Thursday, May 26, 2005

Jedi Types

I’ve taken up a renewed interest in things Jedi in the past month, for obvious reasons. But I always found the notion of a group or people dedicated to the advancement of justice and truth, to be a worthy goal. After all, I always wondered why, since the Boy and Girl Scouts were such great organizations, why there wasn’t an adult component. I don’t mean campouts and funny uniforms, but a dedication to the more noble pursuits. And that leads me to the Jedi. No, not movie marathons, dreaming of magic powers or funny uniforms, but again a serious study and pursuit of ideals worth the effort.

One nice thing about the 21st Century (AD), is Search Engines. I just Googled “Jedi” and found myself in a treasure trove of information, some of it useless and vapid, but some of it well worth the visit. I have focused on for now, in part because it has a lot of information made easily accessible, in part because it’s free to all seekers, and in part because it’s a very serious study of what they call “Jedi Realism”. That is, they strip away the silliness and the special effects, to get to the heart of what the Jedi are as a philosophy and discipline. And these guys have worked out a functional system worth examination. No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to claim my faith is now Jedi, or that I plan to open up a shop of movie memorabilia. What I am going to do, though, is look for new perspectives from the “Jedi” point of view, and post on it if I find something worth noting. Such a thought came to me today.

Most people don’t think about Jedi, and the ones who do generally form a single opinion of them and hold that in their mind with the mental label ‘Jedi’. But even the Star Wars films showed a number of schools of Jedi thought and action and belief. I’m leaving out what I consider Jedi “bit” parts, because cameo appearances can’t really provide insight in the beliefs and doctrines of a person. That leaves us, however, with valid examples in Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Anikin Skywalker/Darth Vader, the Emperor and Count Dooku, Darth Maul, and of course Luke Skywalker (Film titles are abbreviated to acronyms in this article).

I start with Obi-Wan Kenobi, because he shows up the most. Pretty neat trick, to get killed in the first movie, yet show up in all six anyway. Obi-Wan, if you recall the films, was hanging out in the desert on Tattooine, but as soon as Luke showed up and the hologram played, OWK was at full speed immediately. He was conversant with desert customs, yet equally at home on a starship, very much the Renaissance Man in Space. OWK worked alone comfortably, yet was not antisocial or disgruntled. The audience is left with the impression that Obi-Wan was a pretty regular guy for a Jedi, although he had Yoda’s favor (Dooku said so when they clashed in AOTC), yet I find it reasonable to consider Obi-Wan one of the greatest; his disappearing trick when Vader strikes him in ANH is a feat no other Jedi manages, even Yoda. Further, OWK displays a constant balance of mood that is the perfect example of Jedi serenity and peace, and his humble demeanor serves him well throughout. Also, OWK is knowledgeable and full of life, containing the four Jedi aspirations in his work, words, and apparent thoughts.

Next up is Yoda. If you want to realize the impact of Yoda, realize that millions of adults sat and listened to a green muppet, taking him seriously. Not just once, but regularly and as a sage character of wisdom and insight. That’s powerful stuff. The reason it’s so powerful, is because Yoda spoke from basic truths. Like OWK, Yoda is very much alive and in tune with Nature, he is serene, he is knowledgeable and wise, and he is humble, willing to act silly in order to discover Luke’s intentions in TESB. The deference given to Yoda by other Jedi in TPM, AOTC, and ROTS is not always compelling, although I found it a good touch that Yoda never once demanded deference, or appeared to have any sort of arrogance of selfish pride. Between OWN and Yoda, a template of the ideal Master/Apprentice relationship was presented. Both functional and worthy of their own respect, but at the same time unique individuals and yet communicating and working together to a common purpose.

Next up is Anikin Skywalker, who became Darth Vader. While Vader’s character was good drama for the movie series, it was significant to me to see what Anikin lost when he became Darth. When you take away the cool black outfit with personal intimidation package, and he’s not terrifying/killing flunkies, Darth really accomplishes very little. In ANH, his battle station gets destroyed. In TESB, he accidentally cuts off his son’s hand while unsuccessfully trying to recruit him. He also loses custody of the rebels he was pursuing, as well as his (unknown to him) own daughter. In ROTJ, he gets another battle station destroyed, kills the Emperor which gets him killed in the process (which is kind of a bad thing, realizing at the end of your life that you made the worst possible career choice, and the best you can do is destroy everything you worked to build). Not a hit parade, that. In the course of the films, he loses his innocence, his family, his love, his ideals, his way, and his life.

Then we have the Emperor and Count Dooku. These two are sort of a set, because what we see in both their cases, is that they start on a path to true discovery and growth, and are detoured by ambition and arrogance. In the end, their own flaws destroy them, and they end up dead and dishonored. The way that seems most powerful is nothing more than a petty excuse for quitting and throwing away potential.

A more active version of that futility can be seen in Darth Maul. Like the Emperor and Dooku, Maul gives up everything worth having in the pursuit of pure power, in his case a fanatic devotion to a perversion of the Jedi Code, one which makes him formidable, enough to take on 2 Jedi at once and overpower them, but which destroys him on his first mistake.

And that leaves us with Luke Skywalker. Luke grows from a boy with potential, to a true Jedi Knight, worthy not only to defeat the Emperor and redeem his father’s soul, but to recreate the Jedi Order. He does this by learning the Jedi Creed, very much the hard way: The only parents he knows are murdered, then his mentor and closest friends are killed or captured, and then Luke discovers that his father is the evil force behind all his trouble. Worse, Luke learns from Yoda that the path he would most like to take, to directly fight against this evil, would only lead to him becoming evil himself. So, even after hard training physically and mentally, Luke realizes he must face and master himself, before he can confront his father and accomplish his identity and ideals, even at great personal cost. Yet in the end, Luke has everything he truly desires; he has family in his sister and in the knowledge that his father, his mentor, and his teacher are one with the Force; he has friends and honor, and he knows that he is truly Jedi.

So in looking at these people, we see the dutiful balance of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wisdom and serenity of Yoda, the impulsiveness of Anikin, the lust for power in the Emperor and Dooku, the battle rage of Maul, and the growth and earnest faith of Luke. There are worthwhile lessons in each of them, whether of not you want to consider the Jedi aspect of their characters.

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