gwinna: (Palpatine - most evil)
[personal profile] gwinna
So, I was rewatching the Star Wars prequels recently, and it occurred to me that I had never listened to the audio commentary for Revenge of the Sith. Accordingly I went and did so, and it was very interesting, but there was one thing George Lucas said which struck me as rather bizarre and incredible. I quote:

One of the issues in all of this is, that bad guys think they're good, and Lord Sidious thinks he's bringing peace to the galaxy, because there's so much corruption and confusion and chaos going on, and that now he's going to be able to straighten everything out, which may be true, but the price the galaxy's going to have to pay for it is way too much. -- George Lucas, RotS commentary

All I can say is, if that is what Lucas was trying to convey, he failed signally. I have never once considered that Palpatine might genuinely have wanted to bring peace to the galaxy. It never even occurred to me as a possible interpretation of his character. Nor have I ever come across such an interpretation in either fanfic or profic (admittedly I haven't read much profic, but since I like Palpatine I have read a decent amount of fanfic about him).

This bit of commentary takes place during the scene in which Anakin is christened Darth Vader, at the end where Sidious says, “Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy! And we shall have peace.” Now, it always seemed to me that the first part, the ruling the galaxy part, is what Sidious really cares about, and he tacks on the second half to ease Anakin's conscience, because Anakin cares about peace.

And I can see Anakin/Vader rationalizing what he's doing as being for the good of the galaxy – well, he does rationalize it at various points in the movie (“I have brought peace, freedom, justice and security to my new empire!”) – but I always saw Palpatine as someone who has no illusions about himself. He simply desires power, and doesn't scruple to take what he wants.

Lucas seems to be aiming for the idea that evil people never view themselves as evil, the villain is always the hero of his own tale and so forth. While I think this is generally true in real life, I'm not sure it's universally true, especially in a fictional world where good and evil are literal, tangible entities. If it applies to Palpatine, I would say it's more in the sense that he rejects the concept of good and evil altogether, a sort of “there is no good or evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it” mindset. In which case, although he might not view himself as evil, he doesn't view himself as good either.

However, I personally tend to think he does view himself as evil. Some of the things he says, both in this movie and in RotJ (“Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side”), suggest to me that he believes evil is more powerful than good, and therefore consciously chose to embrace evil in order to achieve the ultimate power for himself. Though I suppose in a way that would mean he views evil as good, for a certain value of “good,” so from that point of view Lucas' point does still stand, if not in the way he intended.

Date: 2011-05-24 01:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Saw this through [ profile] jedi_news. And I agree with you about that odd quote on the commentary - it's always struck me as rather dissonant, too. But the commentary track for RotS seems like more a ramble to me than a cogent discussion of what's going on in the films or behind the scenes. And, let's face it, that's what most DVD commentary tracks (at least the ones I've encountered) do: they ramble around in a way that is amusing rather than analytical.

Anyway, Roland Barthes says we're free to ignore what the author was trying to do, and I believe him! Let's forge ahead with the text itself!

Date: 2011-05-24 03:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The other day I read someone commenting somewhere that George Lucas doesn't understand Palpatine, which I thought was a pretty odd thing to say... this statement makes me reconsider that somewhat. But, possibly more than any other character, Palpatine is a symbol. He isn't deeply examined, he's a Machiavellian, totalitarian, sorcerer-dictator. One of the reasons I don't believe there will ever be an origins of Palpatine novel. Lucas was probably thinking more of the archetypes he drew on rather than what we saw on screen.

Ha! A Voldemort quote - I agree with that interpretation of Palpatine's character. I don't think he regards himself as evil; rather he sees himself as extraordinarily clever and other beings as fools. If evil is the best way to gain power than evil it is... I can't imagine he'd believe his own propaganda, since he was the one who essentially manufactured the demand for peace in the first place.

I'm with Wyn - the text is what matters.

Date: 2011-05-24 06:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
One of the reasons I don't believe there will ever be an origins of Palpatine novel.

I wish! In case you weren't aware, the Darth Plagueis novel is coming out this fall. I hate to imagine how badly the EU is going to screw up Palpatine's backstory.

Date: 2011-05-24 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Gosh, really?-! The last I heard about it was that they'd cancelled the novel - was it around two years ago now?

Oh dear. I have a very bad feeling about this. o_O

Date: 2011-05-24 06:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It wasn't cancelled, only delayed. Last I heard, the manuscript was complete. Luceno wrote it, which is only slightly reassuring.

There is a rumor that the novel is going to reveal that Palpatine isn't really from Naboo.

Date: 2011-05-24 06:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hm - something about "not being ready" to release Palpatine's back-story, wasn't it? I have vague recollections.

I wouldn't be surprised. Ah well, we shall have to wait and see.

Date: 2011-05-24 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Personally, Lucas's comment didn't surprise me at all. To the contrary, it confirmed the perception I had of Palpatine. All dictators believe they are doing good. They see their own actions through the twisted lens of narcissistic arrogance and complete suppression of cognitive dissonance. I love that in Star Wars, psychological realism trumps archetypes.

(“Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side”), suggest to me that he believes evil is more powerful than good

To him, the dark side is good. As he says to Anakin, "good is a point of view", and his point of view is that it's the Jedi who are evil.

Date: 2011-05-27 04:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
He certainly isn't saying "and we shall have peace" out of a true desire for peace, as I'm sure he's well aware of the "peace is a lie" code of the Sith!

I agree with your assessment. And... you know, I don't know that I ever listened to the commentary either. That kind of boggles my mind now. I was OBSESSED with RotS when it came out. How could I not devour the commentary? But I do remember every time I thought about watching it, I wanted to get absorbed in the movie itself so I didn't WANT to listen to the commentary.


Date: 2012-07-10 01:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]


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