Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Absolutes, the Sith, Jedi, and Shades of Gray

Jerry Stratton, July 5, 2005

Star Wars episodes one through three are not about watching out for the dark lords among us. They are about watching out for those who say they will protect us. It is about a corrupt Jedi Council fighting a corrupt Senate. The citizens are caught between out-of-control overlords and people that want to be out-of-control overlords.

Star Wars wasn’t just about the corruption of Anakin Skywalker. It was about the corruption of the Jedi Council and the Jedi knights.

In the penultimate battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, Kenobi taunts Skywalker with “only a Sith deals in absolutes…” but then he goes on to say that “The Sith are evil!”

Most reviewers point out the hypocrisy in the second part of that: Obi-Wan Kenobi is dealing in absolutes!1 But the real error of the Jedi is in the first part. The Sith excel in shades of gray. They deliberately see justifications for evil where no justification should be allowed. The Jedi deal in absolutes—or, they should. The Sith do not deal in absolutes. They are continually trying to shade what should be absolutes into grays. They try to justify their evil.

The Jedi code, what we know of it, says that some things are good, and some things are evil. The Jedi code says to “never give in to the dark side.” The Sith say that if there is a greater good, the dark side is justified; it provides the power to do good in a wayward world.

The Jedi code would not allow killing the children of their enemies, but the Sith will do so in defense of the greater good of ensuring that the Jedi cannot corrupt the world in a never-ending cycle.

The Jedi code would say that you must bring defeated enemies to trial; a Jedi will not summarily execute a prisoner. The Sith will say that some prisoners are too powerful to trust to the justice system.

The Jedi code says that you will act only in defense. Only the Sith would become generals and lead armies against worlds that just want to be left alone…

When General Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Anakin that he must start looking at the world in shades of gray, Kenobi is desperately trying to tell himself that his own actions, despite all that the Jedi code teaches, are good. He doesn’t see that Anakin’s entire problem is that he is beginning to see the world in shades of gray; that he is weighing one evil, using the dark side, against another evil: letting someone he loves die.

Not dealing in absolutes is what makes the Sith the evil they are. And it is what makes the Jedi the danger they have become. The Jedi Knights, including the council, have already fallen to the dark side. They no longer deal in the absolutes of Good and Evil, but in expediencies. Good and evil have become relative.

They take sides in the Senate. They execute Senators who are too evil to bring to trial. They lead armies into battle against worlds that just want to separate from the current government. Given what the current government is about to become, who can blame those worlds? The Jedi see only shades of gray, and justify their actions with the hope that an increasingly despotic unity is better than separatism, and that going to war against the separatists is justified as a lesser evil. That killing a senator will save the senate.

The situation has become so bad that those with misgivings yearn for a savior. But the situation is also so bad that anyone with potential as a savior is rejected by the rest of the Jedi.

What if the Jedi dealt in absolutes?

The lesson of Star Wars is that there is Good and Evil, and that justifying corruption in the name of a greater good will fail. If the Jedi had continued to deal in absolutes, Mace Windu would not have tried to kill Senator Palpatine. He would have brought the defeated Sith Lord to trial. And if he had not tried to kill Palpatine, Anakin Skywalker would not have attacked Windu. When Skywalker tried to stop the summary execution of a freely-elected Republican Senator, he was doing the right thing. But his killing of a fellow Jedi committed him to a course of action that aligned himself with the Sith.

If the corrupted Jedi teachings didn’t allow for occasional summary executions, Anakin Skywalker might not have executed Count Dooku. It would have been that much harder for Palpatine to corrupt Skywalker.

If the Jedi dealt in absolutes, the Jedi Council would not have antagonized Anakin Skywalker and Skywalker would never have been seduced by the arguments of the Sith.

The lesson of Star Wars is that there are absolute goods in the world, and there are absolute evils. We must never forget some actions cannot be justified with a greater good. We must also not forget that freedom from tyranny is an ultimate good. This is what the rebels were fighting for towards the end of the series, and this is what the Jedi were trying to stop.

  1. And, of course, “only a Sith deals in absolutes” is itself an absolute. As is “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

  1. <- Batman Begins
  2. $10 DVD Roundup ->