The interaction between the Emperor and Luke Skywalker in RotJ always confused me. To me, it just sounded like some irritating insults. The mean kids on the school bus were worse than that. Now, the Emperor and Vader are real threats. So I can understand why Luke would have strong emotions about the situation.But why would the Emperor’s threats/taunts/words push Luke to strike out?
One of the elements of the prequel era that I really like – though have not enjoyed much as it was too muted – was that the Jedi had lost their way philosophically. The Clone Wars (and their build-up) continually pushed the Jedi into a morass of morally ambiguous decisions that over time led them astray and ultimately led to their (and the galaxy’s) downfall. This is really the true genius of the prequel era. (It’s a shame the films didn’t really capture this very well).
But it also begs the question as to the nature of the Dark Side.
I’ve said before in my last post about Dark Disciple, that there’s just something not right about the characterization of the Dark Side. There are several guide posts (that are canon) around the nature of The Dark Side. The first chronological post might be the interaction in Revenge of the Sith between Anakin and Palpatine at the opera house.
We also know how Vader finally got Luke to fight him.
So the overarching theme is that the Dark Side seduces through the promise of power – particularly the power to overcome our darkest fears. The fear of loss, the fear of obscurity, and revenge.
But the Path of the Jedi is one of confronting fears and gaining insight and strength through the Force.
So why would somebody – Anakin, Quinlan Voss, Luke Skywalker – care if someone dies if they believe in the living force? Death is a natural part of life. Why would a Jedi who spent their entire lives training push away attachments and focus on their experience with the Force be tempted by the power to prevent death? Why would you even want such a power?
It seems to me that the essence of being a Jedi is experiencing the force in an active and philosphical manner. It’s not an absolution of tragedy. But, to quote Admiral Spock from Star Trek 6, the Jedi “have faith… that the universe shall unfold as it should.” It’s not clear, then, why these characters would fall to the Dark Side if they really believed in these things.
The Emperor, in particular, is the biggest enigma.
Part of the Dark Side’s fallacy is that the presumed “power” is really an illusion. You never have enough and they only know how to destroy in order to achieve it. The illusion of “unlimited power” ultimately led to The Emperor’s death. But there’s usually some kernel of desire within each of these characters that drives their actions. We don’t really know what that is for The Emperor.
What exactly was the Emperor getting out of being in power, honestly? He’s ugly. He walks around in a black robe. He sits in a throne room all day. He doesn’t get to spend all day at a beach. So what is he getting out of this? Usually “power” refers to fulfilling all of our base desires without the trade-off costs involved. You can have anything you want. So what does the Emperor want? Servants? You don’t need to be a force user to have power. You don’t have to be great at fighting. You don’t have to run the entire government of the galaxy. Frankly, if you’re a good guy, people follow you of their own accord. So why would manipulation really be necessary?
Look, I love Star Wars and none of this is really a big deal for me (it’s make believe – it doesn’t have to make complete sense). But since Star Wars has such well developed characters with interesting textures to them, this type of philosophical dimension should be considered. It’s kind of the point and I think it helps to understand the characters and discern what kind of threat they are.