Man Without Qualities

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Two Cents Worth Of Sith

OK, OK ... everyone on and off the Blogosphere has something pointed to say about the new Star Wars Movie - Revenge of the Sith - so who am I to swim against the current? Get along, go along and Keep low; run by with the herd. Regular readers of this blog will know That every word is true.

The Man Without Qualities saw the movie in Pasadena with both sons (ages 6 and 11) as well as a host of other 10 and 11 year old boys from their school. I pretty much agree with Glenn Reynolds that apart from the special effects and an occasional good scene, the movie is pale. It's tempting to dismiss the movie's problems with the explanation that because of all those classy, expensive computer special effects, Lucas had to economize on something, so he made do without a script or acting. But perhaps the company with whom I saw this movie made me feel that there is more wrong with it than just that. In fact, there were a few points - especially in that last hour the fans and critics seem to mostly love - that literally gave me the creeps and left me contemptuous of the movie's creators and almost angry.

Specifically, the movie - indeed, arguably, the whole series - builds to one critical, explanatory scene in which Anakin is defeated (in fact, de-legged and partially de-armed) by swift light-saber slashes of Obi Wan, and lies utterly helpless on a rocky shore next to a rising river of molten lava, which ignites his clothing as Obi Wan looks on and then turns and walks away thinking Anakin will die horribly - without lifting a finger to try to help or redeem the young man who saved his life nine or ten times in the recent past.

And then turns and walks away???!!! Most people wouldn't leave a cat to die that way. This high-talking asshole Obi-Wan Kenobi is supposed to be the conscience of the galaxy? I say that if that's what the Jedi and their Code amount to, then I say to hell with them.

Of course, Obi Wan's moral infirmity in this scene is a big step up from the earlier scenes in which Jedis defeat dangerous enemies, hold then helpless, and then ... Anakin himself defeats Count Dooku, and then lops off the Count's head with a bit of prodding from the Emperor (Anakin feels a little bad about this, but it goes away). After another fight scene Samuel L. Jackson tells Anakin that, Code or no Code, the man Mr. Jackson's character thinks is a squirming, helpless, defeated Emperor is just too dangerous to live (and controls the Senate and the courts, damn it!), and therefore should be offed right there and then while he's helpless. Anakin does not agree, and the whole mess ends rather badly.

Well, pardon me, Mr. Lucas, but I thought a Jedi was supposed to have a bit more commitment to justice and procedure than, say, the undertrained Los Angeles cops who creamed Rodney King.

What was particularly disturbing about the moral aspects of Sith was the thought that the "Jedi Code" probably represents what Mr. Lucas thinks is the highest good, but which actually seems to represent some personal version of what might best be termed Nasty Hollywood Pragmatism. It is no secret that the entertainment industry has more than its share of aggressive, self-destructive people. Sometimes such self-destructive people are just plain mean. Sometimes they are confused types who have been seduced by top-drawer professional seducers, like Chancellor Palpatine or any number of mean, vindictive, manipulative, highly talented and destructive people who staff the studios and their suppliers. It is a fact that in most cases all that can be done with such self destructive people is to keep as far away from them as possible and allow them to immolate themselves with the self destructive acts. I have little doubt that over his years in the business George Lucas has had to let many such people burn painfully.

None of that experience excuses presenting a nasty, pragmatic necessity as a high moral virtue - which is what this movie does. In real life one generally stays away from self destructive people with whom one has no special relationship (such as a close relative or good friend) because such people are very difficult to help and can do a lot of damage to those who try to help - and that is usually true even for self destructive people one is convinced are basically good but confused. But if there is (1) a special relationship (such as, say, a friend who has saved one's life nine or ten times), and (2) extenuating circumstances (such as, say, where the young friend has done really bad things because he was seduced by a pro and has been under a lot of stress because he thinks his wife is going to die) and (3) one just happens to have the facilities right there at hand to help one's confused, injured friend (say, a waiting vehicle with built-in medical facilities) without substantial risk to anyone, then one doesn't need much of a moral code to conclude that one should help.

Heck, suppose you were mugged in the middle of the night by a 20 year old kid who, as he attempts to flee, is slammed by a hit-and-run driver and lies dying in a pool of his own blood. What kind of person wouldn't call the police and have them send a squad car and an ambulance and help and arrest the kid? Apparently, George Lucas would have us believe the most all the best people could muster is to just walk away and let the kid die the street.

And in my opinion that's an unnecessarily disgusting, constipated view of human nature and morality, Mr. Lucas.

Of course, Mr. Lucas will have his $800 Million or so to keep him warm. I don't begrudge him that. I really don't.

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