Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Flawed Despot is Better than a Smug Jedi

Not content with having mere dozens of people knowing the embarrassing level of my geekness, I have a commentary on NPR defending the Sith, Palpatine, and the Empire.

Just so you know, when I get home tonight I'm going to take my Star Wars and Lord of the Rings editions of Trivial Pursuit and mix all the cards up to make one Omnibus Giant Nerd Edition. Then I'll play. All by myself.

Let's see Greg Gutfeld top that.


Anonymous said...

One little problem with your summary on NPR:

Isn't Tatooine outside the Galactic Republic's jurisdiction in Phantom Menace?

You say that the Senate justified slavery on Anakin Skywalker's home planet.

But, I am pretty sure that the movie went out of its way to say that the planet was outside of the jurisdiction of the Republic and the Jedi.

This is also the reason for Anakin not being detected at an earlier age by the Jedi...

Anonymous said...

Don't worry JVL, you won't have to play the Uber-Nerd Edition all by yourself. I'm in.

Ultimate matchup: Gandalf v. Vader?

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a lucky wife you'll have tonight. : )

Jim said...

The Empire is good? It seems like the basis of the argument is overly comparative rather than intrinsic. An “orderly meritocracy” may have some redeeming qualities such as the trains running on time, but without a proper theological underpinning is subject to little imperfections like genocide, torture, and assassination, which is where I think the Empire falls a bit short of good. Are the Jedi falling apart and subject to peccadillos of their own? Absolutely. But it seems like this is purposefully included by Lucas. In fact, I would argue that, unbeknownst to Lucas, the fall of the Jedi is actually tied to the same fundamental flaw as that of the Empire; a lack of sophisticated theology.

As you properly point out, Lucas’s juvenile aping of Zen is totally inadequate to sustain any purposeful power in the universe. It is too convoluted. On the one hand the Jedi are supposed to represent good. Yet, according to Obi Wan, they reject absolutes, which is somewhat problematic since “good” is kind of the standard example of an absolute. So the Jedi are ipso facto just as confused as their creator. But that doesn’t necessarily cede the position of good to the Empire.

I think the defining moment in Revenge is Mace Windu’s final confrontation with the Emperor. In it, Lucas shows a real human being with a sensible religious foundation as opposed to a pacifist prattler. Intended or not, Windu lays out a very succinct case as to why the Emperor deserves execution, even under Catholic doctrine. The Emperor has committed, at a minimum, conspiracy to commit murder (execution attempt on Senator Amidala). He is a continuing mortal threat to others. There is no reasonable way to protect society from him due to his illicit influence with the government and unrepentant attitude. Therefore, he is subject to execution. Even with this rationale though, Windu hesitates, struggles with what can only be a respect for the intrinsic value of human (or alien) life, before attempting to execute Palpatine.

Palpatine on the other hand has no such qualms about killing Windu or anyone else that comes in his way. Although one might attribute his utilitarian use of violence as stemming from the relativism he espouses when advising Anakin that “Evil is a point of view,” it seems more likely that Palpatine is in fact what Lucas portrays him as, Evil. To argue otherwise is to accept the comparisons of George W. Bush to Hitler, or Stalin, or any other emperor/dictator who adopted a “broken eggs” approach to internal or external politics.

Finally, I think that Revenge (along with Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones) does add something meaningful to the Star Wars mythology. Again, perhaps unintended, but powerfully driven by Lucas’s intrinsically Western character that embraces the notions of sin and redemption, we are allowed to see both sides of the coin. Somewhat different than Obi Wan’s original recitation of Darth’s fall (seduced by power) Lucas tells a tale of Anakin’s road to hell, paved with good intentions. Although John Podhoretz has declared the substance of this to be “thin gruel,” I believe that over time the story of Anakin, not the Empire, will become more compelling and provocative.

(please pardon the fluctuating references to all things Star Wars as existing dependently or independently of their creator, Mr. Lucas. It would be more precise to define them simply as intended or unintended aspects of the films.)