Spike TV recently had a Star Wars marathon, so while moving the remote from baseball and golf to Star Wars, there were some interesting lessons to draw. When one combines episode one through six, the most intriguing character is Darth Vader. From the time he was a little boy and seen as a possible messiah and a fulfillment of a prophecy to the final conclusion, Vader’s character shows the corruption of power.
I think that the final three Chapters of Star Wars were the easier to write and conceive while the first three Chapters told a more complicated story. Vader’s story reflects that complication as his turn to the dark side began when he couldn't prevent the death of his mother in the second chapter and the guilt associated with it. All of this power that Vader was learning as Anakin Skywalker, yet he failed to protect the one closet to him. He seeks the power to protect those closest to him but he finds that the power has a price.
The first three episodes show the dissolution of the Republic into a totalitarian state as each loss of freedom is greeted as needed to preserve the Republic. The classic line is made by Padme as she observes the reaction of the Senate vote to give all power to the Emperor, “It all ends in applauses.”
Vader viewed the chaos around him and sought order; order that the Emperor promised him if he joined the Dark Side. Vader's temptation is that he sought power to control chaos, only he became enslaved to the Emperor’s will. The Dark Side has ensnarled him but it doesn’t stop him from offering Luke at the end of Chapter five the same deal in joining him to overthrow the Emperor and restore order while ending the rebellion. Vader shows us the futility of seeking power to establish order since as Lord Action noted, “Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Luke, the son, is torn being forced to confront Vader, since just a confrontation means one of them will not survive. He too lives under an illusion that he can convert his father and only at the end does he know the price to be paid for just a conversion.
As for the Emperor, he is pure evil and needs to destroy any remnants of the old Republic before setting up his own Empire. He destroyed the Jedi Knights for they were the enforcer of the Republican to ensure justice and he sought to convert Luke to his own evil as he did his father. All that is good must be destroyed, and a semblance of good is like a virus that can challenge evil.
Leia tells Vader in Chapter 4, “More oppressive the Empire becomes, the more star systems will slip away.” An African Historian noted that in the history of pre colonial Africa, the more oppressive an Empire, the quicker it fell. This could be seen in other Empires. Longer lasting Empire allowed semblance of liberty or minimum oppression when contrasted to a shorter longer Empire. The Roman Empire lasted a thousand years, but the Soviet Empire did not last a half century. The Empire in George Lucas's saga lasted maybe forty years, give or take a decade.
In the first three chapters, the Republican collapses due to bureaucratic inertia and corruption. The opening chapter featured a war over trade routes and attempts of a trade federation to take over a peaceful planet for its resources. As the first three chapters move forward, the Emperor instigates a Civil War within the Republic, causing massive upheavals while asking for the power to squelch the rebellion that he started and secretly supports. Hitler and Mussolini used street violence to intimidate opponents while promising voters they will keep the peace they helped instigate and the Emperor does the same thing. With the power of the Jedi destroyed, the Emperor managed to get the Senate to give him ultimate power just as Hitler got his power after he destroyed the Reichstag (while blaming the Communists).
One Star Wars lesson is that a free society can turn into a totalitarian society just as Weimar Republican morphed into Hitler’s Germany and the short lived Russian democracy collapsed into Communism in a period of one year after the fall of the Czar. While critics panned the first three chapters of Star Wars, Lucas did a respectable job of explaining how a Republic ceased to be a Republic. The Republic collapse began when bureaucracy took control and the rule of law became the rule of men with the powerful holding the cards, through force if needed.
Chapter four through six becomes an easier story since it is about freedom fighters attempting to overthrow the Empire to restore the Republic. Luke begins his quest as Jedi Knight as a bored young farm boy who matures as a leader in the final chapter. His own maturation is marked by impatience that nearly derailed him in Chapter five but he chooses freedom and working with the Rebellion when he turned down the power offered by his own father in their first face to face confrontation. Luke learned that power can corrupt as his father showed him and is often reminded of his own vulnerability to the dark side in both Chapter five and six. Just as his father was tempted, so was Luke.
Gurchan Das, the author of India Unbound, noted that Democracy is better served by modest men and woman who understand his or her own limitation. Luke is consistently reminded by his friends and Yoda that modesty is an important quality for a Jedi Knight.
The one quality often overlooked in a candidate for public office is modesty. The more modest a candidate or a public official, the more reliable he will be in supporting limitation on his own power. Just an official knows that his own power is limited to do good but his power for evil can easily be enhanced with results disastrous for the society. There is a difference between the politician who understands that providing healthcare for all may be a wonderful idea but can also bankrupt the country in the process and one is willing to use the power of government to force all to have healthcare for their own good.
The ability of legislators to do good is limited when it comes to economics, but their power to do harm is far greater. Bad policies often produce long term structural damage to society as a whole, whereas a politician can do limited good for a limited group of people without damaging the society as a whole. Das’s point that modesty matters is shown everyday in our own Congress where there are constant proposals to fix every manageable problem. Wisdom is often in short supply among politicians, but a good politician often has wisdom when it comes to policy and its limitation. Wisdom is what turns a politician into a statesman.
The first three chapters of Star Wars show what happens when modesty ceases to be a virtue and the final three chapters show the results when virtue and modesty are replaced by evil. At the final of Chapter Six, the Rebellion succeeded in overturning the Emperor’s rule but what we don’t ever know is if the Rebellion is transferred back to a functioning Republic. While there was supposed to be a chapter seven through nine in which those questions would most likely to answered, it will never be done. And maybe it shouldn’t be. As one critic wrote, this was the story of Anakin and his son, Luke.
We can only guess if Luke maintains his modesty in regard to his power and if his sister Leia rules with the same wisdom and modesty her mother showed in her reign as the Queen of her planet Naboo. We are only left to imagine.