Being a scattered collection of random personal musings on the Movies and their Prequels
I went to see Revenge of the Sith on the 23rd. And I liked it, for the most part. I fall soundly in the “good but flawed” category of (re)viewers. I only have one real quibble with the movie (assuming we take the wooden acting and excessive campiness as a given and pay no attention to it). I follow this with a general observation on one of the major philosophical differences between the Movies and their Prequels.
The rhetoric of evil
I wasn’t quite convinced by Anikan’s “turn to the dark side.” While it was a plotting coup to have Anakin torn between loyalty to the head of the Republic and the Jedi Council, with both trying to convince him the other was plotting against the good of society, freedom, and puppies, Palpatine’s rhetoric once he revealed his Sith Lord status to Anakin didn’t quite work for me.
Note to potential Evil Overlords: if you want to seduce a basically good man over to the Dark Side, DON’T call it the “Dark Side”. The truly evil NEVER believe they are evil; that’s the rhetoric of the Weak, who think of themselves as “the Good people”. Was it Nietzsche, Voldemort, or Holland Manners who said, “There is no good and evil, only power.” Well, gosh, I think it was all of them, slightly paraphrased. Plus Quark. “I’m not a thief and a swindler, I’m a business man!” The way to sell Anakin on the Sith is to talk about how the Sith believe in using “all aspects” of The Force, rather than limiting themselves to only one facet of it.
If you are familiar the back-story of Star Wars, you know that the Jedi were not only Guardians of Peace in the old Republic, they were part of its bureaucracy, beholden to its government. Fan geek The Lard Biscuit explains it this way: imagine there is a minority class of people in society who have magic powers. Assuming they don’t keep this fact to themselves and hide in the shadows (e.g., the HarryPotterVerse), normal people would likely fear this minority and (a) either persecute them or (b) try to control them, (c) lest this powerful minority take over and rule the normal people instead. In the Star Wars ‘verse, society has opted for a benevolent form of option (b). The Jedi agree to live a life of severe discipline and curtailed powers in exchange for relative freedom to come and go, and they use their powers for good only–as peace-keepers in a society without a standing army. This is rather like the compromise the telepaths on Babylon 5 made with their society: we strictly regulate the use of our powers and chase down any rogue telepaths who refuse to follow the PsyCorps’ self-imposed discipline–it’s the price we as the abnormally gifted pay to have the same freedoms as normals.
Anyway, all that is background to make the point that Chancellor Palpatine has been plotting and scheming since Phantom Menace to take over the galaxy and put it under the rule of the gifted minority (option “c”)–namely, him and his apprentice. Like any good follower of the Nietzschean Superman philosophy, he believes his gifts give him the right and he is entitled; the Jedi are fools to let the full flowering expression of their powers be limited by the plebian masses.
So if you want to sell Anakin on the advantages of being a “Sith”, you don’t couch your pitch in the same terms the weak normals/pathetic Jedi would. You say, “There is no Dark Side or Light Side, there is only the full potential of our abilities given to us by the Force.” And, “Feel all the emotions you have when you use the Force; don’t limit what you’re allowed to feel like the Jedi do. And, oh, by the way, if you explore and develop your full abilities Anakin, you can save your beloved Padme.”
I know why Lucas did it the way he did it. We as an audience are used to hearing the term “the Dark Side”, and the idiot audience needs to be cued in on what Palpatine is talking about. And yet…I would have got what was going on if he never used the expression “the Dark Side” even once. You pretty much know what’s going on once Anakin starts killing children.
This Dark Side/Light Side-limited vs. full power rhetoric also raises an interesting question for the Return of the Jedi. So, great, the good powerful!minority guys are back. How are they going to get along in their society? By once again limiting their powers and bowing to the will and the rule of the government? And what if, like in Anakin’s day, the Republic that gives them their orders is corrupt? Anakin Skywalker was supposed to “return balance to the Force.” Which means, in my mind, the Jedi need to learn how to stop being scared of the so-called “Dark Side” and embrace their full potential without being evil in the process.
The metaphysics of the Force
In these Prequels, we get a lot of back-story on the Jedi, the Sith, the Force, the Republic–all the things the original trilogy either didn’t specify or couldn’t specify without being spoilery. Most of the back-story, once you study it in some detail, is pretty interesting and satisfying. The one thing that continued to bug the s*** out of me no matter what, though, was the damned midichlorians. And I could not quite pin down WHY until I revisited the original trilogy.
The Force is presented in a very different way in the original trilogy vs. the prequels. In the original Star Wars (AKA “A New Hope”), Ben Kenobi describes the Force to Luke thusly:
“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
In The Empire Strikes Back, we hear a similar description by Yoda:
“For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It’s energy surrounds us and binds us. …You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you…me…the tree…the rock…everywhere! Yes, even between this land and that ship!”
In Phantom Menace, on the other hand, Qui-Gon describes the Force to young Anakin in these terms:
ANAKIN: Master, sir…I’ve been wondering…what are midi-chlorians?
QUI-GON: Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life form that reside within all living cells and communicate with the Force.
ANAKIN: They live inside of me?
QUI-GON: In your cells. We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians. Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you.
I really, really hated that description when I watched Phantom Menace, though I couldn’t say quite why. I mean, beyond midichlorians being a rip-off of Madeleine L’Engle’s Holy Mitochondria (where your mitochondria are little parasitical living beings inside your cells that are Deeply in Tune with God).
Revisiting the original trilogy, I finally figured out why. The original trilogy description of the Force couches it in very un-personalized terms. It is an “energy field” at once both an outgrowth of life and that thing which allows life to exist in the first place. It’s a very Holistic, non-reductionist, and yet very physicalist notion (a mysticized-up version of Einsteinian or perhaps the Grand Unified Theory of physics). The Force is primal and creative and to be respected and honored, but it is part of all of us, of everything. The Jedi–or anyone, really–can be aware of the Force as part of themselves, and directly.
The Force as Qui-Gon describes it in the prequels, on the other hand, seems to exist separately from living beings and has a (sentient?) “will” that we should “listen” to.
The original trilogy Force is Pantheism (nature is sacred, an outgrowth of a primal creative but insentient principle). The Prequel Force is mystical theism complete with little priests living in my cells mediating between me and a (sentient) God-Force.
I get why the midichlorians appear as a plot device. You need some reason why a lucky few are more in touch with the Force than others. But obviously Yoda and Obi-Wan spent the years between episodes 3 and 4 rewriting The Philosophy of the Force.