He knew what he wanted to say but he didn’t know how to word it… Is the #StarWars hexology a conservative parable?
In case anybody is concerned, this isn’t a terribly serious post. It’s one of those pretentious thought experiments that tend to get people riled up for no discernible reason. But…
I have a weird little theory that the prequels reconfigure our political understanding of the Star Wars original trilogy consistent with George Lucas’ changing views. Oooooh eeeeer, controversial.
When Lucas was creating the original trilogy, he was the relatively unknown newcomer. He was a bright young gun challenging authority and shaking the establishment. The story was of Luke Skywalker, a relatively unknown newcomer who was a bright young gun who decided to join up with a rebellion to challenge authority and shake the establishment. The story included a princess falling in love with a smuggler while they fought against the Emperor and his stormtroopers.
When Lucas was creating the prequel trilogy, he was a wealthy, well-known director-producer with his own little media empire. The story was of Anakin Skywalker, a sulky, angsty, whiny, awkward adolescent who can’t accept the wisdom of the Jedi teachings and traditions. When the mores and customs of the Republic are challenged, Jar Jar Binks ends up in the Senate and everything goes a bit fascist.
Now watch the whole hexology through from beginning to end. It’s about the authority of tradition being challenged, everything going pants, and then the remnants of the traditional old ways indoctrinating a new generation to restore the glorious past.
It’s a conservative parable. Sure, progressive attacks on conservative tradition might sound sexy and glamorous. Sure, they might appeal to your adolescent issues with authority. But if you go down that path you end up with children being slaughtered for no particular reason and women dying in childbirth. Plus that whole fascism thing.
Key scenes from the original trilogy support this reading:
Ben hands Luke the saber.
LUKE: What is it?
BEN: Your fathers lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not
as clumsy or as random as a blaster.
Luke pushes a button on the handle. A long beam shoots out
about four feet and flickers there. The light plays across the
BEN: An elegant weapon for a more civilized time. For over a thousand
generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice
in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire. [Source: A New Hope]
Oh, wow. This movie isn’t about a progressive future where women can have jobs other than ‘Stripper in Jabba’s Palace’. This is about an appeal to the ideals and values of the medieval past. Guns and technology? Forget it, Luke. What you need is the weapon used by several thousand generations of our monastic order which acts spookily like the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, on the Death Star:
MOTTI: Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader.
Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure
up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the
Rebel’s hidden fort…
Suddenly Motti chokes and starts to turn blue under Vader’s
VADER: I find your lack of faith disturbing. [Ibid.]
Vader isn’t choking Motti for insubordination. Vader is choking Motti because he still sees himself as the progressive hero from the prequel trilogy: Motti is reminding him that he used to be part of ‘that ancient religion’. The only fitting punishment for reminding a progressive that their ideals and values are predicated on traditions and customs is a force choking.
If we adopt this conservative reading of the Star Wars hexology (and we should, because it’s obviously correct and not at all ridiculous), we are rewarded a better understanding of why there’s only one African American with speaking lines in the original trilogy, why ability to succeed is based on inherited attributes, why — despite entire galaxies being at war — it’s all over when three men have a fight in a throne room, and (again) why the greatest concentration of women in the Star Wars galaxy is in Jabba’s palace.
Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
I’m yet to read the Philosophy and Star Wars book which came out a few years ago. In a very old post, I noted that I was a fan of thePhilosophy and … genre even though some of them have been quite awful. I’ve been worried about reading the Star Wars edition because I’m worried that it will be terrible.
Quick side note: while trying to find a link to that book, I found this. Holy frijoles. Somebody has gone to the effort to write a book about the ‘real’ Jedi religion.
Anyhoo, after watching the latest After Hours episode on Cracked.com about how the Star Wars universe is unfriendly to women, I thought I’d have a bit of a crack at exploring whether or not it’s good to be a Jedi. It’s 3.30am. This is definitely a good idea.
In the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, the plot requires Luke to begin his Jedi path rather quickly and uncritically. To recap the film:
- Leia sends a message to Obi Wan in R2D2.
- Luke intercepts R2D2.
