Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What The Force Awakens can teach us about modern evil

Giles Frasier writes for the Guardian:

It was Kylo Ren’s fascination with his grandfather Darth Vader that led him to the dark side of the force. Like Vader, he wore a black mask. Though unlike Vader, he didn’t need it to survive. For the stylish young Kylo Ren it was more a pose, almost a fashion statement. And that, according to a review in the Vatican newspaper, is the problem with the depiction of evil in the new Star Wars film: it just isn’t evil enough.

Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He’s like a bad tribute act. Moreover, he’s plagued with doubts about his vocation on the dark side – doubts he confesses to Vader’s now mangled mask, kept as a creepy religious relic: “Forgive me. I feel it again … the call from light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I’ll let nothing stand in our way. Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started.”

The problem with Ren’s little paean of praise to Vader’s apparently epic darkness is that it ignores the fact that Vader made a last-minute conversion to the light side of the force. For all his sinister asthmatics, it was Vader who did for the Dark Lord of the Sith, the wizened Emperor Palpatine. In the end, Vader saw the light. His was a deathbed conversion straight out of central casting Victorian piety. So it’s a little odd that the Vatican wants Vader to be the permanent poster boy for evil. And likewise odd that it attacks Ren’s darkness for being so fake – not least because it was Ren who deliberately gutted his own father with a light sabre.

Because what the Vatican should have learned from its own master theologian of the dark side, St Augustine, is that all evil is a fake, an absence, a lack, a hole, an emptiness. Nothingness is its abiding characteristic. The problem with Vader’s evil is that it pretends too much existential gravity, too much substance. Like so many formulaic depictions of evil – and like the Star Wars universe itself – it imagines a Manicheistic cosmos split between the competing forces of good and evil. As a follower of the Persian prophet Mani, this was the religion of Augustine’s youth....

Continue reading this article at the Guardian.

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