Story and Morality: A Discussion from a Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

As some of my good friends and family know, I am an unabashed Star Wars fan.  I love all the films (except that new CGI Clone Wars one, which I refuse to accept as canon) and many of the Expanded Universe novels.  It probably says something about my overall frame of mind that I waited seven hours in line for the midnight screening of Revenge of the Sith–and up to that point, it was the greatest night of my life.  So yes, I’m a fan and a follower of this modern myth.

Earlier this evening, I got into a fascinating online discussion (the full text of which can be read here at Jedi Council Forums) regarding Star Wars and what morals it should reflect, if any.  For the benefit of my readers, though, I present now my sole major contribution to that discussion, as I believe its principles can be extended beyond the realm of Star Wars and sci-fi/fantasy.  Its words speak to the higher Art of Storytelling, and I would hope that the writers out there who might be reading this should consider these words in their own journey toward literary excellence.

Posted 12/17/09, 7:33 P.M.

Having given this matter a great deal of thought, I will say this in regards to the questions originally posted by Jedi Ben.

Jedi Ben posted:

Should SW be moral?
What is the form of its morals?
How to apply them to stories?

Despite the slippery slope this line of thought might lead toward an ad hominen attack, I ultimately feel that the morality of SW is fundamentally connected to the story one is trying to tell in the SW Universe.

Case in point, the original trilogy was about a young farmboy who rescues a princess, blows up a Death Star, leads a rebellion against an evil empire, confronts and redeems his father, and helps bring down the aforementioned empire. The prequels were about a young slave boy who fell in love with a queen, liberates her planet, trains as a Jedi during a time of war and crisis, massacres a camp full of Tusken Raiders after failing to save his mother’s life, executes an enemy head of state, and proceeds to betray and murder many of his former comrades–including his own wife.

In the first scenario, the Story was about salvation–for Luke, for Anakin/Vader, and for the galaxy as a whole. In the second case, the Story was about falling–Anakin falling to the dark side, the galaxy sliding into war after a millennium of peace, and a once-proud Republic crumbling so that an Empire might be born. In either case, though, it is my opinion that there is a moral axis of Right and Wrong. My point is simply that each Story illustrates Right and Wrong in different ways.

Somewhere, Lucas himself has pointed out that he wanted the six films to be the story of the Fall and Redemption of Anakin Skywalker, and I think for all intents and purposes, he did just that. And nowhere in SW does any protagonist turn to the camera and give a speech about the Good Cause or Why Evil Must Be Opposed. It’s all implied. Stories like the ones we find in SW are explorations of human nature and not simply a flimsy narrative stretched over a laundry list of moral imperatives.

Consider: Anakin’s darker actions are never sanctioned in the films. We are, however, allowed to witness the impetus for such deeds (desires for greater power, a possessive love, bitterness against the Jedi Council, etc.). as well as the consequences for his actions (overconfidence leading to his defeat on Mustafar, as well as the trench run at Yavin IV and in the Emperor’s throne room at Endor). Neither Lucas nor his characters has to say anything about what is Right and what is Wrong. They simply do what they do, and it is left to us, the faithful audience, to decide how their decisions stack up against the overall Story.

This may very well be my last post for 2009, and so at this time, I’d like to extend my wishes to you all: May you have a very Merry Christmas, may the New Year be a happy one, and as a shout-out to all you sci-fi freaks and geeks, may the Force be with you.

This is the Scriptorium, signing off!

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