[ESSAY #2] Putting a Finer Point on Evil

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by ObiWan506, Feb 17, 2006.

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  1. ObiWan506 Former Head Admin

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    This is an essay submitted anonymously through our Star Wars Saga Essay Contest.

    Users are asked to read each essay listed below and send their vote in for the best one. Voting ends on Feb. 24th. Send your votes via PM to <a href="/user.asp?usr=Spike_Spiegel" style="color: black;font-weight: bold;font-style: normal;background-color: peru;text-decoration: none;border-top: 1px solid Black;border-bottom: 1px solid Black;border-right: 1px solid Black;border-left: 1px solid Black;">Spike_Spiegel</a> or <a href="/user.asp?usr=obiwan506" style="color: burlywood;font-weight: bold;font-style: normal;background-color: darkred;text-decoration: none;border-top: 1px solid Black;border-bottom: 1px solid Black;border-right: 1px solid Black;border-left: 1px solid Black;">ObiWan506</a>. Also, you can use these threads to discuss each essay. Discuss each point and share your own point of view on the matter.

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    "Nobody who's evil thinks of themselves as evil. They always believe that they're doing good, even though they're not. It's a matter of, how does a person who is good, turn to becoming an evil person?
    -- George Lucas, in the featurette "The Chosen One."


    I was very interested to see the character insights into Palpatine in Dark Lord, because I think they suggest a motivation for Palpatine to have become dark, and they tell us a lot about how he thinks about love, friendship, and companionship. I also wish to be bold enough to propose that, in tracing the thought process of Sidious in this quasi-canon work, ample evidence can be found that the Sith lord, at least as presented here, is not pure evil as commonly believed.

    Let's trace the relative points of view of Palpatine and his new apprentice, how they are expressed, and how they change through the book. Palpatine's reactions to Vader are most intriguing, and perhaps not what fans have been expecting these past twenty-plus years.

    When we first see Darth Vader in the novel, he is not at all happy with the circumstances in which he finds himself. He tells us, "This is not seeing, this is not hearing, this is not walking, this is not living." What is he really saying? That he feels his existence is empty, that this isn't the choice he should have made. This is powerful, he's saying, but I'm miserable and alone. He "tells" us that he feels a "lack of faith in the power of the dark side."

    When we read Palpatine's reaction to this, Palpatine calls this attitude on Vader's part "not coming to terms with" his choice to follow darkness. What does he mean by that? What Palpatine means when he says he wants Anakin to "come to terms" with his choice is that he wants Anakin to like what he's chosen, that he wants Anakin to believe that it was the best choice for him and entirely what he should have done.

    Palpatine has a tough job ahead of him. Vader tells him, "Look at u/>
  2. Lars_Muul Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 2, 2000
    star 6
    Great essay!
    As a comment to your final point, I want to say that by saying that Palpatine represents pure evil, Lucas didn't necessarily mean that Palpatine is pure evil. The archetype seems purely evil, but quotes such as "...and we shall have... peace" suggest, to me, that the character is not.




    Palpatine - a nice guy?
    /LM
  3. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    Sorry, Lars... that's purely semantics - with BOTH your reasoning on the definition of character/archetype and the example you give.

    This is an interesting and eloquent essay. But, as with Lars, I disagree with the conclusion. Take this bit:

    Two scenes in Revenge of the Sith directly contradict this:

    1) Palpatine deforms himself for the benefit of luring Anakin to the Dark Side and possibly because he desires to outwardly project what was previously contained within. This is his moment of catharsis on multiple levels. Palpatine also kills Mace with visible satisfaction and practically orgasms after screaming, "Power! Unlimited power!".

    2) Palpatine blasts Yoda with lightning and laughs over his sizzling body. When the fight is carried into the heart of the Senate, Palpatine is visibly and audibly enjoying himself - whether he's hurling pods at Yoda, firing lightning into his "little green friend" or clutching for dear life at the moment of his triumph.

    Both of these scenes are pivotal and cannot be overlooked.

