Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Greatest Threat to the Republic Since Voter Fraud





I already referenced this line, but I cannot get enough of this incredibly awkward line from Obi-Wan.
ANAKIN
She's not like the others in the Senate, Master.
OBI-WAN
It's been my experience that Senators are only focused on pleasing those who fund their campaigns... and they are more than willing to forget the niceties of democracy to get those funds.
ANAKIN
Not another lecture, Master. Not on the economics of politics.... It's too early in the morning... and besides, you're generalising. The Chancellor doesn't appear to be corrupt.
OBI-WAN
Palpatine's a politician, I've observed that he is very clever at following the passions and prejudices of the Senators.
ANAKIN
I think he is a good man.

This is just hilarious (and remember, Count Dooku plays on Obi-Wan’s fear of corruption in the interrogation scene later). We’re watching a movie about space empires and magical forces and laser swords and we get glib admonishments about campaign fundraising straight out of a New York Times editorial. It completely breaks the epic feel of the story, which is a tool we’ve seen used many times in the Prequel Trilogy.

It’s possible that Lucas personally felt that campaign fundraising really is the ultimate corruptor of democracy, a point so important he had to insert it into his space movie. Or he was purposefully using it to show the short-comings of purity-politics in modern American discourse. Either way it doesn’t really matter (and is as inaccurate about our current political problems now, as it was in a galaxy far, far away.)

It’s a point of view completely insufficient to the problems the Republic actually faces. The Senate is in very real danger, and will eventually implode and take the Republic with it, for reasons that have nothing to do with fundraising. It’s because a Sith lord is running things! GUYS!!!

(The exchange about Palpatine is equally ironic. Anakin is wrong about Palpatine being “good”, but the defense that he is a “good man” is very interesting when talking about the relevance of internality. However well Anakin might feel he knows Palpatine, it’s his actions that matter. More adroitly, Anakin notes that the Chancellor doesn’t appear corrupt. And he’s 100% correct - the problem with Palpatine is not corruption.)

The Jedi have a problem. They want to transcend this dirty world. Yoda says of humanity in Empire Strikes Back “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” (Once again an emphasis on internal truth, over real world actions.) But they are very attached to, and dependent on the Republic.

So they disdain it.

They condemn the Republic for being impure, and give little consideration to how to fix things or make it better (ignoring the suffering of Tatooine as they pass through). They use it to fund their Council, and their independence, and their accumulation of power. And over a thousand years of this… they’re no closer to ascending to this pure state than they were at the beginning. The Jedi need to start their project from scratch, and this time take everyone with them.

It’s not like Obi-Wan’s writing didn’t have a choice. There are any number of good, or just in character, warnings he could have given Anakin. “Stay away from her because you have attachment issues, Anakin.” “We’re assigned to protect her and emotional involvement could compromise that.” “Jedi don’t get involved romantically.” “Being too close to the leader of the opposition could make the Jedi look partisan.” “She doesn’t even notice you, kid.” Etc.

No, Obi-Wan chooses some concern that has zero relevance to the plot, in order to illustrate how blind he is to the problems of the world. Masters never are right in arguments with apprentices.

***

This scene becomes even funnier when we look at the climactic duel of the whole trilogy.



ANAKIN
Don't lecture me, Obi-Wan. I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the dark side as you do. I have brought peace, justice, freedom, and security to my new Empire.

OBI-WAN
Your new Empire?

ANAKIN
Don't make me kill you.

OBI-WAN
Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic ... to democracy.

ANAKIN
If you're not with me, you're my enemy.

OBI-WAN
Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes. I will do what I must.

Obi-Wan’s highest worldly ideal is to “democracy”, even as he dismissed its instruments as pettily corrupt. He says “only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes”, but at least they have goals, aims for society. The Jedi can’t envision anything they want government to do, and so stand only for protecting its machinery. And as that Republic falls short of their transcendence, they blame it not on bad goals but on lack of purity. They don’t stand for “absolute good” or “absolute love”. Just generic plurality of opinion.

It’s not much respect for that either. Palpatine, according to Obi-Wan, “is very clever at following the passions and prejudices of the Senators”. Uh, what exactly does he want from a democracy if not that? Sure, you can have a more subtle understanding of democracy than simply popular will… but at least some respect for the popular will is the whole point of the process. Obi-Wan’s got nothing, just cynicism and smug superiority that devolves into mindless defense of the status quo when his feet are to the fire.

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