Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Revenge Of the Sith: "New Hope" or "No Hope?"
by Joseph C. Maurone

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the final chapter in the Star Wars prequels, and the last piece of the puzzle that is the Star Wars saga. As a lifelong fan of Star Wars, I find it harder and harder to reconcile the mythical world of The Force to the philosophy of Objectivism. I find the politics and philosophy of the original trilogy vague enough to allow myself the guilty pleasure of enjoying the aliens and droids of the space opera for their own sake, and to be inspired by the Hero Cycle of Luke Skywalker, who stood against the twin suns of Tattoine in contemplation of what his future could be.  But what kind of future could a hero like Luke Skywalker expect, faced with the options of selfless sacrifice in the guise of life versus the hate and anger of the Dark Side of The Force?

Revenge of the Sith goes to the core of this question. Gone, the goofiness of Jar-Jar Binks is (though the dialectic of Yoda remains, for better or for worse). Gone, for the most part, are the gratuitous scenes of chases and fights for their own sake. This movie gets straight to the point: all that the Jedi and Sith fight for means nothing less than life or death. And, in this movie, the philosophy is brought to the forefront in a manner most disturbing.

The politics, for my taste, are too dominant in the prequels, and they are most prominent in the final chapter. But they are better integrated into the overall story in a manner similar to Atlas Shrugged: that one's political philosophy cannot be separated from one's philosophy of life.

(A brief aside: there is no solace for Objectivists in the allegory of the battle for the Republic. George Lucas may protest all he likes, but the ominous parallels are plainly visible between the Patriot Act and the expanding of the executive powers of Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious. And yet anti-Bush critics have nothing to cheer about; there are clearly leftist sympathies in the flawed equation of democracy with liberty.)

Where the Revenge of the Sith really comes into its own is not the revealing of Anakin Skywalker's new clothes, but the revealing of the logical outcome of selflessness in the name of life: Death. There is a "disturbance" in the force, all right, and the disturbance I feel when watching the movie is how both the Sith and the Jedi deal with mortality.

The Jedi, as represented by the Zen-like aphorisms of Yoda, believe that to best deal with death, one must not become attached, that to desire is to suffer, and to desire is to cling to absolutes. As Obi-Wan proclaims, only the Sith believe in absolutes (!). When faced with a vision of the death of his love, Anakin is advised to "mourn not." We've been told that the Jedi are on the side of good and life, yet, as Rand wrote, such advice can only reveal an anti-life mindset. The Force is embraced by the Jedi through a philosophy of fear, fear of losing something cherished, and answered by an attempt to not love at all. (Then why do the Jedi fight so hard to preserve their values?)

So how do the Sith deal with idea of death? Chancellor Palpatine, sensing Anakin's fear of losing his wife Padme, tells him that a Sith Lord had found a way, through manipulations of "midichlorians" (genetics, anyone?) of preserving life. However, to learn the secrets of eternal life, Anakin must choose to embrace the Dark Side and become Palpatine's student. We see the fall from humanity into evil as a result. The irony is that the Jedi have been working on the problem as well, and it is revealed that there is an afterlife, that there is no death, but change, and that there is a way of communicating with the seemingly deceased. And if Anakin had not given in to the Dark side, he would have had not feared losing Padme (shades of John 3:16: "...that whosoever believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.").

So this is the kind of world that Luke Skywalker will be born into: a dichotomy of a selfless life of service where love is forbidden, with the promise of an afterlife, versus a life of love, passion, and glory that will only lead to loss, sadness, anger, and a fiery end.

And yet, Revenge of the Sith ends with an image of hope: the infant Luke Skywalker is held by his new family on Tatooine, in the setting of its twin suns, forshadowing the contemplation of something better in episode IV, A New Hope. In the original trilogy, this scene did not have the baggage of what was and what was to come. But in light of the the finished saga, it seems a false hope, knowing the view of life that Luke will come to accept. We know the dichotomies that await him, and those with Objectivist beliefs will easily scoff at most of them. We can imagine an alternate ending for our star-bound hero, but a recent debate here at SOLO reveals that on the issue of death, we can not offer him any one, easy answer.

Think back to the final chapter of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi. Luke confronts Darth Vader in a final battle in the presence of the emperor, Darth Sidious, who urges Luke to unleash his anger, and give in to the Dark Side. Luke refuses, however, and throws down his weapon, and refuses to fight. He seems to refuse to accept the fate of many heroes, the fate to assume the mantle of the father. My idealized version would have Luke refusing to play by the rules and standards of both the Jedi AND the Sith, and realize a third way more in tune with my Objectivist inclinations. But how would I answer Luke's questions of death? THIS is why the movie bothered me, why I sat up in the theater with eyes open in confusion. In light of the recent discussion at SOLO concerning the Objectivist conception of life and death, I realized that the movie was a parallel between a coming controversy that might shake the very core of Objectivism. The debate centered around whether or not Objectivists should accept death in light of genetic advancements and cryogenic freezing, and those who had hesitations were faced with the accusation of being death worshippers. If it becomes possible to extend life indefinitely, surely the philosophy of Objectivism will have to change to adjust to this new reality, and I do not have the answers on this issue. However, one thing should be kept in mind, and this one thing is the point of this review: that a fear of death does not equal a love of life.

Objectivism is said to be a philosophy for living on Earth, as opposed to living for an afterlife. Ayn Rand's philosophy was born in a time where living on Earth meant mortality, and death was an unavoidable fact of life. If to exist means to have definition, then life as a human being was defined by mortality and limitations of time and health. But science fiction has a way of becoming fact, and the advancements of our knowledge of genetics and medicine have grown to the point where the necessity of death is becoming debatable. If this is true, how will Objectivism deal with the implications of immortality? Will the pursuit of everlasting life turn us into red-eyed Sith, full of fear to let go of our loves and passions? Will it cause us to become conservative (no surprise that the Sith Lord is also the head of the conservative "Republic"...)? Will we become so blinded by the sunlit universe that we will refuse to let them set, and stop the world from turning into the darkness of night? The Jedi feared loss, and denied themselves passion and love. But they could not live without them, so they sought to interact with the "afterlife." Is the answer to this not the afterlife, but extended life, so that we may never know loss? Can we have our cake and eat it, too? Is genetic engineering our answer to John 3:16? Is the answer of the Neo-Tech movement the only logical answer to an Objectivist rejection of death?

The belief among the Jedi is that Anakin Skywalker was "the chosen one" who would bring balance to the force. Yet his fall to the Dark side is uncomprehended by the Jedi, who could not see the larger picture: that the Jedi and the Sith were both motivated by a fear of death. They were so concerned with teaching Anakin how not to die, and, in the process, failed the young apprentice in a much more important matter. They did not teach him how to live. The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is that he accepted this dichotomy when his life was just beginning. He had found love with Padme Amedalia and was about to become a father. He was an intelligent man, with many abilities and powers. He could have been a creator, a visionary. But he did not listen to his own judgement and accepted the deadly visions of the Jedi and the Sith. It was said that Anakin Skywalker died the day he became Darth Vader and fell to the Dark Side.  In truth, Anakin died the day he accepted the failure of his mentors to live.
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