Between the Lines: “Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes.”

Written by Timothy Lewis (@TimothyELewis) — July 26th, 2017


When creating a religion for a fictional universe, the author must formulate a basis from which it operates. In Star Wars, “The Force” is the all-powerful entity at play, with a sense of balance guiding its noble followers. The Jedi comprise this group.

Mirroring Earth’s religious experience, the relationship with the Force is perverted by zealots looking to exploit its power. These are the Sith, enemy to the Jedi. Their mission for control of the galaxy supersedes any dedication to upholding the balance of the Force.

In the like, the Sith are exacting and cruel. You are either among them or against them. Their methods prioritize violence, anger, and deception. To be so exacting, so cruel, one must paint in broad strokes. One must compartmentalize the world into narrow, uncompromisingly defined pockets of “strong” and “weak”, “good” and “evil”.

This is why Obi-Wan solemnly declared “only a Sith deals in absolutes” before battling Anakin on the molten world of Mustafar.

There cannot be peace nor balance with total judgement, where context and interpretation mustn’t vary from one soul to the next. Rather, Obi-Wan claims that understanding and perspective are qualities of the righteous.

Despite his view, Kenobi’s statement carries unbridled hypocrisy. Obi-Wan was a representative of a religious cult, commanding the military of a galactic Republic. While manning this position, through his notorious “absolutes” quote, he tells his pupil that his view is not simply invalid, but also evil in its contrast from his own. To be fair, said pupil, Anakin Skywalker, did slice up a bunch of children with a laser sword.

Digging deeper, by berating Anakin’s arrogance, Obi-Wan makes a statement that largely goes under the radar. Perhaps so far under, he didn’t realize its implications himself. By making a definitive claim about the nature of the Sith and absolute statements, the Jedi Knight underlines a central, recurring theme of duality that takes place throughout the story.

There is no faction within the Star Wars universe that loves to manufacture duality as much as the Jedi. First and foremost, they purport the battle between the light and dark side, forever contrasting. Then, there’s the relationship of opposition between the Jedi and Sith, pushing and pulling the balance of the force. The former is an arbitrary assessment of good vs evil, while the latter is a tussle for dominance between rivaling political/religious sects. Third party? Middle ground? Forgettaboutit!

And it gets weirder. Here’s the original Jedi code:

“There is no emotion, there is peace.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

There is no death, there is the Force.”

What is this, if not duality exemplified? Opposites cannot exist without each side being defined in contrast to its alternate.

From here, we can draw two conclusions about Obi-Wan’s statement of dealing in absolutes: Either he was a really bad student in the Jedi academy, or he was making a profound statement about the inherent complexity of all people, that to deal in absolutes is a trait of the Sith, but also, that no individual is any one thing in their entirety. If so, I don’t think Anakin got the message.

Perhaps the only area where the Jedi didn’t get it twisted is when it comes to their nookie. My confusion over this part of the job description may be why I chose Penn State over a galaxy far far away. George Lucas, however, debunked the notion that Jedi are restricted from pleasures of the flesh:

“Jedi Knights aren’t celibate — the thing that is forbidden is attachments — and possessive relationships.”

Indeed, this distinction shows a multi-layered thinking process. It allows a thing (sex) to exist in isolation from connotation, where its context (attachment) and perception (possession) are not assumed.

Previously I’ve written about the spectrum of verbiage and how our desire to simplify through judgement, specifically in terms of how things relate to us personally, creates a disconnect in our ability to relate to one another.

Whether an observer of the Force, or of the religions of our world, this quote of absolutes, and the parallel between the squabbles of the Star Wars universe and our own, remain pertinent. It’s wise to reflect on the teachings we find to be jubilant, as well as those we find to be most dangerous. Without sufficient introspection and analysis, like Obi-Wan, we too can mistake ourselves and the very thing we fight against.


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