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Monday, May 30, 2005

Was Jesus Christ a Sith Lord?

Warning: massive plot spoilers. Do not read if you don’t want to know the plot of Revenge of the Sith.

George Lucas has a wife and three children. If the Jedi mystique accurately portrays his vision of society, you wouldn’t want to be one of them. Let me explain.

Now that we have Lucas’ complete vision, we can see the story centers not around Luke, but around Anakin. That, as they say, changes everything. If Lucas’ first three efforts were about a young man learning to find himself, the last three are about marriage and family. It isn’t pretty. Only two families are portrayed in the six-film series: Anakin and his single mother, and Anakin’s own marriage to Padme (Luke’s aunt and uncle are merely plot devices who carry less than fifteen minutes of combined film time).

The contrast is stark. Even though she is enslaved, Anakin’s single mother is relatively happy. Her fatherless child, on the other hand, enters a marriage so dysfunctional that it leads to intergalactic war, the destruction of whole planets and the deaths of untold billions.

Did Lucas mean to show fatherless boys make bad husbands? Or did he mean to show how a skewed understanding of celibacy destroys lives? By the end of Revenge, it’s hard to tell. The whole story has become rather muddled.

The Evil of the Jedi

We learn that the Sith are evil because they are selfish, while the Jedi are good because they are selfless – they always serve others. This selflessness is apparently meant to explain Jedi celibacy. Jedi are not supposed to be attached to anything, “Train yourself to let go of everything you are afraid to lose,” Yoda counsels a despondent Anakin.

If this is Jedi philosophy, the Sith are right to destroy them. Persons are defined by their relationships with other persons. For that reason, marriage and family are superlative goods. In fact, marriage and procreation are so good that celibacy can make sense only if it permits us to participate in an even greater personal relationship than father and husband, mother and wife.

The only personal relationship greater than these is a personal relationship with God Himself. The pursuit of celibacy apart from a personal relationship with God is the pursuit of self-annihilation. Argue if you would like, but remember that only two kinds of religious celibates exist: the Christian celibate, who seeks more perfect union with the three Persons of the Trinity, and the Eastern mystic, who seeks to annihilate his own ego to become one with Nirvana – Nothingness.

The Jedi are Eastern mystics. For them, God is neither Person nor personal. Thus, when the Jedi require all their members to detach themselves from personal relationships, they require suicidal selflessness. This incoherence eventually destroys the movie’s plot.

The Dark Side: Marriage

Lucas’ Jedi ethic, for instance, respects the individual as an enemy, but not as a spouse. Jedi may not kill unarmed prisoners, no matter how evil, no matter how universal the suffering they caused. But they may not marry. The good of the one is greater than the good of the many as long as that one is an enemy – if it is a spouse, then abandon her.

Instead of seeing marriage as a life-long commitment to serve one’s spouse, the Jedi see marriage as a selfish attachment, a self-indulgence. Marriage is not a commitment to serve someone else, it is a commitment to make someone else a tool towards personal happiness. Anakin essentially says this when he tells Padme, “I cannot live without you.” He suffers from a failure of vision, he cannot conceive of a greater good for himself than Padme. He must have her. Marriage is how Anakin takes care of Anakin.

This explains Anakin’s attitude towards Padme’s pregnancy. Never does he inquire as to the health of the children, never does he question whether he will be a good father, nor whether he is on the path to such a goal. Padme is equally oblivious to her own condition. She cares only about his career, he worries only about her death. Rarely has the pregnancy of a protagonist, a pregnancy critical to plot development, been so universally ignored by every character in a story.

With the revelation of the pregnancy, we can see that Anakin began his walk down the Dark Side when he got married. He is angry at the Jedi Council because he broke their law against marriage. Their law has made his failures as a Jedi manifest. He is not able to think through the source of his discontent because the Jedi code virtually prohibits thought, “Follow your feelings,” he is told again and again.

When he does, he finds he has broken their law on marriage. But how could he avoid it? A Jedi cannot say “I think we should do X,” rather, he says “I feel we should do X.” A Jedi never tells people things: that implies possession of knowledge. Rather, he shares with them, which is, perhaps, why none but the Sith seem to think much.

Deadly Dogmatism

The animus against thought is the only constant theme. When Senator Palatine warns Anakin against the Jedi because they are too dogmatic and narrow-minded, when he says the Jedi need a larger view of the world, we know Anakin sees dogmatism as a bad thing. But when Anakin quotes Jesus to Obi-Wan, “You are either for me or against me” (Matthew 12:30), we find out from Obi-Wan that Jesus was a Sith Lord – “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” The Sith are apparently evil because they are the dogmatists. Selfishness and dogmatism are equated.

Indeed, dogmatism seems to be the only thing everyone wants to avoid. As a result, the entire story line falls apart as everyone becomes a hypocrite.

Certainly the Jedi are hypocritical dogmatists. After all, we don’t see the Jedi sitting down with the Sith Lords in order to work out their differences in common council by negotiating a middle ground. Instead, the Jedi insist democracy and republics are better than emperors and empires. They prohibit killing the unarmed. They prohibit marriage, enjoin celibacy, and insist you feel your way out of a situation instead of think your way out.

