A Flawed Despot is Better than a Smug Jedi

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As movie fans line up to see Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard defends the "evil empire" in the Stars Wars series. Last argues that the flawed despotism of the empire is better than the aristocratic smugness of the Jedi.


If you see a bleary-eyed kid with a light saber today, maybe he was up late last night for the midnight opening of the new "Star Wars" movie "Revenge of the Sith." In it, the series finally concludes with Anakin Skywalker succumbing to evil and trading in his flowing Jedi robes for that tight black leather look.

(Soundbite of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith")

Mr. IAN McDIARMID: (As Emperor Palpatine) Remember back to your early teachings. All who gain power are afraid to lose it, even the Jedi.

Mr. HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN: (As Anakin Skywalker) The Jedi use their power for good.

Mr. McDIARMID: (As Emperor Palpatine) Good is a point of view, Anakin.

CHADWICK: That's Anakin with the evil Emperor Palpatine. Anyway, Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard magazine online says, `Wait a minute. From a political standpoint, maybe crossing over to the dark side has a silver lining.'

JONATHAN LAST (Weekly Standard):

In every "Star Wars" movie, there is a moment in which the honest viewer begins rooting for the evil Empire. In the latest installment, "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," in theaters today, that moment comes when Yoda looks up and declares, full of green smugness, `Good relations with Wookiees I have.' Now so far as I'm concerned, what Yoda does in the privacy of his Jedi temple is his business. But still that's a little too much information.

Yoda runs rampant in "Revenge of the Sith," and he is everywhere and always irritating. He spouts off fortune cookie wisdom as though it were serious philosophy. He's arrogant and willful and blind to forces greater than himself. And most worrisome: He's not half so interesting or admirable as Ian McDiarmid's Emperor Palpatine.

Yoda is emblematic of a philosophical problem with George Lucas' Jedi knights. They are a stuffy group of oligarches intent on defending the ancien regime. How does one become a Jedi? Why, you have to be born with a certain type of blood. The Jedi Council isn't open to riffraff, you see. They also have a shifting set of ethical standards. In "Revenge of the Sith," they ask Anakin Skywalker to spy on Palpatine not because they suspect him of being an agent of the dark side, but because they don't like his politics. It's not democracy they're trying to protect; it's their own power and influence.

Mind you, the Jedi aren't particularly good at their jobs. They're outmaneuvered at every turn by Palpatine and the Sith. Frankly, it's amazing the Old Republic lasted as long as it did with these twits as its only defense. Not that the Republic is any prize. Comprised of thousands of star systems, the galactic Sennet in "Star Wars" is ineffectual and mired in red tape. In "The Phantom Menace," they're unable to muster the gumption even to keep one planet from declaring war on another. For goodness' sakes, it even condones outright slavery on Tatooine, Anakin's home planet. If anything, the Empire is a welcome relief.

Sure, Lucas wants us to hate the Empire. That's why he dresses Darth Vader in black and calls it the dark side. But if you ignore the moral cues and look at the facts, the deep lesson of "Star Wars" is that the Empire is good. At every turn the Empire is interested in promoting stability and order. They collect taxes and try to shut down organized crime. They run imperial academies where people are promoted on merit, not because of royal blood. And you can bet Lord Vader makes the trains run on time.

I'll admit that the movement to embrace the Empire has been slow in gathering steam, but "Revenge of the Sith" is sure to step up the pace. I predict that in a few years it will be commonplace for people to root for the emperor because, really, who wouldn't take the orderly meritocracy of the Empire over Yoda's Muppet zen and the bureaucratic arrogance of the Jedi?

(Soundbite of "Star Wars" music)

CHADWICK: Jonathan Last is the online editor of the Weekly Standard.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News and slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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