- R2D2 runs away and Luke chases after him.
- Luke gets attacked by Sand People but is rescued by Obi Wan.
- Luke says he can’t become a Jedi Knight like his father but has to get back to his uncle and aunt. Fortunately, they were murdered by stormtroopers, so it’s totally cool for Luke to become a Jedi Knight now.
- And he does.
But let us play an extremely nerdy game of ‘What if…?’ In our hypothetical, Luke has more time to consider the proposal to dedicate himself to Jedi teachings.
We could note that most of the Jedi in the Star Wars universe don’t get that option. They’re abducted as children to join the Jedi Order. There’s a whole bunch of Jedi whose job it is to go and fetch Force-sensitive children. In other words, most Jedi were not people who chose to be Jedi. Hell, even Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader) was abducted via a confusingly strange wager (the ‘winner’ cheated using his Jedi powers, btw).
We could also note that the Jedi Order is overwhelmingly male. We could also note that to become a Jedi, you had to have the right parents (effectively making the Star Wars universe a caste-based world).
But let’s get back to our young adult Luke weighing up his decision to follow the way of the Jedi.
The first thing the audience learns about the Jedi is that they have a supercool weapon.
BEN: I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have
this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He
feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damned-fool idealistic
crusade like your father did.
Ben hands Luke the saber.
LUKE: What is it?
BEN: Your fathers [sic] lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not
as clumsy or as random as a blaster. [Source: BlueHarvest.net]
It’s a pretty cool conversion tactic. There would be a lot more Mormons around today if they went to high schools and said, ‘Hello! We have magic ninja blades. You can learn how to use them if you join our religion.’ More importantly, there’s nothing about the content of being a Jedi. We don’t get that until The Empire Strikes Back, where Yoda explains:
A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of
the dark side. Anger…fear…aggression. The dark side of the Force
are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you
start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny,
consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.
LUKE: Vader. Is the dark side stronger?
YODA: No…no…no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
LUKE: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
YODA: You will know. When you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses
the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. [Source: BlueHarvest.net]
Fleshed out further in the Prequels and Expanded Universe, the way of the Jedi is cool, detached, and dispassionate. Emotional outbursts are considered ‘dark side’. This less than flattering attitude towards emotions has a long ancestry in philosophy, particularly in ethics.
The complexity of emotions and their role in mental life is reflected in the unsettled place they have held in the history of ethics. Often they have been regarded as a dangerous threat to morality and rationality [...] The view that emotions are irrational was eloquently defended by the Epicureans and Stoics. For this reason, these Hellenistic schools pose a particularly interesting challenge for the rest of the Western tradition. The Stoics adapted and made their own the Socratic hypothesis that virtue is nothing else than knowledge, adding the idea that emotions are essentially irrational beliefs. All vice and all suffering is then irrational, and the good life requires the rooting out of all desires and attachments. (As for the third of the major Hellenistic schools, the Skeptics, their view was that it is beliefs as such that were responsible for pain. Hence they recommend the repudiation of opinions of any sort.) All three schools stressed the overarching value of “ataraxia”, the absence of disturbance in the soul. Philosophy can then be viewed as therapy, the function of which is to purge emotions from the soul [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 'Emotion']
In the Star Wars universe, it has often been affection which has been the emotion which turned people over to the dark side. This was explored poorly in the prequels, but there are some good examples in the EU. Basically, emotional attachments with other people can turn to jealousy, protectiveness, &c., can serve as the catalyst for revenge if somebody harms them, &c., or can ‘cloud the Jedi’s judgment’.
We could ask why there aren’t emotionally normal people in the Star Wars universe who are also Jedi. It doesn’t seem that hard to believe that there could be people just like us except they have all the Jedi abilities and don’t go slaughtering children.
Is this the sort of religion we imagine Luke would follow, if given a choice? After all, it’s his desire to know his father better and his desire to avenge his extended relatives which drive him to become a Jedi in the first place.
