Monday, May 23, 2005

Walking on the Dark Side

Perhaps it was a mistake to go see the Revenge of the Sith.

The film is not bad - no, it's actually quite good, if somewhat squeaky in places. No, the problem was that the films' tragic pathos, the depiction of the downfall of good and the triumph of evil, came at a time when this actually appears to be happening.

This isn't a dig at Bush II per se. I've seen some people offended by the ham-handed references to the swelling Bushian empire in the film ("You are either with me, or you are my enemy"? I mean, really...), but I don't think they - or even the filmmakers - understand that the message of Sith transcends this particular moment.

Emperor Palpatine is not just Bush II - he is also Abraham Lincoln ("Grand Army of the Republic"), and Woodrow Wilson ("I love democracy"), and FDR ("Justice, peace, security"), all rolled into one disfigured ghoul. He represents imperial power, which - despite moral-relativist arguments to the contrary - is Satanic in nature. The ghoulish Palpatine, disfigured by the evil he unleashes, is a metaphoric distillation of evil known to man for millennia, under many names and faces. It is an evil we seem to have forgotten, having replaced God with the State and abandoned reason in favor of relativistic logic.

For while Palpatine is the one plotting and scheming to take over the galaxy, it is his willing servants and unwilling pawns that make it possible. The special interests (Trade Federation, Banking Clan, Commerce Guild, Techno Union) and their greed, the Jedi whose arrogance and stupidity blind them to the truth, the Senators who keep on voting more and more power to the Chancellor and applaud even as he declares the Republic dead... all of them paving the road to Empire with good intentions.

And then, of course, there is Anakin/Vader: a tragic character in every respect, a boy who wanted to do good so much, he ended up being the very hand of evil. His desire to gain and use power to help the people he loved destroyed both him, and those people. While a lot of people don't desire power, all too many do. And of those who don't, how many would refuse it were it offered to them? Too few. There is a kernel of evil, a bit of Darth Vader, in every one of us. We should be mindful of this.

When I saw Der Untergang earlier this year, I stumbled out of the theater with a better understanding of the Nazis than I ever got from any history book. They were human beings, just like us, who in their worship of power and violence created a value system that encouraged the very worst in people. This is the "Dark Side" Lucas speaks of, an inseparable portion of human nature that, in order to become and stay civilized, we must keep under control. It is a source of great power, but that power can only destroy.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: we are living the revenge of the Sith. George Lucas may have forgotten how to show and not tell, but that makes his clumsy allegory no less apt. This is how liberty dies; this is how things fall apart, civilization crumbles, and lights go out all over.

I don't regret seeing Sith. I just wish it had only happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

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