Trilogies come in all shapes and sizes.
Scratch that. They all come in the same shape and size, that being “three.”
What I meant to say was they have a variety of styles.
You’ve got “Back to the Future,” which has the same basic plotline, but in three different genres. Time is broken because someone’s driving the 1980s version of a Tesla, and Alex P. Keaton needs to fix it before midnight, when he turns into a Teen Wolf. But they tell it as a teen comedy, then dystopian sci-fi, then a western so we wont notice.
There’s “Superman,” where they also played with time travel. No, I’m not talking about Superman spinning the world backward to save Lois Lane. I’m talking about how “Superman III” was so bad that it went back in time and made “Superman” and “Superman II” worse. As in, you would never set out to rewatch them as a complete saga, so as to avoid needing to watch the third movie. It also went forward in time, making sure “Superman IV” flopped so hard that I often need to remind myself that the original “Superman” trilogy was not, in fact, a trilogy.
Don’t forget “Indiana Jones,” which was three entirely unrelated movies. I’m pretty sure “Temple of Doom” takes place a decade before “Raiders” and nobody noticed. Yet still they stopped at three (not counting the geriatric sequel and newly-announced “Indiana Jones and the Artificial Hip.”).
More recently, there were three Iron Mans, three Captain Americas, there’s about to be three Spiderman movies for the third time. Except the second Spiderman 2 was so bad, they didn’t make the third. But you know they were planning to. Thor is filming its fourth, which feels wrong. Ironically, the MCU killed off all the characters who could have aged along with their actors, but is keeping the one who’s supposed to be immortal.
Three is the magic number. A trilogy is a great way to space out a story, making each entity distinct while still fitting an overall narrative and theme. If you go beyond three, you’re getting into James Bond territory. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bond franchise. But prior to Daniel Craig, there wasn’t much cohesiveness from one movie to the next. We never questioned how the character went from a suave Scot in the 1960s to a pull-my-finger prat for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Come on, Roger Moore NEVER would’ve landed Ursula Andress. And I don’t think Sean Connery would’ve fucked Grace Jones.
Despite some lousy writing (and some pretty poor acting, to be honest), Star Wars is probably the definitive trilogy. Sure, sure, Fellowship of the Ring, blah, blah, blah. Let’s talk about Star Wars.
The first movie is a standalone. It’s a complete story of a terrorist whose home is destroyed by an uncaring empire, so he finds solace in an ancient religion. Han Solo redeems himself. Nary a midi-chlorian in sight. Nobody gives a second thought to Alderaan appearing to be both a democracy and a monarchy. If “Empire Strikes Back” never existed, we wouldn’t have given two shits about balance in the Force or chosen ones. Luke Skywalker was just an orphan farmboy, not a hugely-important lost son of a world-famous… orphan farmboy.
The second movie is the darkest one. It expands upon the worldbuilding, throws in some twists and turns, delves into the lure of evil. Han Solo being frozen in carbonite was quite possibly the cliffhangeriest of endings in cinematic history until “Avengers: Infinity War” came along. Of course, we all knew Harrison Ford would be back for the finale. What we really didn’t know was whether or not Darth Vader was lying when he said Luke was his son. I know this might shock anyone under the age of 40, or anybody involved with any of the subsequent movies except “Last Jedi,” but for three solid years, grade schoolers debated that question endlessly. It was never a forgone conclusion that two families, the Skywalkers and the Palpatines. were the only ones who mattered and everybody else should go fuck themselves.
“Return of the Jedi” gets maligned for being cheesy, campy, featuring too many characters chosen for their cute cuddliness moreso than their ability to add to the storyline. I speak, of course, of Jabba the Hutt. But seriously, the third part of a trilogy is supposed to be happy. It’s resolution. It’s catharsis. The heroes are fulfilling their journeys while the villains receive their comeuppance, at least until Episode IX. If that doesn’t call for some walking, talking teddy bears, then I don’t know what does.
