Saturday, March 11, 2017


I think we need to take some time to explore the concept of redemption and enlightenment in STAR WARS, but there appear to be varying degrees of both. Now that we take another look at the original trilogy, we see that all good Jedis do not just majestically disappear as they cross over from the crude mortal plain to the living energy of the Force. Sometimes they come back as benevolent spirits, but sometimes not-so-good Jedis can also come back as spirits. 

And sometimes they just pop up years later, in a Special Edition, for no real reason.

Obi-Wan disappeared just as Darth Vader’s killing stroke cut him down in EPISODE IV and Yoda peacefully dissolved as he transitioned into what he described as a period of “forever sleep” in EPISODE VI. This was not the case for Darth Vader. Assuming Luke wasn’t just burying the robot parts on Endor, Anakin’s transition to the realm of the dead did not involve the dissolution of his mortal remains. 

So, good Jedis disappear and bad Jedis don’t, right? Not necessarily. Good and bad don't solely determine if you'll be a Force Ghost, since the end of EPISODE VI shows us that not only is Obi-Wan Kenobi a Force Ghost, but he’s since been joined by the ghosts of Yoda and Anakin too.

Depending on what version of the movie you're watching.

Whether it's the youthful visage of the Anakin we know from the prequels, or the elderly version of Vader's alter ego who was unmasked at the end of the original trilogy, we're led to believe that Anakin's spirit standing alongside the spirits of Yoda and Obi-Wan symbolizes the return of the Jedi he once was, having redeemed himself in the final moments of his life.

So, all Jedis become Force Ghosts, but only the good ones disappear when they die, right? Or you can be a ghost if you redeem yourself, but only the purest Jedi leave no corpse behind.


No. Not that either.

In our previous examination of the Living Force and the concept of the Force Ghost, we observed that Qui-Gon Jinn dispels both of those assumptions in the prequel trilogy. In EPISODE I, his body is burned on a pyre just as Vader’s is in EPISODE VI. In EPISODE III, we also learn that Qui-Gon posthumously develops the ability to return from the spirit world, a skill that he presumably teaches Yoda and explicitly will teach Obi-Wan Kenobi while he’s sitting around on Tatooine between movies.

We’ve examined two story arcs in the CLONE WARS series that expand on this idea, stating outright that Qui-Gon had been sent back to enlighten Yoda in order to put an end to the travesty of the Clone Wars.

So, only Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi can become Force Ghosts, right?


Qui-Gon was sent back to make things right and he instructed Yoda and Obi-Wan on how to do the same, but why does Anakin's spirit return - purged of the dark countenance of Darth Vader - to stand once more with his former masters while his body burns on Endor? Seems like this is just a visual device to show us that he has been redeemed, but since later canon has revisited the concept to explain that there is a physical and metaphysical reason that the Jedi can return as spirits, we should look into how that applies to mass murderers who have a last minute change of heart.

We can do this by comparing Anakin to his original mentor and kidnapper, Qui-Gon Jinn. Since Qui-Gon’s body in EPISODE I did not gracefully disappear and no one thought that was weird, and all the Jedi we see slaughtered throughout the prequel trilogy end the same way, we can assume that this is something new (or at least special) that specifically happens to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. 

We can also assume that dissolving upon death does not, by itself, indicate whether or not you’ll become a ghost. Both Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin Skywalker return as spirits even though they had good old-fashioned Viking funerals. And their return as spirits ostensibly indicates very different aspects of their character, so even the purpose for this partial resurrection seems to be different for everyone that experiences it. The fact that they share this special state of being with Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi is further proof of that.

It is telling that Yoda and Obi-Wan were the only Jedi we know of who were instructed in the ways of returning from the Living Force while they were still alive. We also see that, each in their own way, they embrace their fates at the moment of death. Yoda straight-up announces that he’s about to die, then merrily tucks himself into his death-bed. Obi-Wan is not quite so lucky, but he makes a similar bold declaration about what he intends to do once he’s dead, then he holds up his lightsaber and lets Vader cut him down. In both cases they tell everybody they’re leaving, then disappear from the mortal plain like magic. Another argument that this is something out of the ordinary is the fact that even Darth Vader looked puzzled at what became of Obi-Wan’s body, indicating that he had never seen or heard of that sort of thing before. He even poked at the robe a little, like it might be within the realm of reason that his final blow had somehow reduced his master’s remains to the size of a shoe.

Never can be too sure, I guess.

Out-of-story circumstances played a part in this at the time it was filmed. Originally they were trying to pull off a more involved effect, like Kenobi’s body exploding or something, but that ended up looking as silly as it sounds and they deferred instead to a “less is more” approach (which is almost always the better way to go). Regardless of this, the event now exists in-story and has been repeated or not repeated enough to suggest that it happens in accordance with its own set of rules.

So what are the rules and what do they mean?

