the force“Please allow me to introduce myself I’m a man of wealth and taste I’ve been around for a long, long year Stole many a man’s soul and faith.” [Sympathy for the Devil — Rolling Stones]

“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” [2 Corinthians 11:14-15 TNIV]

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I took my girlfriend to see a movie. I was in my last year in University. In a short while I would graduate and join the grand council of dentists. My date was one year my junior in dental school. We would end up marrying and embarking on an adventure of our own.

But that night, as we watched what was then just plain Star Wars, we were enthralled by this wonder of the 20th century, a good old story of love and loss, victory over impossible odds, complex moral choices, lovable characters that you cared for, the fight of good verses evil, all packaged in a science fiction veneer of light sabers and space ships. We were blown away.

We, and the world, were in debt to George Lucas.

But poor George. He did a Carole King. Remember Carole King’s Tapestry album? Come on, all you baby boomers have this on vinyl and on CD. It was such an outstanding album that nothing she did after that could come close.

Well, arguably, The Empire Strikes Back is the best of all the Star Wars movies and Return of the Jedi had its moments, spoilt somewhat by the teddy bears, er… I mean the Ewoks. But none of the prequels have really worked. The Godfather series showed that prequels could have a power of their own. But not the Star Wars prequels.

I went to see The Revenge of the Sith a few nights ago. Ok, its a notch above Star wars I and II. But then how could it not be? This was the movie that gave the answer to the question that has haunted human kind for the past quarter of a century: Why did Darth Vader abandon the noble path of the Jedi to become this asthmatic, nightmare evil warrior?

But again, as in all the prequels, the movie is sabotaged by the wooden performances of most of the characters. I don’t think Peter Travers, in his review for Rolling Stone, is too naughty when he writes:

“In this heretic’s opinion, Sith is a stiff, brought down by that special knack Lucas has of turning flesh-and-blood actors into cardboard cutouts. To hear Anakin and his pregnant wife, Senator Padme (the vivacious Natalie Portman rendered vacant), discuss their marriage — a secret that could get Anakin defrocked as a Jedi — is to redefine stilted for a new millennium. The minute any character — human or droid — opens a mouth to speak, your eyes glaze over. I kept thinking how much better Sith would play as a silent film, with only Chewbacca allowed to do his Wookiee growl and John Williams to trumpet his recycled score.”

Which is really a shame because the movie does touch on one or two key spiritual questions. For example, does the end justify the means?

We are led to believe that Anakin chooses the dark side in the hope that he would find the power to save his beloved wife. But would someone raised Jedi find that reason enough to commit Jedi genocide and kill children?

That is stretching credibility a little and therefore distracts from the moral discussion.

What is portrayed in the movie though is realistic enough. We start out wanting power to do good. But our quest for power changes us and so we are no longer the same person in the end. Anakin just wants power to save his wife but in the end he wants to rule the galaxy.

Does the end justify the means?

A timely question to ponder as we consider issues ranging from the war in Iraq to stem cell research. But we find this question better fleshed out in movies like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Fortunately a second spiritual issue is handled better and that is the reality that evil often masquerades as good. Perhaps this was helped by Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sideous. He gets my vote for best performance by far. (Except maybe for Yoda but he doesn’t count because he is computer generated.)

Evil/Sideous is a real smoothie. In this case he comes across as a loving father figure concerned only for his prot?g?, Anakin. (I wonder how many people out there who never knew a loving father in their lives would be especially vulnerable to such an approach.) He encourages troubled Anie to embrace the darkside:

* So that he can do good — save his wife. * To bring peace to the galaxy. * To fulfill his true potential.

And Sideous does this not by directly badgering Anakin to his point of view but by cunningly planting seeds of doubt into Anakin’s mind and heart.

Playing by the rules means you are deprived form the power that you need to save your wife and to save the world. Besides, the powers that be, in this case the Jedi Council, are holding you back because: they are jealous of your potential; they are secretly planning evil; they do not see the urgency of the situation.

And apparently Sideous himself has nothing to gain if Anakin turns dark. Indeed Sideous is also under persecution and needs to be rescued. Evil can be attractive indeed.

I have always believed Satan has a post graduate degree in sales and marketing. No hard sell for him. In the Garden of Eden, he hints to Eve and through her to Adam, that there really is no harm in disobeying God. Indeed by putting restrictions on them, God is preventing from realizing their full potential and getting the god like powers that is their due. In other words, Evil downplays the price of sin and plays up its benefits.

Adam and Eve bought into Satan’s sales pitch and we have been suckers ever since. We expect Evil to be ugly and frightening. But he comes to us in a suit, polite and reasonable, a loving uncle. With a smile he tells us why we are just a trifle foolish to trust and obey God when we could reach out and take the power that would allow us to be masters of our own fate.

Truly, Satan comes to us as an angel of light.

This part of Lucas’s morality play holds true. Once we give in to the lies of evil and embrace the dark side, we die. The ultimate fate of those who embrace the dark side is illustrated by Darth Sideous’s true form, the ugly and scary Emperor.

Indeed, when we sin, we die. A lesson to be learnt and to be remembered and I am sure a lesson that will be better portrayed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. May the truth be with you.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan