Monday, May 23, 2005

Star Wars

Last night I went out to see Star Wars Episode III. The film has so far invited many political comparisons. If you are a left winger then it seems that the Empire are the Republicans: Liberty dies with the consent of the governed (to a thunderous applause), and you are either with us or against us. It seems that if you are a right winger then the Empire is the UN and Palpatine is Kofi Annan, attempting to increase UN strength with an inneffectual fighting force and do-gooding pretenses, all in the name of consolidating power for yourself and family without much regard for the democracies that exist, all with an attempt to grab power for those small dictatorships which pepper the galaxy and oppress their own countries.

Either way this assumes that you are viewing the Empire as evil and the Republic as good. In our multicultural world where we are taught to view things from the prospective of the other side, this is a rather dangerous way of looking at things. Jonathan Last made the case after Episode II that the empire is not the bad guy. After this new episode, he is obviously even more correct. We have no reason to assume that Palpatine is really "bad", or that the Jedi are really good.

A Bunch of anti-Chancellor elitists deciding on what really counts as democracy and mocking the system that produced it, are about as anti-democratic as they comes.

There is nothing sicker than a state that gets children and raises them to become warriors from birth. Who raises children from youth to become state slaves with no ego, no desire for family, friends, real relationships, property, etc? Beside Stalin, I can’t think of any.

We are confronted with two differing views of how to achieve peace in the galaxy. One offered by the Empire, a repressed group that eventually made a comeback, perhaps like a small struggling democracy or religion, and the Republic, which seems to have lost its moral compass when it refused to allow the machinery of democracy to work the way it was supposed to, and gave too much power to the shadowy warriors who thought they alone had the best interest of the galaxy in mind.

We can just imagine if Ralf Nader, Michael Moore, George Soros, and Yoda were secretly in charge of the US, and commanded a secret army that answered to no one and had limitless resources at their disposal. I'd turn to the "dark side too", and so would most of this country, if they valued democracy.

The Republic seems to be inhabited by a world of princes and inherited royalty. I saw no democracy on any planets. I just saw a few corrupt planets, and a council of privilege (Jimmy Smits was Royal Highness) and princesses all over.

People do value family, and democracy, but there is no reason to assume that when all the smoke clears, the Sith are not better positioned to give it to the galaxy. We saw a council (yes, the one Anakin killed for some unknown reason. Was there a revolt afoot? Were they in league with the empire? Were they the Jedi of the Empire? Who knows). There is no sense that the Empire was all about enslaving the people or anything like that. Calling the 20 years under the empire a "tyranny" is fine, but some of my best friends spoke that way of the 8 year rule of Bill Clinton, and some of my better friends still talk about the sick facist state that Guiliani ran in New York for 8 years. So I'm not all that impressed with tyranny talk. I had a great time under Guiliani’s New York.

Seeing a story from one side is called propaganda. Star Wars, all six of them, is essentially Jedi propaganda. All the lacuna about the position of the Empire on the issues are lacking, and we are clearly not getting a balanced picture here.

We see the one second clip of Samuel L Jackson watching Anakin killing the children in the "temple". We do not really know what happened in the temple. Perhaps Anakin told them to come with him to the dark side and they blindly refused, and all attacked him? Given the film's reluctance to show us too much of the events, when showing them would have been great propaganda, we must assume that what they omitted was damaging to the credibility of the Republic. As the audience found out, which moments of a battle you see determines your perspective on the whole thing. What we saw of Anakin in the Temple is just like what Anakin saw in the Chancellor’s office.

Child soldiers!?!, using a "temple" as a religious training base!?!, both things currently violate our Geneva conventions. What barbarian thought this system up? The Empire would never do that.

Keep in mind that the clone army was commissioned in the name of the Republic (and fought for them until they were commanded to do otherwise) and was built, in all its barbarism by a planet in the Republic sphere of influence, most likely a member of the council. (Clearly a Sith-aligned planet would not build what they thought to be a Republic army.)

Palpatine’s humanity though was touching. When he takes Darth Vader, after he is limbless, burnt to a crisp, and left for dead by the enemy, and rebuilds him. Most clichéd bad guys would have put Anakin out of his misery then and there, and left in disgust as the best student was defeated by the enemy. Palpatine could have found a new protégé. But instead he took pity on Anakin and rebuilds him. That is more than we saw anyone in the Republic do. They didn’t even look like they tried too hard to save the princess who died in childbirth. They gave some lame excuse about loosing the will to live and let her just die, while taking care to preserve the children to become future warriors for the cause.

There is also no reason to assume that Anakin’s plea for a trial for Palpatine wasn't genuine. If there truly was a danger to the empire, it would have come out. Palpatine was in no position to argue, and Anakin could have helped restrain him. (If you think Anakin’s motives were selfish, he could have gotten the teachings from Palpatine while he was on trial, and no doubt a place as obviously enlightened as the Republic did not have the death penalty. So there would have been plenty of time to visit him in Jail while sorting this whole mess out.)

No doubt viewers of this Jedi piece of propaganda are supposed to learn some lesson about finishing off your evil enemy lest he come up and rise against you. Perhaps a bit less ruthlessness on the part of the Jedi and more diplomacy would have averted the tragic events of Star Wars, ESB, Return of the Jedi, where countless lives were lost. Oh wait, I forgot, Sith lives don’t count. They are not really as human as us.

Taking every scene in your "film" which portrays the other side using low lighting, and only showing the small internal power struggles, and making those out to be the essence of the way the Empire behaves is akin to taking all the misspeaks of George Bush and assuming that our whole foreign policy rises or falls on the pronunciation of the word "nuclear".

Added: It is becoming clearer that Palpatine has an alternative vision of peace apart from the Republic. His goal is apparenlty to unite the Republic and the Sith/Seperatist-allied states under one banner in peace (ie, the first Glactic Empire). Anakin's assasination of the seperatist leaders is an effective way to end seperatism without a costlier war. How do you convince people who want to dominate that they have to unite? (Think about the Sunni in Iraq now.) He needed to get rid of the Jedi for the same reason. The Jedi was an army that was stuck in the old way of thinking. (Think of today's CIA.) Palpatine knew that it would be impossible to take a group and make them obsolete with peace. They will keep on insisting that war is necessary and do whatever they can to perpetuate the conflict with the Sith. If they have no enemies, they have no power. Thus their anihiliation was also necessary.

(Just an aside, but with all their technology, why didn't Padme know she was having twins? And thaty hadn't invented birth controll? I can't believe that their decision to have children was deliberate. That is certainly not the impression we get.)

(Another aside: Was it me, or do we have good reason to suspect that Obi Wan might have had something going on on the side with Padme? He spent too much time talking to her given the fact that he didn't know about her involvement with Anakin. He was also a bit too concerned about her kids, one of which (ie, the boy) he kept an eye on.)

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