Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Revenge of the Sith pt. 3: The Spiritual Fall

(You guessed it... spoilers!)

The third major devolution in Revenge of the Sith is the destruction of the Jedi Order, which is a sort of odd combination of religious order and Knights of the Roundtable. The Jedi have been guardians of the Republic for over a thousand generation. They serve the light side of the Force, which can be used as a metaphor for almost any religion. As a Christian, I am naturally interested in comparisons to Christianity. Their enemies are the Sith, who serve the dark side of the Force. The Sith are so full of hate and anger that they almost killed off their own numbers until they determined there most only be two Sith at any given time: a Master and an Apprentice. Throughout the entire six-movie series, Palpatine is the Sith Master. He has a series of apprentices over the course of the saga, the last of which is Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.

The Jedi, on the other hand, number in the thousands, although their numbers have been diminished by the Clone Wars (one of if not the ultimate goal of Palpatine in starting the war in the first place). The Jedi are governed by the Jedi Council (think 12 Disciples), the leader of which is Master Yoda, a 900-year-old diminutive alien of unknown species. Yoda is noble and wise; not exactly Christ-like, but perhaps more similar to Old Testament prophets like Moses or even Joshua (because in addition to being wise, some serious ass, kick Yoda can!) ;) The Jedi follow the Jedi Code, which honors peace and justice and defense rather than aggression. They are skilled negotiators and warriors and the clear heroes of the saga. They are, however, deeply flawed.

One of the main teachings of the Jedi is to abandon "attachment." The Jedi are not allowed to marry or have children. They have no personal possessions except for their lightsabers, their Jedi robes, and a few other tools of the trade. They don't own homes or property but instead live at the massive Jedi Temple on the Republic's capital planet, Coruscant. Young Force-sensitive children whose parents wish them to train as Jedi are removed from their homes as babies and raised in the Temple so as to be indoctrinated in this sort of lifestyle from the beginning. Anakin, however, is not discovered until he is nine years old. The Council very nearly refuses to let him train as a Jedi, but he is so powerful they believe him to be "The Chosen One" who will "bring balance to the Force." Right from the beginning, Anakin has problems with attachment. He is taken from his mother and, understandably, misses her greatly and when he fails to save her life, slaughters an entire tribe of Sand People in revenge. He falls in love with Padmé and accepts the dark side of the Force in the hopes of not losing her like he lost his mother. Anakin is a living example of everything the Jedi fear about attachment; however, it is precisely their dogmatic insistence on no attachments that makes Anakin so unable to deal with his. So insistent on following the literal words of the Jedi Code, they squeeze the real Truth behind those words out of it. When Anakin goes to Yoda for advice when he first begins having dreams about Padmé's death, Yoda blithely tells him to "rejoice" when those he knows "join the Force. Mourn them do not, miss them do not." In short, he's telling Anakin he has to let go and that he can't control life and death. Good advice, but to take "no attachment" to the level of rejoicing and not grieving? It's ludicrous. As one of my friends pointed out during this scene on one of our numerous viewings of the film, "I don't see Yoda throwing a party when all the Jedi 'join the Force' later." Clearly, Yoda mourns their loss, but he is able to move on, let go, and get to the business at hand. This is a personal strength, but his inability to sympathetically communicate this to someone fearing the death of the person they love the most makes him almost brutally cold and uncaring in this scene. Compare that to the seeming warmth and compassion Anakin receives from the Chancellor and it's little wonder he chose the Sith over the Jedi. Palpatine even uses the truth of the dogmatism of the Jedi to manipulate Anakin into throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The Jedi might be extreme in their dedication to the lack of attachment, but that doesn't make them completely wrong about everything.

The Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Stover illustrates this a little better than the film because as a novel, it can get inside characters' heads. In the book, Yoda recognizes this failing:

"Too old, I was," Yoda said. "Too rigid. Too arrogant to see that the old way is not the only way. These Jedi, I trained to become the Jedi who had trained me, long centuries ago--but those ancient Jedi, of a different time they were. Changed, has the galaxy. Changed, the Order did not--because let it change, I did not."

This makes me think of modern Christianity where often dogmatic adherence to literal texts takes precedence over understanding the Truth behind the literal words. We follow Scriptures written by and for people of a different age than our own. To try and make the literal words mean for us what they meant to the writers and original audience is to twist all Truth out of them. The old way is not the only way. God may be unchanging, but we are not and if Christianity tries to stay exactly as it was in Jesus' time, it will stagnate and die as surely as the Jedi Order. Just as the Jedi missed the truth about love because of their focus on the literal words in the Jedi Code about attachment, we are in danger of missing God's Truth by focusing solely on the literal words of the Bible.

