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Folly of the Jedi

For a thousand generations, the Jedi knights seeded moral confusion in the Old Republic.

by
Walter Hudson

Bio

June 13, 2013 - 7:00 am

830px-Knightfall2

Love them or hate them, the Star Wars prequels prove by comparison why the original trilogy boasts such universal appeal. We love Luke, Han, Leia, and their ragtag band of rebels because they act from a profound moral conviction. They pursue liberty at any cost, and defy tyranny with admirable resolve. The prequel heroes, by contrast, spend a lot of time wringing their hands.

Over the course of the saga, Skywalker and son operate as essentially the same character presented in different contexts. Despite enjoying the collective instruction of the entire Jedi Order, Anakin falls to the Dark Side. Conversely, his son Luke adheres to the Light despite coming of age in dark times.

Upon due consideration, the prequels reveal that the Jedi Order was the true phantom menace. They took an innocent child with earnest moral impulses and turned him into a deeply conflicted, morally confused time bomb ill-equipped to deal with reality. Surely, the Sith were evil. However, despite an alleged moral dichotomy, so were the Jedi. Our recognition of their error makes it difficult to regard them as heroes and thus care about their plight. In the end, the teachings of the Jedi led directly to Anakin’s fall and the galaxy’s plunge into darkness. Perhaps that’s a large part of the reason we don’t care for their story that much.

The Jedi of the Old Republic operate from a disturbing moral ambivalence, fully personified in Grand Master Yoda and reflected to lesser degrees in the rest of the Council and their knights. At the close of Attack of the Clones, after reluctantly deploying the titular army to counter a clear and present separatist threat, Yoda rebukes Obi-Wan for regarding the outcome as victory.

Victory? Victory, you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the Dark Side has fallen. Begun the Clone War has.

Therein lies one of the distinguishing characteristics of the prequel trilogy, an aversion to war among its heroes. From Queen Amidala’s initial refusal to “condone an action that will lead us to war,” to Yoda’s above noted refusal to acknowledge a moral mandate to destroy aggressors, the prequel protagonists spend most of their time trying to weasel out of conflict – and thus exasperate it.

Anakin stands out as a refreshing exception. He hungers to punish evil, to destroy threats to peace and justice. With his master nearby but unconscious during their final confrontation with separatist leader and known Sith lord Count Dooku, Anakin gains the upper hand but hesitates before eliminating the threat. His conflict can be compared to that facing real-life coalition forces engaging terrorists and insurgents on the battlefield. More than one critic objected to the killing of Osama bin Laden. From Spiegel:

A vice president of German parliament, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt, told the daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung: “As a Christian, I can only say that it is not a reason to celebrate, when someone is killed in a targeted way.” Göring-Eckhardt, a member of the Greens, said bin Laden should have been arrested and put on trial.

That’s precisely what Anakin claims he should have done with Dooku. However, the sentiment comes across forced, motivated by a sense of religious duty rather than rational judgment.

That struggle between code and judgment resolves in the other direction when he walks in on Jedi master Mace Windu’s confrontation with the evil mastermind Darth Sidious. As council members go, Windu tends most hawkish. Initially intent upon arresting Sidious, Windu reacts to the increasingly evident threat by choosing — as Anakin did with Dooku – to abandon the Jedi code and destroy the Sith. Likely motivated in part by a sense of guilt for his previous deviation from the code, Anakin intervenes on Sidious’ behalf, arguing that the Sith lord should face trial.

In that moment, Anakin finds himself hopelessly adrift in a sea of moral confusion. He lacks a sound moral reference, something solid to grab a hold of, and gets swept out beyond any hope of return. While the sin is his own, his upbringing in the care of the Jedi Order cannot be dismissed as inconsequential.

"Learn to let go of everything you're afraid to lose."

“Learn to let go of everything you’re afraid to lose.”

