Star Wars and Jedi Philosophy

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A few years ago when I was rewatching Return of the Jedi, I noticed a line by Obi-Wan I never noticed before, and it changed the way I looked at the Jedi (which I had a pretty negative opinion of up to that point).  Upon revealing to Luke that Leia was his twin sister, Ben said, “Bury your feelings.  They do you credit, but they could be made to serve the emperor.”

I stopped and thought, “Wait, what?  Did Ben just say YOUR FEELINGS DO YOU CREDIT?  As a Jedi?  THE Jedi who say emotion and love are the worst things in the history of ever and should be avoided like the plague?  And what a horrible and faulty philosophy for anyone to have.  It’s impossible.  We as human beings are incapable of suppressing our emotions; it’s part of who we are, and how we communicate and convey things.  We are emotional creatures by nature.  Yeah, bad things have come from unhealthy emotions–the bad, and even the good emotions–but that doesn’t make them inherently wrong by nature.  It’s like anything.  There needs to be control and moderation.  But here we had three new Star Wars films having Jedi bash into our skulls how horrible emotions and love were, and Jedi were never suppose to have them because it led to the Dark Side.  Period.

But that’s the dumbest thing ever!  What about regular people?  They’re happy and sad and everything else under the sun and they (generally) turn out just fine their entire lives.  What’s this magic evil button that transforms Jedi?  HOW DOES CONVERTING WORK ANYWAY?  We see this awful and whiny little emo Anakin who fights with Obi-Wan all the time.  This Obi-Wan was on that same “emotions are evil” bandwagon.  Yet we see him smile, we see him laugh, and we see him get (very) irritated or angry with Anakin (more than once), and Obi-Wan NEVER comes close to falling to the Dark Side.  The hypocrisy and inconsistency of the writing was mind-numbing.  And heck, didn’t characters like Luke and Leia (who ultimately became Jedi) marry and have children?  They turned out fine.

That’s when I realized it was the prequels that taught us this crap philosophy, not the original movies.  It was never there to begin with!

And that one line by Obi-Wan conveyed so much about Jedi philosophy that wasn’t explicitly said, and with all-due respect, I don’t think Lucas realized (or remembered) what he had.  See, around that same time I was taking an ancient world history class at my old community college, and the professor covered in brief some of the old Greek philosophies; one of those being Stoicism.  One of the teachings of Stoicism was that evil originated in negative emotions.  Think of clouded judgment when someone is clinging to their sadness or anger, for example.  In order to free ourselves from evil, we have to purge ourselves of negative emotions, but it wasn’t that we couldn’t be angry or sad; the harm was in holding on and not letting go.  It even warns to not get carried away with positive emotions.  After all, one can have too much of a “good thing”.  How many youngin’s have made poor decisions because they thought they were in love?  A similar idea can even be found in the Bible: learning to not hold on to unhealthy emotions such as anger.

The original Jedi philosophy as presented in the first three films was much closer to this line of thinking.  Obi-Wan praises Luke’s feelings for his sister, but also warns that the emperor could potentially sense those feelings and use those against him.  He must learn to keep his feelings masked in the presence of those who would seek him harm, not throw them away.

BioWare, in their glory days of old, did something similar with their classic RPG, Knights of the Old Republic.  Throughout the game you have Jedi masters spewing their crappy robot rhetoric at the player, and even have you recite their code which includes lines like, “There is no emotion, there is peace” and “There is no chaos, there is harmony”.  The whole thing comes off as being in denial, when it makes an ounce of sense.  This is probably because the Star Wars prequels were at their height in the awareness of the popular culture (and LucasArts likely dictated what they wanted there to be in the game), but BioWare was able to use this and showcase it in a different light (this was further developed by Obsidian with Knights of the Old Republic II).  It shows the Jedi Order as stagnant in their teachings and ways, which are painted as questionable.  This shows in a Republic which has stood unchanging for thousands of years, and is crumbling because of it.

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It goes further.  If your character is male, a potential romance can pop up with you and the young Jedi, Bastila, who is lauded for her Force abilities, despite her age.  She is incredibly proud, growing up with this Jedi rhetoric all her life.  She even gets preachy at you sometimes.  Yet all the rhetoric in the world can’t stop her from being flustered by you, and ultimately falling in love with you.  Eventually, she is captured and tortured by the Sith Lord Malak, and falls to the Dark Side.  At the end of the game, you ultimately have to see if you can bring her back to the Light or be forced to strike her down.  The best part is that it isn’t the rhetoric that saves her, it’s love.  It throws her off guard, but it’s what softens her heart and brings her back, because rhetoric never saved her from falling when she did, and deep down her feelings never changed.  It’s like BioWare was sticking it to the prequels!  And despite the multi-path nature of the game, this outcome is accepted by the expanded universe as canon.  Who would’ve thought that would happen at the height of the prequels’ popularity with the masses?

All of this gave me a new perspective and appreciation for the Jedi in the Star Wars mythos–pre-prequels.  And it was good to see that it was restored, at least somewhat by one of the best Star Wars games ever, even if it was only in a game and not a “canonical” film.

To close these geeky thoughts,

~May the Fourth be with you!

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3 Responses to Star Wars and Jedi Philosophy

  1. krellen says:

    I believe Lucas himself did, in fact, never realise that the message of the original trilogy was “the Jedi were wrong”. Obi-Wan – the dead one, and the one who “became one with the Force” in a way I think most Jedi tended NOT to – is the only one to give feelings any credence. Even Yoda seems unwilling to extend that olive branch.

    But as with Bastila, it is love that saves Anakin from the Dark Side – love for his son, who he never truly got to know. And it was the Jedi’s refusal of love, not the love itself, that led him to the Dark Side in the first place.

    Were they better crafted (ie, had Lucas accepted the guidance, criticism and input of others, as he did in the original trilogy), the prequels probably would have done a better job of portraying the Jedi as wrong, and that error leading to their demise.

    Like

    • Ian says:

      Krellen, this is a fantastic observation.

      While writing this post, I was actually thinking about how interesting it would be if the prequels were a mirror or an echo of the KotOR games. Say for example that during the Clone Wars, the Jedi refused to get involved and Obi-Wan and Anakin were some of the few who joined because they felt it was right (also because Anakin craved adventure like Yoda said in Empire). This being an obvious parallel to the Mandalorian Wars and Revan and Malak joining up. The war, and the things Anakin sees in his travels change him. Then we see the repercussions of this war and Jedi involvement in a similar-ish style to KotOR II. You would also have, say, Palpatine blaming all the Republic’s woes after the war on the Jedi as if it were some grand scheme by them perhaps. Then there would be a war/hunt with the Sith taking them out.

      Wow, this could be an entire post in itself!

      Like

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