    I originally thought that Palpatine tending to Anakin on the lava bank afforded him a shred of humanity - but music is always our guide in Star Wars and the music is inescapably dark and sinister. There is no humanity in Sidious. The only thing "palpable" about him comes in the name "Palpatine" - a name as fake as the human skin and benign politician he draped over his Sithian and thoroughly malevolent core.

    Still, this essay was intelligently composed and elucidates an alternate perspective. It's a fine creation. I just think that people are getting caught up in Palpatine's lies. It's no wonder he said some of those things to Vader (albeit in an EU book) - he had to keep Vader relatively tame and docile in as many ways as were needed (and I imagine quite a few were). I doubt Vader was truly buying his lies. And the trick is for us not to buy them, either. Actions speak louder than words. Palpatine's actions, particularly those given as examples, were diabolical.
  4. Lars_Muul Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 2, 2000
    star 6
    Good points. I agree with you, Cryogenic :D




    Cryogenic is no crybaby
    /LM
  5. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    Except when I watch a mushy movie! :D
  6. ShaakRider Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 14, 2002
    star 2
    He clearly does get some "peverse pleasure out of the sensation or fact of" others' pain or more likely out of the sensation of his own power, but i believe that the emphasis is on that the pleasure coming from it is never the point of his actions. We never see him causing pain only for the sake of causing pain, in the movies at least. The closest thing i can think of is torturing Luke, but even that is more of an expression of his hatred and frustration. I don't read EU though, i haven't read DL either, so i probably can't contribute much to this discussion.

    I still think of that as a shred of humanity. I chose to believe the gesture over the music, because 1) in-universe, Sid has no reason to pretend anything then and there, so if it seems like a sort of compassion, then it probably is just that 2) i prefer to see Palps as a human being, however twisted and evil. It makes his evilness much more poignant than just thinking him as the embodiment of evil, or whatever.
  7. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    I'd rather see Palps that way. But the music isn't even remotely ambiguous. And the music of Star Wars is always our guide. Always.

    You've brought back home a good point, though: Palpatine doesn't create wanton destruction. He really does seem to see value in some kind of order. But it's still a sinister, tyrannical, oppressive order. Although Lucas has made Palpatine enigmatic, keeping his past and private thoughts a mystery, he's not in the least bit ambiguous from where I'm sat. He's downright rotten - to the core!
  8. mandragora Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 28, 2005
    star 4
    I think that Lucas as well as McDiarmid have been quite clear that Palpatine is meant to represent "pure evil", that he is "not human". It was explicitly stated that there isn't any good in Palpatine. Still, I concede this assessment is problematic due to the Mustafar scene and even more due to Lucas confusing (at least for me) statement that Palpatine believes he is doing good.

    I find it extremely difficult to understand that character and its role in the Saga. He's an archetype, and still he displays human behaviour. He plays the role of Satan, and yet unlike Satan he hasn't fallen. He plays the role of Hitler, and unlike Hitler, he doesn't seem to be motivated by emotional pressures. He at the same time is the puppetmaster and at the same time a character like anyone else.

    I'm nowhere near a consistent idea on the nature and function of this character, actually I doubt there is any. But I've come to think that there is more than one level and function that must be considered, and maybe it helps in sorting out the confusions if one considers these levels and functions separately.

    First, there is the role of Palpatine in the political part of the story. There he is the powerhungry politician that becomes dictator and by Inow I'm prepared to accept the possibility that this politician actually thinks the society crumbles and is corrupt and needs to be replaced by a "better order" (a different question is, better for whom?).

    A second aspect is the role of the Sith master, as a counterpart to the Jedi order, setting up a polar philosophical and religious viewpoint; the left-hand path of the Sith as opposed to the right hand path followed by the Jedi. Left-hand philosophies are not necessarily "evil", they're just focussed on immanence rather than trancendence and the individual rather than the community, and they embrace emotions rather than getting over them.