I think it comes down to the difference between nobility and self-actualization. Qui-Gon is noble, but his dispassionate world view betrays a lack of real human empathy. Despite the fact that Liam Neeson plays him with a wonderful sense of humanity, all of Qui-Gon’s actions prove him to be a single-minded zealot. He’s busy doing something else when he notices this slave boy who has a zillion midichlorian count, at which point he drops his galactically important mission to test just how strong in the Force the boy is. How does he do this? By pretending a pod race is the only way to secure the part they need to get off-planet. In truth there is no need for the pod race, since Qui-Gon has no qualms about using the Force to cheat, which he does when negotiating the terms of his wager with Watto. 

And while we’re on the subject, why doesn’t Watto suspect anything? 
He knows Qui-Gon is a Jedi and seems to have some understanding of their powers.

So Qui-Gon secures custody of the child by cheating Watto in a side bet and risking Anakin's life for no reason. He also comes up with a half-hearted rationale for leaving Anakin's mother behind. 

The idea that Qui-Gon Jinn has no means of rescuing Shmi Skywalker holds no water with me. Qui-Gon had absolutely no ethical qualms about cheating Watto to get what he wanted. Qui-Gon could find any number of ways to free Shmi and Anakin both, but in truth he doesn’t want her around. He wants to whisk Anakin away to get inducted and indoctrinated in the Jedi teachings, except...

Turns out the Jedi Council, while fully unconcerned with where Anakin came from and where he will go, have the good sense to be a little concerned when presented with the chosen one who could restore balance to the Force. When there are a thousand of you and no one has seen a single one of your enemies for a millennium, balancing the scales isn’t exactly in your best interest. 

"Hmm... Prophesied to balance the scales between Jedi and Sith, he is? Well, since thousands of Jedi
there are and exactly no Sith there are, then sounds like a pretty raw deal for the Jedi, that would be."

But Qui-Gon doesn’t care about what the Jedi Council thinks any more than he cares about Anakin’s slave mother or, for that matter, the task he was originally assigned to complete, which is saving the planet Naboo from the evil Trade Federation. I can't blame him for not being at all interested in this aspect of the story, but until he saw Anakin, the fate of Naboo and the safety of Amidala were his primary concerns.

The loose leadership of the Jedi Council may also be a little to blame here. The entire leadership structure consists of a bunch of guys sitting in a room casually trying to reach a consensus about thing with no formalized system for decision-making. By the time Qui-Gon brings Amidala to Coruscant, they all seem to believe their role in her plight is finished. While they have no interest in Anakin except I guess to tell Qui-Gon to take him somewhere and get rid of him, they're really interested in the totally unrelated revelation that on the way to Coruscant, Qui-Gon was attacked by a Sith. They charge Qui-Gon with discovering the Sith's identity, but instead of sending him back to Tatooine to take back the slave boy he bought and investigate the Sith connection, they for some reason send everybody - including Anakin - to Naboo.

At this point Qui-Gon is so hell-bent on training Anakin that he has no qualms about  taking the boy to a war zone he only just barely escaped himself.  Even though they have no reason to believe they will encounter the Sith on Naboo, they immediately find him anyway for no reason.

You may argue that the reason they run into Maul is because he's stalking them, but ask yourself:
Why is he doing that? Why does he want revenge on the Jedi when they have no idea who he is?

The Jedi seem to have the focus and concentration of goldfish, because even though they are now back on Naboo to help Amidala, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan immediately abandon this duty to go fight the Sith guy. Remember: Their mission is not to kill the Sith, but to discover his identity. Yoda reveals the importance of this at the end of EPISODE I when he says that whenever you encounter a Sith Lord, you always will find a Sith Master too. In light of this, they have much more to gain by capturing the Sith or tracing him back to his master than by fighting him. Neither of these strategies seem to be in play, because Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan never once even try to talk to Darth Maul. The second they see him they march off to find an impressive enough set piece for a duel, like they're all highlanders with a genetic obligation to kill each other.

What makes this even worse is that Qui-Gon leaves Anakin in the middle of a firefight to do this. He never once shows any legitimate concern for Anakin’s wishes or welfare. He just hides him in the cockpit of a spaceship and tells him not to touch anything. Is that a responsible way to handle an eight year old boy? So not only does he abandon him in a war zone, he manages to accidentally shoot the kid into outer space while trying to keep him out of harm’s way. 

I'm not just cataloging Qui-Gon's faults for fun here. His actions make him a central figure in the fall of the Republic itself. When you take into account everything he does and what it will ultimately mean, the title THE PHANTOM MENACE doesn't simply refer to the growing threat of Anakin Skywalker. It also perfectly describes Qui-Gon Jinn.

Qui-Gon's death at the hands of Darth Maul reminds me of a scene in Hamlet where Hamlet wants to kill Claudius, but at the time Claudius is praying. Hamlet believes if Claudius dies in prayer, he will go to Heaven, which wouldn't be a very satisfying vengeance for Hamlet. The purpose of this scene, besides demonstrating how straight-up hard-core Hamlet is, is to remind us that who we are in death is an indicator of who we were in life. I think we can see this philosophy play out in the fates of the Jedi. 

