Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Revenge of the Sith pt. 2: The Political Fall

(Thar be spoilers!)

Paralleling Anakin's personal fall to the dark side is the deterioration of the Republic into the Empire. Like Anakin personally, the Republic falls for all the right reasons. Palpatine was elected as Supreme Chancellor of the Senate in order to take action and stop red tape when his and Padmé's home planet was being unjustifiably attacked by the Trade Federation. A decade later, after his term should have expired, he is granted broad and sweeping emergency powers and an indefinite term of office in order to deal with the crisis of a looming civil war between the Republic and the Separatists. What the Senate and the citizens of the Republic don't know is that Palpatine is playing both ends against the middle. As Darth Sidious, he is controlling the Separatists even as he controls the Republic. War for the sake of war, its only purpose to scare the Senate into granting him more and more power. When he finally does formally declare the end of the Republic and the birth of the Empire, with himself as the ruler for life, he lists noble reasons: safety, security, justice, peace. Of course, these are all lies. There can be no safety, security, justice, or peace where there is no freedom. The Senate, however, responds to the catch phrases with wild enthusiasm and Padmé utters one of the most chilling lines of the film: "So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause."

George Lucas had this movie outlined years, perhaps decades before 9/11 and the war in Iraq, so the broad strokes of the political climate of the Galaxy Far, Far Away as the Republic falls as compared to the current political climate in the United States cannot be intentional, but some of the fine details probably are. The Emperor's speech about safety and security echoes the kinds of things that were said when the Patriot Act won such quick approval in the days that followed 9/11. Anakin tells Obi-Wan, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," almost directly quoting one of President Bush's speeches to the international community on the War on Terror. He justifies hunting down and murdering every last Jedi (including the children in the Temple!) by claiming they are terrorists and sings the "safety and security" refrain once more. I can't help but find the fall of the Republic so disturbing because it does seem so similar to some of the things going on in the United States today. I'm not saying Bush is a Palpatine. I don't think there's any one "Palpatine" in the American political scene, but I do think the tragedy of 9/11 has been used to scare people into giving up too much freedom and I do think there are political groups, particularly on the far right, that once would have been considered outrageously extremist but that have managed to gain power in recent years by taking noble concepts like justice and security and twisting them. We may not be on the verge of becoming a totalitarian Empire, but we are letting liberty die a slow and agonizing death piece by tiny piece... with thunderous applause.

There is one other political issue that cannot go unmentioned as it is perhaps one of the most profoundly disturbing moments of the entire film: the execution of Order Sixty-Six. While the Clone Troopers are all clones and not normal humans, they are still people and not machines like the Separatist Droid Army. Unlike their descendants, the Stormtroopers of Episodes IV-VI, the Clone troopers are often seen without helmets and are given nicknames in addition to numerical identifiers. Anakin wants to save "Oddball" during the opening space battle, and Obi-Wan jokes with Commander "Cody" about droid kill counts on their way to hunt down the Separatist General Grievous. Later during his duel with Grievous, Obi-Wan drops his lightsaber and it is Cody who retrieves it. They are comrades in arms, dutiful and brave soldiers under their Jedi commanders. And then Palpatine issues "Order Sixty-Six," and to a man--er, clone,--the troopers turn on the Jedi and kill them. In a brutally painful montage, we watch first as Cody, having just returned Obi-Wan's lightsaber, receives Order Sixty-Six and calmly without any regret or second thoughts at all, orders the clones to shoot Obi-Wan in the back. Obi-Wan survives because the dragon he is riding takes the hit and he falls into a deep lake where he is able to hide from the searching troopers. Then we see Jedi after Jedi after Jedi fighting along side their clone comrades only to be placidly shot down. None of them see it coming except Yoda because Yoda alone senses Anakin's fall and the impending disaster in the Force. The Jedi, who can sense emotions like betrayal and malice, sense nothing from their clone troops because for the clones, nothing has changed. They were built to follow orders and Order Sixty-Six is just another order.

