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No, I don't buy it

fmitchell

Frank Mitchell
OK, I have a confession to make. I really don't care about Star Wars.

What made this article interesting to me was its exploration of The Paladin Problem. In D&D, Star Wars, and a few other games, you have these characters that are Paragons of Good. But what does that mean? Are they good by definition? What sort of moral code should they abide by? Can a human being abide by it at all?

Political polemics aside, the notion of Always Lawful Good, for undefined values of "lawful" and "good", is on its face ridiculous. It was ridiculous during the Crusades, it was ridiculous when D&D introduced alignment and Paladins, and it's ridiculous now. If you want to throw out the whole concept, fine.

Yet even in "real life" there are people who try to lead lives of virtue, to make the world a better place. If you gave them extraordinary power, would they make the world a far better place, or would they succumb to the temptations of power? Would their human "weaknesses" -- passions, dogmas, egos -- get in the way, or could they clear their minds and work unselfishly toward the common good? Is there even a common good, or is there merely moving evil from here to over there?

To me, that's what makes the concept of Jedi, Sith, and the Force interesting. I'd never run a Star Wars game, and I doubt I'd even play in one unless I trusted the GM. But I'm intrigued by the notion of a quasi-religious order that truly improved their world instead of merely enforcing dogmas, whose self-imposed limits had a practical purpose, whose philosophy made sense among recognizably human beings.
 

Akyna

The Gray Witch of Bellmaw
The problem isn't Star Wars. The problem is trying to convert Star Wars into a hard and fast game mechanic. Star Wars is modern myth. It makes no more or less logical sense than Athena turning Arachne into a spider. But you're not suppose to be looking for logic. Myth means looking beyond the facts for truths. And this sort of thinking is contrary to trying to run a game for a system that wants to pidgeon-hole everything into alignments. Even though Star Wars doesn't use the traditional alignment matrix of normal D&D, it still suffers from the same mentality.

I wish my boyfriend would answer his cell phone. He's the SW guru in our house. The whole light side/dark side thing is actually addressed in several of the books after Luke reestablishes the Jedi Order. There is an offshoot that leaves the Order and teaches a more "middle of the road" approach where it isn't about denying traditionally "dark side" emotions, but rather learning to control and learn from them. Ultimately, Anikin's problem was an anger-management issue. Instead of addressing his anger and learning to deal with it, those around him told him to deny it and bottle it up. But the books for all time periods have always addressed these issues, even if Lucas dropped the ball in the movies.

Honestly, looking at the whole history of religion, I don't see why it seems odd that the Jedi are so closely tied to the Republic. The Catholic Church for centuries had its fingers in the governments of Europe, and even had a hand in putting Kings on their thrones. "Moral authority" always feels obligated to dictate/control/and guide governmental authority.
 
Well, in supers comics and games you face exactly the same question: Why isn't Superman the master of Earth? Why doesn't him use his powers to solve all problems in fractions of second? Or the X-men? Or Spiderman? The answer is simple: They don't do it because they don't. There's no way to rationalize an explanation because there's no possible rational answer to that question. Superhumans (and the Jedi are just superhumans in space) don't take power in pulp or comics for a very simple meta-setting question: That's a less interesting scenario to make. It is devoid of drama, action, and conflict. That's all.

But that's not a problem with the Star Wars universe. That's a problem with the Star Wars game. It's a similar issue to the endlessly discussed alignment system in D&D, and there's just no way to make it work - unless one accepts the core premise that whoever is in the good side is good, no matter what the character does. If you don't accept this premise you will never be able to solve the contradictions between pre-defined moral stats and character behavior. It's better to just ditch the whole dark side points.

Well, as you said you see "the basic philosophy as a sort of bastardized samurai Zen Buddhism, with non-denominational Western morality wedged in". That's not the only aspect of the Star Wars universe that's heavily inspired by real world elements. Actually for my European eyes the Star Wars universe is just the US of America in Space (Opera). The first movie places this very clearly by having the good Americans fighting the bad Nazis (with shades of Soviets), aesthetics included. That's the reason why the Jedi fight for a Republic and for democracy, because they are Americans in Space (TM), thus it's usless to try to find a more philosophicaly profound reason, that's how one can "attempt to reconcile the morality of the movies with something approximating the real world".

Do they? All you need to remember is that Star Wars is USA in Space and it starts to sound a little less puerile or inconsistent, for a very simple reason: The way the US sees its place in the world and the way it deals with anything outside its borders is as puerile as the fight of good vs. evil in Star Wars.

