Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Only a Sith Speaks in Absolutes

I've seen Revenge of the Sith twice already. Ken kidnapped me away from work on opening day, and then we went again on Friday.

I'm not gonna write a review. Obviously I loved it. I was always going to. I liked the other prequels too. I don't think dialogue or acting has ever been the point. Spectacle and melodrama are respectable art forms too -- look at opera, or ancient Greek dramas. Critics may think Star Wars was made to a formula, but if it were easy to make something larger-than-life on this scale that doesn't collapse under its own weight, it would have been done more often. Star Wars isn't literature. It's architecture.

Anyway, I found it thought provoking. First of all, and I'll leave this vague for spoiler reasons, I want to know if we're supposed to consider the question of Anakin's parentage resolved. The hint was too subtle for me (Star Wars isn't supposed to be subtle!) but Ken thought it was obvious, and intentional, and if so, it makes me like the Phantom Menace much better. The virgin-birth-via-midichlorians thing was always my least favorite part.

Secondly, I've been thinking about Anakin's incredibly sudden change of heart in his scene with Mace Windu. I've decided that when he was lecturing Mace on the Jedi way, he wasn't really stating his own beliefs about good and evil (which then suddenly change.) He was reminding Mace of what the Jedi are supposed to believe. I think by this point Anakin has convinced himself that the Jedi are hypocrites. They've asked him to spy on his own government, his own friend and mentor. They say they defend democracy, but their own heirarchy is rigid, and closed to him. They took him away from his mother. He has had to keep his relationship with his wife a secret. When he goes to them for help, to save her life, they seem not to care. They preach about peace, but they are warriors, and have trained him for war. And they may say they don't want power, but they do definitely have strong opinions on how the galactic government should work, and are willing to use violence and deception to achieve their ends. Whatever ethical problems they may have with a clone army, ultimately, they use it.

Anakin has never really believed in those things the Jedi profess. As Ken points out, he didn't have a problem with dictatorships, in the second prequel. He did the very thing he's telling Mace Windu not to do, at the beginning of this movie. All he's trying to do is appeal to the principles Mace claims to live by, to stop what's happening... And when Mace shows himself a hypocrite, Anakin finally decides, I think, that there really is no difference between the Jedi and the Sith.

Orson Scott Card says Anakin's not wrong. But I don't judge the Jedi as harshly as Card does. Their redeeming virtue, in my opinion, is that they know they're hypocrites. I see Obi Wan's line, "Only a Sith speaks in absolutes," as an admission that the Jedi don't always know, can't always know, the right path either. Their fortune cookie maxims have exceptions.

In the end, everyone who has any principles betrays them sometimes, for the sake of the people they love, for the sake of their other principles. The Jedi know that just because you have to violate your principles sometimes, that's no reason to give them up entirely. Anakin doesn't understand this. That's why Anakin becomes a Sith. Only a Sith speaks in absolutes.



Simon W said...

I really should get around to seeing that while it's still in the cinemas...

Jostein Hakestad said...

From a prequel-lover to another:

That was a great post.

Santiago said...

see my thoughts on the same line (which, by the way, is "Only a Sith deals in absolutes.")


I don't think that Mace was betraying his principles. The context was different. In any case, saying that "sometimes you must betray your principles" is a bit of a contradiction: you are using the word "must", which means that you are appealing in some way to another moral principle.

Mary said...

Not a moral principle. A logical one. I don't think our principles are all mutually consistent, so there's no way to follow them all perfectly. The question is always, which one is more important? Do you lie to protect a friend? Loyalty or honesty? I suppose the traditional ethical approach to these questions is to assume there is one right answer to these thought-problems, one that betrays no principles (meaning the principles have some exceptions built in) and that we have to figure out what it is. To me, it seems that there are only wrong answers, and more wrong answers... In other words, life is full of no-win situations. That's what I mean by "must."