Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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NY Times Review of Revenge of the Sith

Just read a review of the new Star Wars movie "Revenge of the Sith." It contains a paragraph (included below) highlighting the political lesson of the movie. Think you know who becomes Darth Vader? Think again. Or, at least try to guess--before reading the paragraph below--who George Lucas alludes to as the Darth Vader of the real 21st-century world.

"This is how liberty dies--to thunderous applause," Padmé observes as senators, their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. "Revenge of the Sith" is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy." Obi-Wan’s response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70’s engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back.

That paragraph began promising enough, for citizens of our republic do well to be vigilant for the erosion of our constitutional institutions and any departures from our founding principles. But that the dark side of the force would be indicted for its "thinking in absolutes"? If this is what passes for cinematic "engagement with political matters," I’ll stick with the Lord of the Rings.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Too bad the Times couldn’t have talked that simple old absolutist A. Lincoln out of his notion that a nation couldn’t endure half slave and half free. We could have had four years of nuance rather than civil war.

Add Prophet to the Business Card of Mr. Lucas.

If indeed the turn of young Skywalker to the Dark Side is a poke at GWBush, Lucas must have known the events of the last 4 years back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when he conceived the story.

As Yoda might say: "Permeats my nose, the smell of horse dung does".

Its funny because in Episode 1, the problem with the Senate is that the "bureaucrats are in charge." The Senate is no longer a deliberative body, but rather one that replaces any real debate about fundamental problems with the appointment of "comissions" to study the already accomplished invasion of Naboo.

If Darth Vader is George Bush, then John Kerry would be . . . Jar Jar Binks?

Sorry for the length.

Here is my response to the NY Times article.

George Lucas, unlike JRR Tolkien, has always been
of a divided mind about truth. While it is true
that Star Wars was essentially a space opera that
presented the eternal struggle between good and
evil - and, how so delightfully sinister Darth Vader
was played throughout episodes IV - VI from his
great evil to his ultimate redemption in the light
of truth - it is also true that there are other
parts of episodes IV - VI that contradict that vision.

Note particularly the part when Yoda dies, and Luke
converses with Obi-Wan about the future challenges
that he must undertake. When Luke tells Obi-Wan,
"You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father
(i.e., you lied to me about Vader)." Obi-Wan re-tells
the story and ends with the telling quip, "Luke, you’re
going to find that many of the truths we cling to
depend entirely upon one’s point of view." So,
relativism has unfortunately creeped into Star Wars
long before Episode III and President Bush.

As for Episodes I-III, with particular reference to
the quote, "Only the Sith think in absolutes," is a
total inversion of the understanding of the nature of
good and evil. The Order of the Jedi Knights has
certainly always thought in terms of objective,
eternal truths, as Obi-Wan
put it, "For a thousand years, the Jedi were force
of order in the Republic." The Sith, on the other
hand, are the true relativists, much like Satan, the
Father of Lies. They manipulate, coerce, distrust,
lie, murder, and spread corruption - in other words,
they follow no higher moral authority of right and
wrong and are evil. To invert this is to undermine
and alter the entire meaning of this struggle.

What if Lucas (and Obi-Wan in the above quote about
absolutes) is right? The Republic has no inherent
value because the rightness or wrongness of its views
cannot be independently confirmed. What they stand
for might be right, then again it might be wrong.
Perhaps the empire is better than the Republic -
who can say? Perhaps the Dark Side is not to be
rejected after all - maybe it is the path to true
enlightenment. Who can say? Perhaps the Jedi have
been wrongly imposing their view of their own personal
morality for a thousand years and this unwarranted,
hegemonic, oppressive imperialism should stop. Who
can say? I could go on and on.

Look at Lucas’ view of the force and how it has
changed. In the beginning, it was an elusive force
that reminded one of God, though clearly influenced
mostly by Eastern spirituality or Buddhism. In
Episode I, the force became a mere biological entity
that could be measured and quantified. The
supernatural had become materialist. On the other hand,
the Force created a quasi-Christian "virgin birth."
The Force originally was a mystical energy field that
could be harnassed for great good and power - with
all of its usual temptations for the ambitious
and careless - or for evil by the Sith Lords and their
minions. There was a moral framework. Now, what
is the Force? Lucas has been silent on it in
Episodes I & II. There have been no grand sweeping
statements about its nature - only plugging in "urine
samples" into a starship computer for analysis.

So, how does the author and his story fit into all
of the above? Lucas, in my view, was not writing
a story (in its totality - whatever its parts meant)
about the Nazis, Vietnam, or other contemporary
and historical events. Ultimately, I would argue
that Lucas is a product of the 1960s and juxtaposes
the bureaucratic, machine-like Empire/Darth Vader
of the U.S. military-industrial complex with
individualistic freedom-fighters against the
oppressiveness of "the machine" as represented by
Luke and the other persons who have courageously
taken a stand. Perhaps the novel that most
closely approximates Lucas’ vision in Ken Kesey’s
"One Flew over the Cukoo’s Nest" in which Nurse
Rachett is machine-like in her movements and person
representing the bureaucracy keeping down the
individualistic, freedom-loving protagonist from

So, it’s not surprising in my book that Lucas is
of a divided mind in the entire project and allows
moral relativism to mar a story about the struggle
of good and evil.

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