So while I might nitpick some of George Lucas’s character beats, for the most part he nails the proper emotional beats of a trilogy.
I don’t know why it was so tough for Charles Schultz.
What’s that? You didn’t know there was a Charles Schultz trilogy? Sure you did. You watch the three holiday episodes in the same order every year.
Much like Star Wars, the Peanuts holiday specials feature a cast of characters each moving through their own arcs. Charlie Borwn and Lucy go through their Han Solo and Princess Leia “will they or won’t they” tete-a-tete. Peppermint Patty and Marcy go through their… scratch that. The lesbians are the blossoming, unrequited love story. Charlie Brown and Lucy are C-3PO and R2-D2, incessantly bickering while having little impact on the plot.
But the true focus of this trilogy, the unassuming hero, is Linus. A little dab of Frodo and a vast heaping of Luke Skywalker, all rolled into one. He even has his own lightsaber-esque weapon nobody else comprehends in his blanket. And, again like Luke, he struggles with the meaning of purity, of life, against a myriad of ancient philosophies preaching right and wrong.
Except the order makes no fucking sense. Schultz starts with “Empire Strikes Back.”
We all know the plot of the Peanuts Halloween special. It’s even in the title. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Linus is a pagan who believes in plant gods, despite everybody around him arguing against it. He even drags Sally into his heresy, hoping to start his own Jim Jones-esque sex cult. Fortunately, she doesn’t drink the Flavor-Aid, and in the end, he’s the only one clinging to his pagan gods, staying in the pumpkin patch all night. Even after his sister rescues him, with a force-connection similar to Leia at the end of “Empire Strikes Back,” he’s unconvinced. As C-3POS whines about the Halloween Party, implying that getting rocks instead of candy is every part as bad as Linus’s near hypothermia and shaken faith, Linus still believes, shouting about the true meaning of Halloween. As he tests his new robotic hand and looks out the window to see the imposing phantom of Darth Vader.
See what I mean? Totally should be the second story in the trilogy. Especially when you consider where his story arc is going.
In “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Linus again takes center stage (literally) for his deep-rooted faith. Only this time, he’s quoting Christian scripture. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” He goes a little overboard, requesting a spotlight. Clearly his conversion never got around to the whole Sermon on the Mount shit. You know, “do not [pray] like the hypocrites; for they love to stand… at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.”
Then again, it’s been less than two months since he was a full-on pagan, so give him some time. I assume his Christian sponsor hasn’t made it to the Gospel of Mark yet. We’ll never know how his conversion happened, because the Jan Brady of the Peanuts holiday trilogy doesn’t give us shit for answers.
I’m talking, of course, about “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Our hero doesn’t appear too much in this one. Maybe he’s off on Dagobah learning about the Easter Bunny. However, his brief appearance is profound, providing the plot linchpin. Peppermint Patty invited herself and others over to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving, but he’s supposed to be at his grandmother’s house. In a Solomonic decision, Linus suggests he cut his Thanksgiving in half, giving the first half to his friends and the latter to grandma.
Is that why he can only quote parts of the New Testament come Christmas? Was he wasting his two-month crash course on the Old Testament? C’mon, man, the Ten Commandments are sooooo 4,000 BC.
He still has some fallacious understandings of the social sciences. Instead of whatever religious studies class he’d failed or sociopathic breakdown he was having at Halloween, this time he only exhibits a minor misunderstanding of history. Not surprising, considering he was likely a product of a jingoistic post-WWII education system with a tendency to hire teachers incapable of enunciation.
