The Corner

In the Battle of Jedi Versus Sith, I’ll Take the Sith Every Time

Jim, I deeply appreciate your attempt at a revisionist history of the Galactic Empire, but I fear that you’re missing the forest for the trees. The central conflict of the entire Star Wars universe isn’t rebellion versus empire, but rather Jedi versus Sith. And while the Galactic Empire was but one expression of Sith rule, I think it’s fair to say that the Jedi Order as portrayed in the prequels represents the fullness of Jedi ideology. And it’s not pretty.

The Jedi — as portrayed in the movies and in many of the books of the expanded universe — are basically the lightsaber-wielding jihadists of an intergalactic bureaucratic caliphate. The Galactic Republic is the Hotel California of interstellar governance. You can check out, but you can never leave — at least not if you want to keep your head on your shoulders. And the Jedi commitment to exterminating – yes, exterminating — the Sith is total. Notice how quickly the Jedi turned to summary execution when Palpatine was at their mercy. It was that lawless act that pushed Anakin Skywalker to revolt. 

(Oh, and spare me any rhetoric about “younglings” — what a sympathetic way to describe the Jedi’s child soldiers.)

The Sith, by contrast, are defined not by a system of government but rather by their struggle for individual liberty — a struggle against centuries of Jedi oppression. Consider the Sith Code:

Peace is a lie.

There is only passion.

Through passion, I gain strength.

Through strength, I gain power.

Through power, I gain victory.

Through victory, my chains are broken.

The Force shall free me.

Nowhere does the Code define a Sith system of governance or a Sith philosophy of self-determination. It defines a struggle, not an outcome. Thus, the Palapatine/Vader imperial model has no precedential value for any follow-on Sith lord. Each can chart his own path, including by implementing true self-determination to the galaxy. The Jedi, on the other hand, define themselves by reference to the Republic and by their single-minded quest to annhilate their ideological opponents. 

Moreover, their model of religious asceticism represents not self-denial but rather the worst form of religious fanaticism. Stripped of any true ability to enjoy life, they take pleasure in but one thing — hunting the Sith to extinction. Thus, they are violently intolerant of the Sith and violently protective of the Republic (seen as a bulwark against Sith power), yet curiously accepting of multiple forms of obvious injustice within the Republic — including of slavery and violent smuggling rings. 

It was quite rich indeed to watch Obi-Wan Kenobi self-righteously declare to Anakin that “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” In the world of science fiction, there are few more concrete examples of moral certainty and oppression in the name of that certainty than the Jedi Order. And that’s why — for lovers of liberty — the two most satisfying films of the six were Revenge of the Sith and Empire Strikes Back. At least in those films, the filthy Jedi didn’t win.

(What’s that? You say I take Star Wars too seriously? Surely you jest. Now, if you don’t mind I’m going to pick up my Darth Vader replica lightsaber and give it a few practice swings. I’ve got to be ready for the new film — opening night is less than two months away!)

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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