An anarcha-social-materialist’s review of Star Wars Episode VIII

By Catakin P. Parkwalker

The key difference between the Jedi and the Sith is the difference between experiential and authoritarian teaching styles.

The Sith teach through authoritarian obedience, with apprentices unwaveringly obeying the dictates of masters who lie to and manipulate them. Rather than asking questions of those more powerful than them, the Sith either obey an authority unquestioningly or murder and replace it with themselves. It is this type of pattern that replicates empire. It is a pattern that will tempt revolutionaries to merely throw rebellions, a pattern that tempts revolutionaries into directing their energy towards narrow visions that are simply regime changes rather engaging in true revolutionary overhauls to the system. It is because of this that Sith spirituality lends itself so acutely to empire —the building of structures for the sake of replicating a structure, rather than the wellbeing of those interpolated by them.

The Jedi are about learning things organically. They hold on to the names they were given at their births, and their journeys as individuals are woven intricately into their training. Jedi Masters don’t attempt to divert their claim to mastery to some abstract system but rather embody it, meaning at times a Jedi Master’s personal truth and personal experience will, by necessity, cloud their judgment. And the Jedi Masters let their judgement be clouded as such; they let themselves make mistakes because they are letting themselves be specific people with actual specific circumstances that are meaningful to them. They retain their connection to those very personal circumstances, and never, like the Sith, attempt to erase them. And that is why a true Jedi is always ever a revolutionary, without even meaning to be, as their very existence posits itself as a challenge to empire. When a Jedi is turned, something terrible happens to the way they use the force. One might say that they lose themselves to the force, or at least to the social power it grants them, and rather than defending what they love with it, defending what makes them who they are, they find the deployment of the force eclipses them, subverting their subjectivities.

True mastery isn’t about doing things correctly, it is about how you direct your attention. The force might be thought of as a metaphor for many things. Religious Star Wars fans think it is god. I think it is social power — systematized social power in the Foucauldian sense. Star Wars offers a universe in which that Hegelian fantasy is given a more tangible form, with the Jedi and the Sith serving as larger-than-life ideological figures around which the sometimes clownish social structures of daily life in the empire or rebellion form themselves. But yeah, the force isn’t real or you would have noticed it. This isn’t some kind of Kansas City Shuffle. No.

Women have always been in positions of high leadership in the rebellion, even in the original 1977 film in which Leia Organa and Mon Mothma play central roles as decision-makers in the assault on the First Death Star, which might also be thought of as an assault upon that empirical, Platonic impulse best described by T.S. Eliot as “To have squeezed the universe into a ball. To roll it toward some overwhelming question.” Perhaps we all have to blow up our own inner Death Stars sometimes, to destroy those overwhelming ego questions, that, if left unchecked, will destroy the everyday world of eating peaches, of being there for our friends.

It is exciting to see, in the 2017 Star Wars universe, there are more women in all levels of labor in the Rebellion, and to also see a woman on the bridge in a Star Destroyer. Hey, representation goes both ways! And no matter what side you work for, this conflict must belong to all of us, and be accessible to all of us, and so much so the pageant of it. Good versus evil isn’t just a game for white men to play any more, thank goddess. But perhaps as Kylo Ren tempts us to speculate, there is more to “evil” than we, who shun the concept, might give it credit for. As Nietzsche argues in his Genealogy of Morals, evil is a category that can only be perceived by those who experience oppression. To those who are oppressors, there is only “good” and “bad,” which is to say that oppressors don’t see their enemies as evil, just as “scum” to be eliminated. Evil is a mask we put upon those who oppress us so we can hate them as we fight them. But as Ren’s shedding of his mask shows, it is in seeing our oppressors as human that their power over us is made complete, and in its completion, finds itself destroyed. When Ren begs Rey to join him by his side, it is no longer as an oppressor but a frightened creature who, in that fleeting moment before manipulating his way back into the structure of the Empire, is at his most human.

Among the Jedi and their rebel counterparts, individual lives matter. Among the Sith and their imperial counterparts, individuals are killed for failing because their lives don’t matter. To be among the Imperials and the Sith is to have been made into a type of human commodity, into a faceless, interchange thing, and publicly murdering their own who fail is a way of reifying everyone’s interchangeability within the empire, of showcasing to each other the degree to which, within the empire, individual lives don’t matter.