Most of us are people who experience emotions. We form attachments to other people. In most of those attachments, don’t we become stronger people? Although we might become enraged, upset, or frightened, we can moderate our reactions appropriately. Not so for the Jedi. In the Star Wars universe, if you start to feel inappropriate attachments to others, it’s only a matter of time before you’re slaughtering children and shooting lightning from your fingertips. In our universe, it is hard to understand how emotions necessarily entail evil. Yoda’s comment about fear leading to anger, &c. doesn’t quite seal the deal. It’s only by privileging the cold, dispassionate, and detached that we’re able to be disparaging about emotions. As an aside, this is something that we do almost instinctively in our society: people who get emotional and flustered aren’t as evolved and mature as logical, cognitive types. Self-control means rational, yo.
Let us imagine that, for some reason we cannot know, it’s not possible to be a Jedi Knight and have squelchy feelings towards another. Divine mystery or something. Jedi-God hates sex for some reason. Whatever.
Does it hold that, given a choice between living a life of Jedi powers and a life of having deep interpersonal relations, we should think the former more valuable than the latter? This is the question we should put to Luke in our slightly modified version of the A New Hope. And it doesn’t seem that a person would jump into the Jedi robe, given the choice.
Let’s face it: the Star Wars prequels sucked. There were two and only two good points:
1. Yoda fighting; and
2. Aayla Secura.
These are facts. But even (1) is a poisoned chalice: it makes it even more baffling why Yoda didn’t fight Vader. Vader would have been no match for Yoda and yet Yoda hides out on Dagobah.
Bit that’s just one small problem in the sea of problems that is post-Prequel Star Wars. For a good run down on the major and fundamental problems, see this.
But let us be constructive and not destructive. What would have made a more satisfying set of prequels?
The Phantom Menace
Concept: In a world based on lofty ideals and principles, the lived reality is one of corruption and decay.
Outline: The Republic and the Jedi are no longer holding together well; there is corruption in the Republic and more Jedi are turning away from the order. Something seems to be encouraging young Jedi to defect and a young Jedi padawan — the excellent pilot Anakin Skywalker — is tempted by the ideals of the Dark Jedi. The Council tries to hold the Jedi Order together and does morally questionable things to achieve these ends. Anakin nearly defects but holds it together. Yoda states that he feels Anakin lacks the fortitude to train as a padawan, but Obi Wan takes him on anyway. It is revealed that the same corrupting force among the Jedi is the same corrupting force in the Republic: the ancient enemy, the Sith.
Attack of the Clones
Concept: In order to protect the ideals and tradition of society, some people will resort to any means to do so.
Outline: Anakin is now a young knight. During one of the regular clashes with Dark Jedi (manipulated by the two Sith Lords behind the scenes), Anakin comes across a Sith holocron. The holocron both fascinates and disgusts Anakin; it teaches powers beyond what the Jedi teach but he finds its philosophy problematic. It is widely recognised that the Republic is no longer functional and civil wars break out between internal alliances of planets. The Jedi Order — in an attempt to maintain order in the Republic and against the Dark Jedi — unveil an army of clones (the storm troopers) as infantry. The Dark Jedi are nearly entirely wiped out, though the Jedi Order takes heavy losses — Anakin is seriously injured and requires cybernetics in order to recover: making him mostly Vaderish. Anakin cannot stand to see the Jedi Order turn its back on its ideals, turns to a prominent senator of the Republic, promising him allegiance and power if the senator will bring order to the Republic.
Revenge of the Sith
Concept: Good people can be blinded by good intentions, and it can be too late to turn back.
