April 21, 2015

Yoda made a cameo in a medieval manuscript



Yoda?!! (This and the cover image are courtesy of The Telegraph)

For any of you who clicked this headline expecting a ripoff of Mallory Ortberg’s brilliant series on medieval monks, prepare to be disappointed. But for everyone else who finds anachronisms in ancient art to be utterly fascinating, do we have a treat for you!

The Telegraph reports that a 14th century illuminated manuscript features a familiar, but out-of-place, Jedi master. The discovery was made by Damien Kempf and Maria L. Gilbert, historians who have a new book collecting illustrations of medieval monsters, fittingly titled Medieval Monsters.

The Smithfield Decretals, which are not in fact a gross ham byproduct, are illuminated letters from the Pope that informed papal law. This appearance of Yoda is one of several images from the manuscript that make it clear that whoever was illuminating it was either highly imaginative or dying of ergotism. Images such as: giant man-killing rabbits, a knight-vs-snail battle, and of course a monk beating the devil with a cudgel.

While I’m tempted to ascribe this highly actionable infringement of the intellectual property of LucasArts on the inherent weird pictures that pop out of a highly isolated and celibate 14-century creative mind, I think there’s more to this story. Sure, there may be some discovery by some art historian that one day reveals the true identity of this character (is it Samson? Delilah? The slave who messed everything up? Fun Bible Fact: Delilah ordered a slave to cut off Samson’s hair. She didn’t do it herself). But I’m more concerned with recent remarks made by Mr. George Lucas himself at a Tribeca Film Festival event.

He thinks of “Star Wars” as a silent movie — “It really lies in the art of movement” — but that sound is just as important as the image onscreen. “I believe half a movie is the sound,” he said. “The sound is extremely important. But the dialogue is not.”

George Lucas is a sworn aesthete. He has an almost…monastic devotion to sound and image over pesky things like story, dialogue, character, etc. And he’s obsessed with adding digital marginalia into his old movies, including some truly bizarre images, much like the Smithfield Decretals themselves, which were illuminated decades after being written.

Let’s face it—if there’s one form of art that best resembles a George Lucas movie, it’s an illuminated manuscript; expensive, fussed-over, and featuring Yoda.

Correction: This piece originally repeated the Telegraph‘s claim that the discovery was made by the British Library’s Julian Harrison, which is not correct. More accurate info can be found at Boing Boing

Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.