one. This sort of present buying trope is not unfamiliar in TV shows but there are also direct links to the novelisation of Revenge of the Sith:
“I am offering you . . . anything,” Palpatine said. “Ask, and it is yours. A glass of water? It’s yours. A bag full of Corusca gems? Yours. Look out the window behind me, Anakin. Pick something, and it’s yours.”
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“The time for jokes is past, Anakin. I have never been more serious.” Within the shadow that cloaked Palpatine’s face, Anakin could only just see the twin gleams of the Chancellor’s eyes. “Pick something. Anything.”
“All right . . .” Shrugging, frowning, still not understanding, Anakin looked out the window, looking for the most ridiculously expensive thing he could spot. “How about one of those new SoroSuub custom speeders-“
Someone on the production staff seems to know their deep Star Wars lore! (Editor’s note: Is it Jason Sudeikis? Is it Brendan Hunt, who also weighed in on these comparisons? Is it someone else? Sound off in the comments on Twitter and Instagram).
Whilst Nate did not appear in the second episode of the season, Manion does. This time he attempts to use his charms on the much coveted striker Zava, and Rebecca reminisces about how he’d once wooed her. But where Manion had succeeded with Rebecca and with Nate, he fails with Zava. Rebecca’s blunt – and expletive filled – challenge to the footballer’s ego snatches him out from under West Ham & Chelsea’s noses.
Perhaps, to paraphrase Luke Skywalker, Manion’s overconfidence is his weakness. However, as seen in the way he lost Nate, Ted Lasso’s faith in his friends might be his…
*Update from April 16 below*
‘I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Nate…?’
So, where were we? The first four episodes of this third (and final?) season of Ted Lasso have now been screened whilst your intrepid writer is yet to watch the fifth (I’m recovering from Star Wars Celebration, cut me some slack).
But there are some interesting trends emerging in regards to Master-Pupil (or Padawan) relationships that do echo some of the tensions and themes that exist within the Star Wars universe. Through these we’re perhaps beginning to see where certain characters fit into the cast list for galaxies slightly further away than this one.
Whilst we should all be happy to keep Rupert Manion and Nate ‘You Were The Chosen One!’ Shelley in their roles as Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, Ted himself is increasingly falling into the position of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He is a man who lost his greatest pupil to an evil overlord who is fond of dark clothing and/or football clubs in East London.
But, certainly in episode 4, Darth Nate appears to be having waves of guilt about how he left Richmond and that pull of attachment to his old master still remains. Rupert is so concerned by this that he hovers around the corridors of West Ham’s stadium always poised to break up any hopes of a reunion and steer Nate back down the pathway to the Dark Side.
But even here there are intriguing signs of how Nate is beginning to understand the nature of this relationship. In public, after thrashing Richmond 4-1, Manion insists on being called ‘Rupert’, shortly before providing him with an attractive woman as a victory prize. But in private? In private it is still ‘Mister Manion’. Palpatine might call Vader ‘my old friend’ but he will always be ‘My Master’…
Nate isn’t the only one who is seeking guidance. It’s entirely possible that Jamie Tartt and Roy Kent are morphing into a, not unwelcome, Luke Skywalker and Yoda pairing. Jamie wants to be good enough and strong enough to be better than Zava. This can be achieved but, apparently, it’s going to take 4am starts and a lot of press ups in the park. If this carries on much longer, Jamie will be carrying Roy around on his back doing frontflips and then singing about Seagulls in a lip-synched YouTube video. (Note from Sabrina: My only objection to this is that Luke and Yoda have not had this much gay subtext, but I do want to see Jamie carry Roy around like a backpack.)
But whilst Roy is willing to act as a master towards Jamie, both he and Beard have lessons to learn of their own. Whilst losing 2-0 against West Ham at Half Time (and with Ted) distracted, the pair show the team the video footage of Nate ripping the ‘BELIEVE’ sign in two. Clearly they hope this will motivate the players to get back into the match. Instead, the veil of anger descends upon them and with multiple players being sent off the team slump to a 4-1 defeat.
They had not heeded the words of Yoda: ‘Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.’