To those of the dark side, only raw power matters. They see the talent rather than the person. They are focused only on properly placing that talent within the pyramid-shaped hierarchy of their organizational structure and have no grasp of what it means to have a personal experience as an individual, which is why they so frequently deface individuals with masks and new names, erasing the individual’s past and future, erasing that person’s journey and any markers that might allow them to construct the narrative of being on a journey, and rather reduce existence to an ever-present state of completing tasks and obeying or destroying your superiors and subordinates. The dark side doesn’t afford its adherents things like sisters, lovers, and comrades. The only antidote for this despair is extreme obedience. Vader knelt before the emperor even as he commanded him to murder is own son, but in a reversal of the ancient story of Abraham, Vader’s unwavering faith in the force-for-the-sake-of-the-force is shattered by the command to end his son’s life and his humanity is restored.

As people on the internet have pointed out, the new film redeems the prequels, as unwatchable as they are, by reframing them as a time in which the Jedi Order became corrupted, with a pseudoscience of “midichlorian counts” overshadowing the spiritual underpinnings of using the force.

To turn someone from the dark side back to the light is to make their life matter again, to give them an identity with relationships and channels of meaning that matter to them and to others.

The rebellion offers no ready-made hierarchy between strategy and feelings, so at times, two groups within the movement find themselves at odds, talking past each other, one group saying “this is how it feels,” the other group saying “this is how it should be done.” This type of social messiness is tied to the basic human expression that they fight to maintain space for.

The Buddha is sometimes credited with saying, “Be your own light,” but to do that means you don’t get to have the sort of easy answers that only others can give. This is why Jedi Masters do not demand that their apprentices obey unwaveringly, but rather, as Master Yoda says to Master Luke after setting fire to the ancient Jedi texts, “We are what they grow beyond, that is the true burden of all masters.”

Master Yoda also tells us that fear is what turns people towards the dark. And this is what we see time and again in the lives of those who succumb to the way of the Sith. Sure, the Jedi also have fear and insecurity — they are plagued by it — but the Jedi manage their fear and insecurity as best they can, sometimes making wild, irrational decisions propelled by it. But the Sith have a very different relationship with fear and insecurity. Rather than managing it daily, they attempt to make it vanish by making themselves so powerful that they no longer have fear and insecurity. In doing so, they erase themselves. Giving in to the dark side is guided by fear — fear that you aren’t enough — leading to the donning of a mask: you become fear itself. This embracing of fear to escape fear — of turning yourself into a thing to be feared as a way to avoid grappling with your own fear — is at the heart of any gesture towards fascism, of any turn towards the dark side, towards the rigid lines of empire and colonialism, it is self-erasure at its deepest form and it is this that guides members of our species towards organized, machine-inspired behavior that destroys all living things.

Like the Sith, the Jedi sometimes do conceal the truth from their apprentices. Old Ben lies to Luke about his father being dead, and Luke conceals the truth about Ben Solo’s turn from Rey. These lies come from the very flawed yet deeply human place of wanting to protect others, and perhaps oneself, from the truth. Does that make these lies any better then the types of lies Sith tell, lies inspired by the desire to increase the power and obedience of the apprentice? In words of moral relativist DJ, “Maybe.”

Luke’s end was so perfect for him. Yoda had long chided Luke for always watching the horizon — never focused on where he is, what he is doing. In his final act, Luke’s not-there-ness achieves perfection. Because Luke was never supposed to be “there” or “here now” or any of that 1970s Ram Dass crap. Luke Skywalker’s job was to be a symbol, to direct people’s attention, to direct it in all the wrong places, or in the right ones, depending on who you are. Yes, Luke Skywalker is a commodity, and what Episode VIII does so well is it acknowledges that. But Luke Skywalker, at least within the story world of the films, is a revolutionary commodity. As Jedi Master Gil Scott-Heron taught us, “The Revolution will not be televised.” But until capital falls as hard as Darth Weinstein did last October, perhaps, for now embodying the revolutionary commodity is the most we can hope to achieve. #OccupytheSpectacle

Even if the police, guided by the lifeless logic of capital, march in and crush our seedlings with their bulldozers, as they did at Occupy the Farm in 2012 and 2013, and even if they fence in People’s Park and harm and murder peaceful protestors as they did in 1969 and the early 1990s, and even if the FBI breaks into the Slingshot loft and steals our computers as they did in 2009 — even as they strike us down in so, so many ways, we only grow stronger. The more they tighten their grip… well, you get the idea.

The rebellion could be wiped off the map — we have been before — but as long children are born who can feel their inherent worth as living beings — and refuse to let anyone convince them otherwise — the struggle will live on.

Water is Sacred.

Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing.

Black Lives Matter.

May the Farm be with you.

May 1000 Parks bloom.

Another collective member’s opinion

Okay so other than being a big goofy metaphor for the “Bernie bros” screwing up the 2016 election through their, uhhhh, “tangential” direct tactics to confront the conditions that empower empire at the codic level, the new Star Wars movie was okay I guess. Worth the torrent. (Wendy)