So, you’ve all probably heard the news right now that Star Wars has been sold to Disney to the tune of $4B. Yes, that’s $B with a B, to Mr. Lucas (which I don’t begrudge him that, by the way… I’m sure it will prove a worthy investment for Disney). Rumor has it, he’s intending to donate most of it to charity, so it stands to be the single greatest work of art to ever directly benefit humankind. Unless, of course, he’s donating it to something silly. (Maybe we’ll luck out and he’ll invest in the science research necessary to make actual lightsabers). But that’s not the point of this post. The real question that stands is: will Star Wars be better for it?
I was thrilled when I learned this news. Like many fans, I love the Star Wars franchise, but hate much of the execution. The only way to open it up to an increasing pool of talent was for its creator-owner to let go of its control. If the recent Avengers movie is any indication, Disney is certainly capable of producing a quality product.
However, whether Disney does this or not, time will tell. No use speculating… theirs is the challenge now, the proof one way or another will be self-evident in the quality of the product they create. Frankly, instead of sequels, I’d like a complete reboot, like they did with Star Trek. I’ve been wanting Lucas to relinquish control for a while now, and the issue has not only been quality of writing, but I think the Star Wars franchise has an opportunity to be philosophically deeper than it is.
To put it frankly, I find the Jedi morally repugnant in their vapid simplicity. I didn’t always feel this way… growing up, I thought they were a depiction of the epitome for moral goodness. Much of what they preach is inspired off of Buddhist teachings, but even as a young Christian there was a lot to appreciate: a conviction that good is peaceful and compassionate, and that anger and passion leads us to temptation. Now, however, I find their way of life much more sinister, especially as portrayed in the first movies.
I’m going to digress for a moment before I deconstruct the Jedi way. There have been moments in my life where a book has come at the right time so as to make a lasting impact on my world-view. Most of the time, I don’t find this in fantasy. However, during my first deployment, I discovered at a base in Qatar a library of donated books for military folks to read. I found a Star Wars book: Traitor.
(the above links to the Amazon page, which has a decent excerpt for you to get an idea of the flow of the book: highly recommended)
This comes in the middle of the New Jedi Order series, and the protagonist in this book is Jacen Solo, one of the sons of Han and Leia. I didn’t read any of the books leading up to this, and I didn’t read but one of the follow-ons. The series is written by different authors. This book stands out, as it turns out. It had an impact on me in how I see the world.
(The next few paragraphs will have spoilers for this book, but I’m guessing no one really cares…)
The books a personal journey of Jacen Solo, a young Jedi. It starts with him being tortured in captivity, and with the enemy as something of an advisor is another force user. He believes she is sith at first. It turns out later, she claims to be one of the Jedi from the time of the Republic, before the rise of the Empire, who had returned from deep space.
She allows the torture to continue, but in her own way mentors him through it to the point where he can escape and survive. His mentor tells him from the start: “Everything I tell you is a lie.” The rest of the book unravels the meaning of this.
Of course, he thinks she’s dark side. Before this book, she betrayed him, and caused him to be prisoner of an alien species that worships pain… hence, his torture. At one point, however, she infuriates him and he does reach out to the dark side, using force lightning. This occurs on Coruscant (which is no longer a city–now overgrown by jungle). He apologizes immediately after, and tells her she shouldn’t have provoked him there because the place they were standing was strong in the dark-side of the Force.
She asked him where they were. He didn’t know. It turns out, it was the ruins of the old Jedi temple. She asks him why such a place would be strong in the dark-side of the Force. He doesn’t know.
Because he’s wrong in his understanding of the Force, she tells him. This place is strong in the Force, that is all: “There is no Dark Side of the Force. The Force is One. The Dark Side is in you.”
Well, my brain popped, because this turned the whole metaphysics of Star Wars on its head. It turned the world from a galaxy based on a black and white morality to one with many more shades of gray. In my opinion, it made the philosophy of the Force much more realistic, and having much more depths. The rest of the book explored the implications of this paradigm shift.
Then, somewhere along the line, I suspect Lucas (or someone else?) reared his ugly head (to be fair, his head really isn’t ugly). This went against his vision of a black and white morality. If it wasn’t Lucas, I’m guessing someone else on the corporate staff, or some other writer who couldn’t stomach a challenge to bourgeois “peace good, passion bad” morality. Books later, a different author writes in hindsight that she tricked Jacen, and turned out to be Sith after all. Lame. Lame-Sauce.
This gets me back to what I don’t like about the Jedi ethos: it teaches us that passions are poison, that the ideal is to be an unfeeling, detached observer of things. It rips Jedis away from their families to free them from attachment (very Buddhist), because attachment leads to the Dark Side of the force (wait, family is evil?). It pretty much explicitly states that any love based on attachment (romantic love, familial love, parental love) is evil, because it leads to the dark side. It leads to fear of loss, which dooms you to falling into evil. It may be Buddhist in its roots, but I don’t care–being “mystical-but-not-Western” doesn’t make it laudable. The Jedi don’t have children… they have “younglings”. The Jedi demand blind obedience to their ways, their council, and act outside the law to enforce their passionless code of conduct. The fact that for a force user, the author relegates acts of passion to the evil side of the force is indicative of a flaw in the underlying metaphysics of the world. For this, I blame the author, not the Jedi.
In this world, with the force operating the way it does, the Jedi are correct to espouse the things they do. They will fall if they give into passion. But, as I said, this is a flaw with the construct, with the author. Star Wars could be so much more…
Do I think Disney will suddenly give us a Star Wars of greater philosophy, and allow the possibility of force users who transcend a dualistic, manichaen view of the Force? Will we see force users able to use so-called Dark-Side abilities (force lightning, for example) and have passionate lives motivated by love of family and children–without falling to corruption? No, probably not. At least, not yet… but releasing the franchise into a wider pool of creative talent will, I hope, allow the world to grow in depth… to evolve organically, which is something it couldn’t do while tied to the vision of its creator.