Bright Lights Film Journal

The Dark Side Inside: Thoughts on <em>Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith</em>

Anger leads to fear, fear leads to hate, hate leads to suffering …

Episode III is here and it’s deep, dark and delightful. It clears up many things that were bugging us. For example, how the clone army came to obey Vader, and oh yes, how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader in the first place. Episode III also sheds some light on the elusive nature of the Jedi. Two scenes include delineations of the differences between the Jedi and the Sith. These conversations emphasise the distinction between the cultural relevance of the original trilogy and the relevance of the new trilogy. Because Star Wars is so much a part of modern media culture, and therefore part of mass consciousness, the films can themselves be viewed as a partial reflection of contemporary thought.

The very fact that Episode III explores the nature of the Jedi confirms that Star Wars has moved from the realm of the sci-fi action flick into a myth of its very own. But we already knew that. Star Wars is more than a film. It is a franchise, no, more, it’s a community. It’s even a recognised British religion. Searching for “star wars” on google trounces “bible” by a considerable margin. Star Wars has become a culture. Episode III probes deeply into the very stuff that the series is made of, exposing the consciousness it springs from.

Anakin and Palpatine’s opera house chat will be the first step to understanding the precise nature of the obscure “balance” that the Force is so eminently lacking. Anakin explains that a Jedi is selfless and cares only for others, whilst Palpatine expounds on the magnificence of having the Sithly power to beat death. Whilst Jedis are the good guys, and the seemingly perfect human manifestations of reason, will-power, and righteousness, they have several limitations, one of which seems truly antagonistic to all conventional descriptions of goodness. The prohibition to love. When it was made clear in Episode II that Anakin was not allowed to fall in love, it struck a chord. In Episode III, when the reason became clear – that love leads to fear of loss, (and we all know what fear leads to…) – we understood why Jedis must not love, but it jaded how we view the Jedi. These guys stand for truth and honour in the Galaxy. It seems odd that love is not among their priorities.

Jedi values seemed repressive. Selflessness became abstinence. And I’m not just talking sex here, I’m talking relationships, connections, bonds. If the Jedi were there to balance out the Sith, surely they would be total opposites. But Palpatine doesn’t really seem like a very lovable guy. Love gets lost in the equation, but we can return to that later. More important is the fact that Jedis are totally selfless, whereas the Sith are self-involved, greedy, and power-hungry. And even more important is that all of these character definitions only appear in the prequel trilogy. The original Star Wars films focused on the fight scenes, the nobility and the special effects, but not on the technicalities of Jedi and Sith. The fact that the new films have addressed these more philosophical issues may be a testament to the popularity of the series – that Lucas can sprinkle existential ponderings among the light-sabre duels.

Additionally, since the rise of postmodernism, the questioning of self has been a hot topic in literature and film. Star Wars’ recognition of the importance placed on personal values is a further example of its connection with the culture in which it is produced. In 1977, when the blockbuster movie race had just begun with Spielberg’s Jaws, Lucas’s energy was spent creating a mind-blowing space saga replete with action and humour. Now, in the 21st century, Lucas has found the necessity to relate internal, personal matters to a character’s position in their universe. A Jedi is not only an elite fighting warrior, as we had previous reason to presume, but a will-powered, driven machine whose one purpose is to serve the Jedi Council, ignoring their own personal emotions.

The second discussion of Jedi qualities takes place between Anakin and Obi-Wan during their climactic battle on Mustafar, the volcanic planet. Anakin proclaims that if Obi-Wan is not with him, he must be the enemy. Obi-Wan cries out reluctantly that “only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Anakin, on his path to the dark side, has lost his ability to reason. He sees things in pure black and white, something is either good or bad, useful or useless, a friend or an enemy. It is at this point that we realise the entire reasoning behind the Jedi repressiveness. With human attachment come bias and a loss of objectivism that a Jedi cannot afford. Even if a layperson could not deny themselves in this manner, they can at least understand it. Once Anakin has succumbed to subjectivity and self-empowerment, he has crossed over to the Dark Side and must re-emerge as Darth Vader.

Anakin becoming Darth Vader is tragic in a way, but it is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. So not only is it Anakin fulfilling his destiny, it is the Star Wars prequels fulfilling their undertaking. And moreover, it almost brings Anakin absolution. Upon rewatching the original three Star Wars movies after seeing Episode III, there is a great deal of sympathy for Darth Vader alongside the hatred. He is the baddie but he’s human, and worse, we understand. Wouldn’t we all do everything for love? Don’t we all want to use all of our abilities? Anakin was dissatisfied with the limitations of the Jedi. I’m not saying we should aspire to be all-powerful, but like Anakin, shouldn’t we want to be all we can?

Obviously one of the morals of Star Wars is that Anakin disrespects the Jedi rules and this leads him to the Dark Side. However, Lucas has ensured that there exists an explanation of Anakin’s motives, emotions, and frustrations because he symbolizes every person who struggles internally between social restrictions and personal ambitions. Watching Episode III, we are at once urging Anakin not to oppose the Jedi whilst waiting hungrily for him to become Darth Vader. Lucas has created an actual antagonism for the audience, baiting and goading us to want Anakin to fall prey to his desires.

The power of Star Wars is that it is more than a swashbuckling thriller, more than an epic saga that spans two generations, more than a filmic phenomenon that has spanned 30 years. It is a film that captures and addresses the audience, whilst remaining a blockbuster movie. Lucas has moved with the times, retaining cultural relevance and addressing the hyperbolic extremities of human emotion. Love is the temptation, after all, but Star Wars is not criticising love. And it is certainly not criticising the Jedi. It is showing the power of love and how it can overtake reason. And even though this explanation may not completely satisfy, it does make for a sad and potent ending.