It all comes back to attachment. Throughout the prequels, we hear the Jedi warning against attachment. Anakin must leave his mother, abandoning her to slavery and ultimately to death. Anakin must let go of his anger, no matter whether it proves justified. Anakin must refrain from romantic love, because passion apparently cannot be controlled. Anakin must refrain from mourning the dead, and instead serenely accept their passing.

It’s worth noting that these prohibitions are never placed in any rational context. Yoda merely asserts as self-evident fact that:

Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Thus attachment must be avoided to stave off any fear of loss. But what sense does that make?

If death need not be feared, why fight at all? What value is there in peace and justice if not to preserve life? And if we seek to preserve life, are we not expressing an attachment to it?

Anakin’s confusion and moral conflict arise from the friction generated between this contrived prohibition on attachment and his natural hunger to live! He wants to enjoy life. He wants to be with those he loves. He wants to live with them in peace, and protect them from harm. These are rational values which the Jedi irrationally condemn as a path to the Dark Side.

And so Anakin’s masters set the stage for the Revenge of the Sith. Unable to dislodge Anakin’s sense of duty to the Jedi Order, Darth Sidious shifts tactics, dangling a promise of esoteric knowledge which could preserve Anakin’s chief value – his wife Padme. It may at first seem that the Jedi prohibition on attachment is thus validated. However, Anakin’s real problem is not his attachment to his wife so much as a religious code which runs contrary to that rationally conceived value. It is only because he has been taught that attachment is wrong that he wanders haphazardly into the embrace of the Sith.

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Indeed, when you go back and view the original trilogy within the context of the prequels, the saga becomes an affirmation of rationally conceived familial attachment, and thus a damnation of the Old Republic’s Jedi. Think of it. A New Hope is literally born of the forbidden love between Anakin and his bride. Despite the best conspiratorial efforts of the remaining Jedi – Yoda and Obi-Wan – the familial relationships between Luke, Leia, and Anakin come to light and dictate each character’s behavior.

Recall that Yoda and Obi-Wan never change their tune. The latter outright lies — or tells the truth “from a certain point of view” — to keep Luke from developing an familial attachment to Vader. The former continues to encourage Luke to let go of attachments. As much as the original trilogy introduces Yoda and Obi-Wan as wise old wizards with a master plan, in the end, their effort turns on its head. Their plan to train Luke like any other Jedi and send him to destroy Vader and his emperor falls flat. Luke does not defeat Vader through serene detachment, but by channeling a righteous rage in defense of his sister. Following suit, the good in Anakin reemerges from the vestige of Darth Vader when drawn out by paternal attachment to Luke.

All episodes considered, the saga presents a twist ending. The Jedi were wrong. The Force could only be brought into balance by the very attachments their order rejected.

*****

Check out the previous installments in Walter Hudson’s ongoing series on Video Games, Villains, and Values:

May 2:

Beating Back the Nazi ‘Sickness’

May 9:

What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature

May 16:

The Gospel from Planet X: Why Aliens Ignite the Imagination

May 23:

Putting the War into the ‘War on Terror’

May 30:

Greed Is Good: The Villainy of the On-Screen Capitalist

June 6:

The Red Placebo: Confessions of a Former Conspiracy Dabbler

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, and as president of the Minority Liberty Alliance. He hosts a daily podcast entitled Fightin Words, proudly hosted on Twin Cities Newstalk Podcast Network. Walter is a city council member in Albertville, MN. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

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Top Rated Comments   
Maybe they just show the evolution of George Lucas from a hungry believer in something to a rich, callous, 1-percenting cynic.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (43)
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While a fan of the originals (Star Trek & Star Wars) I haven't really liked the prequels and spin offs.

Why? Because they took a sucessful franchise and tried to become preachy socialists about it. Both the Federation and the Jedis are basically a socialist multiculturalist wet dream.

In the Federation "money doesn't exist", yeah right. So what motivation do people have to do anything besides live out fantasies in a holodeck? Why bust my butt building spaceships or whatever when I don't have to worry about food, shelter, or any other want?