The most immediate thing this brings to mind is Nazi Germany and the constant refrain heard from Nazi troops following World War II: "I was just following orders." I think, however, like the other political parallels in Sith, there is a message for Americans today as well. The clones are the Ultimate Patriots. They are unceasingly loyal to the Republic and the Chancellor. So loyal, they obey his commands without question, even when his command is, in fact, quite questionable. American Patriotism post-9/11 has taken on some alarmingly similar traits. To be a "true patriot," one must support the president and the nation always and without question. If we are going to war, than to be patriotic, we must support the war. If you voice concerns or are, God forbid, opposed to the war, then you are not patriotic. Voice concerns about American international policy or shame over treatment of prisoners of war, then you are labeled a malcontent and told, "America, love it or leave it." The clones' passive obedience to Order Sixty-Six is this kind of patriotism taken to its extreme. Again, this doesn't mean we're on the verge of being the next Nazi Germany; the clone parallel is hyperbole, after all, not reality. Still, it would behoove us to be careful of confusing patriotism with blind acceptance.


At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Cindy said...

Kelly, here's a question I have... when Anakin makes that comment, Obi Wan replies, "Only the Sith deal in absolutes." But isn't that also what the Jedi have been dealing in all along? Haven't the Jedi always (including Luke) had clear ideas about what is "of" the dark side, and what is "of" the light? It struck me as kind of a strange moment for Obi Wan to make that particular moment.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

I think that's a very good point. The dogmatic Jedi stuff is in pt. 3. Palpatine goads Anakin by telling him he must embrace all of the Force, not just the "narrow, dogmatic view of the Jedi."

I think the Jedi were just truly blind to their own shortcomings. I don't think Obi-Wan realized how black and white the Jedi are ::coughATTACHMENTcough:: and certainly they deal in absolutes. We're all blind to our own blindnesses, right?

However, on the topic at hand (you're either with me or my enemy) the Jedi are not absolutists and do see shades of grey. They were ultimately negotiators who tried to see both sides of any given conflict until they were forced to fight, so in that he was correct.

But yes, it is an interesting bit of irony in that the Jedi's black and white thinking is a huge part of their own downfall.

At 7:47 PM, Anonymous Cindy said...

Fair enough, but for me I guess that was the one and only time in the movie where I felt like Lucas was actually trying to make a Bush reference, and in doing so, he had Obi Wan respond in a way that just didn't "ring true" to me.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Paula said...

I agree that the Jedi had their own "absolute" way of viewing things. And maybe the parallel in our world lies in the fact that those who don't agree with some of the actions taken in today's society cannot also hold on to dogmatic visions of their own.

The full digging in of heels, so to speak, doesn't get us anywhere on either side.

At 4:00 AM, Blogger Crap Comics said...

I'm with Cindy on this one, I think. Obi-Wan seems to miss half the point. Sith deal in absolutes. This is bad. Jedi deal in absolutes. This is also bad. Conclusion: absolutes are bad. Now of course the conclusion that all absolutes are bad is of course an absolute itself. What can you do?

I think the trick is to have a -- policy is perhaps the best word -- of how you will deal with life but always be ready to change your mind should be presented with a good justification to. I believe tomorrow when I wake up that I will wake up in my bed. Now I have no real evidence for this assumption except the knowledge that every other night I've gone to sleep in this bed it's where I've woken up. My policy is that I wake up where I went to sleep. However, should I ever be presented with evidence to the contrary I'll give it a fair hearing before making a final determination on whether or not I can say that where I go to sleep is where I wake up.

I think the Jedi could have thought similarly. Anger leads to hate is a fine maxim but sometimes anger leads to action. And action leads to fixing the problem. And that stops the anger. Denying your feelings (which the Jedi seem to do) doesn't really help anyone. It doesn't help people who feel these feelings and, importantly, I don't think it helps the people you are trying to assist.

Now there's an argument to say that the people of the galaxy didn't make more of a fuss about the wiping out of the Jedi because they were afraid. I wonder if it wasn't also because the Jedi could come off as inward-looking, arrogant, self-proclaimed protectors of the galaxy.


At 7:07 AM, Blogger Knitress said...

I think all of us deal in absolutes. The Jedi certainly do. But Obi-Wan's statement here makes perfect sense to me. Obi-Wan is still trying to get Anakin to see what's really going on, but Anakin comes back to "The Jedi are evil. I had to kill them. If you're not with me, I have to kill you." That's the kind of absolute a Sith uses.

So my vote's with Kelly here.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

I don't think it's either/or. Obi-Wan's comments can make sense for him to say and yet he is still missing half the point, as Red said. The Jedi's blindness to their own absolutes is clearly a huge part of the problem.


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