Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Revenge of the Sith: The Nature of Evil, and Redemption

I finally saw “Stars Wars episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (ROTS)on Saturday. My husband and I had to see it separately since we couldn’t get a babysitter. But I don’t normally talk much during movies in theaters. At home it’s another story. My husband is continually exasperated by my numerous questions.

Anyway, on the whole I was pleased with the movie. I thought the visual effects and the pacing of the movie were good. The acting was adequate, although the lack of chemistry between Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) and Natalie Portman (Padme Amidala) was consistently annoying (as it was in Attack of the Clones). Most of the time Anakin looked at Padme like he was stalking her and Padme looked either unexpressive or like she was a little girl meeting her hero, Mickey Mouse, for the first time. Nonetheless, I was very moved by the story of a hero who turns evil and destroys everything he’s ever loved.


I was also annoyed by Lucas’ politicization of the movie by throwing in a few lines here and there that apparently were taking jabs at the Bush administration. The worst one was when Anakin said something like, “You are either with me or you are my enemy” to Obi-Wan who replies, “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” This line made no sense because earlier (Or is it later? I guess I’ll have to see it again.) Obi-Wan says, “Palpatine is evil” (an absolute), to which Anakin replies, “From my point of view it is the Jedi that are evil (moral relativism)." The Jedi seem to be the ones dealing in absolutes with their fight for freedom of members of the Republic (e.g. the Wookies), and Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson) determining that he must kill the evil Palpatine to save the Republic because the Senate and the courts have been corrupted. Palpatine, on the other hand, exhibits moral relativism by telling Anakin that it’s all right to use the dark side as long as you’re helping others e.g. saving Padme from death.

Based on these lines and by what he said at the Cannes film festival, it appears that Lucas is either politically ignorant, or playing to an anti-American crowd to sell tickets in Europe. Lucas claimed that "the parallels between Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable."

Um, yeah, right. Vietnam and Iraq are so similar. Let’s see. In Vietnam the U.S. was fighting to keep communist North Vietnam from conquering South Vietnam. In Iraq, the U.S. removed a murderous dictator so that Iraq’s people could form their own government In Vietnam, we decimated the forces of the Viet Cong during the Tet offensive, but paid a heavy toll in casualties. The U.S. eventually pulled out and left the South Vietnamese to twist in the wind. In Iraq, the U.S. rolled into Baghdad and totally obliterated all of Saddam’s armed forces along the way with relatively light casualties—complete victory. Then the military stayed in Iraq, at the request of the new Iraqi government, to help rebuild Iraq and ferret out the last few terrorists. Vietnam is full of jungles and nasty bugs. Iraq is full of sand and nasty bugs. Besides nasty bugs, and the U.S. promoting democracy, there’s not much similarity between the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. But Lucas, like many in Hollywood, is an ignorant commie-loving hippy who happens to have talent making movies. Don’t quit your day job, George.

Anyway, there were two things about the ROTS that bothered me. First was the rapid transformation of Anakin into Darth Vader. It seemed a little forced and implausible. Anakin goes from regretting helping Palpatine kill Mace Windu, to slicing up little kids at the Jedi Temple in the next hour--all because he wants to save his wife from dying in child birth. I don’t buy it, unless somehow he was possessed by the Emperor and totally lost any ability to make choices of his own. It was all a little sudden and far-fetched in my view.

Also at Cannes, regarding how a good man turns himself into an evil man, Lucas said, "Most of them think they're good people doing what they do for a good reason." I don’t agree with this. Does Saddam consider himself a good person who murdered all those Iraqis and Kuwaitis for a good reason? It’s possible he deludes himself with that belief now, but I don’t think he was always that way. Saddam started out like the rest of us—as a baby. Mormons believe that all children under the age of accountability (around age 8) are pure and without sin. We don’t believe that small children must be baptized in order to be saved, but we believe that they are saved by virtue of Christ’s atonement. Therefore, any infant that dies is automatically received into heaven—he or she, by virtue of their innocence belongs to Christ.

Furthermore, I believe that each of us has a conscience given to us by God and that it is developed as we grow up. At some point, Saddam, Hitler, and Stalin each had a conscience and knew good from evil. But by continually suppressing their consciences, and justifying their evil deeds, they soon became desensitized to any feelings of good. They may have lied to themselves that the ends justify the means, but deep down I believe they knew they were wrong. But how could an evil person live with themselves if they acknowledged that their deeds were evil? At first, Anakin feels remorse for killing Mace Windu, but then Palpatine helps him justify what he did and then what he does later. I think Anakin still felt that what he did was wrong, as exhibited by his tears after slaughtering everyone on the volcanic planet.

I was also disturbed by Obi-Wan leaving Anakin to die on the volcanic planet. Anakin was no longer a threat to Obi-Wan and was mortally wounded. I tried to figure out what bothered me so much about this scene. I think it was because Obi-Wan had an opportunity to show mercy to Anakin, and didn’t. He seemed to decide that Anakin was beyond redemption and deserving of a slow, painful death. I mean, he could have ended Anakin’s suffering with one stroke of the light saber, but he didn’t. It didn’t seem very Jedi-like and certainly not like someone who considered Anakin to be a brother or son.

I don’t believe any of us, even Saddam, is ultimately beyond redemption. Don’t get me wrong, I support the death penalty if the crime is heinous enough. I don’t think mercy should rob justice, and I think Saddam should be executed for his numerous crimes. I believe that those that don’t get justice on earth will get it in heaven. Mercy is God’s greatest gift and is a very powerful tool. If Obi-Wan had saved Anakin’s physical body, he may have been able to save Anakin’s soul and prevented him from becoming Darth Vader, the half-man, half-robot monster. But then again, maybe not.

Of course, ROTS is not about redemption. That comes later in Return of the Jedi. Note how Luke never gives up on his father, while everyone else does. Anyway, I just had to keep reminding myself that this was only a movie, and if Lucas had done things my way, then the whole series would have been messed up. I do wish that instead of Obi-Wan coldly leaving Anakin to die, Lucas had somehow caused the two to become separated, making Obi-Wan’s recovery of Anakin impossible. However, Obi-Wan’s lack of mercy in ROTS does go well with Obi-Wan’s unspoken remorse masterfully displayed by Alec Guinness in A New Hope.

All in all, annoying dialogue notwithstanding, I had to give ROTS two thumbs up. I plan to see it again this weekend.

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