Comics Ate My Brain

November 16, 2004

Star Wars Ate My Brain

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 12:20 am
Since the new Revenge of the Sith trailer signals the beginning of 6 months of Star Wars hype, here are my thoughts on how everything we’ve seen so far fits together. This is entirely from the movies, because I don’t have time to read all the novels, comics, etc.

At the time of The Phantom Menace, some 12 years before the end of the Old Republic, the Jedi Knights have about 10,000 members scattered around the galaxy. The Jedi are governed by a 12-member Council, which itself is apparently headed by Yoda and Mace Windu.

The Jedi have developed many rules. Children who grow up in the Republic are tested for their Jedi potential; and if they pass, they’re presumably taken from their parents at a very young age (at 9, Anakin is already too old) and given several years of training. We see Yoda administering lightsaber training to these “younglings” in Episode II. “Taken from their parents” is an important part of the training, because the Jedi Code seems to forbid any kind of emotional attachment beyond simple friendship. We will see that Anakin gets into trouble precisely because he forms these kinds of attachments.

Once the youngling-training is complete, the “padawan” is apprenticed to an experienced Jedi Knight. (There are three Jedi ranks — Padawan, Knight, and Master — but ordinary folk use the generic “Jedi Knight.”) The padawan then spends several more years learning from the master. When the time is right, the padawan takes “the trials.” Passing the trials earns the padawan the rank of Jedi Knight.

The evil counterparts of the Jedi are the Sith. About a thousand years ago, around the time the Republic was formed, the Jedi had fought their last battle with the Sith. Conjecture around the time of Phantom Menace‘s release stated that once there were a number of Sith, perhaps comparable to the number of Jedi; but infighting (literally) winnowed down the ranks to two — a master and an apprentice. The basic nature of the Sith pretty much guaranteed that master and apprentice would share an uneasy truce, with one always looking to pick off the other. Still, there would always be only two, because the master and apprentice would gang up on anyone who tried to challenge them.

There are other beings in the galaxy who know the Jedi arts and are neither Jedi nor Sith, but by and large the movies aren’t concerned with them. This accounts for Asaaj Ventress, the bald woman in the “Clone Wars” cartoons.

Both the Jedi and the Sith tap into the Force, a mystical energy field created by all living things. Say it with me: It surrounds us, and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. The Force has a “will,” a good side, and a Dark Side. In a gross physical manner, it can be manipulated for good or evil by those who have been properly trained.

The differences between the good side and the bad involve states of mind. Anger, fear, and aggression lead to the dark side. The dark side is also “quicker, easier, more seductive,” but its users pay a price, becoming “consumed” by it. By contrast, the good side is described in terms of peace and calm.

A life-form’s access to the Force is facilitated by the much-reviled midichlorians — microscopic creatures who live in symbiosis within one’s cells. Apparently, the more midichlorians you have, the greater your access. The Old Republic’s Jedi considered midichlorians an important factor in deciding whether to train potential padawans.

Into this mix comes 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker, a mechanical prodigy who has built (among other things) his own protocol droid and his own pod-racer. The immaculately-conceived Anakin lived with his mother on the distant planet Tatooine, away from the influence of the galactic superpowers. When the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn discovered Anakin, he sensed a yooge amount of Force potential, and sure enough, Anakin’s midichlorian count was higher than Yoda’s. It turns out that Anakin is the “Chosen One” who’s destined to bring balance to the Force.

But wait — what does that mean? In hindsight, we see that Anakin does bring balance in at least one sense: he allows the Republic to become a totalitarian Empire and hunt down the Jedi Knights so that there are only two Jedi left. While the Jedi Council is hesitant to train Anakin, the fact that they allow his training — and apprentice him to the relatively green Obi-Wan Kenobi (the late Qui-Gon’s apprentice) — shows that clearly they’re not concerned about Anakin turning on them and imposing an iron will upon the galaxy. This can’t even be explained by the resurgent Sith clouding the Jedi’s precognitive powers, because the prophecy itself was known to the Jedi before the Sith’s re-emergence.