It took Ted’s apprentice too. Careful chaps. Beware the Dark Side…
(Note from Sabrina: Great minds think alike, I also drew a comparison to the Dark Side when Roy and Beard used aggression to motivate the team in my recap of episode 4.)
*Update from May 1 below*
Always in motion the future is…
We’re back! Just like Darth Vader with his whole ‘losing limbs, being horribly burnt, and developing breathing issues’ thing – Covid temporarily put me out of action but couldn’t defeat me. (Sabrina’s note: Welcome back, Chris!)
What have we learned over the last 3 episodes? Why don’t we start with Rebecca. In a bid to try and better understand her own life she took the decision to try and discern more about the future. What did she find there? Well as Yoda [might’ve] said to Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith – ‘if into the fertility clinic results you look, only pain will you find’. Those results informed Rebecca that she wasn’t able to have children. So what should we make of her liaison with a Dutch houseboat owning foot-rub enthusiast? Trying to see what lies ahead is a tricky and dangerous path. (Sabrina: I do have a new hope she gets to hit that at some point.)
Last time out we also commented upon Jamie and Roy’s unfolding Master-Padawan relationship. In response we have been rewarded with the bicycle equivalent of Luke Skywalker carrying Yoda around on his back. (Sabrina: I can’t insert this here because it would be copyright infringement, bruv, but the Emmy Magazine’s lavish Ted Lasso spread has a picture of Brett Goldstein carrying Phil Dunster piggyback, that seems relevant here.) Aside from bringing much joy, there was also something extra in this. Jamie was not just the learner. He was providing lessons back to Roy. Whether it was in riding a bike, the reality of windmills, or in becoming the Johan Cruyff he was always meant to be – he provided an opportunity for Roy to grow too. Yoda, who seems to be the main star of this week’s update, told Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi that when it comes to students, ‘we are what they grow beyond’. Jamie is becoming stronger with each passing week. How much does Roy have to teach him? Perhaps, as Luke should’ve instructed Kylo Ren, this includes how to deal with failure…
Trent Crimm served a similar role for young Colin. A man tired of living two separate divided lives, but seemingly trapped in them as a footballer who did not feel able to come out yet. Crimm was able to speak to him not as a journalist, or a football writer, but as a gay man who had been there in his own way. Sometimes being a wise teacher to a Padawan does not involve explaining how to do something, but merely in showing how you once walked a similar road of your own.
The Dark Side flared up briefly in the last few weeks but mainly seemed to lurk, whispering beneath the surface. It was there when Sam reacted with pain and fury to the racist vandalism of his restaurant. He was brought back to the light through the love of his father and the camaraderie of his team. As we noted in our last update, these emotions can call forth a darkness which is ‘quick to join you in a fight’ but Sam doesn’t need or want that future. That’s not his destiny.
But we must also question if it’s Nate’s destiny either. His storyline with Jade seemed poised on a knife-edge at one point. Nervous, uncertain, wobbling he dashed to the bathroom ahead of an attempt to ask her out. And then he stared into the mirror. Last time he did this it was Darth Nate that stared back at him. Spitting directly into its face, gave him the power to deal with his obstacles. But this time…? Anakin Shelley was there. The good man that Nate was and might still be. He didn’t try and bluster his way into a date. He didn’t give in to his arrogance. He acted in good faith from the heart. As a result he arranged a date with Jad(m)e. Can this version of Nate survive? This is not the apprentice Rupert wanted…
So perhaps we should end with Ted. A man who is ‘a work in prog-mess’, abandoned by Zava, and who then found himself lost and alone in the Netherlands, and sought out something (anything) that could root him at home. There he found an American BBQ restaurant, a fiery sauce, and an epiphany: Total Football. A system that will allow all of the best parts of Richmond to come to fruition through complete teamwork and sarifice for the cause. The first use of it at Arsenal may have resulted in a defeat, but the positive signs were there when the team arrayed around Jamie.
Ted may not have found lasting inner peace, but his meditations did chime with something Yoda (him again) once uttered: ‘You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack.’ But you won’t score many goals if you don’t go on the offensive…
So you might wonder where we are going with this – we don’t know, we’re just having fun. We’ll update this post with observations about Season 3 episodes as they air, plus potentially some notes about seasons past. Meanwhile, follow Sabrina’s weekly recaps of Ted Lasso here.