It's not just that Qui-Gon dies in violence, it's that he has no moral purpose in this action. He abandoned Anakin and Amidala to duel Darth Maul, and he doesn't even have a moral reason for fighting Maul. The Jedi, while pledged to stand against everything the Sith stand for, have never actually seen a Sith. Ever. They only know from their religious teachings that the Sith are bad and should be stopped. The only thing Qui-Gon knows about Maul is that Maul attacked him on Tatooine for no reason. But does he try to learn the reason? No. He makes no effort to communicate with Maul or understand his motives. 

Maul is actually a brainwashed pawn sent by Palpatine to be sacrificed so that the specter of a Sith Master would unsettle and distract the Jedi Council. Think about it: Darth Sidious already has a real apprentice in Count Dooku and he stands to gain nothing if Darth Maul is successful in killing Qui-Gon Jinn or Obi-Wan Kenobi. He's not sending Maul to protect Anakin or procure him, because he specifically sends Maul after the Jedi, not Anakin. Maul could have killed Watto at any time and taken Anakin if that were what Sidious wanted. So if that's not his motive, then simply killing Qui-Gon and his padawan would be pointless. Sidious fully intends for the Jedi to kill Maul without trying to question him, and that's exactly what they do. Which means that Qui-Gon's actions are specifically immoral in nature. Just like his motive for taking Anakin from Tatooine, Qui-Gon's motive for fighting Maul is solely based on abstract dogma.

This also recalls one of Yoda's teachings when instructing Luke on Dagobah. When Luke asks how you can tell the difference between the good side of the force and the Dark Side, Yoda describes feelings of being calm, passive, at peace. You see Qui-Gon exhibit some of this mindset during his duel with Maul. At one point some fully unnecessary-looking force fields separate Qui-Gon and Maul from each other. Maul rages against the obstruction, furiously attacking it with his lightsaber. Qui-Gon, on the other hand, assumes a meditative pose and patiently composes himself until the force field drops. Unfortunately, the only thing Qui-Gon does with this newfound sense of serenity is take it right back into the fight with Maul. The result is Qui-Gon being almost immediately struck down.

The significance here is that all of Qui-Gon' s acts leading up to his death insure the failure of his friends and the fall of the Jedi. By valuing blind dogma above basic morality, he sets in motion events that are ultimately catastrophic for the entire universe. With his dying words he even dooms Obi-Wan Kenobi, securing a death-bed promise from him that he will train the boy no matter what anybody says. 

Yet another example of the pitfalls of open-ended promises...


"You want ME to train him? I'm not even trained myself! Are there any rules at all in this outfit?"

So in a nutshell, this whole mess started because of Qui-Gon Jinn. So when Qui-Gon is actually sent back by the Living Force to fix his mess, it illustrates how being a Force Ghost isn’t an honor that graces only the greatest Jedis around, it’s actually a remedial program for Jedi screw-ups. Yoda and Obi-Wan bear some of the responsibility as well, not just as an extension of Qui-Gon’s initial mistake (which they for some reason carry out to fruition) but also for their role in the spectacularly questionable ethical quagmire of the Clone Wars themselves. 

I won't go into this too much because there isn't a whole lot of official canon to elaborate on it, but Qui-Gon's dilemma brings into focus the concept of the Gray Jedi. The Gray Jedi is an offshoot of the traditional doctrine, seemingly distinguished by their rejection of the (somewhat) formalized structure of the discipline being taught at the Jedi Temple. It reminds me of the opening quote in Alan Dean Foster's novelization of EPISODE VII, which offers this passage from the Journal of the Whills:

"First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say, 
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight.

Journal of the Whills, 7:477"

I referenced this passage in a previous article discussing the back story introduced in Chuck Wendig's first AFTERMATH novel.  I believe it foreshadows what we will see of Luke's philosophy in the new trilogy. I'm trying not to repeat myself too much here, because I covered this is my last article, which went into much greater detail about the trial of Yoda and what Qui-Gon's return meant in terms of Force Ghosts and the more spiritual philosophy of the Living Force. What we're really talking about here is not who returns as a ghost and why, but specifically why some Jedi disappear completely as they die while others don't.

Which brings me back to the argument for self-actualization. The two Jedi we see in the original trilogy who expire this way are Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. They aren’t sent back from the dead by the Living Force, they were instructed by Qui-Gon Jinn to become agents of its will. When death comes for them, they are prepared to move on and continue their mission after they have transcended their mortal existence. That makes them more enlightened than the likes of Qui-Gon and later Anakin, who must remain to redeem their past sins. While Obi-Wan and Yoda are not blameless in allowing their conflict with the Sith to become a Universe-altering war, they are still acting as willing agents in the process of making it right. 

That's the real difference. Their conscious decision to let go of the mortal world but remain in contact with it instead of moving on is a selfless sacrifice on a spiritual level. That makes them more like fully realized bodhisattva. They are choosing not to ascend to a greater state of being in order to bring  back knowledge from a higher plain of existence that will contribute to the salvation of all mankind.

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