Try "those who aren't with us are against us", George Bush style not that long ago.

And that's probably the only way to deal with the moral, ethical, political and social issues raised by the Star Wars universe. Just consider that it is the USA in Space and handle these issues in true American way. Start with, "whe are right and whoever does not agree with us is wrong". Next include all types of righteous groups, each one fighting is own pet war based on absolutist moral standards; and voilà, there's your consistent moral system for Star Wars.

(Note: What I wrote is not an attack on the USA and should not be read as such.)
I agree 100%.

I think what needs to be determined is that we should be talking about 2 different things here.

1) Good vs. Evil/black vs. white and its role is Star Wars.

2) The Force and its role in Star Wars.

While they both influence each other they are different enough that I think folks are getting them mixed up in this discussion. I think we should also keep the argument to the movies just so we are all clear and on the same page.

I think smascrns statement above sums up the good vs. evil issue fairly well.

However, lets explore the question; why don't the Jedi take over and rule the galaxy? After all they should be able to do a good job of it since they have negotiated peace on behalf of the republic for a thousand years prior right? I would say their resume looks pretty good for ruling the galaxy. There really isn't anything stopping them (if you take the Sith out of the equation). So have the Jedi rule the galaxy. Hmm, what would you get? Well, from the movies you would get a ruling body of snotty elitist "wizards" passing judgment on the entire galaxy. Of course thats how I view the Jedi council in the prequel trilogy your view may differ. I am sure having them for a government would not sit will with the public let alone any senators who are fearful that the jedi might use their mind tricks on them to get what they want.

Whoops. Out of time. Back to work. to be continued...
 

Lord Crimson

Prophet of Darkness
Validated User
One of the things I'm kind of surprised that no one ever really considers with the SW universe is that "The Force" is really Taoism's "the Way." Sure it's a pop-cultural two-fisted pulp version of Taoism, but it's clearly the inspiration and guiding example. Yet every one keeps trying to cram "The Force" into this western religious worldview of right vs. wrong and punishing the wicked as opposed to the Taoist religious worldview of avoiding extremism and working with the Force/Way for the betterment of all (or, at least, "good, honest folk").

It's not that the Light Side is on the right while the Dark Side is on the left; it's not that kind of opposition. It's moderation of spirit and reasonable action (what some call a "Middle Road" world view) as opposed to extreme emotion and extreme reaction. So when it comes to the Jedi and the Force, "GOOD" is moderation and reason. "BAD" is extremism.

The examples we have in the movies, specifically, imply that action motivated by extreme emotions are "of the Dark Side." Hate, Fear, Anger. These emotions result invariably in extreme reactions. The reason certain powers (specifically all Sith powers) are purely "Dark Side" is that they can only be used by tapping those extremes. Sure the extreme emotions give you a boost... On the other hand, you fall into a never ending cycle of extremism because it makes you powerful. It also lays waste to your body, but hey, no one said great power didn't come with great sacrifices, right? (Only that justification is, itself, a Dark Side justification).

"Be mindful of your feelings, my padawan" is what Obi-Wan constantly warns his apprentice. Not "don't feel" but "don't act", at least when it comes to those negative emotions.

Anakin's problem is that he is NEVER mindful of his feelings. He ONLY acts from extremes of emotion. Fear of losing his lover. Hatred over the death of his mother. Anger over being "held back"/hurt pride.

The intention is for the Jedi to always act in a middle-road fashion, to never fall prey to extremism. They can FEEL Hate, Anger, Fear, but they must not allow those feelings to influence their actions and decisions. They must not let feeling become OBSESSION. They can also FEEL Love, but allowing fear or anger over losing that love or hatred for those who take it from you to motivate your actions... That is the Dark Side (and why the Jedi bar their membership from Love, because that emotion leads too easily into the trap of the DS emotions... Honestly, someone kills YOUR S.O., even accidentally, how are you going to react? Probably in a way motivated by Anger and Hatred). Motivation is very important (Are you killing that Imperial because he shot your best friend? Or because he's a continuing threat to "good, honest folk"?), but so is the extremity of the action you choose to take (Why did you kill that Imperial when you could have just taken him prisoner? Why did you Force Choke him into unconsciousness when you could have just pulled Force TK'd his blaster out of his hand?)... And even the "good guys" occasionally choose the less Light Side choice (their only human... or alien... which is why PCs get a range of 6 Dark Side points to move back and forth along the scale).