*Update from May 27 below*
You killed her because, finally, when you could have saved her, when you could have gone away with her, when you could have been thinking about her, you were only thinking about yourself…
So it’s been a few weeks and it’s time to catch up with the battle between good and evil in a football club a moderate distance away.
There’s a lot to go over this time and we’ll get to a lot of it shortly, but I think it’s important to take time away from Darth Manion and the overtly villainous characters to take time to point out that I’m not sure that Michelle and Jake are very good people. The whole ‘I was your marriage counsellor and now I’m in a relationship with one of you’ thing does not sit well at all. The Dark Side manifests itself in various ways and, for at least one of these episodes, it was packed alongside hand luggage on the Eurostar. (Comment from Sabrina: To be fair to Michelle, she’s likely just trying to move on and have a life, he’s the therapist breaking all kinds of rules and codes of ethics here).
But enough about them. Let’s talk about Nate. The show has pulled a few about turns in regards to how the plot seemed to be unfolding. For much of the series all roads seemed to point to a showdown between Ted & Nate at the Death Star / London Stadium whilst Rupert looked on cackling. But no more.
Rupert really tried to tempt Nate to the Dark Side. He saw the threat that Jade (Jadmé) posed to his prized people. He tried to offer him nefarious Nightclub Women as an alternative. That’s what would have tempted Rupert himself in the past. But Nate? Well. Nate, unlike Anakin Skywalker, chose his partner. He abandoned Rupert and his plans for Galactic / Premier League domination.
And what did he do afterwards? Hiding from the press he returned to his family house initially to hide before then digging through stored possessions to gain a reminder of who he really was. Because whilst Nate had gone looking for something in Ted and in Rupert, what he really wanted was for one of his own relatives to tell him: ‘I am your father’ and to mean it with love.
Which might lead us to think that Rupert, an Evil Giles scorned and all that, would Strike Back with the fury of the Dark Side. But he doesn’t. Following a meeting to set up an exclusive Super League (like that would ever happen…) Rebecca leaves Rupert a reduced, almost pitiful figure. A man who was finally rejected by the woman he had rejected the most. He’d even taken on a new PA, having taken a previous warning from Rebecca to heart. She no longer fears him. And without fear there can be no Dark Side.
Perhaps other difficult emotions can be found elsewhere? Isaac, in a blind rage, wades into the crowd to confront a loudmouth homophobe (who was skillfully dripped in over preceding episodes). But his rage was borne of his anguish regarding Colin coming out and not telling him, and the underlying anger put in place when Sam’s restaurant was vandalised by racists. In such circumstances anger seems entirely reasonable. But Yoda also tells us that, sometimes, ‘if we honour’ what our friends ‘fight for’ we may have to stand aside. I’ve never been sure how helpful that is. Roy’s speech about giving love to those in pain seems far more the type of approach that a Jedi should take.
Keeley was also abandoned by someone she trusted. Jack deciding to cut her funding and run away in the face of a horrible social media link, left Keeley cut adrift, unemployed, and hopeless. May told her to wait for a strike of lightning. In Star Wars terms this is often delivered through the hands of a Sith Lord. This time it was through Roy who was, finally, allowing himself to actually want and enjoy something.
In the novel Visions of the Future Luke Skywalker reflects that ‘Confession, apology, and forgiveness, Aunt Beru had been fond of reminding him, were the tools friends used to break walls down into bridges’. The last three episodes have been replete with examples of people confessing secrets, apologising to their friends, and then forgiving each other.
Which may make us wonder where this is all going? Well whilst the supporting cast has been hard at work, Ted himself has begun to shrink away. I suspect he may have been on the verge of resigning when Rebecca told him she no longer wanted to beat Rupert. The battle between the light and dark sides is often viewed in grandiose terms. All sweeping space operas and lightsaber duels. But it might be that the most intimate battle between the two is currently taking place within Ted. His desire to help his friends and pupils, versus the depression that has often sought to engulf him.
With two episodes left, maybe we’ll finally get to watch the most important battle unfold. Ted versus his own dark side.