20 May 2005 - Friday

Clone War = War on Terror?

A large number of people have suggested that Episode III presents a parallel to the growth of American power under the current presidential administration. It is only natural, I suppose, that they should see such an analogy, tiresome as it is.

After all, the plot sounds a lot like some critics' take on the Bush administration. In Episode III, the leader of a republic does use threats to collective security as a pretext for consolidating his own universal power. He does cast himself as the representative of freedom and peace, when in reality he is causing additional warfare and loss of liberty. (Note: the enemies of the republic do include some really evil people. That's the ingeniousness of his plot.) He does get democratic approval for his actions, but he demands a great deal of autonomy in deciding what the needs of the republic are.

But there are problems with this analogy -- and they are not found in George W. Bush's being one of the good guys, which just begs the question. (So was Palpatine, remember.)

First, Lucas himself had better keep insisting that any similarities in his story and extreme views of the current administration are coincidental; one of these days, somebody's going to notice that Episode III implicitly condones assassination as a way of dealing with tyrants. The insistence of the Jedi that Darths Sidious and Vader must be killed without trial would not have upset anyone when the story was simply a paraphrase of the rise of the Third Reich, but it is dangerous now that more contemporary parallels are being drawn.

Second, of course, there are other ways of reading the story.

Suppose the Jedi, with their unilateralism in disposing of any threat to the interplanetary order, represent the United States of America. That would make sense; the Jedi, as we are told several times in the film, are distinct from the Sith mainly in the fact that "they use their power for good." They are a threat to evil because they don't have too much respect for the niceties of international opinion, which is far too sympathetic with tyranny. Sidious, meanwhile, would represent those who wish to consolidate power in the UN and incapacitate the protectors of freedom.

Either way, the analogy is annoying because it doesn't quite work. In places, either parallel is so close as to make Episode III an outright allegory, but as allegory, either version soon breaks down. Thus, I wish people would stop reading today's politics directly into the plot of Revenge of the Sith. They are thinning down what little (very little) philosophical insight the movie has.

But, just to have my share of the fun, let me propose a third, libertarian reading of Episode III.

First, note that the Jedi's insistence that they use their power for good is spurious. The Jedi were instrumental in Palpatine's rise to power. They spout platitudes about democracy, but they are themselves an undemocratic organization willing to conduct assassinations. They brutally suppress a secessionist movement that was, as it turns out, quite right to want to secede. Their messiah is revealed as the embodiment of evil; the ease with which he is converted to the Dark Side is ridiculous.

In other words, the Jedi have their own heart of darkness. Their power is not inherently "light"; it can be -- and has been -- turned to darkness just as easily as the power of the Republic's other organs have been. The only reason there is anything good about them is that their power is a check on the power of others.

A similarly libertarian reading has been proposed by Tim at My Stupid Dog (via Brandon). I think this review makes Episode III out to be of much higher quality than it actually is. However, reading Tim's post did reverse my initial reluctance to comment on the film.

With that out of the way:

As my younger brother pointed out to me, Episode III managed to eliminate the main reason for Darth Vader's existence. I'm no expert -- what a dubious distinction that would be -- but I was under the impression that Vader was supposed to hunt down and eliminate the Jedi order himself. Instead, Revenge of the Sith has him kill a few inmates of the Jedi kindergarten, leaving the grownup Jedi to the clones, who make short work (virtually instantaneous work) of them.

All of a sudden, the invincible Jedi cannot hold their own against the regulars? What is this?

| Posted by Wilson at 14:53 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Humanities Desk