Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"The Jedi are not to be trusted"?

Forewarned you are now: ahead spoilers be, hmm?

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution had an interesting observation about the Star Wars universe:
The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:
But I disagree.
1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy. Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.
The desire to become a Jedi Knight is irrelevant. Not just any old youngster has the aptitude to become a Jedi, much like it doesn't matter how much I desire to be an NFL quarterback. One must be strong with the Force, which is a strictly natural ability, to begin training. Count Dooku was an aristocrat, but that had no bearing on his powerful ability to use the Force. One might possibly accuse the Jedi Council of being discriminatory, since if one doesn't have this particular physical trait, one has no hope of becoming a Jedi. (I refuse to use the miti-chlorian explanation for why some are stronger in the Force than others). Well, it's no more discriminatory than an NFL team wanting a quarterback with a powerful throwing arm. Furthermore, while some are stronger in the Force than others, the ability to use the Force to any degree is either there or not there. "Normal" people apparently cannot use the Force even i the slightest. Think of it like a light dimmer switch: there's the "off" position, then "on" with infinite degrees of illumination until maximum brightness.

Then there's how the Jedi Council acts like a top medical school, admitting only so many new pupils. The only payment required is devoting one's life to the Jedi Order, which of course dramatically increases the demand for Jedi training, but there are only so many Jedi Knights. Episode I established that a Jedi Knight may have only one padawan at a time, so since demand exceeds supply, there is a great scarcity of teachers. Therefore, the Council closely scrutinizes even the most highly qualified candidates. In Episode I, Yoda said the entire Jedi Council saw through Anakin and knew of his fear. Mace Windu told Qui-Gon that Anakin is "too old" and wouldn't be trained; presumably at a younger age, he could have been taught better control over his emotions. And this was a boy believed to be the Chosen One, and stronger with the Force than even Yoda!

More importantly, in Episode V, Yoda initially refused to train the impatient and reckless Luke, using the excuse that Luke was too old to begin the training. Supply and demand were at equilibrium: Yoda was the only remaining Jedi Knight, and Luke the only known candidate. Nevertheless, Yoda was still reluctant to provide the resource of Jedi training, though restoring freedom to the galaxy depended on it!
2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway? The Anakin critique of the Jedi Council rings somewhat true (this is from the new movie, alas I cannot say more, but the argument could be strengthened by citing the relevant detail). Aren't they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that? As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs. Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.
The Council is devoted to preserving the Republic, with its strong tradition of personal freedom. The Council is independent but at times is subordinate to the Senate -- remember that Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan was, "Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars." Served. Obi-Wan isn't a neo-con, or a democrat (small d). One of my best friends suggested that Obi-Wan is a "strict constructionist," which isn't a stretch at all. Obi-Wan and the rest of the Council were patriots, devoted to the Republic, its Constitution and the rule of law.

The Jedi have no implicit license to kill, otherwise Anakin wouldn't have felt such reluctance (and guilt later on) about summarily executing Dooku. Ironically it was Anakin who reminded Mace Windu, who at that point had a light saber at Palpatine's throat, that it would be proper to bring Palpatine to trial. Windu replied that he must kill Palpatine right there, since Palpatine controlled the Senate and the courts and is too dangerous to let live. So Windu is a vigilante of sorts? No more a vigilante than the Continental Congress. When government has failed the people, the people must make do.
3. Obi-Wan told Luke scores of lies, including the big whopper that his dad was dead.
Obi-Wan never phrased it that way, only that Darth Vader "betrayed and murdered" Anakin Skywalker. Furthermore, Obi-Wan explained to Luke in Episode VI that it was "from a certain point of view": "Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I have told you was true...from a certain point of view."

There's some justification for the "murder" perspective, because Yoda said in Episode III, "consumed by Vader he is." Vader was almost like a separate entity that took over the body. Demonic possession by the Dark Side?
4. The Jedi can't even keep us safe.
In Episode IV, Obi-Wan told Luke, "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." They preserved peace with true liberty, not the facade of the Galactic Empire's "peace and justice" via tyranny.

