Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Nature of the Sith - Can They Be Good?

Where it all began.
    In The Empire Strikes Back, we're introduced to the Sith. Before, A New Hope implied that Darth Vader was nothing more than a fallen Jedi Knight. While the order is never changed, Darth Vader's master clearly practices some form of religion different from the Jedi Knighthood as the prospect of luring Young Skywalker to the Dark Side trumps the danger a renewed Jedi Knighthood might pose.

        EMPEROR: We have a new enemy -- Luke Skywalker.
        VADER: Yes, my master.
        EMPEROR: He could destroy us.
        VADER: He's just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.
        EMPEROR: The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not
        become a Jedi.
        VADER: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.
        EMPEROR: Yes. Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done?
        VADER: He will join us or die, my master.

     Supplemental materials published by West End Games and other sources identified Darth Vader as a "Dark Lord of the Sith" but no one knew what a Sith was. Timothy Zahn, for example, originally intended the Noghri race to be the Sith. George Lucas, undoubtedly having an idea of what he wanted to do with the race, wisely nixed these ideas.

    The Sith remained a mystery for years thereafter, finally being revealed when Kevin J. Anderson was given a set of notes for his Jedi Academy novels. Originally intending the character of Exar Kun to be a Dark Jedi, George Lucas suggested he would be better as a Sith Lord and gave him a short outline of their order. This would further be expanded in Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith where we discovered the Sith were an ancient civilization of Darksiders destroyed by the Jedi Order.

Exar Kun - 3rd Lord of the Sith.
    Ultimately, we'd get a full knowledge of the Sith race with the comic book series Tales of the Jedi: The Golden Age of the Sith which would expand on their back story further. The Sith were once a race of force-sensitives until Dark Jedi conquered them and turned them to the ways of evil. Since that time, there have been many expansions on the Sith. Different orders of darksiders claiming the name, getting wiped out by the Jedi, and the cycle of vengeance continuing.

Naga Sadow - a member of the original Sith race and a practitioner of their debased Dark Jedi-influenced religion.
    Despite the Sith's integral role in the Star Wars' mythos, it took a long time to learn anything about their beliefs. As stock villains in a franchise known for its monochromatic depictions of good and evil, no one was in a hurry to detail what the Sith stood for. This changed with the first Knights of the Old Republic video game. One of the missions lead the player to infiltrating the Sith Academy on Korriban and finding out just what the Sith believed.

        Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
        Through passion, I gain strength.
        Through strength, I gain power.
        Through power, I gain victory.
        Through victory, my chains are broken.
        The Force shall free me.

    To those familiar with Star Wars lore, this is a near complete inversion of the Jedi Code first presented in West End Games materials.
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.
    This nicely sets up what was always a thematic element of the Sith. They are the literal polar opposites of the Jedi, chromatic inversions of their philosophy and practices. A Jedi is stoic, a Sith is passionate. A Jedi seeks peace, a Sith exploits violence. A Jedi serves, a Sith serves no one. But is the Sith Way evil?

Darkness vs. Light. The eternal struggle of the Jedi and Sith. Or is it?
    The Sith Code extolls the virtues of emotion, strength, and freedom. None of these qualities are innately evil. It's called Star Wars, after all, and violence is a tool of our heroes. The Jedi Knights always seek peace but they rarely find it. Indeed, Star Wars is a story of the overthrow of an oppressive government so our heroes can live in a free galaxy.

    There's nothing at odds with the Sith Code and being a plucky freedom fighter trying to liberate the galaxy. Well, nothing other than the fact the Sith are usually the ones enslaving the galaxy. The Galactic Empire, Revan's Sith Empire, and the Sith of the Old Republic are all based on the same Space Nazi stereotypes meant to indicate the Dark Lords are bad news. Even non-fascist Sith Empires tend towards extremes with the Ancient Sith practicing slavery and ritual sacrifice.

The Triumph of the Will homage here doesn't say much about the Sith's governing skills, does it?
    In short, the Sith tend to be the oppressor rather than the liberator for all their code's talk of freedom. I believe this is because the Sith Code exalts strength and passion. It's all too easy for those practicing the Sith Way to hold the weak in contempt. A Sith would not submit to slavery so anyone who does deserves it, right? Admittedly, this is just an extrapolation but it fits with what we know about the Sith. They're monstrously selfish.

     But do they have to be?

    The idea of a redeemed Dark Lord of the Sith is nothing new. The number of Sith Lords redeemed to the light side include: Darth Vader, Ulic Qel-Dromel, Darth Revan, and Ajunta Pall if you choose the right options during Knights of the Old Republic. However, is it possible to reject the Dark Side of the Force and continue to embrace the way of the Sith?

    I say yes.

    Star Wars: The Old Republic offers the opportunity to be a Light Side Sith Warrior and Inquisitor. The choices for being a Lightsider aren't always moral: one mission gives you the opportunity to mercy kill a bunch of slaves or torture them but not free them. However, the game says that a Sith Warrior can glow with light to Force Precognitive Jaesa Williams while the Sith Inquisitor can speak of reforming the Empire to his Gray Jedi apprentice.

He has Jedi friends and wants to be one but, really, he's horrible at the Jedi Way.
    The Force Unleashed and its sequel offer the opportunity to play Darth Vader's apprentice. Ultimately, the story is one of redemption but our hero never gets the opportunity to claim the mantle of Jedi. Indeed, he opposes the Emperor and Darth Vader purely with the skills he learned from the latter. With the Star Wars franchise changing hands, it occurs to me this is the perfect time to explore the nuances of the opposition's philosophy.

    This has already been done with the Galactic Empire. Timothy Zahn, in particular, has expanded on the Empire to the point they're actually able to serve as co-protagonists in several books. If we can lend the dignity of a valid point to a group known for blowing up planets of pacifists, shouldn't we consider doing the same to the Jedi's mortal enemies?

    Sure, it might seem gimmicky but we've seen plenty of corrupt Jedi over the years. Not just Jedi fallen prey to the Dark Side but arrogant and ossified Force-Users who misunderstand basic human reaction. Why not show the opposite? Sith who are not fully committed to the ways of evil and might, just possibly, have a point.

     I think the Star Wars EU can only benefit from this.

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