The destruction of the Sith would be impossible with the wishy washy philosophy of the Jedi. We all know appeasement doesn't work yet the Jedi seem to believe that appeasement, negotiation, and inaction are better than action or war. Thing is we know that just like treating cancer waiting to do anything about your enemies is a really bad idea.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, though its too bad George Lucas basically made Return of the Jedi a Soviet propaganda film (you know what I mean, using the Viet Cong as heroes, as stated by Lucas himself when talking about the creation of the Ewoks).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think you are trying too hard to understand a very simple problem.

The Jedi ultimately suffer from the same moral vacuity stemming from the same source as that of the main group in the other "Star" franchise, the Federation. That source being cultural and moral relativism - the presumption that every culture is of equal moral standing and that no culture has a "right" to "affect" any other culture in any way.

Of course the sheer absurdity of such a view quickly manifests itself in the hypocrisy of both franchises through the actions of dissenters to that policy making being the heroes.

Even then the franchises continue to try to wallow in their moral wastelands, contorting stories, situations, and "points of view" in desperate attempts to maintain the moral purity and superiority of the Jedi and Federation respectively, even as the actions of both lead to more and more horrific results that only the "criminal" actions of the heroes - though they are treated more as "protagonists" or even "anti-heroes" - can possibly counteract and correct.

Perhaps even more instructive is the fan reactions to said "anti-heroes" in the midst of those contortions, demonstrating that even the target audience cannot deep down abide an attitude demonstrative of the Last Man and instead flocks to a seeming Overman. Sheer storytelling incompetence or mere ironic twist? Perhaps even both.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In Mahayana Buddhism, compassion is the highest virtue. The Bodhisattva is an individual who, for the sake of compassion, foregoes Nirvana in order to remain in the world of suffering and help others.

Many Buddhist practitioners take a Bodhisattva vow. The first line of one version of it goes "However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them."

Detachment is a mental state - seeing things as they are rather than as you would like them to be. It doesn't mean letting your friends suffer or die because you've got bigger fish to fry - which seem to be Yoda's way of doing things.

The Way of the Force, the Way of the Jedi, has nothing in common with Buddhism. Lucas just needed some exotic-sounding mumbo-jumbo to put in the mouths of certain characters in order to make them sound wise and mysterious.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Lucas' ideas in the prequels are incoherently disastrous, and as you point out in this excellent article, the three original films destroy whatever premises the prequels can be determined to have. Lucas's main talent when it comes to ideas seems to be context-dropping. The Jedi end up proving Han's observation that "Hokey religions are no substitute for a good blaster at your side." (I paraphrase.) The untutored determination of Han, Leia, and Luke to form cherished attachments, fight for their values, and meet force with force--in other words, to *care*--beats the Jedi Way of renunciation hands down and always will.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
True. I think Lucas completely stripped away the "hokey religion" aspect in the prequals. He de-mystified the Jedi and replaced the numinous Force with materialist midichlorians. .

The knights of the original movies were a secretive band of mystical, idealistic, fighting monks.

In the prequels, they were a high-powered cadre of political and economic busybodies at the center of Republic affairs, complete with their own giant HQ building, a staff of thousands, a training academy, a fleet of spaceships, and apparent license to travel anywhere, pursue anybody, and kill at will.

The Way of the Force is not their religion - the center of their spiritual lives. They seem to take the Force for granted. It's just a tool, a lever that helps them move History in the direction they think it needs to go. And have some really cool fights. Not much different than a good blaster at your side.

Of course, when we remember that the prequels happened BEFORE the originals, there could be a lesson about the dangers of hubris. The prequel Jedi took the Force for granted, used it as a mere tool for worldly ends, and it turned around and bit them.

Maybe the original movie Yoda seemed more spiritual, more humble, and more cautious because he had experienced the downfall of the Jedi. The first three movies were about Yoda and Obi-Wan trying to repair the damage caused by their own hubris.

