There’s been a lot of chatter at the Federalist about who the good guys are in the Star Wars universe. Some argue for the Jedi; some for the Empire. Even Ted Cruz has a public opinion, and he sides with the Rebels. I’d like to offer another perspective: Star Wars has no heroes.
Let’s start with the Jedi, who prove to be inherently untrustworthy. Maybe one could excuse a these-aren’t-the droids-you’re-looking-for every now and then, since one might be justified in lying to an enemy in the context of war, but the Jedi lie to friends and enemies alike.
For example, look at Luke and Obi-Wan’s first encounter:
LUKE: No, my father didn’t fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.
OBI-WAN: That’s what your uncle told you. He didn’t hold with your father’s ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved. […] I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damned-fool idealistic crusade like your father did.
If you’ve seen episodes 1–3 (which I don’t recommend), you know Obi-Wan is making all this stuff up about the relationship between himself and Luke’s father and uncle. In this scene, Obi-Wan tries to poison Luke’s mind against his uncle to convince Luke to forsake his obligations to the only family he’s ever known.
Then Luke asks, “How did my father die?” and Obi-Wan just makes more stuff up, probably to cover his own failures in addressing the situation.
OBI-WAN: A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Obi-Wan also kept his emails on a private server.
Obi-Wan lies to exaggerate his own importance because he needs Luke’s hero-worship. Obi-Wan says of Mos Eisley Spaceport, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” He knows that Jabba’s hideout is right around the corner, and that it’s ten times worse than the cantina he drags Luke into. He just wants Luke to feel like he’s tagging along with a big man.
Obi-Wan probably uses these lies to cover a massive inferiority complex, which is why he makes that patently absurd statement to Vader: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” The powers of Obi-Wan’s ghost voice are about as impressive as a C3P0 comlink. Obi-Wan’s feeble boast is merely the last utterance of an old man who can’t admit that he’s washed up.
The Jedi Lie Like Sheets
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Obi-Wan, though. He’s only doing what his master taught him. He learned from the best of the Jedi liars: Yoda.
Just like Obi-Wan, Yoda lies to Luke from the minute he meets him. Luke’s looking for Yoda, but Yoda just says, “Take you to him, I will.”
During training Yoda warns Luke off the dark side of the Force like a Baptist preacher warning his flock about alcohol. He says, “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” More lies. In “Return of the Jedi,” we see Luke start down the dark path, and then he turns around. Yoda isn’t trustworthy.
When Luke leaves Yoda to rescue Han and Leia, whom Vader has trapped in Cloud City, Yoda warns, “Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.” He implies that Luke isn’t ready and that his lack of readiness will cause him to fall to the dark side. Although Luke takes a beating, he doesn’t succumb. But Yoda’s poor powers of prognostication aren’t the real issue here. When Luke comes back to “finish the training” they have this little exchange:
YODA: No more training do you require. Already know you that which you need. [Yoda sighs, and lies back on his bed.]
LUKE: Then I am a Jedi?
YODA: (shakes his head) Not yet. One thing remains: Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.
Great. Except that’s exactly the opposite of what Yoda said last time he saw Luke. Didn’t Luke just face Vader, and wasn’t there so much training still to go? What’s the truth? Was he ready all along, and Yoda just didn’t feel like letting his whipping boy go yet? Or does Luke actually need more training, but Yoda just feels too old and tired to finish it? Luke ought to be irritated.
Not to worry, though. It seems Luke learned all he needed to know from the Jedi. He did a creditable job lying his way into Jabba the Hutt’s palace.
At Least Vader Tells the Truth
Compared to the Jedi, Darth Vader is a paragon of truth. He accurately sums up Leia’s so-called mercy mission. He acknowledges that his comrades tend to be a bit too arrogant about technology’s ability to solve the galaxy’s problems. He tells Admiral Ozzel, “You have failed me for the last time,” right before he chokes him to death. Truth. And kudos to Vader for being the only one brave enough to tell Luke about his awkward parentage.
In spite of all the truth-telling and emphasis on law and order, I can’t in good conscience support the Empire. Ends do not justify the means.
The Empire holds life a little too cheaply. Their destruction of Alderaan violates the principle of using proportionate force in war, and their motivation for destroying the planet is problematic. The Empire uses the Death Star because they want to make an example of Alderaan to inspire fear in other citizens who might be tempted to rebel. They also are a little too comfortable with torture and the suspension of due process. These are not the actions of a humane society.
But it’s not only their enemies’ lives that they don’t respect. The Empire takes the lives of its faithful citizens for granted, as well. Why else wouldn’t they give their TIE fighters shields? Let’s also note the sub-standard equipment that Storm Troopers are forced to deal with—guns that don’t shoot straight and helmets one can’t see out of. The Empire deems proper equipment too expensive for their brave service men.
Even though they skimp on equipping their military, one can’t view the emperor as a fiscal conservative. He allocates massive amounts of resources on the original Death Star project, which even many of his own commanders seem to view as a sort of vanity project. When that project fails, he doubles down and builds another one, which runs over budget and behind schedule and eventually fails, too. Our government’s dedication to the misguided F-35 program pales in comparison to the emperor’s fascination with Death Stars.
Yes, the Empire is evil, and it must be destroyed, but the Rebellion isn’t any better. When I watch Star Wars, I keep reminding myself that it’s a fallen galaxy, and sometimes all the choices seem bad. I think the Apostle Paul recognized this fact when he asked his people to pray for an unholy emperor and warned them not to rebel against the empire they found themselves living under.
Perhaps the “Uncle Owen” option of separating from the galaxy’s decadent society is the best model. Work hard. Keep your head down. Except we all know what happened to him.