In the end, it is only when the Old Jedi Order is destroyed and the New Jedi Order is born (via Luke Skywalker, Anakin's son, in Episode VI) that right can triumph over wrong. Like his father, Luke had many attachments. He loved his friends to the point where he was willing to defy Yoda and Obi-Wan to try and save them in The Empire Strikes Back. He loved his father and believed he could save him from the dark side. He loved his sister, and Vader very nearly uses this love against him just like the Emperor used his own love of Padmé. The difference between Luke and Anakin/Vader, however, is that Luke's kind of love is the 1 Corinthians 13 kind. Luke is not possessive or arrogant or controlling. He loves his sister, but when given the choice of striking down his father to save her, he can't because he loves his father, too. Where Anakin picked up his lightsaber to lead troops into the Jedi Temple to kill, Luke threw his lightsaber aside. He did so knowing his death was certain, yet he did so not in defeat, but victory. The Emperor might take his life, but in refusing to give into the dark side, Luke assured the Emperor could not take his soul. It marks the first time in the entire six-movie saga that something happened that the Emperor had not planned for. So angry is he that he cannot make Luke turn the way he had Anakin and all the other apprentices before him, he loses himself in rage and attacks Luke, forgetting that Luke's father, whose life Luke had just refused to take, is watching. It is this moment that Anakin comes back to the light. He saves his son--and his own soul--because he loves him. Real love this time, not the possessive, obsessive kind. The latter sent him to the dark side, but only the former could bring him back. Luke thus becomes an example of Christ's teaching, that only by losing our lives can we save them. Luke lives because he chose death over doing the wrong thing. Anakin "died" and became Vader because he chose the wrong thing in order to try and stop death. The reason Luke was able to make that choice and Anakin was not, in part, lies in the loosening in the dogmatic restrictions of the Jedi. Luke knew how to love because he was allowed to love. Anakin did not know how to love because he was taught he wasn't supposed to.

Here again is a lesson for Christians, a lesson Jesus repeated often. Love is not found in the rigid adherence to rules and regulation. Love is found only by practicing it.


At 2:12 PM, Blogger rsjm said...

I'm new here and sorry if it's already been mentioned - just reading your latest post, you might be interested in Dick Staub's book "Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Master's". Sounds right up your alley.


Again, sorry, if I'm not telling you anything new here.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Knitress said...

Kelly, this whole series is terrific. Really well done; brava!

At 7:21 AM, Anonymous Cindy said...

Hey, one other thing I was thinking... about the spiritual aspect is the way that Palpatine was able to convince Anakin that the Jedi were evil, & later he convinced the whole Senate. I think this is a classic example of "calling good evil & evil good." But in order to accomplish this twisting, Palpatine had to lie. The Jedi might have had their shortcomings, but they were not evil. So I see Palpatine as also a Satan figure... one that tells the lie "if you do it God's way, you're going to lose out on what you really want, what will really make you happy." And putting our own personal happiness above everything else is our surest path to ruin.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

Knitress: ::blush:: Thanks!!

Cindy: Very true. Makes me think of a quote from The X-File's "Deep Throat" (interesting timing, eh?) ;) He tells Mulder, "The best place to hide a lie is between two truths." Palpatine says a lot of things that are true. The bit about the Jedi being dogmatic and narrow comes to mind. But he uses that truth to hide the lie. Wrong about some things is not the same thing as evil. By exposing a Jedi weakness, he convinces Anakin to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

At 6:02 PM, Anonymous the_methotaku said...

I must say that I really, really love this whole series. It's lovely and geeky, and oh so insightful.

At 4:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post, but I have an issue with how being dogmatic is a bad thing.

There must be absolutes. With no absolute right or wrong how would justice ever be served or law and order be maintained?

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

Some absolutes, yes, but not everything is an absolute.

This is where Palpatine really twists things. "Oooh, those dogmatic, narrow Jedi with the whole not killing people thing and the not taking over the galaxy thing. How silly!" Clearly that is where there should be absolutes. Slaughtering Jedi children: absolutely bad. Turning the galaxy into a dictatorship: absolutely bad. Destroying an entire planet as a demonstration of force: absolutely bad.

But there are lots and lots of things that should not be absolutes. With the Jedi, there's the attachment issue. They made that an absolute to their detriment. Yoda's refusal to accept that there might be other ways of doing things played a part in their downfall.

You have to be very selective about what you consider an absolute and what you don't. In real life, the Christian theology that frustrates me is where everything from big to small is an absolute. I don't see that supported Biblically, at least not by Jesus. Heck, even Paul didn't support nit-picky legalism. He fought on the side of not requiring circumcision for Gentile Christians and argued that there's nothing wrong with eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols so long as you didn't cause another to go against their own conscience.

Some things need to be black and white, but when you try to make every issue black and white, you're on very very dangerous ground.

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. Including this one.

More seriously, when Christ was asked by the Pharisees what the greatest law is, He replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. And the second is like the first, love your neighbor as yourself." Isn't it curious that Christ gave us two impossibilities as the summary of the Law?

When we focus on absolutes, we focus on the literal word of the law and ignore the intent of the law. To snatch an example from the headlines, Tom DeLay is up to his lip in sewage right now. He's there because (on the most charitable reading) he complied with the letter of the House ethics rules, but in doing so raped the intent of those rules.

Law and order can be maintained without absolutes. What is absolute in our justice system? If anything were to be absolute, it should be a prohibition against homicide. And yet, the law recognizes exceptions: self-defense, defense of others under immediate threat, and executioners in States permitting capital punishment.


At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched it, it was similar to what’s gonna happen in the future predicted in revelation or apocalypse. God the son, Jesus will return, but first the evil dictator(Son of Satan, or him in the flesh) comes to bring false peace and freedom, then later break it and hunt down and kill anyone who won t accept his religion and make terrible wars, famines, trials, and persecutions, and some will be betrayed even by their family members and friends and love of many will grow cold, but God is always in control, the reason why he lets Satan run around and attack us is because he’s trying to get us together, because we were all made in his image to have a loving relationship with him, just like a father-child relationship, but you have to get converted to be a member of the family of God. In the beginning, God created first 2 humans named Adam and Eve, and placed them in the garden to live on, but they later ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that God told them not to eat, they joined the dark force like Anakin did, and so did we, but we have to accept Jesus’ charity to live with him forever, it’s that simple. Satan, his angels, and the wicked are cast into the lake of fire for eternity. We are all in a spiritual warfare, but the good will win. Read the word of God, I can t wait.


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