Now, I don't particularly care for the prequels. But in maintaining THIS view of the Force they are NOT contradicting the original trilogy (at least as far as pulp space adventure is concerned).

Now, the beauty of the SW Universe is that we get to handwave a lot of the philosophy of it BECAUSE it's pulpy space opera. I mean, we're still getting the cut-and-dried line of Light vs. Dark. But how extreme is Dark Side extreme?

The Empire and anyone willingly a part of it is, by its very definition, the "bad guy." They are constantly acting in extremes. Their every reaction is one of violence and intimidation. No diplomacy. No conversation. No moderation.

And because it's pulpy space opera goodness, there are certain actions/abilities that are objectively "of the Dark Side." Ruthless mind control (as opposed to the occasional Jedi Mind Trick). Killing "innocents" (as opposed to killing bad guys/threats). Using Force Lightning or Force Choke (as opposed to most other Force powers).

It also allows the GM and his players to DECIDE how important or strict the Middle Road morality of the Jedi is integral to their game. In my games, Force Choke and Force Lightning = Dark Side stuff no matter what. Rebel suicide bombers would be Dark Side characters. Blowing up planets is always bad. Using Force Points to up damage AT ALL gives you a DS point, but using a Force Point to shoot the blaster from the guy's hand or disable his engines does not.

But maybe in your game, you decide you want more grey. Maybe Force Lightning ISN'T purely from the Dark Side. Maybe Luke got a DS point for blowing up the Death Star. That's up to you and your players... though if you or your players want it to fit with the movies, you're going to have to grant some leeway or explain to your players that this ISN'T the Star Wars they may be expecting.

Take it for what you will.
 

Lemony_Fresh

Retired User
Wasn't the line from the movie "Only a sith 'deals' in absolutes"?

Anyway, I always thought of the dark side as a corrupting influence, that once you start falling into its power you can't really escape it. That it basically sucks you in and twists you to its will until you are nothing but a pawn of whatever its greater plan may be.
 

simontmn

Registered User
Validated User
Re: Yes, I do buy it

As for "only a Sith deals in absolutes", the strangely absolutist and demonstrably false statement from Obi-Wan: the preceding line was Anakin's "If you're not with me, you're my enemy."
That was George Lucas making an amusing dig at GW Bush, not the basis for a philosophy! :eek:
 

GM Radio Rob

Voice for radio, face for GMing!
Validated User
Not only that, but Force Grip/Force Choke was usually listed as a Dark Side power even though it was the very first technique we see Luke using once he becomes a Jedi Knight in Return of the Jedi. (I'm always amazed that nobody points this out in arguments about Force Grip. If you can't recall, it's when he's entering Jabba's palace and chokes a guard to make him get out of the way.)
Belac, didn't it disturb you that the first thing we see Luke do when he walks on set in Return of the Jedi is use the same trick Darth Vader uses on the Imperial admiral in A New Hope? I mean, think about that whole film - it's not until right at the end, after throttling the Gamorreans, after telling Jabba the Hutt that not bargaining with him was "the last mistake you'll ever make", after nearly killing not only the Emperor but also his own father in fits of fury, that Luke starts atoning for the Dark Side Points he's been steadily earning. As Yoda said, he wasn't a Jedi until he confronted Vader - when he finally let go his anger.

It's interesting to note, though, that Force Grip isn't a Dark Side power in Saga Edition, although the description of its use seems very Dark Side.
 

GM Radio Rob

Voice for radio, face for GMing!
Validated User
Hi, Lord Crimson. I liked your post about the Way and how the Force is a pulp-tale version of it. However, I think that, perhaps, there's something that maybe you and Thomas Kolar missed in your examinations of the films.

Now, I'm assuming that you're much more of an expert on the Way than I am - I've never done any study into Taoism or the Way, so I'll be going by your post alone here. You write that the Way encourages "moderation of spirit and reasonable action (what some call a "Middle Road" world view) as opposed to extreme emotion and extreme reaction". You then discuss how Anakin doesn't take the middle road, responding to his emotions instead of being aware of them and seeking a "better" path. That I'm cool with, and it does sum up the character as both Anakin and Vader. I also agree with your assessment on the dark side and the awarding of Dark Side Points.