And is there such a thing as perfect safety? Even Superman couldn't prevent every crime. Don Boudreaux once noted in Cafe Hayek that, in the extended version of the 1978 Superman, Jor-El warned his son that "even you cannot serve humanity twenty-four hours a day. Your help would be called for endlessly, even for those tasks which human beings could solve for themselves."
5. The bad guys have sex and do all the procreating. The Jedi are not supposed to marry, or presumably have children. Not ESS, if you ask me. Anakin gets Natalie Portman; Luke spends two episodes with a perverse and distant crush on his sister Leia, leading only to one chaste kiss.
It's true that the Jedi aren't supposed to marry, but some have been known to leave the Order, and presumably afterward they are free to have families. Leaving is not necessarily a stigma. Dooku left because he disagreed with the Council, but not to become evil (at least not openly). In the Episode III novelization, Anakin doesn't care if people realize he and Padme are married, and he doesn't care if it means leaving the Order.

To be fair to Luke, he didn't discover until Episode VI that Leia was his sister. Leia's response, "I know...somehow, I've always known," is a bit odd with its incest implications. What I always liked is when Leia told Han that Luke is her brother. After she kissed Han in his sudden shock, he sported quite a crazy grin, as if he was thinking of when Leia kissed Luke on Hoth. That wasn't a very chaste kiss, either. As I recall, if you look closely she left a slight bit of dribble as their lips parted.
6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force. How true this turns out to be. But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means. Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys. But you also have to get rid of the Jedi. The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys. Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story. (It is also interesting which group of "Jedi" Darth kills first, but that would be telling.)
When Anakin killed the Emperor, it removed the dark cloud over the Force. There had been a yin and yang, but it seems that any existence of the Sith meant that the Dark Side was exceeding the balance.

The Sith were originally expelled Jedi, but they created a following from a relative few. The Jedi in "modern" times produced Dooku and Anakin, but not Palpatine.

Update: let me clarify. Starwars.com gives us additional history not found in the movies. A few Jedi were expelled for being, well, evil. They wandered about and found the Sith people, and over time Sith became the name for the anti-Jedi order. The Sith never needed to recruit from the Jedi, because that initial group and their successors were always able to find Force-strong beings to bring over to the Dark Side. Turning Jedi to the Dark Side was a bonus, but not essential that the Sith have followers.
7. At the happy ending of "Return of the Jedi", the Jedi no longer control the galaxy. The Jedi Council is not reestablished. Luke, the closest thing to a Jedi representative left, never becomes a formal Jedi. He shows no desire to train other Jedi, and probably expects to spend the rest of his life doing voices for children's cartoons.
But the the title is Return of the Jedi, not something like The Last Jedi. Things had only just begun. Luke was the only Jedi; he hadn't yet begun to train his sister. And the Star Wars books dealing with the post-ROTJ Star Wars universe describe the reestablishment of the Jedi Order. The books are not canon, but the presumption since Episode VI is that Luke would bring back the Jedi. He promised Leia, after all, before running off to confront Vader, "In time you'll learn to use it [the Force] too."
8. The core message is that power corrupts, but also that good guys have power too. Our possible safety lies in our humanity, not in our desires to transcend it or wield strange forces to our advantage.
Luke successfully appealed to the "good" -- the humanity -- that he sensed still remained in his "twisted and evil," machine-sustained father. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's mistake was to assume, "Well, Anakin is the Chosen One, right? So he can't possibly fall to the Dark Side."

Yoda warned that they'd need to be extremely careful about arresting Palpatine, effectively overthrowing him and requiring that they temporarily take control of the Senate. It isn't the Jedi's place to seize political power, not with the fear and temptation that might lead them to the Dark Side.
What did Padme say?: "So this is how liberty dies, to thunderous applause."
Earth, Germany, 1933. (Mild rephrase of Captain Kirk.) And many other times.
Addendum: By the way, did I mention that the Jedi are genetically superior supermen with "enhanced blood"? That the rebels' victory party in Episode IV borrows liberally from Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will"? And that the much-maligned ewoks make perfect sense as an antidote to Jedi fascism?
I prefer the original trilogy's implication that some people are just stronger in the Force than others. Midi-chlorians were too much of an attempt at science fiction, when Lucas should have kept the Force as a fantasy concept.

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Riefenstahl, so I cannot comment there. However, I'll say that, as an adult, I still like the Ewoks.

(Thanks to Chris Masse for pointing out that I had forgotten to link to Dr. Cowen's post.)

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