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Musings on Revenge of the Sith

Told from the point of view of my former gaming character, ex-Death-Eater Paul Graves.

Spoilers Behind the Cut

I saw the cinema film Revenge of the Sith this evening. It is the third episode of the Star Wars saga, of which its immediate sequel was an absolutely splendid film that I went to see a couple of years after I graduated from Hogwarts.

In this movie, we see the evolution of Anakin Skywalker from Jedi Knight trainee to apprentice Sith Lord. I have some quibbles with the film in general, but the story itself satisfied me. It was quite believable to me and evident how then-Chancellor Palpatine played upon Anakin's hopes and fears to manipulate him into making the choices which eventually transformed him into a Sith Lord. Watching the film, I was struck by the way the Dark Side of the Force itself seemed to change him, almost independent of any decisions Anakin might have made, uncannily similar to the workings of Tolkien's One Ring. Certainly, he made plenty of bad choices on his own merit, but toward the end of the film he seemed astonishlngly changed, almost maddened with thoughts based upon quite faulty logic.

I wondered if I would have a 'There but for the grace of God go I' moment. I was...surprised when I did not have one. I never once thought, Had I made a slightly different decision, that would be me. After leaving the cinema, I asked myself why that was.

A great tenet of the films has always been that we must conquer our fears lest they conquer us and we be ruled by them. The film made me question how I have handled certain things in the past. I always used to think that I would rather be angry than frightened, because if I could summon forth anger, I could at least act, rather than be paralysed by fear. But, if one follows the logic of these films, that is precisely the path that leads one to the Dark Side.

Yet, despite the fact that I have done terrible things in my life, I do not think I ever embraced the Dark Side. I never had any illusions as to the morality of what I did. It was always very clear to me that I was doing unconscionable things. I took no joy in them, felt no triumph. If I felt rage at or fear of anyone, it was toward myself at those times. I did not think I was committing crimes for anyone's greater glory, much less my own.

I marveled during the previous two episodes of this saga that the Jedi masters held so much doubt about Anakin because of his fears. After all, I thought, I have certainly been very afraid in my life, terrified, in fact--so terrified that I frightened away my own wife and choked off any demonstrations of affection toward my son or anyone for almost four years.

Yet Anakin and I do differ in our fear. His, as shown in this film, was irrational fear; mine was not. Anakin had premonitions and feared what might be. I observed others' actions and feared what those others would do to my family, based upon what I had observed them do to their victims. I also feared becoming insane from the conflict in myself between what I knew to be right and the evil I was doing. Anakin experienced some of that conflict as well, but the desire to ease his own fear quickly overcame his natural moral reservations.

Did I become the equivalent of a Sith Lord? That is a hard question for me to answer. If I did, in truth, then perhaps I shy away from acknowledging it. Do the minor differences between Anakin and me matter, when compared to the sum of our actions--or are those minor differences paramount? Might one not argue that evil is worse when it is done by someone with a rational, morally aware mind? Is not a sane man who commits a crime more at fault than a madman who does so? Yet, is it not also better to be able to control the evil that one does, as I was usually able to control it, rather than to unleash it without the restraint of conscience?

This question is why I still consider myself a Death-Eater. Choosing to abandon the darkness in oneself does not eradicate it. It does not restore the dead or the irreparably harmed living. Devotee of the Light though I am now, I bear those marks upon my soul, and I always will. Using the prefix 'ex' shows only present and future intent. The imprint of what I did lingers, however grateful I am that I no longer engage in such acts now.

But back to the film...

The younger Obi-wan Kenobi does not come off well. At the beginning of the film, he appears almost as comic relief, and he does not take much of a leadership role. Apparently, it is something he learns better between this film and its sequel.

I have deep disagreements with Jedi teaching methods. It does no good to tell a student, "There is much fea in you," when the teacher is never seen instructing the student in how to overcome such fear. It is useless to inform a student that he is not trusted or that he has failed without demonstrating to the student in a clear way how and why he has failed and how he can improve. Again--they remarked upon the amount of fear in Anakin, but he could only take them at their word. They never demonstrated to him why irrational fear was harmful or prove to him that his fear was irrational; they merely expected him to believe their assessment that it was. His only guidance in determining the truth of this was by making disastrous errors in judgment--by which time he no longer considered them errors but wisdom.

Regarding fear, let me be clear on this point--I believe that what the Jedi masters deemed dangerous was Anakin's proclivity toward irrational fear and toward his fear of loss. Loss is inevitable; to fear it is to fear living. I do not believe that reasonable fear is objectionable to the Jedi, though I am sure they encourage their students to face it and control it.

Obi-wan handled the end of the combat on the volcanic planet dreadfully. I am unable to say whether he suffered a faltering of courage or a flaring of cruelty and anger. In any case, the conclusion to his combat with Anakin was not his best day as a Jedi or as a human being, for that matter. I hope, under the same circumstance, that I would have given even Voldemort at least that mercy. On the other hand, Voldemort has done far worse in his lifetime than murder a dormitory full of children, so it is doubtful how charitable I would be.

The one last thing upon which I wish to comment is the fact that, for some 18 to 20 years after the events of this film, Anakin/Vader remains Palpatine's loyal apprentice. This intrigued me, considering Anakin's remarks to Padme about ruling an empire together. If, in the end, Padme lost the will to live, it seems to me that Vader, in learning that his anger likely contributed to his wife's death, also lost the will to claim absolute power. One can conjecture as to whether this was simply a lie of Palpatine's, but I suspect there is some truth to it. Whether he planned it or not, Palpatine's bit of likely truth ensured that Vader would not challenge him for two decades. In the midst of all the evil Vader would do, there was shame and grief at his core.

Or am I projecting too much of myself onto my perceptions of him?

A final interesting notion. The name 'Vader' is strikingly similar to the German word 'vater' or 'father.' I wonder if Palpatine chose the name for that reason?

I think I have said all I have to say, regarding Revenge of the Sith. On the whole, I considered it a very well done piece of cinematic art, and I am saddened that there are likely to be no others in the saga.