My response is more to what you wrote about the Jedi's "Middle Road morality". Again, you may be using the term "Middle Road" as informed by your understanding of Taoism, and as I don't share it I may be missing what you're getting at. But to me, the Jedi Order of the prequels doesn't occupy a middle road either. They've tried so hard to avoid falling to the dark side that they've swung straight past the point of balance - the middle road, to my mind - and on to the other end of the scale: abstinence.

In his article, Kolar wrote "We all know ... the Jedi are good." Actually, I think the prequel movies showed us that what "we all know" about the Jedi Knights has as much chance of being correct as all the rest of the "everybody knows..." statements that people make every day. Sure, they were even better sword-swinging badasses than we imagined (especially with Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu), but the movies also showed us that their self-imposed abstinence had as much part in the fall of the Order and the Republic as the corruption of the Senate.

The Jedi judged the danger of any sincere human (or whichever Star Wars species you prefer) attachment leading to the dark side so great that they encouraged families to give their Force-sensitive children over to the Order forever and trained those children to abstain from any further contract with their own kin in case they were corrupted. And when presented with a human being with an honest-to-Force human problem - twice - the best the head of the Order had to offer was "fear is the path to the Dark Side" and "Attachment leads to jealousy... let go of everything you fear to lose." Mace Windu knows he doesn't trust Anakin but doesn't do anything about it, and even Anakin's best friend Obi-Wan has no clue how to deal with his friend's visions of his mother - allowing Palpatine, the only person who demonstrates some empathy and understanding of the human condition, to play him like a Stradivarius.

You may say that the Jedi had the right of it - but if they did, I think Return of the Jedi would have ended with Luke saying, "Well, my work here is done, now I must leave you all to re-found the Jedi Order at a distant monastery." Instead, the very last shot of the film is of Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, Chewie, Threepio and Artoo in celebration - together. To me, accepting both the strength and weakness that attachment can bring - in a word, I suppose, family (and as Luke demonstrated, friends are included within "family", as your best friends are the family you make, just as valid as the one you're born into) - is moderation, is the Middle Road, is the prophesied Balance of the Force.

Anyway, that's my opinion. And while I don't think you can assign "Anti-Dark-Side Points" for following the Jedi path, I think a clever GM can use a PC's following of the Jedi Code in all sorts of fun ways. Hell, the interesting stuff only starts happening to Obi-Wan once we establish his ties with Qui-Gon and then Anakin.

... actually, come to think of it, doesn't the default Jedi as portrayed in the prequels remind anyone else of the "orphaned badass with no attachments" player character that gets so much flak in RPG circles nowadays for being built to counter any hooks the GM can come up with?
 
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Devin Parker

Jesus Geek
Validated User
I think you're onto something, IMAGinES. One of the ways in which I tried to reconcile things in my mind after seeing the Prequels was to reason that the Jedi Order had become stagnant, too confident in its own authority and too steeped in its flawed understanding of the Force to the degree that it had left behind the true vitality of the Force (which, as you point out, Luke re-establishes by the end of the Original Trilogy) and was no longer able to see that. It had fallen into error but refused to acknowledge it, giving the Sith the opportunity to take advantage of the dissatisfaction and dissent that had formed in the Republic as a result.

It then makes sense to me that Yoda would spend his post-Republic days hiding out in seclusion and contemplation rather than attempting an active role in the Rebellion. He might sense somewhere in his conscience that his Jedi Order played a significant role in the downfall of the Old Republic, but ultimately Yoda was too stubbornly set in his ways and too easily able to justify his take on Jedi philosophy to abandon his monastic abstinence...

The fact that the Jedi considered love to be something they shouldn't allow into their lives troubled me greatly. Your explanation as to why the Jedi would have promoted such a philosophy - one which ultimately is proven to be in error - really makes sense of that "Balance of the Force" prophecy.
 

GM Radio Rob

Voice for radio, face for GMing!
Validated User
Thanks, Devin. You know, something I thought of last night after writing that post is that the Jedi were themselves afraid. Whenever Yoda and Obi-Wan say something about the dark side, it's usually to the effect that "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." Basically, the reason why the Old Jedi Order were so keen on ensuring their Padawans, Knights and Masters had no ties that could tempt them to the dark side was because they honestly thought that any being sensitive to the Force who fell to the dark side stayed fallen forever, and while Luke in the end proved them wrong, you can see how that belief motivated practically everything the Order did, including telling Luke that the only thing he could do for his Dad was kill him.

Only the Sith deal in absolutes?
 
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