As you point out, they couldn't do that without the "untutored determination" of ordinary human beings.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
George Lucas is an entertainer, not a religious leader or moral philosopher. He took bits n' pieces of Joseph Campbell's deas about the Hero's Journey, the Knights of the Round table, Buddhism Lite, and a dissolute culture's fascination with monastic vows and male celibacy, and stirred it all together. It's normal for religions to teach control of the passions and detachment from worldly concerns: Neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity maybe less so. Lucas had a vague sense of all this and used it to propel his plot, nothing more. If any readers are looking for a unified spiritual and moral vision, check out "the Catechism of the Catholic Church".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Really like this article. It echoes some beliefs I have as well, but not of the Star Wars trilogy. What Walter exposes is the problem with Buddhism. George Lucas purposefully had the Jedi Knights hold a Buddhist worldview. Walter talks a lot about attachment and the Jedi's desire to avoid it, which is a major tenet, maybe even THE major tenet in Buddhism.

As this article shows, detachment to the world sounds wise on its surface but leads to great evil. It has in the real world and apparently it did in this story. Detachment in Buddhism is important because the foundational belief is that our experience isn't real. It's all an illusion and must be escaped. Good and evil are two sides of the same coin of this material world. Same thing with justice and tyranny. One isn't better than the other or even fundamentally different.

This a reason why it is so important that we build our society and culture on truth, specifically Biblical truth. That doesn't mean the US is "Christian" but building a country on a Biblical worldview results in Western culture and society which not coincidentally has been the most wealthy and free in history.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes, the Buddhists have done so much evil in the world.

Your remarks are wrong on so many levels, I can't even begin to address them all.

Go read a book on Buddhism, written by a Buddhist and not a Christian apologist. You might learn something.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not sure it does any good to try making sense of the Jedi. Lucas is a technical wizard, a savvy businessman, a decent director. He's definitely NOT a writer or a philosopher.

I think he had all kinds of Big Important Ideas rattling around in his head and he dumped them all into the last three movies. I think he tried to wrangle them into some sort of coherence but succeeded only partially.

In short, he got in over his head. He should have stuck to space opera and left the heavy stuff to Oliver Stone.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Jedi were too stupid to live.
From neglecting to buy the freedom of Skywalker's mother to "If it is not our database, it doesn't exist" they were stupid beyond belief. They couldn't even inspire enough loyalty in their clone troops to get them to ignore "General Order 66."
It got even worse in some of the post Star Wars novelizations.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They were as stupid as Lucas needed them to be in order to advance the plot.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr. Hudson, some of your other writings suggest that perhaps you consider yourself a Christian (for example, your excellent piece on children's rebellion mirroring our own). Your pro-life positions suggest the same possibility.

So, since we are speaking of moral confusion, how is it that most of your work bespeaks a deep love of the world (1 John 2:15), even to the point of lauding a series of films which have as their purpose (according to George Lucas) making eastern paganism attractive to Westerners?


By the way, a small correction: "the prequel protagonists spend most of their time trying to weasel out of conflict – and thus exasperate it."

The correct word is exacerbate.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/exasperate

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/exacerbate

That mistake exasperates me. ;-)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not even eastern paganism: Right now I'm beginning to wonder whether he was in fact trying to implement Marxism/Communism into Star Wars in a positive light, especially seeing how he explicitly stated that he based the Ewoks on the Viet Cong and by extension implied that the Empire, at least in ROTJ, was comparable to the USA. It also doesn't help that he stated that he wanted Capitalism to die and allow "pure democracy" to reign, citing his experiences in 1960s San Francisco as his reason for belief (the only time a "pure democracy" actually developed was in France post French Revolution, and it was a nightmare, and comparable to Communism).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Church Lady speaks...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is why in years to come, a "reboot" (pardon the ghastly word) of Episodes I-III could be a marvellous thing. Picture it in the hands of someone willing to explore the Jedi Order's to-the-bone flaws, and willing to put compelling, cunning, partly TRUE arguments into Palpatine's mouth.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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