Why The Morality Of The 'Star Wars' Universe Makes No Sense

Why The Morality Of The 'Star Wars' Universe Makes No Sense

The religion of the Jedi isn't super complicated. There's a Light Side and a Dark Side of the Force. The former is about selflessness and protecting the weak, latter is about fear and hatred. At the most pivotal moments in each film, the Force-using protagonist is required to make some choice between Light and Dark, usually in the form of choosing whether or not to kill some dude. That's why it's a fantasy -- we can only wish real life was that straightforward. But here's the thing: The movies themselves seem dedicated to proving that this code of ethics is utter nonsense.

(NOTE: Spoilers for the new Star Wars trilogy ahead, including The Rise Of Skywalker. You have been warned!)

At the end of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, a reanimated Emperor Palpatine tells scavenger-cum-Jedi Rey Also-A-Palpatine-Now-For-Some-Fucking-Reason to strike him down out of hatred, or else he'll lightning-kill literally everyone she knows. This of course mirrors what Palpatine did with Luke in Return Of The Jedi -- he wants her to kill him, because that will turn her into Dark Rey.

Despite having never met the dude before and not really seeming to hate him at all, Rey nonetheless considers herself checkmated and just kinda ... gives up. Because killing a genocidal warlord -- one who, again, is actively electrocuting space -- is a Bad Thing, a Dark Side thing, and doing so would be playing right into the Sith Lord's hands. As moral choices go, it really couldn't be clearer ... as long as you don't think about it for long.

Related: Why The New 'Star Wars' Trilogy Was Doomed From The Start

In the nearly identical scene in ROTJ, Luke recovers from his fit of rage and throws away his lightsaber, because peace is the answer and murdering the equivalent of 37 space Hitlers is bad. The moment is portrayed as a triumph for the Jedi, and Luke is rewarded for this moral victory by being mercilessly electrocuted. Finally moved to action, Darth Vader -- also a genocidal warlord of some renown -- hurls the Emperor to his doom. Because of this, he is ... redeemed? By killing? What am I missing?

Why The Morality Of The 'Star Wars' Universe Makes No Sense
"Never mind, it looks like somebody left a mattress down here."

Somehow this murder, unlike the one considered only moments earlier against the same guy, is enough to regain child-slaughterer Anakin Skywalker his full Jedi-hood. But, like, why? The same dude got killed either way. It could certainly be argued that Vader murdered the Emperor out of love instead of hate, which made it OK. And that would make sense, really. A person's emotional state at the time of a killing -- their motivations, if you're a Good Place fan -- should absolutely affect the Dark vs. Light metric. But why wouldn't that apply to Rey?

Shouldn't she have been able to strike down Palpatine out of love, or hope, or righteous justice? In the pantheon of human (and presumably alien) emotions, there are a thousand options other than hatred that could lead to her striking down the Emperor -- the undead manifestation of generations of pure evil -- in order to stop, and I cannot stress this enough, the murder of all of her friends and allies.

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In fact, when first facing the Emperor, Rey does not appear outwardly angry at all. She just wants to save lives and stop the planet-exploding. But still, she's hamstrung by the very concept of killing this shriveled husk of Sith. And then minutes later, she kills him anyway. She even does it much more angrily, if admittedly in a slightly less direct way.

But even that is avoiding the obvious, which is that this franchise has enough random gun battles and murder-lizards to make you think it takes place in Florida, and yet there's hardly a moral quandary to be found. Homicides in that galaxy far, far away are seen as necessary -- this is a war, goddammit -- up until these few specific instances, when murder is suddenly portrayed as the absolute worst thing a person can do and a direct slippery slope to the Dark Side.

All this comes after we've watched the protagonists laser to death hundreds of brainwashed and kidnapped orphans, without consequence or remorse. You might know them better as Stormtroopers. Are they fine because they didn't feel hatred when they did their killing, and were just trying to accomplish some greater heroic goal? Then why wouldn't that cover Rey's confrontation with Palpatine? Han Solo was pretty glib about killing, seeming to feel nothing at all. Isn't that actually worse than hatred? With the latter, you could at least say it was done in the heat of the moment.

Related: How 'Star Wars' Tried To Fix Its Most Awkward Moments

Why The Morality Of The 'Star Wars' Universe Makes No Sense
"Of all of my kills this week, this one is definitely in the top 50. But it's only Wednesday."

If the rules are different for Jedi, well, Obi-Wan Kenobi killed Darth Maul twice, once in an obvious fit of rage and then again (in Star Wars Rebels) just kinda because. The latter, in fact, was portrayed as an act of compassion. And yet Obi-Wan's never been anything other than a bastion of the Light Side.

The newest Star Wars video game, Jedi: Fallen Order, seems to highlight this homicidal blind spot. When Jedi in hiding Cal Kestis uses up his Force Meter, he can replenish that power by ... murdering literally everything in sight. Mercilessly killing Stormtroopers, helpless droids, and wild animals just going about their business is how this last beacon of the Light Side gets back in touch with the Force, even though meditation is already built into the game.

Somehow, this constantly shifting moral quagmire makes even less sense once you consider how freely redemption is offered. Vader, notorious murderer of Sand People and younglings and co-workers alike, who hunted and killed his former wizard-monk friends, is fully redeemed into the Light Side by a single, different act of murder. Ben Solo, at best complicit in the destruction of multiple inhabited worlds, is also given a pass for his sins, all because he swapped out his evil red lightsaber for a differently colored one. But the work crews aboard the second Death Star? They get no second chance -- only brutal, fiery deaths, to be immediately celebrated with a festival.

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It's almost as if Star Wars -- along with lots of other blockbuster franchises -- is trying to have it both ways. It wants to create an emotional response by portraying heavy moral choices, while also cashing in on the fact that it's a lot of fun to watch bad guys get shot.

Eirik Gumeny is 8 feet tall, made of candy, and the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series. A 10th anniversary omnibus of all five books is due out this February. Follow him on Twitter.

For more, check out Why Star Wars Is Secretly Terrifying For Women - After Hours:

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