Outline: The overwhelming popularity of the senator in the Republic and his success in quelling factional disputes (although through tyrannical means) makes it easy for the senator to manipulate himself into total control of the Republic. With such popularity, he is able to take control over complete control of the clone army forces. Anakin has fallen in love with a young Dark Jedi who escaped the battle, whom he marries. The senator declares the Jedi a threat to order and commands the storm troopers to declare war on the Jedi (the storm troopers were, of course, a threat to the Dark Jedi and, therefore, a threat to the Jedi Order). The Dark Jedi girl discovers the Emperor’s secret: that he’s the Sith Lord who’s been causing the strife. Two of the strongest Jedi — Yoda and Obi Wan — elude the storm troopers. The Dark Jedi girl tracks them down and explains the bigger picture of what’s been going on. Yoda and Obi Wan seek out Anakin and the Emperor. Anakin fights both Yoda and Obi Wan which manages to be fairly evenly matched — with Anakin using the skills contained in the holocron. The fight is interrupted by the Emperor using his Sith Awesome who reveals himself to be the Sith Lord behind the corruption and decay. Anakin now has a moral dilemma: the Emperor has brought peace through fear and power, but the Jedi had turned their backs on their ways by deploying the clone army. Anakin realises that he was probably wrong but it’s all gone too far for him to turn his back on the Empire: the Jedi lost their way and now peace has been established through the ways of the Sith. Deciding that the ends justified the means — just as the Jedi Council had done before — Anakin takes his role as Darth Vader. A political crisis erupts during this high drama, and Sidious must go to exterminate the rebellious elements of the Senate. Sidious orders Vader to wipe out the last of the Jedi. Vader — realising the situation — tells Yoda and Obi Wan to flee: if they win the battle, the Emperor will hunt them down himself and he is clearly more powerful than all of them. The Dark Jedi girl flees with them. ROLL CREDITS.
It’s a bit rough but it captures everything it needs. There’s no mystery point where Anakin suddenly decides that killing children is a sensible and rational thing to do. It doesn’t hamfistedly tie up every loose thread from the prequels to the originals — keeping the big secret that Luke and Leia are siblings. We learn in Return of the Jedi what happened to the Dark Jedi girl (she was sad all the time). It makes the Jedi’s use of storm troopers morally questionable — which, to be honest, it freaking is: why are the Jedi (a noble group of peace keepers) deploying militia forces?
But it also brings something different to the table: now when you watch through the originals, it doesn’t seem like reviving the Jedi and toppling the Empire is necessarily what ought to be done. Vader is, at the end of the day, a good guy: in The Empire Strikes Back, he realises that he can get rid of the Emperor by joining with his exceptionally talented son. But the same mentality is there: the only way to maintain peace is through tyrannical measures and that’s what makes him the unintended villain. Yoda’s hiding act now makes sense, as does Vader’s ‘You should not have come back, old man’ to Obi Wan. The Jedi still haven’t stopped being manipulative and secretive: Obi Wan outright lies about Luke’s father and then tries to justify it at the end.
I find racists a bit weird.
You know when you’re at the beach and you find a bit of something that sort of looks a lot like jelly but isn’t jelly and you wonder if it might be from a jellyfish but you don’t think it could have come from a jellyfish? That’s how I feel whenever I’m talking to a racist.
Mind! I don’t mean the sort of everyday very common racist who doesn’t mean to be racist but really is when it comes down to it. I mean the über-racist: the sort who proudly assert that people who aren’t white are somehow, through some fault of their own, inferior people. I find it difficult to understand whence it comes. It can’t be fear. I’m more likely to get ripped off by whitey than any other group — which seems to be reflected when I do the implicit association test. Or maybe it is fear and I’m just not accounting for people’s ability to be irrationally afraid of things.
There’s something intrinsically fine about hating on red heads. Even the Bible does it. Genesis 25 tells the story of Esau (a ranga) who sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Ho, ho.
It’s funny because he’s got red hair.
IN OTHER NEWS…
Nerd up, my fine friends!
For those of you who are thinking ‘I really haven’t been able to express my nerd pride sufficiently of late’, we’ve had several weeks of the heavens dumping nerdshit upon our doorsteps.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
This has been a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s the sort of game you can enjoy casually while dying of heat exhaustion on the couch. Plus, there is a crapload of ice in the game and just looking at all that ice makes me feel better about the world. Sure, Yahtzee is right when he says that it’s the same as all the other 2D Mario games. On the other hand, who cares? Nobody’s expecting gritty Mario. Nobody’s expecting intricate plot Mario. Nobody’s expecting anything other than mindless 2D fun. In other words, you get from this game exactly what you think you’re going to get from this game: a few hours of fun smacking Koopas.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
I much prefer this to The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Okay, it could be that I have some completely unrelated emotional hangups about PH (the ex really liked the game and there was a trading function, so now my copy of the game is filled with things traded from her copy of the game, so it just induces panic attacks). Not a big fan of the evil trains that can move more quickly than you and can hunt you down so you can’t avoid them. That bit really sucks. I’m also not a huge fan of the complete inability to turn around… But, hey, you are supposed to be on a train.
