Star Wars III: A Philosophical Caveat (rant) and (mini) Review
But before I get to that, I can’t resist going back on my word (a little) and sneaking in a (mini) review. I thought that Episode III was very satisfying, both as a stand-alone movie and as the final Star Wars movie—it fit all the pieces into place, it delivered breathtaking action, it told a good story, it drummed up nostalgia, and it did all of this while maintaining that Star Wars feel. Like many others, I have fond memories of seeing The Empire Strikes Back, my first SW experience, and Episode III, for me, brought things full circle as it was supposed to. And, just as a final SW dork/fan-boy note to this (mini) review, I gotta say that the part where Yoda comes in and force brushes the Imperial Guards aside was so sweet. Even sweeter than seeing Chewbacca. Maybe even sweeter than that final shot of baby Luke on Tatooine, mimicking that first shot of teenage Luke in A New Hope—all of which was pretty sweet.
Now for the real point. Star Wars has always, in some circles, been talked about for its supposed smuggling of religious/philosophical ideas into its story and dialogue. The Force, for example, has at various times been seen as advocacy of some kind of pantheism, or Taoism, or new age beliefs, etc. Then, when the idea of the midi-chlorians was introduced, the Force was demystified and made more scientific—perhaps evolutionary. Episode III continues this tradition of Star Wars movies being about more than just light sabers and Ewoks.
But in this particular movie, more than in any of the others, I think a clear contradiction can be seen within what appears to be one of Lucas’ pet beliefs—relativism. If you go back and watch the older movies, hints of relativism can be found all around. Luke is once told (in Return of the Jedi) that truth depends on a person’s point-of-view. Numerous characters are repeatedly reminded to trust their feelings, their hearts. Now, some of this makes sense and is healthy, but the problem comes when relativism is posited absolutely. It’s an oxymoron, I know . . . but that’s the point.
In Episode III, when Anakin is ranting to Obi-Wan in preparation for their climactic fight, Obi-Wan comments that “only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes.” Everything, in other words, is relative. There is no absolute truth. It all depends on your point-of-view. Your feelings. Your heart. But then, not ten minutes later, when Anakin says that the Jedi are evil from his point-of-view, Obi-Wan responds with, “Well, then you are lost.” He doesn’t say, “Oh, okay—all truth is relative.” He doesn’t say, “Well, your opinion is as good as mine.” He doesn’t say, “No absolutes!” No. He instead affirms that some opinions are false, and that some false opinions can even cause a person to be “lost.” Well, the obvious question is: which way does Star Wars want it? Is there absolute truth, or not? Does all truth depend on point-of-view, or can I be “lost” if my point-of-view happens to be incorrect? Colloquially speaking, Lucas can’t have his cake and eat it too.
My personal opinion is that deep down, underneath the posturing, Lucas and whoever else is responsible for these bits of philosophizing knows that some things are really true, and some things are really false. As much as opinions and points-of-view matter, there is still good and evil, there are still heroes and villains, there is still the light and the dark side of the Force. Anakin still needs redeeming and the Emperor still needs to get his. This is just the way it is. The person who says, “There is no absolute truth,” is making an absolute truth claim. This is just the way it is. The person who says, “Everything is relative,” is supposedly saying something that isn’t relative. Relativism doesn’t work. This is just the way it is.
In the end, this all matters for a few reasons. First, a disturbing number of people, according to various surveys, agrees with the idea that there is no absolute truth. Second, this popular belief has become popular partly because of the influence of movies, music, etc.—culture in general. Star Wars, obviously, is a very weighty part of pop culture. Finally, pure relativism is spiritually dangerous. From a Christian viewpoint, there are some things that are non-negotiably true, and some that are non-negotiably false. From a Christian viewpoint, it is vitally important that people put their trust in the truth of the gospel. Popular relativism, of course, does not help this situation.
So, that’s my rant. Relativism just can’t be true. It doesn’t work philosophically, it doesn’t work practically, and as Episode III makes clear, it doesn’t work artistically. If “only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes,” then we’re all Sith Lords, even if we don’t know it. This is just the way it is.