Themes of good and evil permeate the Star Wars saga. Whether it is the exploration of the light or dark side of the Force or the motives of Senators, the contrast between good and evil is ever-present in the films. However, the question and exploration of evil has varied throughout the saga. The movies of the prequels, the original trilogy and Rogue One, and the ongoing saga films have handled the portrayal, discussion, and themes of evil in different manners. This blog begins a series that explores how each film trilogy or series has handled the concept of evil. The discussion of evil begins with the prequel trilogy.
The Phantom Menace
In the prequel trilogy, the initial conflict is political. In addition, it isn’t even about the Republic or some other coalition of planets. Instead, the conflict emerges out of politics and a disagreement concerning taxation of all things. Stoked by the support and encouragement of Darth Sidious, the Trade Federation blockades Naboo in protest of taxation of trade routes. The Republic isn’t formally a party to this dispute. In fact, the Chancellor sends in Jedi to attempt a negotiation between Naboo and the Trade Federation. In other words, the central dispute concerns one sovereign state and a corporation. Granted, the corporation has their own well-armed invasion force, which they don’t hesitate to use on Naboo.
Although the end of The Phantom Menace resolves the conflict on Naboo, it does nothing to resolve the underlying dispute between marginalized worlds and the Republic. This incident was a symptom of a larger problem. In addition, at least some evil resided in the heart of the Republic. Palpatine noted as much when counseling then Queen Amidala to push for a vote of no confidence in Senator Valorum in light of the special interests preventing Republic intervention in the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo.
Attack of the Clones
By Attack of the Clones, the problem has festered. It is no longer constrained to a corporation and a single world. Instead, the issue evolved and now thousands of worlds have either seceded or threaten secession from the Republic. This is when the true organization of evil arises. Or, does it? Certainly, the men at the top are evil. Darth Sidious, under the guise of Chancellor Palpatine, controls the Republic. Although in his position as Chanceller, he obstensibly works for the greater good, he secretly stokes the fires of war from his office. His opposite is the charismatic Count Dooku, also known as Darth Tyranus, the apprentice to Sidious. They provoked a conflict between the Republic and the corporate interests of the Separatists by attempting the assassination of Senator Amidala.
The Separatists seen in the movie can hardly be viewed as innocent as well. In fact, nearly the entire representation of the Separatists in Attack of the Clones includes corporate entities including the likes of the Trade Federation, the Techno Union, and the Banking Clan and their armies of battle droids, which were manufactured by the Geonosians.
Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith complicates the nature of “evil” from the very beginning of the movie by noting that the galaxy is at war, there are heroes on both sides, and “evil is everywhere.” Although that is stated, the evil of the Republic is largely hidden from audiences until Palpatine is outed as Darth Sidious and he issues Order 66. By the end of the movie, Palpatine has destroyed the Jedi Order with the assistance of his new apprentice, Darth Vader. In addition, the Republic evolved into the Empire after the Clone Wars devoured the Separatists and the extent of the evil they represented.
Perhaps the most convincing argument for the pervasive evilness on both sides of the war comes when Padmé asks Anakin if he ever wonders whether they are fighting for the right side. Consider that the Separatists include the Trade Federation – the very organization that invaded and conquered her home world of Naboo. Despite all of that, the conduct of the Republic causes her to doubt the justice of their cause. In the prequels, evil was always present but also something elusive. Darth Sidious played puppet master and engineered a galactic conflict by appealing to the sense of justice of Amidala and others. The presence of corruption in the senate compounded the notion that evil lurked everywhere.
Perspective of the Sith and Jedi
Then there is the issue of perspective. This first emerges when Anakin and the Chancellor confer at the opera on Coruscant. The Chancellor counsels Anakin that, “Good is a point of view. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way including their quest for greater power.” Palpatine attempts to persuade Anakin that both the Jedi and Sith are self-interested. Each looks to grow their power. Anakin responds that the Jedi are selfless and care only about others. Neither man is entirely correct, and neither cites any real evidence to support their claims. In addition, Palpatine is slowly seducing Anaking to the dark side, and his argument is heavily biased.
When Obi-Wan and Anakin arrive at their climactic duel on Mustafar, they have a brief dialogue about evil while attempting to kill one another as they float down a lava river. After Obi-Wan’s apology for failing Anakin, Anakin declares that he should have known the Jedi were plotting a takeover. This is largely confirmation bias. Anakin needs to believe he is in the right. Obi-Wan retorts that the Chancellor is evil, and Anakin responds from his point of view, the Jedi are evil. Granted, most people, even when they are acting with evil intent, wouldn’t consider themselves evil; however, Anakin’s motivation for joining Palptaine, murdering the Jedi in the Temple, and killing the Separatists bunkered on Mustafar was all out of self-interest and the fear of losing Padmé. His viewpoint is not objective. The justification he offers about the Jedi is simply a rationalization.
The Jedi were not without their faults, but as an organization, they weren’t evil. Their weakness was their hubris and strict adherence to some rules and principles that created as many problems as they solved. Although this adherence had a disastrous result, it was not the result of evil intent.
Concluding Thoughts on Evil in the Prequels
Of all the films in the saga, the prequels, as a collection, have the most to say about evil. Motivation, intent, perspective, and other aspects all present themselves over the course of the trilogy. The balance taken weighs in favor of the Jedi and the Republic on the side of good and the Sith and the Separatists on the side of evil. Revenge of the Sith ends the trilogy as a tale of tragedy in which a hero succumbs to fear and accepts a selfish and evil path for deliverance. In the prequels, the issue of evil doesn’t fall as easy into a scale of black and white. Moving on, the movies of the Star Wars saga do not fall nearly as much into the grey.
Join me next month when I will look at the portrayal of evil in the original trilogy and Rogue One.
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