Popular Culture  •  May 16, 2002

Star Wars Episode II

Star Wars seems to suffer from the same misunderstanding that afflicts Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. Star Wars is a story of Anakin Skywalker, his spiritual quest and transformation, told in a form of science fiction. Dostoevsky explored the same theme in a form of crime/suspense fiction. Somehow many viewers and readers fail to see this central theme of their work.

Most of the criticisms and reviews I read and heard of the new episode of Star Wars, “Attack of the Clones”, were concerned solely with the small pictures, and entirely missed the big picture. Their complaints are centered around how bad it was as an action/adventure, science fiction movie, similar in nature to the criticism made commonly for “Crime and Punishment.” Many readers see Dostoevsky’s masterpiece as a mere crime/suspense novel. As far as crime novels are concerned, I have certainly read a few that were much craftier than “Crime and Punishment.” Dostoevsky did not set out to write the best crime novel in history, but he certainly did write one of the best novels concerning spiritual transformation of a man. The aim of the Star Wars saga is the same. Perhaps, it is not the best science fiction movie ever made. As far as I’m concerned, it makes no difference if it is the worst. The fact that it is a science fiction, action/adventure movie is merely incidental to me. In fact, I’m not a science fiction or crime/suspense reader at all. I can count how many books of these genres I’ve read in my life with my fingers. Science fiction is merely a style Lucas employed a device; it is not the point of it.

Many see the whole saga to be about good versus evil, the Rebels versus the Empire, in the same vein as the Western movies. This view is misguided as well. Throughout the saga, we observe the spiritual battle between good and evil within Anakin. It illustrates how good and evil manifest within us all. What is going on politically between the Empire and the Rebels/the Republic is only a backdrop used as a device to bring out what is going on within Anakin Skywalker. Neither side was designed to represent the absolute good or evil. What goes on between the Republic and the Empire is politics as usual. It reminds me of how Wittgenstein fought in the First World War; he didn’t care about what cause he was fighting for. He simply used it as a convenient testing ground for his spiritual quest. Perhaps the most important message of Star Wars is our acceptance of ourselves as a composite of good and evil, never to see ourselves as being only on one side or the other.

When Episode I was released, I’ve read and heard many fans complain about the midi-chlorians, the chemical one must possess to be a Jedi. They were bothered by the fact that it was a matter of genetics, not of perseverance, that made you a Jedi. I actually felt that it was essential to the story that it was something you were born with. This aspect of the story plays a critical role in the new episode. The most significant message of Episode II is the temptation of power derived by innate talent. For Anakin, it is extremely tempting to use his abilities to his own advantage; abuse it, show it off, gain power, control and manipulate others, etc.. We are all born with certain talents and gifts whether beauty, intelligence, physical strength, artistic talent, or charm. Many of us abuse them; use them to condescend on others, to feel better about ourselves. Many judge others based solely on these gifts, snob those who are less talented or gifted. We are all guilty of this to a degree. It’s easy to give in to the dark side. In a way, what you are born with is never truly yours. (This relates to my past analysis on the mathematician, John Nash; his gift versus who he is.) In fact, the most hated Star Wars character, Jar-Jar Binks, plays a crucial role in this. Jar-Jar is obviously not talented or gifted. He is clumsy and awkward, but both Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi do not judge him on his abilities, but on his heart; a significant contrast when compared with Darth Vader whose judgment of others is based solely on competence, intelligence, and other such innate traits. As a viewer, your inability to accept Jar-Jar Binks is indicative of which side you are on.

Is “Attack of the Clones” a great movie in itself? In my opinion, this question does not make much sense. Star Wars is a story with six chapters. For me, it is either you like the whole Star Wars saga, or you don’t. It does not make sense that one chapter of the saga be great and another be terrible. Everything that happens in Star Wars is part of the whole saga that makes no sense taken out of context. Episode II does a great job of strengthening the central message. It added deeper meanings to the previous episodes. I’m definitely going to see it again.