I could also do without the scumbag NPCs. Zelda is just about the only likable character in the game. Everybody else is a demanding, annoying douche. ‘Oh, I want wood. Bring me wood! Oh, I won’t work with a character with big antlers! Oh, do a roll into this tree filled with mother freaking bees!’
That last one pissed me off the most. I thought, ‘You can’t be serious. Why the crap would I want to roll into a tree full of bees? Oh, well. If you insist!’ Lo and behold, the bees freaking attacked me. Then he laughed about it and demanded a free train ride. I’m still a bit conficted about that, especially considering his mother didn’t seem to have the slightest idea of where he’s going. Also, the turd is a liar. I had to Googlewhack what to do with him because he’s such a rotten liar.
But, other than that, the game is ferociously excellent.
Family Guy: Something Something Something Dark Side
The release date was supposed to be tomorrow, but JB HiFi had them in stock today. In truth, not as good as Blue Harvest but still an amazing amount of fun. BH seemed to find humour in what was already in the Star Wars universe – Solo’s ‘few maneuvers’, for example. SSDS seemed to rely more on recreating The Empire Strikes Back with Family Guy characters and then sprinkling jokes on the top.
Sure, BH did the same thing at times but it didn’t seem to be quite so dependent. Also, I could do with several magnitudes less Herbert. So, overall fun but pretty much just for fans of Star Wars and Family Guy.
I hate every military character on this show. Freak me freaking sideways, I could swear they exist just to say asinine things and to disagree with people who can read without moving their lips. Robert Carlyle is pretty much the only reason worth watching it at the moment (Channel 10, Monday nights. Soon to be Channel 10, 1am Tuesday morning… TiVo!).
I also hate the trope of ‘Super smart outsider’. In the original, James Spader had a theory which was not supported by the evidence. Thus, he was rightly mocked for his unjustified beliefs.
But that’s not good enough for the country that invented Wikipedia. Experts suck! What do they know? They’re just experts!
And so James Spader’s completely unjustified theory miraculously turned out to be correct. Oooooh, he totally showed the establishment, didn’t he?
In this, the outsider is an out of work, university dropout who just happens to be able to work out maths homework in an alien language. And I’m all like… ‘Right. Lame.’
It’s sort of weird when you’ve got a television show which you really enjoy watching but only because you’re hoping that any of the non-Robert Carlyle characters will die horribly. Unfortunately, they’re not dying rapidly enough at the moment. But it is really enjoyable to watch.
The Sorting Algorithm of Evil is an often criticised concept. Oh, shock. All the easy villains were in the first series, and now — mystery of mysteries — the real villains have shown up. And now the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up. And now the intergalactic queens of the universe who hired the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up…
But it exists for a reason.
Shows where one side clearly out matches the other have a habit of being dull unless you can put on your suspenders of disbelief quickly enough. Matches between Awesome Hero and weakling bad dude (see: Batman versus the street gangs) seem like petty bullying. Matches between Awesome Villian and weakling heroes (see: Star Trek: First Contact) seem wildly implausible when they end.
A worse example of the latter were several of the recent season finales of Doctor Who. The Master is completely wiping the floor with everybody, so the Doctor is granted magical powers by the psychic satellites. Davros has stolen the Earth to make a planetary weapon out of planets, so the Doctor learns how to control his regeneration so he can create a clone and a human-Time Lord hybrid clone… or something.
Good drama requires evenly matched combatants, and it’s poor writing if one of the combatants quickly level grinds in order to get a massive advantage over the other.
I’ve tried to sit through the ‘Prequels’ and I just really don’t understand why the Jedi don’t do the same thing I do when I’m messing with the Force in the video games: pick up something using the Force, smack everybody else with it.
