At the heart of the Star Wars Universe is the Force. That mystical energy that “surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.” In Star Wars the Force is most commonly manifested by either the Jedi or the Sith. The Sith and Jedi are sworn enemies, duelling it out over millennia in an attempt to eradicate one another from the galaxy. This dualism has many parallels with Plato’s Republic in which Socrates attempts to defend morality from immorality. The problem is posed by Adeimantus to Socrates at 367b, “why does one of them, in and of itself, make anyone who possesses it bad, while the other one, in and of itself, make him good?” In other words, without reference to the consequences of either morality or immorality, i.e. the reputation that follows from each, what it is about each that makes it good or bad. This problem reflects in many ways the struggle between the Sith and Jedi in the Star Wars Universe.
The Jedi use the force for good. They have a greater appreciation for the subtitles of the force and what it has to offer. They value wisdom and courage; peace over war. They only fight when it is necessary. They are at peace with themselves, and they seek to bring balance to the universe. Why they do this is not always evident. However, at their core, the Jedi are in many ways akin to Socrates in the Republic. They are defenders of morality for morality’s sake. They believe that by doing good, not for the intendent consequences, but for the act in and of itself is worthwhile. It is what the force is calling them to do. This is what identifies them as a force for good. It also shrouds them is an air of mystery. Meanwhile, due to this air mystery sometimes the actions of the Jedi are frustrating. We don’t connect fully with their ideals. We see that what they aim for is noble and good, but we do not think that their means of doing so are the most efficient. Here is where another parallel exists between Plato and Star Wars. In the Republic, Plato gives a long analogy describing the life of a philosopher as one who ascends from a cave to find the truth and the light, only to descend once again to free his comrades and be ridiculed and even punished. The Jedi are much the same. We do not fully understand their methods and intentions and so they are ridiculed, in the same way that those in the cave are ignorant of what the philosopher has learned outside in the light. What he speaks of seems silly, even crazy. Ultimately, this is what enables the dark side of the Force to manifest itself.
The Sith are the opposite of the Jedi. The see the force as a tool in which to better themselves. They are selfish and self-centred. They think only of themselves. They seek power in the manner of 1984, just for the sake of power. In the Star Wars films they rise to power through cunning and deceit, in the same way that that Thrasymachus and Adeimantus describe the unjust man using deceit and cunning to trick everyone around him into thinking that he is a moral man and deserving of praise and reward. For the audience it is easy for us to identify the Sith as evil but in reality we are more like the Galactic Senate at the end of episode III giving away our freedom to the Emperor. Everyone is at times a little selfish, and we can even be greedy. Moreover, we can identify with Anakin’s struggle. He wants to have the power to save the lives of those he cares about most just as many of would in reality. On closer inspection then, many of us are actually closer to the Sith than we are to the Jedi, even though we can recognise the Jedi as a force for good generally in the galaxy our personal habits and society indicate that we are in fact closer to the opposite.
Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the parallels between the Republic and Star Wars is the inverse in the methods by which Plato would create a just society. His image of the just society looks nothing like that of the Jedi. Instead it is closer to what the Sith aim for. One supreme figure resting a top the rest who is the source of all wisdom and authority within the society. This is exactly what Palpatine accomplishes at the end of episode III. This inversion can tell us much about ourselves. The Sith and the Empire in the Star Wars universe are a reflection of the 20th century’s scariest political movement, fascism. The very fact that fascism was so popular in Europe during the earlier part of the 20th century tells us something scary about ourselves. Point for point, many people would actually prefer to live in a fascist society. The Empire is a gross exaggeration of this, but we can see how Plato’s image of the ideal city would be attractive to many people. At this point is probably necessary to note that Plato did not intend for someone like Hitler to take control of society. His idea was far more benevolent and came from a good place where he thought it was the best for society overall. Fast forward to our own times, and he can see that the same problems still exist. People wish for security from perceived threats in exchange for their rights and freedoms. They see the alternative of Plato’s ideal city as one that they would like to live in without realising that those they are giving up their freedoms to are not the philosopher kings that as Plato described.
We should also consider on the other hand however, that the Republic is not a serious attempt at formulating a political science. Plato’s ideal city is merely a metaphor for identifying justice in the soul of an individual. Socrates is far more concerned with the individual than society at large, although society is still important. In this area, perhaps Plato is correct and is in this respect closer to the Jedi. The Jedi are trained to be masters of themselves just as the Philosopher king in the master of soul. He lets wisdom dictate his actions and suppresses his emotions and baser instincts.
These parallels between Star Wars and Plato’s Republic also suggest how the struggle will ultimately end. By the end of the Republic after the long exposition of justice by Socrates, it is left unclear and ambiguous. Socrates has certainly made a good effort at defending morality from immorality but in doing so he has had to use myth and analogy to defend his position. A reader might be left thinking that indeed, yes, Socrates has successfully defended morality from the attacks of Thrasymachus. The situation is like that at the end of the sixth film where the audience is left wondering what will the fate be of the Jedi order now that the Sith are destroyed and Luke is left as the only surviving Jedi. We have seen the redemption of Vader and the death of the Emperor, the people are rejoicing as if final victory has been achieved. Nevertheless, that feeling lingers in the back of one’s mind as to whether the galaxy is truly rid of this struggle. On closer inspection of Plato’s Republic one might also be left wondering if Socrates has really defended morality in the terms set out to him at 376b. In the course of the long dialogue, Socrates has made many cogent arguments, and the reader is drawn further and further into Plato’s way of thinking. But like many of Plato’s other dialogues it ends in aporia, and we are left to ponder for ourselves as an exercise whether Socrates has really defended morality.
What are the conclusion from all this. The first is that everyone should go out right now and purchase a copy of the Republic for themselves to read. It is probably the most important book ever written and is an almost endless stream of insight upon every reading. The second and more important one is this. We don’t need to be either like the Sith or the Jedi. We should accept that there are parts of our human nature which can be a force for evil. On the other hand we shouldn’t punish ourselves as the Jedi seem to do in Star Wars. We could try however to be more like them in conquering the fears and anxieties that can lead us toward wrongdoing. Like Plato we should try to allow wisdom to guide our actions, recognise good actions in and of themselves as meaningful and worthwhile. In essence we could imagine an ending to episode VI in which neither the Jedi nor the Sith win, but instead humanity.