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Sith Happens

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Alienware High-Performance Systems

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: George Lucas is a US national treasure. He may be the only one we’ve got left. If I should indulge in some mild carping or nitpicking about the final film in the six-part Star Wars epic cycle, I want it kept in context.

OK, let’s get the carping out of the way so that we can get to the good stuff. I saw Star Wars, Episode III— Revenge of the Sith last weekend, and I found it disappointing in a few ways. Compared to the original Star Wars, which hit the theaters in 1977, much of the humor, which has become a permanent part of the cultural heritage of the US (planet Earth?), was not there. Although the alien phenotypes from the original Cantina (Bar Scene) were present as a sort of manifesto of galactic multiculturalism, there was no scene in Sith with the ironic impact of the Cantina from the first film. And, of course, there was no Jabba the Hutt, nor even Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. R2D2 and C3PO were there, with pathetic cameo roles.

The other nit I choose to pick is that the pacing of the special effects was relentless: think of a fireworks display that is all finale. (OK—that was the Meaning of Life part of today’s message).

I have read other reviews which carped about the dialog or the goofiness of proper names, but I see that as irrelevant: sort of like complaining that Sophocles’ Oedipus The King lacked a good car chase.

The thing about Star Wars is that it is a true epic cycle. It is a reworking of ageless myths going back to prehistory, but with an American spin. I chose a few of the mythic themes for the entertainment of Coffeeblog readers.

I will start with my old pal Otto Rank, the Viennese psychoanalyst, who wrote a book, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, which summarized the lives of many cultural heroes including Oedipus, Moses, Romulus, and King Arthur. Rank’s own life had mythic overtones: if the Freudian circle of 1920’s Vienna were the Jedi Knights, then Rank was the original Darth Vader. (Although frankly nobody could mess with the Dark Side of the Force like Carl Gustav Jung. But I digress.)

The framework of the Sith episode was right out of the Rank heroes’ playbook. The hero in this case is Luke Skywalker, who was born to high-ranking parents, exiled as an infant to a wild place in the care of humble people, and who ultimately ends up killing his father.

The central myth of the Star Wars cycle, and this final episode in particular was the clash between Good and Evil, the forces of Light and Darkness (any Zoroastrians in the audience?), and particularly the theme of the Evil Empire. The Sith Lords were the bad guys in the film, the Jedi Knights the good. The central character, Anakin Skywalker, beset by Hamlet-style doubts, premonitions of his wife’s death, as evil a dose of “moral equivalence” propaganda as you will ever hear outside of a “soft money” political ad, and a higher endowment of power-lust than he could handle, ended up sliding down the slippery slope, figuratively and (in the film) literally.

But wait a minute! Aren’t we Americans (and of course the world-wide fans of Star Wars, who are perhaps a little more American than they want to be) too sophisticated to buy into the Evil Empire myth? We can see shades of gray, we can interpret the nuances; are we not postmodernists?

So I leave you with this question: did you or will you get a chance to vote in the last US election, or the elections in the UK, Ukraine, Iraq, Germany, Palestine, the French EU referendum, the Israeli Gaza referendum, the Netherlands referendum and so forth? (Or perhaps you were a Cardinal who got to vote for the new Pope?) If so, did you (or will you) walk into the polls knowing damn well who are the Sith Lords? And if so, didn’t you (won’t you) try to make damn sure that they wouldn’t be voted into power?

OK, maybe you didn’t. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve been drinking too much coffee lately.—JDL

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About curiousyellow

  • Eric Olsen

    very nice job and interesting thoughts, Jonathan, thanks and welcome!

  • Eric Berlin

    To me, one of the reasons why Sith approaches the greatness of the original three films is because it brings back a great deal of the humor and loose feel that is largely absent in the stiff, exposition-heavy I and II.

  • E. James Lieberman

    Thanks for this myth-clarifying post. Alan Dundes passed away earlier this year, sad to say. Otto Rank’s “Myth of the Birth of the Hero” lives on, appearing now in its full blossom (2nd ed., 1922 expanded from 1st ed. 1909), first English ed. 2004, Johns Hopkins U. Press. More info at

  • Jonathan David Leavitt

    The Force is with us! That comment is not from any old E. James Lieberman but the E. James Lieberman who wrote the definitive biography of Otto Rank, one of my reference books. Pleased to meet you, Dr. Lieberman!