Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Scraps of Star Wars

I have gotten on to Star Wars and away from my previous series on Gray Barker and Albert K. Bender. Today I'll finish with Star Wars. I'll return to "Barker and Bender on the Case" as soon as I can. That series is going somewhere, so I hope you'll see it through.

Before that, here are my scraps of Star Wars.

"May the Force be with you." This is what people in Star Wars say as they part, sometimes never to see each other again. In speaking these words, they echo our own valedictions: "May God be with you," "God be with you," or simply "Goodbye." Instead of God there is the Force. Impersonal, scattered, Manichaean, indifferent to the fate of humanity or of individual human beings, the Force, then, would seem the god of the Star Wars universe. Evidently there is no human soul here either. The only way anyone has of coming in contact with or experiencing this god is through a biological, hence material, intermediary. Even then, only certain, select people, an elite with high midi-chlorian counts, are permitted that contact and those experiences. But what experiences? Does any Jedi or Sith undergo a genuine spiritual experience, any deep feeling of transcendence, any contact with a higher power? Or is the Force used simply for a person's own purposes or as an exercise of power? If the Jedi can countenance human slavery, then are they really a force for good in the galaxy? And if the Dark Side is merely about hate and anger, as Emperor Palpatine seems to be saying in the throne room scene in Return of the Jedi, is it really evil? Yes, the empire destroys Alderaan, but that is the decision of Grand Moff Tarkin, who is not in touch with the Force and whose exercise of power is purely secular. Darth Vader is his servant and lieutenant, the wizard at his side. He does what he is told. Beyond that, Alderaan was destroyed before there were midi-chlorians--when there were still good and evil in the Star Wars universe and while the Force was still secondary to the secular power of the Empire.

* * *

The midi-chlorians are supposedly intelligent, but they are also seemingly morally neutral. Or maybe they lack any concept of morality. They will facilitate access to the Force for the person who has crossed over to the Dark Side just as readily as they will for a Jedi. Are they agents of free will? Do they simply allow the people whom they inhabit to make the choice between one side and the other? Or are they like the deist concept of God the Clockmaker, who has stepped away from his creation to allow it to unwind as it will? Alternatively, do they simply not care?

Midi-chlorians are supposed to be symbionts, but are they really? Or are they parasites? Do they manipulate people, playing them off one against the other in some Darwinian struggle for existence? Do they play the field, chancing that this person using the Force for "good" is likely to survive by defeating that one using it for "evil," and vice versa? For if the person in whose blood they live survives to reproduce, then they will, too. Like Richard Dawkins' selfish gene, are midi-chlorians also selfish, seeking only to be perpetuated into the next generation? And will they do anything to make that happen, however wrong or immoral that might be?

* * *

We have seen this idea before in fantasy and science fiction. I'm thinking of the Star Trek episode "Return to Tomorrow," first broadcast fifty years ago, on February 9, 1968. In that episode, god-beings of pure energy occupy the bodies of Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, and babe-of-the-week Dr. Ann Mulhall. The beings inhabiting the bodies of Kirk and Spock vie with each other for survival--and presumably for the chance to reproduce. (Don't forget the babe-of-the-week, Dr. Ann Mulhall.) The difference between Star Wars and Star Trek of course is that in Star Trek, some things are known to be good and moral, while other things are known to be bad and immoral, and so the god-beings decide to fade into oblivion rather than make immoral choices.

* * *

So in the newest Star Wars trilogy (now 67% complete) why is the First Order evil? And why is the Resistance good? Both have military governmental structures, both are vying for power, both use the Force for their own seemingly amoral purposes. Is the cause of the Resistance freedom? If so, has anyone in that organization ever stated as much?

As for the First Order, we know what they're up to. Here is their mission statement, spoken by the baby Vader, Kylo Ren, according to Wookieepedia: The Star Wars Wiki:
"It is the task of the First Order to remove the disorder from our own existence, so that civilization may be returned to the stability that promotes progress. A stability that existed under the Empire, was reduced to anarchy by the Rebellion, was inherited in turn by the so-called Republic, and will be restored by us. Future historians will look upon this as the time when a strong hand brought the rule of law back to civilization."
Order, stability, progress--these are the values of the tyrant. (They remind me of the goals in the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.) In our neck of the galaxy, they are the ingredients for making a big heapin' helpin' o' Dystopia. And not just any Dystopia but the leftist/socialist/statist brand favored by tyrants of the twentieth century. So I'll ask the question again: What is the cause driving the Resistance?

* * *

I have more questions about the new Star Wars universe. First, who is in control of the galaxy right now while Snoke lies in pieces and Kylo Ren is rapidly winging his way into the boondocks of space? Is it the First Order? Aren't they too busy running down the Resistance to pay any attention to anything else? And where do they get their funding? Every week or two, some enormously expensive piece of space weaponry is reduced to dust by the Resistance. Who is financing all of these boondoggles? Aren't the people of the galaxy fed up with all of their hard-earned money being flushed down a big black hole?

