Jonathan Last is literally the guy who wrote the book(s) on virtue—so why is he so confused about the virtuous Jedi? Perhaps, like Anakin, he’s been seduced by the dark side of the Force? We’ve all been there. Remember that time when “Empire Strikes Back” came out, and all you wanted to get for Christmas to add to your Star Wars action-figure collection were the bounty hunters?
There is a certain glamour and romance associated with evil and, unfortunately, I think Last has fallen under its spell. I’m not sure, but as a life-long Star Wars fan and a big fan of Last’s writing, it pains me to have to set him straight.
The Jedi represent everything that is good in the Star Wars universe (law and order, peace, justice). So, without further ado, my responses.
Not everyone has equal talent—and your point is? Some people are born with a genetic predisposition to be able to use the Force, just like on Earth some people are born smart, or born with the ability to jump high, run fast, or control their stomach muscles:
Big deal. The Jedi accept these facts of life and work with them. They aren’t crazed egalitarians like some people we know in the Democratic Party. This makes the Jedi smart and practical all at the same time.
2. Jedi Numbers Are Limited
Mace Windu made a perfectly intelligent point: there are a limited number of Jedi, so they can’t be expected to fight like an army (i.e., as if there were hundreds of thousands of soldiers ready to go to battle.) As it is, they sacrificed about 200 Jedi on the godforsaken planet Geonosis fighting Count Dooku and his separatist droid army.
Think of the Jedi as a special police force, sort of like a super-powered SWAT team. They can help the Republic in tough situations, and indeed have for many, many years: “For over a thousand generations the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire,” Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi said in “Star Wars IV: A New Hope.”
3. Secrecy Sometimes Means Protection Against Evil
Have you ever had to fight a Dark Lord of the Sith? A lot of Last’s complaints boil down to Chesterton’s parable of the fence:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’
In other words, you may think you know what’s best for defending the galaxy from everyday threats like a Dark Lord of the Sith, but I got news for you, buddy: until you’ve had to defend yourself from the dark side, I suggest you keep up that fence for a while or somebody is going to get hurt.
Don’t ask how Darth Maul is still alive in that clip—it’s a long story.
4. Not Every Coup Is Bad
There are times when wise people need to save democracy from itself. Is that idea really foreign to you? More seriously, we see that throughout history the judicious use of force can be used to stop authoritarian powers from seizing too much control of a government and oppressing its people. A “democratic coup” is not an oxymoron!
5. Extraordinary Times Require Extralegal Executions
See number three—you don’t fool around with trials for a Dark Lord of the Sith! We learned this the hard way. Remember, the Jedi have over 1,000 years of experience in fighting the Sith.
6. Occasional Mistakes Don’t Mean Incompetence
Stop with the hyperbole. The Jedi do make mistakes from time to time. They aren’t omnipotent. For example, the Jedi screwed up with Darth Maul. But if Yoda’s powers are clouded by the dark side of the Force, it’s not like a regular human would have detected Maul’s presence. As for their archives, obviously Count Dooku or Darth Sidious himself messed with them so they wouldn’t find the location of the planet Kamino, which was critical to their plans for galactic domination.
Finally, the upside of pairing Anakin with Palpatine (who, at the time, the Jedi didn’t know was Darth Sidious) was that Anakin could befriend him and get the Jedi important knowledge about his true plans. Sure, everything didn’t quite go as the Jedi had hoped, but that was the idea. Sometimes in the fog of war you make mistakes (unknown unknowns!).
7. Tolerance Isn’t the Point
How could young Anakin know of the horrors to come—endless war, destruction of an entire planet just to test a weapon and torture a princess, etc.? Of course, speaking of show not tell, Anakin’s point about the selfless nature of the Jedi is proven on Naboo where, despite the disdain the Jedi may feel for the Gungan, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan both help the Gungan fight the separatist droids and free Naboo from the Trade Federation blockade (in the process, Qui-Gon Jinn loses his life.)
I’ve already mentioned all the sacrifices the Jedi made on Geonosis. When Anakin says the Jedi use their power for good, there are specific examples he could have pointed to if his mind weren’t clouded by the dark side. Darth Sidious is the one interested in power for his own sake, to oppress and subjugate those he thinks deserve to serve him and his evil vision.
8. Jedi Need to Support Each Other
If the most important goal for the Jedi is to defeat the Dark Lord of the Sith (because regular, non-Force-using creatures aren’t going to cut it), then they better be guarding the one child who might have a chance someday of doing that—Luke Skywalker on Tatooine. When they first die, Jedi usually only communicate with someone who knows how to use the force themselves. That’s why Kenobi was able to calm Luke down and help him fire the deadly shot to destroy the Death Star. I mean, you might as well blame Han Solo for not showing up earlier to save poor old Porkins!
9. The Jedi Are Superb Comrades
Yes, Luke had such contempt for the common man that he risked his life to save his friend, the rogue smuggler Han Solo! As for the military campaign in “Return of the Jedi,” again, please review the video clip in number three. Darth Sidious (i.e. the emperor) was the prize. The rebels could keep destroying Death Stars and if no one took out the head of the snake they would still be in a world of hurt. Luke was doing them and the broader fight against the Empire a world of good by going after their leader. You don’t think Claus von Stauffenberg’s plot to kill Hitler, if it had succeeded, would have helped end World War II sooner?
Jonathan, turn away from the dark side. As Luke once said to his father, “I know there is good in you…I feel the conflict within you! Let go of your hate!”