The Jedi’s philosophy is problematic.
First, they recruit young children (even Anakin in The Phantom Menace was considered too old) and they teach padawans to ‘let go’ of powerful emotions such as hate. It’s agreed upon in fandom that Yoda’s philosophy turned Jedis such as Anakin rogue. There are countless YouTube videos and blog posts that go into depth about why The Jedi failed. And you know what? I agree. The Jedi’s flaws run deep.
Yet the philosophy they work with isn’t based on nothing. Although I disagree with it, The Jedi are working with some logic. In this blog post, I will contrast The Jedi with the Sith. Overall, I hope to investigate philosophy in the Star Wars universe, and what lessons we can use from it in our lives.
Do The Jedi Encourage Students To Repress Their Emotions?
There’s this belief among fans that the Jedi encourage padawans to ‘repress’ their emotions. This stems out of a few scenes: Yoda telling Anakin to ‘let go’ in Revenge of the Sith, and Yoda urging Luke Skywalker to remain in his training on the forest planet.
Yet the crucial scene is in the Phantom Menace, where the Jedi analyse a much younger Anakin. They ‘fear’ him, and base it on his emotional response. During the first prequel movie, we see particular traits in Anakin. He’s impulsive, temperamental, individualistic and caring for others. The Jedi are not a fan of this.
All four traits are tampered as negatives and having received them makes Anakin unsuitable to become a Jedi. However, those traits, in isolation, are neither negative nor positives. It’s possible to have an impulsive streak and use it for good, or for evil.
Anakin himself embodies that. In his battle with Dooku in the Attack of the Clones, he is reckless and strikes without hesitation. This results in him losing his hand. That’s a negative. Yet in the previous movie, his application of his flying skills helps the fight against the Trade Federation. Such nuances do not exist with the Jedi organisation.
Yet here’s the thing. The Jedi are an organisation. They are not saying ‘you are an awful person if you are reckless.’ What they are saying is that ‘you are not fit to be a Jedi if you are reckless.’ That’s different. There’s a difference between acting exclusive and imposing your standards on everyone. The Jedi do the former. Remember: The Jedi only represent a tiny fraction of the population. Not everyone will fit in.
Anakin is powerful in the force and requires guidance from a young age. Yet the Jedi weren’t the right fit for him. That doesn’t make him, or the Jedi, bad. It just means that they don’t fit well together.
Future Star Wars movies could explore Force alternatives outside of the ‘light’ or ‘dark’ binary. The issue isn’t that the Jedi were wrong, and that Anakin was justified. Instead, I’d argue that Anakin was always a bad ‘fit’ for the Jedi.
This issue becomes more complex when you consider that Anakin was a slave and had no life outside of it. If the Jedi refused him, then Palpatine would’ve made his move on Anakin sooner.
Which brings us to…
Are The Sith better?
Whereas the Jedi focus on harmony and peace, the Sith focus on passion. The Extended Universe books (no longer considered canon by Mickey Mouse) featured terrific world building that helped flesh out the nuances between The Jedi and the Sith.
Anakin Skywalker, who goes from a Jedi to a Sith Lord, is told by Palpatine to use his anger and let the hate flow through him. From a distant point of view, this sounds helpful. Learning to deal with your emotions, especially ‘negative’ ones, is an instrumental healing experience.
However, Palpatine doesn’t care about Anakin’s emotional health or wellbeing. When he says to embrace hate, he’s manipulating Anakin to commit monumental acts of evil that will further devastate Anakin’s character.
Although, Palpatine does not represent every Sith Lord. The lore of the Sith goes far back, and it’s inaccurate to assume that the Sith is manipulative. Yet what causes concern is that even if you take Palpatine out of the equation, ‘emotional’ people are still easy to manipulate and control.
Most worrisome is the ‘rule of two’ which signifies one master, and one apprentice. This allowed the Sith to remain underground for ages, but it wasn’t the cause of a healthy relationship. Another problem is that if the Sith remain so secretive and deceptive, then they struggle to be honest with other people, and can’t forge pleasant relationships.
I’m drawn to this quote from the Revenge of the Sith novelisation:
“And you rage and scream and reach through the Force to crush the shadow who has destroyed you, but you are so far less now than what you were, you are more than half machine, you are like a painter gone blind, a composer gone deaf, you can remember where the power was but the power you can touch is only a memory, and so with all your world-destroying fury it is only droids around you that implode, and equipment, and the table on which you were strapped shatters, and in the end, you cannot touch the shadow. In the end you don’t even want to… In the end, the shadow is all you have left. Because the shadow understands you, the shadow forgives you, the shadow gathers you unto itself—And within your furnace heart, you burn in your own flame.”
It’s fine to engage in your emotions and express yourself. Yet if they aren’t controlled or reasoned with, then you end up with Darth Vader. That’s the crux of the Sith. Because of your emotionally fuelled actions, you are deserted from everyone except your master or apprentice. That is far worse than the Jedi, although both approaches are flawed.
Emotions & Philosophy
In this section, I’ll refer to two philosophers, Kant and Hume. Well worth researching about, as they are both fascinating!
I’m studying a moral philosophy unit at university, and just submitted an essay contrasting the views of Immanuel Kant and David Hume on emotions. Both differ in how reason and emotion influence action. One argues that humans can never act from reason, because they are passionate beings. (Hume). The other argues that it’s possible to transcend your emotions and act reasonably .
This reminds me of the Jedi, who believe that they can ‘transcend’ their emotions. A flaw with Kant’s approach is that it’s too optimistic. A vast majority of human beings are too enthusiastic to act on their emotions. One of my favourite literary heroes, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn commented:
“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. It may even lie on the surface; but we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions — especially selfish ones.”
Because of that, it’s tempting to side with David Hume, who argues that humans are passionate beings. From that, The Sith have a point. Humans cannot divorce themselves from their feelings.
However, there is a better way to apply such reasoning to your life. It’s possible to accept your emotional diversity, and not act in unhealthy ways. That’s why the Jedi’s approach to transcending your emotions is appealing, because it gives humanity something to aspire to. Whereas David Hume accepts human nature, Kant is optimistic.
To conclude this point, the Sith and the Jedi contrast each other, like David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Whatever one is more appealing, I’ll leave that up to you.
Liberties Of Fiction
Despite the Jedi and the Sith being ripe with problems, I’m glad they were written that way in the original and prequel trilogy. It added tension and gave rise to rich characterisation. If you are a writer and would like to explore similar topics in your writing, then I’d encourage working with flawed philosophies and approaches. Humans are not perfect, and their beliefs should reflect that.
What Can We Learn?
We should draw on both the Jedi and the Sith for our emotional health. There are strengths and flaws in their arguments. Although I argued that the Jedi’s application is less problematic than the Sith’s, I still find value in the principles of embracing your emotions. However, one must always know potential manipulation, and people who do not have your best interests at heart. Also, focusing only on your emotions and yourself can rise to selfishness.
I appreciate the moral philosophy lessons in Star Wars. They are not perfect, nor should they be. Instead, George Lucas’ approach is realistic. It makes sense that Anakin would be a Sith Lord. That isn’t commentary that ‘The Sith are better.’ Anakin’s fall from grace is Lucas arguing for a better system for emotional health and looking after yourself.
Until people develop that, we’ll never reach a ‘balance’ in the force.
What are your thoughts? Comment below.