jedi-vs-sith-02
Having briefly looked at how the Sith ruled the galaxy (Part 1), time now to turn to a very thorny question: Who/what exactly were the Sith and what did they mean for Star Wars politics? The problem is a bit more complex – discarding Yoda (an unknown species) and casting asside the “more machine than man” attributes of Lord Vader the viewer is left with the powerful impression that for good or worse the most powerful beings are always human (Palpatine, Luke, Obi Wan, Mace Windu, Qui Gon Jin and so on). Yet, if the Jedi Order is depicted as being a diverse body, the Sith are amorphously defined in the movie-saga as some sort of a shadowy reflection (Obi Wan to Anakin in the Mustafar Duel “It was said you would destroy the Sith, not join them!”, Palpatine “The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every aspect”, Obi Wan to Luke on Dagobah [when Anakin turned] “..when that happened the good man who was your father died”). The aim of this article is thus to look at what the embodyment of evil tells about Star Wars politics.

Race, fallen Jedi or what?

Originating from the planet Korriban, the red-skinned Sith people were Force-sensitives who come under the attention of the Republic only after they had interbred with exiled Jedi and had become Dark Side wielders (Tales of the Jedi, KOTOR). Interestingly, already in the words of one of their (in)famous early leaders Marka Ragnos – “Some have interbred with Sith, while others bear true Jedi blood” (Tales of the Jedi – The Golden Age of the Sith), there is some sort of duality between choosing to be a Sith as a Dark-Sider and being born one. From Ragnos’ death through Naga Sadow, Ludo Kressh, Vitiate and Darth Ruin to Darth Bane the mixture was still present as Sith Empires relied on a home-planet and an army of Sith warriors. With few exceptions many of these leaders were a combination of Sith Magi and Force-wielders (in the sense defined by the Jedi), prone to “thought bombs”, alchemy and the quest for immortality through alchemy more than the mastery of the Force specific to later Sith Lords like Tenebrous, Plagueis and Sidious. 

Even the start of Bane’s rule of two is somewhat under these auspecies as Darth Zannah’s (his apprentice and successor) main strength were “Dark Side tendrils”, a combination of Sith Magic and actual Dark Side-wielding. Intriguingly, the Phantom Menace does mention a brief phrase about a “red-skinned attacker” and arguments that the “Sith are extinct” suggesting again an amorphous definition between a race and a fallen Jedi (irrespective of birth). Interestingly, just as the Jedi Code advocated a total renounciation of one’s identity (in the sense of family, race, nationality etc), Darth Plagueis also revealed to Palpatine that a Sith gives himself fully to the Dark Side, but must also be chosen by the it! This symbiotic relationship seems deeper than the Jedi’s belief that the Force spoke to them through midichlorians. The redemption of Vader (which clashes greatly with Yoda’s idea that “once you go down the Dark path for ever will it dominate your destiny” – Empire strikes back), solidifies this idea of the Dark Side as a part of the Force to which one Falls (an idea that following the Plagueis novel the reader discovers to be perhaps true of Ancient Sith, but not of the “rule of two”; also in KOTOR 2 Sith Lords – Kreia notes that Sith is a belief in itself).

Beyond race: “The evil within us”

What does this unclear embodiment of evil mean for the politics of the Star Wars Universe? Although perhaps not the only line of interpretation, I will for the sake of space and unity keep to the Weberian trope of legitimate use of violence explored in the last part and state the following – seeing themselves as legitimate peacekeepers (“not warriors” Mace Windu highlighted to Palpatine) and relying on their monopoly on the Force (overconfident as Palpatine stated numerous times), the Jedi believed that evil was a “fall” or a shadowy reflection of one’s self, rather than a “concrete” locus such as race (that would have to be inherently be a Dark-Side wielder, an idea which, while made plausible by the concept of a Force that is in and out of balance between Light and Dark, seems unlikely if one considers that training was needed to master the Force, innate sensitivity not being enough). Yet, as Obi Wan shouts to Anakin an allegiance to democracy to counter-argue his “I have brought peace and security to my Empire!” – personalized rule (promising peace-keeping through coercion and strict monopoly on violence) is opposed to democratic choice (peace keeping also with monopoly on violence, but a somewhat more inclusive “peace keeping army” as the Jedi were apparently recruiting all races!). What this suggests is that ipso facto the highly bureaucratized Republic, with all its corruption and exploitation of outer-rim areas (large space is devoted to this idea in many novels and short stories; also one can recall Padme’s surprise to find slavery at the outskirts of the Republic), was normatively justified in its inequality-entrenching nature as it had the mantra of the Light Side of the Force. “Political-economic” evil is thus rendered as a minor detail in comparison with the broader destruction that the Sith would bring: a stable-benevolent inequality with a limited amounted of choice and democracy seems normatively justified when compared to the dichotomous rule that the Sith envisaged (“Only a Sith deals in absolutes” Obi Wan).

Yet, it is not Obi Wan and the fallen Anakin that fight in the symbolic Galactic Senate, but Yoda and Sidious, two clear embodyments of “Good” and “Evil”. Ultimately, this shows that the movie dances (sometimes gracefully, sometimes in a very sloppy pace) between the idea of a “hidden evil” that lurks in every being, and a clearly distinct external locus of evil, a Dark Side that is immanent. It is precisely this immanence that is important – the movie shows that the republic was democratic, yet not peaceful and highly unequal (socio-economically), the Empire was equal (in poverty enshrining), but forcefully peaceful, leaving the viewer with the sense that much like the humans (who are the main characters for both Light and Dark!), politics is neither perfect nor perfectible.

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