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Second Look: Heisenberg’s Principle for Peace and Justice: Why the Jedi Never Seem Very Good at their Job

Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC

The first thing we ever learn about the Jedi is that they were the “guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.” Until I read Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice, it never occurred to me that this definition contains a contradiction. Peace and justice together are the defining conditions of the ideal polity. It’s an idealistic platitude too familiar to invite closer examination. That’s why it feels so revelatory when Gray shows us that in practice, Jedi often found that peace and justice were tragically at odds.

Master & Apprentice takes place eight years before The Phantom Menace, and reprises much of that film’s premise. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are sent to negotiate a deal between a planet’s willful teenage queen and a powerful, malicious corporation. Their lives are threatened by mysterious assassins, and they turn to a slave for aid. That overt similarity between the two stories allows Gray to take a second crack at a thematic question raised tangentially by TPM: is it right for the Jedi to ignore injustice in pursuit of the greater good?

In TPM, Qui-Gon doesn’t find this question very difficult to answer. He frees Anakin to gain a powerful Jedi, not to end the injustice of his slavery. He makes a half-hearted effort to win Shmi’s freedom too, but doesn’t press the issue. The question of freeing any other slaves never even comes up. They didn’t come to Tatooine to free slaves. The people of Naboo are counting on them; they can’t afford to get distracted by every injustice that crosses their path.

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Heisenberg’s Principle for Peace and Justice: Why the Jedi Never Seem Very Good at their Job

The first thing we ever learn about the Jedi is that they were the “guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.” Until I read Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice, it never occurred to me that this definition contains a contradiction. Peace and justice together are the defining conditions of the ideal polity. It’s an idealistic platitude too familiar to invite closer examination. That’s why it feels so revelatory when Gray shows us that in practice, Jedi often found that peace and justice were tragically at odds.

Master & Apprentice takes place eight years before The Phantom Menace, and reprises much of that film’s premise. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are sent to negotiate a deal between a planet’s willful teenage queen and a powerful, malicious corporation. Their lives are threatened by mysterious assassins, and they turn to a slave for aid. That overt similarity between the two stories allows Gray to take a second crack at a thematic question raised tangentially by TPM: is it right for the Jedi to ignore injustice in pursuit of the greater good?

In TPM, Qui-Gon doesn’t find this question very difficult to answer. He frees Anakin to gain a powerful Jedi, not to end the injustice of his slavery. He makes a half-hearted effort to win Shmi’s freedom too, but doesn’t press the issue. The question of freeing any other slaves never even comes up. They didn’t come to Tatooine to free slaves. The people of Naboo are counting on them; they can’t afford to get distracted by every injustice that crosses their path.

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The Force and I Have Different Priorities: The Last Jedi and Life as a Star Wars Character

reyluke-meditate

When Luke agrees to train Rey in The Last Jedi, the first thing he asks her to do is explain the Force. She says it’s the power to “control people and make things float.” It’s played as a joke, one the audience is expected to be in on. But really the joke’s on us. While we’ve all heard Obi-Wan and Yoda explain what the Force is countless times, the Star Wars fandom is constantly proving that we still don’t get it. Every time someone suggests Jar Jar’s Drunken Fist fighting competence proves he’s a Sith, or writes a story implying that the Force blew R5-D4’s motivator, we show we still think of the Force like Rey—just a box you have to check to unlock the skill tree of cool powers.

Part of the problem is that the explanations Jedi like to give aren’t actually very clear. Calling everybody “luminous beings” doesn’t shed much light on the question. There’s a simple answer, but it’s dressed up behind a veil of Orientalist mysticism that makes it hard to extract. I can’t say it ever occurred to me until I read Nick Lowe’s Well Tempered Plot Device. Fair warning: once learned, it can’t be unlearned.

The Force is the plot.

It’s that simple. Every single thing in the story, from the luck of a sabacc draw to the very fabric of the entire GFFA, is the Force. “Nothing happens by accident” because everything in the story is a conscious decision by the author. Read More