    Thirdly, there is Palpatine's role in the mythological and psychological sense - and it is this part where the character truely qualifies as "evil". While frequently he is related to Satan, I don't think this identification quite fits, because as McDiarmid has pointed out, Satan has fallen as has a history of revenge, whereas that doesn't seem true for Palpatine. It seems to me more likely that Palpatine represents the projection of the "inner demon", a personification of the conglommeration of suppressed fears, rage and hatred that literally assume an existance of their own and take control over individual persons (like Anakin), groups of people (like the Senators) and even the whole galaxy.

    And last, with respect to the story itself Palpatine seems to be a character not quite at the same level than the others. He's meant to be the puppet master, which implies that he is playing the other characters and thus has a different, somewhat superordinated perspective. Fader in her article in Decker's book "Star Wars and Philosophy" has noted that Palpatine often seems to talk to the audience as much as to his fellow characters. Very frequently his statements have one meaning that addresses the immediate situation and is directed to the other characters, and another one that relates to the overall storyline, how things are connected and what he's going to do - and this part of the line only the audience can understand. It seems to me that similar to R2, who has an exposed position among the characters as the narrator of the story, Palpatine also has kind of an exposed position by being the commentator who explains to us how things are connected, how they can be influenced and how the other characters through their actions allow him to unfold his plans. In this function, for the audience he functions as kind of a teacher, who explains using the movie for the purpose of illustration how evil (in the sense of the above mentioned "inner demon") is able to take control over individuals and societies.

    It's not that these roles and functions are entirely independent from one another. For just two out of many other examples, his insight due to his Sith mastersh
  9. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    More great thoughts, mandragora. What a sexy mind you have. =P~

    This is the part I quibble.

    Is Episode III not called REVENGE of the Sith? Does Maul not say in Episode I: "At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge."? Palpatine does seem to be seeking revenge for something. Also in Episode III... his office chambers are coveted with black urns, Sith statues and a curious mural that suggests a prior conflict. When he finally pulls up his hood and assumes his seat as the fully-formed Sidious, he finally breaks out into full "Emperor" voice and declares that "once more the Sith will rule the galaxy!". There seems to be something else going on there. Lastly, when he confronts Yoda, he says he has "waited a long time for this moment". But these might all be lies or distortions to ensnare those around him. Palpatine might even be reaching out to the audience in more than one respect - just as he seems to be sharing a secret dialogue with us, revealing truths that the characters are ignorant of, he might also be deceiving us. Such is the extent of the character's duplicity and evil. We never see Palpatine in private. We have no idea what thoughts are running through his mind.
  10. mandragora Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 28, 2005
    star 4
    I think we have him in the role of the Sith master here, who is seeking revenge for the defeat of his order by the Jedi 1.000 years ago. It's not, like with Satan, a personal revenge, however. None of the Jedi, as far as we know, has done something personal to cause thoughts of revenge on a personal level for him.

    That is true; but I can't think of a statement to the audience that later turned out to have been a deceit. He's been cryptic at times, and ambiguous, but as far as I can see, all of the hidden messages directed to the audience have turned out to be true (until the very end, when his insight completely failed him, but that's a failure and not a deceit).
  11. i_dont_know Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 6, 2005
    star 4
    If this essay is a fair indication of the novel's content, I'm very interested in reading Dark Lord.

    This is a more detailed version of what I was basically going to say. Sidious really seemed to be enjoying himself.

    How about "But your majesty, stay here, where it's safe!" That was as much for the audience's benefit as it was for Padme's, establishing Coruscant as some sort of haven that it is later clearly proven not to be. I'm not sure if that is the kind of thing you're looking for though.
  12. mandragora Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 28, 2005
    star 4
    I took that one to mean that had Padme stayed, it would have been safer for his plans.
  13. i_dont_know Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 6, 2005
    star 4
    I've always thought it was more symbolic, Coruscant being the "centre" of Palpatine's Empire.

    If you look at mirrors between TPM and ANH, the deathstar actually replaces Coruscant. But that's another issue...
  14. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    That is true - sort of.

    But you must remember that Darth Sidious and Darth Maul are shown talking together on a balcony that is clearly meant to alert audiences to the presence of the Sith on Coruscant. (Sidious' statement to the Nemoidians, "I have the Senate bogged down in legal procedures", is another allusion to this very fact).