I’m absolutely horrible with my Force powers. In The Force Unleashed, I roamed around Kashyyyk smashing Wookiees with bits of their own temple. Cultural sensitivity, yo.
They’ve got the whole damn Force there and they’re still all ‘Oh, we’re going to spend three weeks battling incompetent ‘droids.’ The obvious enemy would be the Sith, but far too much narrative baggage had been piled on, so it wasn’t possible (sort of) for more than two Sith to exist at a time.
So a less obvious enemy would be the Dark Jedi. Aayla Secura had already been one. If George Lucas was going for the whole ‘It’s just like the end of the Roman Republic!’, then it would have been wonderful to see the Jedi completely reimagined from the original three as being a group at war with themselves (like the Romans were). Instead of being a group of hippy wizards (as they’re presented through Obi Wan and Yoda), they were deeply divided. The Sith exploit that and bring down the Republic. Awesome trilogy. Rounds of applause. No Jar Jar Binks.
Dragonball GT had a similar problem. In order to keep inventing new plots, moronic things had to happen to the most powerful characters (mostly Goku). It would have been much more interesting to see them all start battling each other (which they sort of did with the Baby Saga).
I feel like I’m being a little bit unfair here. The problem is not new and it’s a frequent hurdle for a lot of fiction.
Take, for example, The Iliad.
On the one side, you have the whole Greek world. They’re wealthy and powerful. They have Athena and Poseidon on their side (mostly), along with most of the pantheon at some point or other. They have an immortal on the field (Achilles).
Then you have Troy.
Troy is rather crap. It’s an out-of-the-way nowhere land and only has minor gods fighting on their side (except for, notably, Apollo and Artermis). They have magic walls (built by gods), but they’re mostly crapola. They only hold out for as long as they do because the Greeks keep pissing off the gods.
This isn’t a match up. The drama is only sustained by repeated instances of ‘And then Domestos, son of Toilet Duck, urinated on the sacred mound of a goddess, who complained to Zeus, who extended the plot by two years.’
It would be nice if we could somehow overcome the mismatching problems in fiction.
On her ship, tied to the mast, to distant lands, takes both my hands, never a frown with golden brown… unless it’s 39 degrees, in which case I’ll sulk
Holy hells, it’s freaking warm.
Which makes me think of the ice planet, Hoth. Mmmmmm… I’d sure like to be there with all that ice, tauntauns, tauntaun sleeping bags, rebel scum, and wampas.
For the life of me, I’ve never been able to work out Hoth. Sure, it’s science fiction and, sure, George Lucas was more interested in creepy, creepy incest and inter-generational sex, but at some point somebody must have looked at Hoth and thought: the ecology is all wonky.
Wampas eat tauntauns and Jedi. This is understandable and perfectly plausible.
But what the hell do the tauntauns eat? The planet is a giant snowball (mmmmm… giant snowball planet). Unless they’re eating ice and somehow converting that into energy (some of you French scientists might be thinking cold fusion, but then Luke would have got nasty radiation burn when he huddled in the guts of a tauntaun).
The Expanded Universe says that there’s lichen fields. Lichen fields on a snowball planet? You’re a crazy person.
It’s times like these that I think of the feral camels in the Australian outback. Camels were brought to Australia to help bored Englishmen adventurate across the desert. Some of them got loose and they started several colonies. The end result is a damaged ecosystem as the camels run wild.
If you were going to set up a base on an ice planet, it only makes sense that you’d bring along some tauntauns from another planet with a more diverse ecosystem. Tauntauns probably eat some plant which has grown fond of extremely cold weather. You never know. It’s space. Anything can happen (except planets which are completely iced over and which have tauntauns and wampas. That certainly can’t happen – hence the length of this post).
Concerned that some tauntauns might escape, they also brought along some wampas to keep the population in check.
‘But Mark!’ I hear you cry from the future, ‘If the planet is incapable of supporting tauntauns, why would you need a carnivore to keep the population in check?’
Foolishly, you’ve ignored the possibility of tauntauns cannibalising each other.
Okay, the heat’s finally got to me.