This leaves us with the probability that “balance” is, all things being equal, a positive development, even if the prophecy itself is as vague as it seems from the dialogue. George Lucas has said “balance” refers to Anakin coming back from the Dark Side — but how does that help the Jedi or, for that matter, the galaxy as a whole?

Because midichlorians are themselves life-forms, one of their primary functions is to reproduce. Thus, they will tend to favor behaviors which encourage their reproduction. Qui-Gon theorized that the midichlorians were somehow responsible for Anakin’s immaculate conception. If this is true, then Anakin was ultimately destined to serve some greater purpose for the midichlorians. Obviously, one of their biggest needs is to ensure their own survival as a species.

Putting this all together, it would seem that the Force, through the midichlorians, immaculately conceived Anakin as the Chosen One who would bring balance; thereby facilitating both the prosperity of the midichlorian species and the ability of all living creatures to access the Force. Why, then, would Anakin seek to destroy those individuals with the highest midichlorian counts?

The answer lies in the practices of the Jedi Order itself. Anakin explains to Padme that the Jedi forbid attachments in favor of a sort of universal compassion. In other words, by not allowing themselves to be “attached” to anyone, the Jedi can’t “play favorites.” We see this not only in Obi-Wan’s refusal to allow Anakin to go back for Padme during the Battle of Geonosis, but also in Yoda’s discouraging Luke to break training and rescue Han and Leia from Bespin. Obviously Jedi are also forbidden to marry. This is not to say that Jedi can’t have friends or show emotions. Obi-Wan weeps when Qui-Gon dies, warmly embraces Dexter Jettster, and calls Anakin “a good friend.” Yoda also speaks of “old friends long gone.”

However, Anakin’s history shows him moving from one strong attachment to another. Leaving Tatooine in The Phantom Menace, he misses his mother; and by the time of Attack of the Clones Obi-Wan is like a father to him. His mother’s death starts his slide towards the Dark Side, and his romance of Padme further distances him from the Jedi Order. All the while, he moves closer to Palpatine, who encourages Anakin’s feelings of superiority. Decades later, the sight of his son tortured by the Emperor in Return of the Jedi snaps Anakin back to the good side and gives him the strength to kill Palpatine. Thus, emotional attachments are both Anakin’s downfall and his salvation.

There was no way Anakin was going to be a normal Jedi. Being born outside the Republic, the Jedi didn’t find him until he was 9 years old. He didn’t receive the years of training that “younglings” did. Instead, he went straight to being the apprentice of a just-promoted Jedi Knight. Again, and perhaps most importantly, he wasn’t able to sever the bond with his mother that other Jedi apparently could. (I still think one of the most pivotal moments in the cycle comes when Qui-Gon uses the Force on the “chance cube” to make sure Anakin — and not his mother — is freed by winning the pod race. Qui-Gon isn’t content to let the will of the Force decide, and I wonder if the Force doesn’t have some karmic retribution in store for him.) In a very real sense, the Force didn’t reward Anakin much for being its instrument.

Luke’s history of attachments is almost a parody of Anakin’s. Like Anakin, Luke never knew a real father, and has an idealized version of one — first as a space-pilot and then as a Jedi Knight (“I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father”). Luke feels responsibilities (and probably attachments) to his aunt and uncle, but these are negated when the Empire kills them. By this time, though, he has started to bond with Obi-Wan, no doubt transferring some of those pent-up ideal-father feelings to him. Luke is never alone — when Vader kills Obi-Wan, Luke has started to form friendships with Han and Leia. Luke’s desire to save his friends causes him to battle Vader unprepared; and Luke’ s anger with Vader for suggesting Leia could be turned to the Dark Side fuels an explosive attack which nearly sends him over the edge. What brings him back is the idealized vision of his father, coupled with the potential he still sees in Vader — “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” What saves his life is the love he shows to Vader, which inspires Vader to return to the good side.