    To repeat/expand on what mandragora has previously said: I think most of Palpatine's statements - the best ones, anyway - have three levels:

    1) A fallacious comment to the characters within the film(s) designed to further his image or provoke a particular action.

    2) A fallacious comment to the audience without the film designed to be ironic.

    3) A truthful comment to the audience about his plans and long-term goals and future events and outcomes (some of which elude even Palpatine).

    The third item is the most contentious of the three. It requires at least a modicum of investment - and sometimes much more - from the viewer to figure out. This level may not always exist, either. It's very subjective. Take Palpatine's line to Anakin at the end of TPM: "We shall watch your career with great interest". How does this fulfil the three levels? 1 = To make himself known to Anakin and engender feelings of admiration/trust. 2 = To provoke a laugh from audiences who are aware of his real intentions towards Anakin. 3 = A commentary on the future parasitic relationship between Sidious and Vader where Sidious "watches" over Vader's "career" with "great interest" (e.g. giving Vader orders, keeping track of his movements and even questioning his loyalties in ROTJ - "I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear...").
  15. mandragora Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 28, 2005
    star 4
    Very good points, Cryogenic - seems it might be appropriate to go through the hidden messages thread again and look for all the three levels in every line - this might get strenuous [face_tired]

    Poor guy, Palpatine, isn't he - must be a hard life, constantly being accused of being a liar when actually he's just always being misunderstood :D
  16. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    [face_laugh]

    The stresses were beginning to show in Attack of the Clones. :p

    (On a serious note... I figured out a potential "in universe" explanation for the difference in Sidious' appearance between ROTS/TESB and ROTJ where he is noticeably thinner).
  17. i_dont_know Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
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    star 4
    I'm well aware of the less obvious implications of Palpatine's dialogue, but mandragora stated that she couldn't think of a statement directed at the audience that proved to be a lie. I disagree with this, I'm fairly sure there are examples. As you said, it is very subjective, it may just be how I'm interpreting the dialogue.
    Another line I can think of:
    "To be realistic, your highness, I'd say we are going to have to accept Federation control for the time being."
    I'm still a little confused about Palpi's true motivation with this one, but it's fairly safe to say that he was proven wrong.
  18. mandragora Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 28, 2005
    star 4
    I think I was too much focussed on the level 3 implication in cryogenics terms. If you take level 2 implications into account, I agree that there are quite a number of statements that were fallacious.

    As to the line you quoted, I don't know where he's heading with that one either right now. :confused:
  19. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    I'll try...

    1 = Said with incredible smugness and designed to incite/exacerbate the opposing sentiment from Padme. He knows full well that Padme can't accept his statement - and she even says so in response (a response which ominously closes the scene). He's manipulating her! Plain and simple. The more aggrieved Padme feels, especially when hearing Palpatine's fake and opposing opinion laid bare, the more likely she is to do what he wants and push for a vote of no confidence in Valorum...

    2 = Palpatine, as Sidious, is controlling the Federation; not the other way around. (To this end: one of the Nemoidians even wants to call off the blockade but Sidious tells the Viceroy that he doesn't want that stunted slime in his sights again).

    3 = There are at least three ideas presented in the line: an opppressive organisation, control (being done by said organisation) and the idea that such things must be temporarily endured. How ironic considering that this is the instigator and ruler of something much more oppressive, much more controlling and much longer lasting that must also be endured down the road...
  20. mandragora Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 28, 2005
    star 4
    hm... with respect to 2: 2 might actually also be 3 - "we're going to have to accept federation control for the time being." He doesn't say "we have to accept being controlled by the federation" but "we have to accept federation control". You could just as well take that statement to mean that for the time being he has to accept that he has to control the Federation in order to achieve his plans.
  21. Cryogenic Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 20, 2005
    star 5
    [face_laugh]

    Even the "we" has a double meaning: he's pretending that he and Padme are in it together, but really, he's just talking about his split personas. Just like, in fact, when he says "we shall watch your career with great interest" to Anakin. What a snake!
  22. i_dont_know Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
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    star 4
    That's just where the confusion comes from. He is trying to convince Padme to take action in the Senate, but at the same time telling Maul he needs Padme to sign the treaty on Naboo...

