Wednesday, 4 April 2007

The Jedi Inquisition

Within the Star Wars world, the Jedi are treated as heroes of the Republic. They are portrayed as guardians of a kind of order in the universe, the embodiment of the Light side of the Force. However, with some closer examination, it becomes apparent that the Jedi themselves have a dark side.

Take, for instance, the connection between the Jedi and the Republic itself. It is clear that the Jedi are deeply connected with the Republic. The ideals, statutes and laws of the Republic are not only upheld by standard law enforcement but when the situation becomes too difficult or powerful for such law enforcement, the Jedi are called in. They send a Knight or a Master to deal with the breach.

Now let us put this situation next to the Inquisition from the Middle Ages of Europe. People were ruled by a feudal system that ultimately derived its power from the clergy. Kings could only be appointed by bishops. Bishops could only be appointed by the Pope.
Popes claimed their authority from an elect lineage selected by the Son of God. The entire system of government derived its mandate from divine right. The king is the king because God wills it to be so.

Even more importantly, when there were breaches in the peace, local authorities (lords, knights, princes, etc.) were charged with restoring order in the region. And yet, when more lofty matters (heresy, witchcraft) arose, the response was to send in the Inquisitors. The goal of the Inquisitor was to return people to the good faith, but if the people in their care refused, all authority of the state (the Republic) and the church (the Jedi Order) was granted to deal out punishment, even capital punishment. This authority was completely discretionary. The Inquisitor (Jedi) was judge, jury and executioner; on the spot elimination of the breach to the One True Way.

To paraphrase Monty Python, “Nobody expects the Jedi Inquisition.”

See now the dark story hidden within Star Wars. The Jedi Order, firmly entrenched within the Republic, becomes threatened by - not an army of Dark Jedi - but by two heretics. They send out the Inquisitors to deal with the heresy and are defeated. The tyrannical reign of the Jedi, hiding behind the facade of an ineffectual democracy, is soon exposed as a complacent and oppressive regime. Their chief weapon, the fear they instilled in their opponents, is foiled as soon as others have sufficient power to stand up against them. And then they crumble and are driven into hiding, to be hunted down as heretics by the new regime.

So, the story of Star Wars is not so much connected to the Force as it is connected to the political ebb and flow of two competing religious orders, each seeking to be established within the systems of government. These religious bodies wish to be the violence inherent in the system, the violence that is the guarantor of the political system, each claiming divine right all the way. How different is this to our current understanding of the world? What is this, if not the real reason that the Star Wars story resonates so deeply within all of us? It is the expression of a longing to turn our own moral code into a universal code. It is a story of global conquest; the triumph of divine right over terrorists and heretics.
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