Therefore, both Anakin and Luke are all about attachments, but for the most part Luke’s are celebrated while Anakin’s are punished. Of course, Luke doesn’t know any better. He received even less training than Anakin, had no formal apprenticeship, and probably only got a crash course in basic Jedi skills during his short time on Dagobah.

Still, Luke doesn’t know because neither Yoda nor Obi-Wan told him. (If they did, we didn’t hear about it.) I know that’s because Lucas hadn’t invented the Jedi Code yet, but remember, the originals now have to build on the universe developed for the prequels. Even now, Yoda’s warning about Luke leaving early sounds more like pragmatism than a denial or disapproval of Luke’s attachments. In fact, both Yoda and Obi-Wan discount the possibility of Luke turning Vader back to the good side, wanting him to reach his full Jedi potential before ever facing Vader.

All of this makes me think that the Jedi Code accumulated over time not so much out of the will of the Force, but for the good of the Jedi Order. Having Anakin be the Chosen One who ends up destroying the Jedi reinforces this notion that the Order had stagnated, and was itself in danger of becoming arrogant or even corrupt. Even if that hadn’t happened, though, the Jedi might well have died out as a result of their own practices.

Again, for purposes of this discussion I am assuming that the Force does not favor its Dark Side, but that the midichlorians act in their own self-interest. All things being equal, the midichlorians wouldn’t favor the Dark Side either, since it tends to lead to the deaths of their host bodies. (A Sith could “farm” living beings for their midichlorians, but so far we haven’t seen that situation.) Along the same lines, the midichlorians probably aren’t too fond of the “no attachment” rule, since it would prohibit reproductive acts for those Jedi whose cultures link reproduction to romance. In the straight-laced Star Wars galaxy, I’m guessing that’s true for many cultures.

Jedi are obviously not incapable of having children with each other, but it would seem to indicate expulsion. Obi-Wan comments to Anakin in AOTC that his “commitment [is] not easily broken,” which allows for the possibility that it another attachment, such as a marriage, would break it. Contrast that with the end of Jedi, which finds Luke’s sister Leia ready to settle down with former skeptic Han Solo. As the daughter of Anakin Skywalker, Leia should have a fairly high midichlorian count herself, and her union with Han seems certain to produce children who will form the next generation of Jedi. (Of course, this is exactly what happens in the novels and comics; and even Luke gets married, but that’s outside our discussion.)

So the bottom line is that Anakin was sent to enslave the galaxy for 20 years, and participate in the deaths of millions, or even billions, just so he could have children who’d overthrow him, and thereby allow future generations of Jedi to breed? Kind of looks like it. At least, that’s what I believe the most practical application of “the balance of the Force” to be. Hey, survival of the fittest isn’t pretty. Besides, while the midichlorians are acting in their own self-interest, maybe the Force really wants to share itself with more people than just the Jedi. Allowing those with high midichlorian counts (i.e., Jedi) to breed with more normal beings is as good a way as any to insure that everybody “feels the Force,” even a little bit. This is what I think is meant by “balance” — not the balance between light and dark, necessarily; but shifting the balance of power from an elite group to the populace at large. There will be Jedi in the future, but they won’t be so removed from those they protect.

I realize I’m dodging the whole issue of Anakin’s redemption, much like I avoided talking about Hal Jordan’s insane killing spree. The short answer is that at least in Anakin/Vader’s case, clearly his religion allowed for his redemption. He had done his job, and the Force rewarded him with the same kind of afterlife existence it granted to Obi-Wan and Yoda. Besides, he didn’t have much in the way of happiness during his life, spending the last 26 years of it trapped in a cybernetic life-support system.

Honestly, I don’t expect Episode III to address the deeper metaphysical issues. I think Lucas prefers to leave that to what’s already been seen in Return of the Jedi. However, at the very least I don’t believe Revenge of the Sith will be exclusive with anything outlined here. That’s better than nothing, right?

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