POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

The Moral Universe of Star Wars

I have to admit that I love the Star Wars films. I even like Attack of the Clones, the one that only made a measley 310 million dollars, and put most star wars fans to sleep. Perhaps I like the movies because I was 5 years old when I saw Episode IV - everything seems cool to a 5 year old. Especially outer space, intergalactic space battles, dark villans and hopeful heroics. It is interesting to observe the worldviews active in Star Wars. It is common knowledge that Lucas was heavily influenced by the works of Joseph Campbell, his views about human myths, the nature of our heroes, and common themes in religions. We know there are strong doses of Eastern mysticism and pantheism throughout the films, but today I don't want to travel down that well trod path of critique (the force, gurus like Yoda, good and evil being two sides of the same entity, etc.). Rather, I want to look at something more contemporary in these movies, namely the moral view of the universe offered in the saga.

The most recent installment, The Revenge of the Sith (stop reading if you still want to see the movie unmolested by my comments - I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will probably see it again) features some moral philosophical reflection between the two main characters of the film - Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the final scenes of the movie there is some dialogue leading up to and throughout the epic light saber dual.

Obi-Wan is talking to Skywalker about his pride and his lust for power in terms that have you to believe that he thinks these things are wrong - really wrong - not just in his opinion. He explains to young Skywalker that the Jedi are good yet the Sith are evil. The reply from Skywalker is that "from his persepective" the Sith are good - here enters an ancient, but ever popular philosophy of our day - that of Moral Relativism. A quick definition may be helpful.

Relativism is the denial of any absolute or bjective standards, especially in ethics. (See objectivity.) ethical [or moral] relativists can be individual relativists, who hold that what is morally right is relative to the beliefs or emotions of the individual, or they can be cultural relativists, who hold that what is morally right varies with different societies. (See subjectivism.) Analogously, in epistemology relativism holds that what is true is dependent on the individual or the culture.

Evans, C. Stephen. Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion, Page 101. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

So the dialogue begins with moral clarity - Obi-Wan knows that his young padawan learner has gone bad, gone to the Dark Side (here Dark is thought to be "bad"). He has murdered innocents, even younglings (very young Jedi in training) - and all of this is known to be bad to us - really bad. But at this juncture, Anakin tells us he is doing what is right from his perspective - good and evil are just relative to the person or the viewpoint. Now, how will Obi-Wan continue? He has spoken in absolutes about Anakin - we all know there is a good and bad to the moral universe we observe in these films - we know this to be so about our real lives. Here is where the film turns...Anakin says to Obi-Wan "If you are not with me you are against me". To this Obi-Wan replies the one who speaks in absolutes is already gone. To this I only scratched my head. Did not Obi-Wan just tell us that "pride" and "lust for power" had turned Anakin "bad" - are these just relative opinions? Are his judgements of good and evil correct? Absolutely? If not, then Anakin and he are no different - killing younglings and defending the republic as a virtuous Jedi are just two equally valid perspectives. Yet when Anakin speaks in absolutes he is chided as being lost already (I only assume that Obi-wan thinks it is "bad, really bad, absolutely bad" to speak in absolutes). This is just poor thinking and rife with self-contradiction. It is like saying "it is absolutely bad to make absolute moral judgments" - the speaker is shooting himself in the proverbial foot - doing the very thing he claims it is wrong to do. Philosophers refer to this as self-defeating or self-referentially incoherant statements. They should not be believed.

One can perhaps see a shot at President Bush in this line for this president has said "Those who are not with us are against us." Such would not be surprising. However, a really interesting thing is that the words of Anakin Skywalker actually find there origin from another very different tongue than a 21st century American president. These words are from very mouth of Jesus of Narareth:

30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Matthew 12:30

23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Luke 11:23

One must think then that Jesus, who clearly speaks in absolutes, as one with moral authority and clarity, would be on the wrong side of the Star Wars moral universe.

The sad thing is that Star Wars has clearly defined good and evil, the good triumph in the end (see Episode VI Return of the Jedi) and all this moral relativistic goofiness is smuggled in to appear mysterious or profound, to pander to the relativistic spirit of our age. Such confusion is not needed.

A people can never oppose evil, be it Darth Vader or Hitler, by standing in mid air on the moral mushiness of relativism. To fight evil, we must stand upon moral ground. To push back injustice and aggression. In short we must combat evil with what is good, right and true. Such issues are difficult, yes, but we ought not sell away the good for a bowl of relativistic porridge.

So one thing is true - the phrase "He who is not for me is against me" has quite a different meaning in the mouth of different speakers. In the mouth of those who are evil, like Darth Vader - it is an invitation to be on the dark side. Yet in the mouth of the truly good one, yes even God incarnate, it is a wonderful truth to help us discern darkness from light.

The moral vision from Star Wars is no guide, yet thsoe who know good from evil from the law of God in the conscience, know quite readily that Vader is bad and the Jedi are good. Lucas knows this, he wrote the story...he just seems unwilling to face up to this in reality and sows into the relativistic mush to seem enlightened to already mushy minds.

Jesus knew better. So should we...