The Phantom Menace is back in theaters, and like you, I am faced with a cultural identity question of existential proportions: Is experiencing the Star Wars galaxy in 3D worth reliving the disappointment of the prequel trilogy?
"What does your heart tell you?" asks Shmi Skywalker.
"I hope so. Yes. I guess," a young Anakin replies—an answer that seems applicable to our dilemma as well.
Jar Jar Binks. Hayden Christensen. Computer-animated Yoda. George Lucas' film direction ("Louder! Faster!"). There is much in the prequel trilogy to be discouraged about. And while the experience of re-watching Episode I will never be as easy as shooting womp rats in Beggar's Canyon, there is indeed a new hope for those of us who find ourselves powerless against the giant tractor beam that is the prequel trilogy: we may achieve a more enlightened appreciation through the practice of Star Wars Yoga.
"Eventually you get all the Jedi benefits without the endless intergalactic travel," Yoga Master Matthew Latkiewicz tells me over coffee in a nearby Valley cafe that, suspiciously, looks nothing like the Cantina Bar in Mos Eisley. "Eventually you will be able to calm your stress with the prequels," he promises.
I am taken aback by his bold statement. Couldn't we just warm up by moving Luke's X-Wing out of the Dagobah swamp? The prospect of peacefully enjoying the prequels, however, is too tempting to allow me to be dissuaded by skepticism. Breathing deeply, I listen to the midi-chlorians strengthening my resolve as they move through my system. Or is that the caffeine?
"Star Wars Yoga is a form of Bikram, or hot yoga," Master Latkiewicz instructs me. "But really, it's a brand more than yoga. A branded yoga."
I am already confused. I know little about yoga. And too much about Star Wars.
"It's yoga in the service of the brand," he clarifies, "rather than spiritual or physical betterment, if not physical appearance."
The brand developed when a series of secret marketing memos were obtained by Valley local Latkiewicz, who has since posted them in their entirety on his website www.youwillnotbelieve.us/pursuits/category/star-wars-yoga. The memos were sent to George Lucas from Lucasfilm brand strategist and marketer Steve Jones, who was expressing concerns that Lucas' marketing department had tapped dry their DVD boxed set, lunch box and LEGO Star Wars revenue streams. Looking for ways to more effectively reconnect with the 30- and 40-something Star Wars fan, Jones suggested infiltrating the health and lifestyle market.
"It might be real," Master Latkiewicz notes.
Based on the memos, it appears that Lucas had a difficult time conceptualizing a move from Yoda to yoga. Jones's marketing proposals were rejected outright by the bearded, plaid-shirted one. Latkiewicz, conversely, became the brand's most devout practitioner and teacher, eventually conferring the rank of Master upon himself.
As we focus all our energy on not moving while we are studying poses and drinking coffee, my instruction of Star Wars Yoga begins with TIE Fighter Advanced.
"Darth Vader's TIE Fighter is actually called TIE Fighter Advanced," Master Latkiewicz notes. "The pose is a more difficult version of the TIE Fighter pose, where one squats down, holding arms out with elbows bent at a right angle and fingers straight [Master's emphasis.] To move to TIE Fighter Advanced, you bend your hands inward at the wrist, imitating the slanted wings of Darth Vader's TIE Fighter Advanced."
The pose, a favorite for Latkiewicz, is so effective because, in addition to providing a bit of Star Wars trivia, it also plays on the language of yoga, where an advanced pose is a natural extension of its non-advanced position. Or so I am told.
TIE Fighter Advanced, while highly developed on an intellectual Star Wars level, is less strenuous when considered from the physical perspective. So our conversation moves on.
"R2-D2 is challenging," Master Latkiewicz admits. The pose requires students to compress their bodies into the smallest squats possible while keeping their heads up, then pushing down with their hands, gorilla-style, so that one's arms act like R2-D2's robotic legs. "It requires a lot of core strength," adds the Master.
Not as much strength as One-Armed Dagobah Handstand, though. "There are people in the yoga world who can do it," Master Latkiewicz assures me. But I have a hard time envisioning a more difficult pose to achieve on a physical level, and wonder if Yoda would be involved in an Advanced One-Armed Dagobah Handstand. Most difficult, that would be.
For Latkiewicz, however, the most challenging pose is X-Wing. Sitting down with your legs spread out as wide as possible, you lean forward while keeping your head up and reach for your toes. "It requires the most flexibility," states Master Latkiewicz. Not as much flexibility as is needed to hold X-Wing Extended, though, where you bring your arms up from your ankles and out from your shoulders, creating an X-formation as "you go into fighting mode."
But physical challenges pale in comparison to the spiritual ones, as is often the case, which is why Half I Am Your Father might be the most difficult of all the poses in the Star Wars Yoga syllabus.
"Half means an intermediate step along the way," Master Latkiewicz informs me. "Half is the prep for the harder full pose."
In Half I Am Your Father, the student stands upright with an arm extended longingly, in the manner of Darth Vader reaching for Luke Skywalker at the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back.
"The full I Am Your Father requires Luke to believe you," Master Latkiewicz states. "You must go inside yourself and will Luke Skywalker to believe you."
The pose is an exhausting concept. I finish my coffee and grab some water. Time to rehydrate.
I begin thinking of the yogic aspect of the Jedi, and of their training. I ask Master Latkiewicz which Star Wars characters would be the best at Star Wars Yoga.
"Yoda," he answers simply. "In all forms, the most advanced practitioner is a meditator. Yoda would take it to that level of really, really letting the force flow through him.
"Physically, it would probably be Luke," Master Latkiewicz continues. "But I have a feeling Han Solo would show him up."
While Latkiewicz has taught Star Wars Yoga at Central Park in New York City, he hopes to instruct in the Bay Area as well. "The end result of this saga," he says, "is if I get asked to teach a class at Skywalker Ranch."
Based on the correspondences between Jones and Lucas, one concludes that that prospect might take some time to develop. In the meantime, Latkiewicz will continue to develop poses for his particular school of yoga.
"I am taking ideas from legitimate Star Wars nerds through my website," Master Latkiewicz notes.
The astute student will note that there aren't any prequel poses as yet. I ask Master Latkiewicz why this is.
"I may create one pose from the prequels," the Master responds. "It would be called 'Disappointed.' "