Archive for the ‘The Prequel Trilogy’ Category

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A Wasteland of Dry Stones

October 8, 2009

With time comes change. We get older; our family and friends die; our skin loses its elasticity; our eyes become weak; our hair becomes grey.

Depressing, isn’t it?

Buddhism recognises this as a fact of life, and it is — it is “the first noble truth”. The second noble truth is that the reason all of this is depressing to us is because we wish things to be otherwise.

Now, in a moment of great joy, you might exclaim, “I want this moment to last forever!” But it never does.

Perhaps you’ve had great friendships that have eroded with the passage of time. Maybe the area where you grew up is now unrecognisable. Or is it just that you can’t physically do what you could 20 years ago?

In any case, it’s only by fighting this very fundamental aspect of life that you find the experience depressing, frustrating, maddening. Embracing life means, necessarily, embracing change — embracing death: the death of people, the end of relationships, the falling away of things we hold near and dear at this moment. But it also means simply enjoying the promise of new possibilities on the horizon.

This is an active choice that we must all make in our own lives: enjoy the moment, but free yourself of attachment to that which can never last.

On Mustafar, Anakin fully refuses the call to adventure.

On Mustafar, Anakin fully refuses the call to adventure.

In Campbell’s monomyth framework, this choice appears as the first stage of the hero’s journey: “the call to adventure”. The hero or heroine who embraces life accepts the call to adventure, for better or worse. He or she is lifted out of the ordinary world and placed beyond the boundaries of rationality, ready to be transformed and renewed. A refusal of the call, however, is a clear rejection of the essence of life itself and its endless cycles; to quote Campbell himself, the end result of this refusal is that the hero’s own “flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones”. The lifeblood has been drained from the earth, leaving only barren plains.

Enter Anakin Skywalker.

Despite his mother emphasising to him upon his initial departure, “Don’t look back,” Anakin indeed does look back. Superficially, he accepts the call to adventure, but his heart is never truly in it. Throughout Attack of the Clones in particular, he acts as Anakin first and as a Jedi second. This is what the refusal of the call actually looks like in everyday life, be it a married man who continues to act as if he were single, or a political leader who places personal loyalties above the duties of the office: the choice made is to hold onto the old ways of being. Like Peter Pan, they refuse to “grow up” — to grown into their new roles and accept the call to adventure.

This is Anakin’s weakness, and he pays dearly for his mistake. He is possessive, jealous and greedy, craving control over life, love and nature itself. He doesn’t accept life on its own terms, instead insisting that it bends to his will. The cost for this attitude is nothing less than his humanity — his soul.

Anakin transformed into Darth Vader: more machine than man

Anakin transformed into Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith

Of course we should try to help others and continue to make the world a better place, but the choice is not between passive acceptance and active betterment; the choice is between living in accord with nature and merely treating life itself as a commodity.

Once we stop respecting life, we lose that which makes us human. That is they way of the Sith. That is the Dark Side of the Force.

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Knowledge and Wisdom

October 6, 2009

Coruscant truly was the “bright center to the universe”: a glittering jewel that embodied the ideals of the galaxy, housing both the Jedi Temple and the Galactic Senate amidst a sprawling planet-wide cityscape. Nothing could tarnish its sheen.

And yet something went wrong. The democratic Republic became the authoritarian Empire, and despite its appearances in The Phantom Menace, Coruscant was a little more than an empty husk when it came to its former, noble glory.

The greatest twist in the prequel trilogy was not that Palpatine was a Sith Lord or that the Chosen One turned to evil; it was that democracy was not overthrown but instead surrendered. The Senate was complicit in its own eventual demise.

Meanwhile, the Jedi aided and abetted this destruction of democratic ideals, despite their own misgivings. By taking advantage of the trafficking of manufactured human life and allowing themselves to move from being “guardians of peace and justice” to fully fledged military Generals, they betrayed their own code of ethics, sacrificing ideals for expediency in a moment of manufactured desperation.

The Jedi sacrificed their ideals when it came to the use of clones.

The Jedi sacrificed their ideals when it came to the use of clones.

What allowed this to happen? Was it a shifting in the Force? No, that is merely a metaphor. In reality, it was the gulf “between knowledge and wisdom”.

On the one hand, you have compassion, true understanding, direct experience and an appreciation for the shades of grey that exist in real life: wisdom. Wisdom comes with both age and an open mind (and open heart).

On the other hand, you have rules, procedures, legalism and rigid modes of thought: knowledge. Knowledge is abstract and linguistic, and can be gained through purely academic means.

The Republic no longer embodied wisdom. The Jedi were stubborn and intellectual, while the Senate was bloated and bureaucratic. They were both victims of an overemphasis of superficial knowledge.

At its best, Star Wars has always been about more than just heroes and villains, instead shedding light on the nature of the human experience. This case is no exception.

Palpatine manipulated the bureaucracy of the Senate to great effect.

Palpatine manipulated the bureaucracy of the Senate to great effect.

Another way to look at the split between knowledge and wisdom would be by analogising to the left- versus right-hemispheres of the brain. The left-hemisphere is linguistic, linear and sequential, whereas the right-hemisphere is intuitive, dynamic and holistic. This is not the split between science and art, however — both can involve either hemisphere.

Yet another approach is to draw upon Lenore Thomson’s work on Jungian psychological functions, where Extraverted Thinking and Feeling, and Introverted Sensation and Intuition, are left-hemisphere functions, and Extraverted Sensation and Intuition, and Introverted Thinking and Feeling, are all right-hemisphere functions. The left-hemisphere functions are essentially “top-down” in their approaches, placing emphasis on external order and hierarchy, whereas the right-hemisphere functions are “bottom-up”, focusing on a more organic means of interacting with the world. In the Myers-Briggs system, this is the split between J-types and P-types.

But of course the point is not that order and hierarchy are bad and holistic and non-linear thinking is good. Rather, the point is that Western culture, like the Republic, has forgotten that rules and order are means to an end only. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the system should serve people and not vice versa.

This was the real downfall of the Republic. It’s a cautionary tale, and one we should all heed.