More questions: In The Last Jedi, the First Order seems to be reduced to a small fleet whose sole obsession is, like Ahab after his whale, to chase the Resistance to the ends of the galaxy, no matter the cost. They don't seem to care that everything might be lost or that they might never see home again. What drives these people exactly? We know that the True Believer here on Earth will give up everything for his holy cause, but what holy cause is there in this galaxy of long ago and far, far away? Does anyone among the First Order really believe in order, stability, and progress as the one cause for which they will sacrifice everything? Considering that there is no God or god in the Star Wars universe, no one has ever been driven by anything holy or even close. How can they be now? Or are they all being dragged along by a singular obsession, Kylo Ren's desire to have Rey?

I sense an air of decadence and of smallness hanging over the whole operation. General Hux is a clown, lacking all of the gravity and ruthlessness of Grand Moff Tarkin. At the beginning of The Last Jedi, he falls for Poe's radio trick, like Moe answering the phone on The Simpsons or some outer-space ship captain encountering Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. Needless to say, Kylo Ren is a mere shadow of Darth Vader, Snoke an almost comical caricature of Emperor Palpatine, and Captain Phasma a rejiggered Cylon. For their part, the Resistance is down to so few people that all can fit on board the Millennium Falcon. Princess Leia is an old rummy whose offscreen death will soon have to be explained. Luke Skywalker is a Force-ghost who may or may not return. Han Solo has fallen into a pit, as most of the major characters in the Star Wars saga do at one time or other. Poe is his third-rate replacement. Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are relegated to very minor roles. Lando Calrissian is nowhere in sight. The Resistance fleet has been destroyed and they're on the run like the crew of Battlestar Gallactica. Only Finn and Rey have any spirit left. How long will it be before the whole series collapses from exhaustion?

* * *

So is it just me, or in the Star Wars universe does no one ever sing, dance, or listen to music--endless hours and days spent flying through outer space and no music. (At least Star-Lord has his mix tapes.) There is actually singing, dancing, and music in certain places, places that are cast as somehow immoral, corrupt, or decadent: the cantina at Mos Eisley; Jabba's palace on Tatooine; Takodana in The Force Awakens, a place for spies, smugglers, and fugitives; and most immoral and decadent of all, the casino planet in The Last Jedi. No one ever eats or drinks anything, either, nothing but blue milk anyway. Nobody but Han Solo and Lando Calrissian seems to have any interest in the opposite sex. In fact, no one has very much fun at all in this place. Everything seems to be a very grim and joyless struggle. So is the Star Wars universe one full of Puritans and ascetics? Why?

Better questions: Where is all of this going? What is the goal? What is the point? If there is no moral struggle, no striving for love or freedom (as in Star Trek), then isn't the Star Wars universe essentially empty? Did George Lucas design it to be empty in fact, not intentionally, but by his lack of belief in a personal God or in the individuality of all human beings, created by God in his own image and endowed with free will, the capacity for love, and a deep desire to strive for understanding and transcendence? Does Mr. Lucas believe in an individual human soul? He is famously leftist in his political orientation. A hostility towards individuality might come naturally to him. The idea that the Force is created by all living things is, after all, vaguely collectivist. I have already written about the materialism behind the concept of the midi-chlorians. Collectivism, atheism, materialism, hostility towards the individual--these are the values of the leftist/socialist/statist, throughout the twentieth century and still today. The irony is that George Lucas and similar-minded moviemakers would seemingly identify more with the goals of the First Order than with the opposing goals of love, faith, and freedom. But then the Resistance doesn't seem to have these things as their goals either. In any case, leftwing politics comes out in The Last Jedi, but it is so na├»ve and ignorant as to be laughable. These things can pretty easily be dismissed:
  • The war profiteers who are busy whooping it up on the casino planet while the Resistance fights, suffers, and dies. (Remember, in the Star Wars universe, fun=moral corruption.) Never mind that in the real world the people who so often enrich themselves under any form of government, especially under tyranny, are actually in government rather than in the private sector.
  • The Resistance forces who are so soft-hearted that they free the animals used and abused for entertainment on that same planet. Again, never mind the poor slave children who clean out the stables. We don't care about their plight because, as we already know, slavery is acceptable in the Star Wars universe.
  • The labeling of the Republic/Rebellion forces as "the Resistance," in sympathy, I suppose, with the people who oppose our current president by beating up people who disagree with them.
  • The pseudo-fascism or pseudo-nazism of the First Order, who, ironically, have as their goals order, stability, and progress, the same goals that leftists, socialists, and statists of the twentieth century and today have.
These are the most obvious manifestations of leftism in The Last Jedi, but like I said, I think you can just dismiss them. There are far worse flaws in the movie. I had fun watching it, but here's hoping the next one is better.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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