    Yes, which partly will come about by wiping out the oppressors he is currently suggesting they "endure".
  23. mandragora Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 28, 2005
    star 4
    The order to Maul was before Padme arrived on Coruscant - possibly even before he knew that she would arrive there. I guess that it wasn't until after he was notified of her arrival that he changed his treaty-plan.

    He's always talking "pluralis majestatis", or rather, split personalities when he says "we". When he actually means that he is in with someone, he usually makes a statement involving the word "together". That's even worse, because all these "together" statements seem to imply that once the job is done he intends to eliminate his team-mate. Worst case of all when he's calling somebody his "friend" :D
  24. ObiWan506 Former Head Admin

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    Remember, users are asked to vote for their favorites. Don't just read ... vote as well.

    :)
  25. ShaakRider Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
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    star 2
    Except in that one scene :p
    But more seriously, there's a plenty of reason for the music to be sinister, and it's only an infinitely tiny shred of humanity, so I don't feel it's that much of a stretch. There are other things that undermine the completeness of his evil: he seems to have an honest devotion to his order, which gives him a sense of...honor? dunno if it's the right word, but can't think of a better one. Remember the way he boosts about how Vader will be even more powerful than himself...why would he do so, if it's really only the power he cares for? Why would he go through so much trouble to obtain an apprentice, who will be a potential threat on his life?
    The Opera scene also surprised me: what does music, or art in general, mean to him? It doesn't seem to be a very sithly thing, listening to music [face_thinking]

    Besides i found an interesting McDiarmid quote in the meantime:

    "I was pleased when Anakin was almost brutally destroyed,Palpatine relieved to not only find him alive for his own purposes but also because he's Anakin Skywalker. There is one moment that George scripted in a rather casual way where i touch Anakin's forehead. I think that's really the only humna moment we see in the Emperor -- just a moment of sympathy and compassion for another human being. And sympathy and compassion are not ingredients of the Sith"----Ian McDiarmid

    So if even he says so... [face_thinking]


    On the other hand, he said things like Palpy's not human, and has no psychological underworkings and stuff like this. Which makes no sense to me (not to mention that he seems to slightly contradict himself at other times).
    I mean, it doesn't make a coherent universe. GL is trying to explain the nature of evil, using ordinary human characters, being all psychologizing and realistic (well, sort of), and then he puts in some abstract embodiment of evil, who in fact acts pretty much like a human, it's like, well, the mathematical concept of infinity: though it's not a number, you can substitute it with its symbol and use it as if you knew what it is, but when you're working with real numbers and trying to explain the very concept of infinity, you can't operate with it that way. In this context, saying "any number is less than infinity", or any operation involving infinity simply doesn't make sense, because infinity is not in fact a number, in fact one can't really grasp what infinity is. You can only say: say the largest number you can think of, and i'll say an even larger. And that's infinity.

    OK i dunno if I'm making sense [face_worried] I'm trying to say that, i believe, the main purpose of Palpy was to show that it's possible to be more evil than Vader. However, trying to make Palpy pure evil is overkill, ans doesn't quite work for me either, since I doubt anyone can really grasp what "pure evil" and "total lack of humanity" means, so symbolizing it with a character who's effectively a human, is sweeping the problem under the carpet. Not to mention that by making Palpy not human, Vader becomes the greatest evil again - only amongst humans, true, but that's what counts.

    So i think it makes a lot more sense to assume that Palpy is human. Which, in my book, means he can't be purely and irredeemably evil. I believe, for a human being pure evil is something that one can get arbitrarily close to, but never really reach. It's most likely a matter of faith though, i think.

    Seems to me that "evil" has two mainfestations, in SW, but i think in RL too: one is the evil of the person, his motivations and deeds; the other is the sheer horror of the fact he is the way he is, the way he became what he is, the fact that it all results from natural ways of human behaviour. I think, if there's "absolute evil", then it's this latter, rather abstract and elusive one.

    mandragora
    Interesting points about the layers of meaning in Pa
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