Likewise, Padme is meant to represent the good, the mother-earth principle. As Anakin becomes a dark techno-geek in the most literal sense, Padme enters a white chamber to give glorious birth. Except the birth isn’t glorious. As the two are showcased in their respective surgeries, we are supposed to see some sort of contrast between them, but ironically, we see they are both cut from the same cloth.

Anakin is quite willing to slaughter innocent children and his own friends in order to save someone he has decided he can't live without (although, as the rest of the series shows, he does manage to survive without her). Likewise, Padme is willing to orphan her children because her husband is an ass. Instead of living for love, she dies from petulance.

Nobody gives a hot damn about the children. Even the Jedi preserve their lives primarily as insurance against the Sith, so they have a way to wrest back power when the children come of age. In this story, every person is a pawn to be used, in a completely objective and disinterested way, of course.

The Sith are the only honest characters in the film, in the sense that they lie, but they know why they lie and they are consistent in their lies.

In short, the whole series is not the clear-cut clash of good against evil that attracted thousands in the 1970’s. Instead, it is transformed into a sordid mess, a series of stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons.

But, as Mark Twain says, everyone is good for something, even if it’s only a bad example. If anyone wonders what life looks like to a pagan, watch the Star Wars series. Its incoherence, senseless violence and skewed perceptions of reality combine to demonstrate that without Christ at the center, life truly is but sound and fury, signifying nothing.


c matt said...

You got it exactly right. Except that the acting (short of Obi Wan) was pretty lame as well - my 8 year old could have read the cue cards better. The muddled theme seemed to fit with the muddled acting. But the effects were great.

As Lucas proved with the other two installments, the plot and actors are there as a backdrop to the special effects.

c matt said...

What I meant with my last comment is that I don't think it was a particularly conscious effort on Lucas' part to create a pagan picture (although, on a subconscious level, that could certainly have influenced his story line). I think it is mostly due to a real lack of interest in any particular coherence in the plot - just as long as everything gets answered (why Annakin turns evil, where Luke and Leia came from, etc.) that's enough coherence. Throw in some eastern mystic voodoo, and move on to the important stuff - well choreographed light saber fights, fantastic worlds and gadgets, cool spaceships and scenes, etc. This movie was first about eye candy, and a far distant fifth about mind candy.

Patrick said...

George Lucas has had one failed marriage already (which may explain some of his ideas), but his viewpoints on religion are well known. A creator makes everything in their own image - man and nature are a reflection of His image if we believe He created everything. Therefore, God is in everyone and is everywhere to a certain degree (because nature is everywhere) - hence, the Force. Much like the church's view that celebacy is a good thing for the chosen priesthood, so too for the Jedi. It is actually more christian than pagan in much of the logic. Anakin is angry with the Jedi because he can't do what he wants - sounds like many ex-christians I know.

c matt said...

Except that the "Force" is not a personal transcendant creator omnipotent god in Lucas' vision, but an impersonal "energy of existence" that can be manipulated - for good or evil (more a ying yang kind of thing). Note how in the first movie, Obi Wan tells Luke to "use" the Force and that it "obeys your commands" rather than controls you.

My personal observation is that Lucas was not out to make some kind of deep statement about the nature of existence - rather, he took a mish mash of different philosophies - some eastern elements, some western elements, some Christian, some pagan - to make a really cool sci-fi epic. It appears his focus, particularly in the last three installments, was to throw as much sci-fi wizardry as possible into the flicks without the same attention to plot coherence, quality dialogue and actor performance. As one reviewer from Rolling Stone said, Lucas is "a great producer, average to below average writer, and horrible director. He seems to have the uncanny ability to take real life actors and turn them into cardboard cutouts." I had a hard time feeling any empathy for any of the characters in these last installements. But, again, the effects were great.

Patrick said...

Actually his Force is more of a simplistic view on God in christianity. Jedi seem to manipulate the Force much like we try to manipulate God with prayers attached to promises that we have problems keeping. Some pray believing that "God must then obey, and if not what's the point of being christian." However, every war believes that God is on their side. As with the Force, free will is the stumbling block - the action is good/evil not the Force.

As Lucas has said, Star Wars was not meant to be religious revelation, however any time you consider good/evil, religion has to be in the frame of reference.

c matt said...

Some pray believing that "God must then obey, and if not what's the point of being christian."

That's not religion; that's superstition (Zippy's blog is going over this exact point).

I agree with your last sentiment. I think Lucas was merely using good/evil, religious themes etc. as a plot skeleton on which to hang his special effects meat, not intending to really make any big statement. Hence, its rather incoherent presentation.

Anonymous said...

You brought up some interesting points about moral relativism. However, you seem to have either omitted or overlooked the most compelling evidence of a Sith connection to Jesus Christ. During the movie, Emperor Palpatine tells Anakin of a former Sith Lord, ostensibly the founder of the sith, who had obtained such tremendous “unnatural” power that he was able to overcome death and heal those around him. Palpatine then states that this Sith Lord taught everything he knew to his disciple, who betrayed and killed him. Palpatine says that it is strange, this Sith Lord was able to save others, but he wasn’t able to save himself.

This story is analogous to the story of Jesus Christ, who had such power that he was able to heal the sick, cure people of their infirmities, and raise the dead. Jesus taught everything he knew, including the healing power, to his disciples. One of the disciples betrayed Jesus and had him put to death. As Jesus hung on the cross, the people cried out “He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.” Matthew 27:42.