What he espouses is the typical Thanksgiving bullshit. That the Pilgrims were kicked out of England because evil Anglicans didn’t allow Puritans, even though there were Puritan members of Parliament. Hell, twenty years after the Pilgrims, one of those Puritans raised a damned army and captured and killed the fucking king. Yeah, that sounds like a society where poor Puritans just couldn’t exercise any rights. In reality, the Pilgrims were seditious rabblerousers. Not only were they kicked out of England, but the Netherlands, too. Can you imagine being kicked out of Amsterdam? That’s like being banned from Vegas. And they weren’t even card counting! Oh, and the Dutch? They were Calvinists, too. So the “religious freedom” the Pilgrims sought was freedom from their own fucking religion. Or at least the people in their religion who felt it was okay to live among other religions.
But whatever. Linus wasn’t spouting anything that the average American doesn’t still believe today. Like that the Pilgrims were the first British colonists, despite the fact that they’d been down in Jamestown for thirteen years already. Blame that one on old “Honest” Abe, who made Thanksgiving up during the Civil War. He couldn’t have the country originating from Virginia for obvious reasons. So he glorified the Pilgrims and pretended they came to America for freedom, something the North claimed to be fighting for. In reality, Jamestown was founded for money, that TRUE American ideal. While I may quibble with some of the claims of the 1619 Project, one thing I’m grateful for is that there is finally an official acknowledgement that there were non-natives in British America before the Pilgrims, who didn’t show up until a year later, in 1620.
Linus also chose to ignore the whole genocide thing. Y’know, the natives gave the Pilgrims a shit-ton of food and in return… well, there aren’t a lot of Native Americans left in the Boston area. They must’ve been so full of love, appreciation, and turkey that they all… they all…
Hey, don’t forget! The Pilgrims killed all the witches in Salem, too. Who loves baseball and apple pie and racial co-mingling?
But like I said, I don’t understand the character progression.
Because much like Luke Skywalker’s conversion to the force, the Peanuts holiday trilogy is the story of Linus’s personal journey from paganism to the righteous might of Christ. It makes sense, given Schultz’s uber-evangelical Christianity, right? I mean, Schultz doesn’t even think Marcie and Peppermint Patty are lesbians. How d’ya like that? Wrote the best star-crossed lovers since the Capulets and the Montagues, but didn’t even realize it because they were both Juliets.
It’s only the order of the stories that’s missing. How does Abraham Lincoln’s errant, white-washed version of Thanksgiving serve as the middle chapter. Does it begin the transition? Like the Native Americans themselves, they once had pagan beliefs of Great Pumpkins, but after they shared some turkey (with a side of smallpox), their pagan beliefs magically disappeared.
Along with their lives.
But let’s focus on the gravy.
If Schultz wanted to tell a proper, and literal, come-to-Jesus trilogy, I feel like he shoulda put Halloween in the middle. Sure, it might be tough with that whole “calendar” thing, but hear me out.
Linus starts with some vague misconceptions about Thanksgiving. It shows he’s not a bad guy, maybe a little bit gullible, too trusting of dubious stories. Then in the second story, he follows those personal foibles down a deep path, finding himself outside, alone, praying to a pagan deity of autumnal squash. Doesn’t that make his “Return of the Jedi” conversion more triumphant? And the lord said, I give unto thee a jedi, like my father was before me.
Then he signs Marcie up for conversion therapy.
I know what you’re saying. It’s not supposed to be a trilogy. They weren’t written in the same order we watch them in.
But ready for me to blow your mind?
The Christmas special came first!
That’s right, Charles Schulz wrote Linus’s beautiful Christian soliloquy first. A year later, he decided that the only member of the Peanuts gang who could properly quote scripture should become a druid of the Great Sky Gourd. Is there some hidden message there that Chuckles was secretly tired of going to church every Sunday and would rather be home watching the Vikings game?
The Thanksgiving special didn’t come till a decade later. More “The Phantom Menace” than “Return of the Jedi.” And I suppose that makes sense. Less redemption, more Jar Jar Binks.
What a picture perfect portrayal of modern America. Both halves of the country think they’re speaking the True Word of Wisdom while the other half spouts gobbledygook that’s going to get them hurt.
But they can all agree on one thing.
A complete misunderstanding of history.