It is your destiny (Or, why I never wanted to be Luke Skywalker)

Even if you can’t STAND Star Wars,you know someone who loves it. Right?

Every body knows a guy who not only likes Star Wars, but LOVES Star Wars. The guy who, if he actually met George Lucas, handing “the Maker” a note suggesting that he get as far away as possible from this Jedi robe-clad Annie Wilkes would be the best course of action. We all know that guy.


The guy who stood in line for three days and dressed up as Qui Gon Jinn to the midnight showing of The Phantom Menace when it opened. The guy who knows the difference between a wampa and a bantha. The guy who knows exactly what kind of crystal powers Mace Windu’s light saber.

That guy.

these are the kind of fans i’m talking about

As any fanboy will tell you, George Lucas used ancient myths and legends as the backbone of his Star Wars saga. And as any Carl Jung fan will tell you, George Lucas’ space opera is crammed with Jungian archetypes.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is the wise old man? Yeah, Carl Jung invented that.

You know, you can spend a couple of days reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces (or you can spend 6 hours listening to it on audio book like I did) to get a full grasp on the ideas behind George Lucas’ Star Wars double trilogy, but what’s more fun is to overanalyze the Star Wars saga philosophically.

By the way, does anyone know what the correct numerical word is for a six-part movie series?

Now, anyone who’s thumbed through an introduction philosophy book and subsequently watched a Star Wars movie will quickly figure spot a few philosophical themes in Star Wars: good and evil, Yoda’s stoicism, the monastic religion of the Jedi order, even the politics of building an empire. There’s one theme that, although it runs through the entire six-part saga (and the animated Clone Wars movie — remember that one?), might not stick out as having any philosophical importance: free will versus determinism.

Ok, it miiiight stick out with all the subtlety of a cudgel to the head.

If you’ve watched any of the Star Wars flicks, you’ll have noticed that there’s a word that pops up several times: destiny. Everybody in these movies is either witness or subject to some kind of preordained future. In Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace several characters (including Jedi masters Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, and Mace Windu) refer to a “prophesy” of “the chosen one”. The “chosen one” (Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa) is prophesized to destroy the Jedi and democracy-hating Sith and bring balance to the Force. In Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker not only sees the suffering of his friends in Cloud City (Yoda informs Luke that it is the future that he sees; which begs the question: did Yoda see Luke’s friends suffering in Cloud City, too?), but is told by his nemesis/father Darth Vader that Luke will turn to the Dark Side of the Force because it is Luke’s “destiny”.

Vader tells Luke he knows Luke will turn to evil because the Emperor has “forseen this”.

Here’s a short list of other things the Emperor “forsees”:

  • Everything that happens in The Phantom Menace (Episode I)
  • The Clone Wars (Episode II)
  • Luke turning to the Dark Side (Episode V)
  • Luke confronting his father (Episode VI)
  • Luke destroys the Emperor (Episode VI)

Although Luke doesn’t turn to the Dark Side, all this forseeing business that everyone is chatting about does leave us wondering is, do Luke Skywalker and his companions have free will or are their acts determined?

Before we answer the question, let’s remember what determinism is.

Determinism is defined as:

The belief that everything is caused: the doctrine or belief that everything, including every human act, is caused by something and that there is no real free will.

* Just in case you didn’t know, free will is the opposite of determinism.

Now think about it, there’s a pretty good argument for believing that the Star Wars universe is not one where people chose to do exactly what they want to do: In The Phantom Menace, Luke Skywalker’s father, Anakin (Skywalker), is prophesized to be “the Chosen One” — the one who will destroy the Sith and bring balance back to the Force. Anakin (as Sith Lord Darth Vader) eventually kills the Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine and is redeemed, thus destroying the Sith and fulfilling the prophesy of “the Chosen One”. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn (even) tells Anakin and his mother that meeting the boy and his mother was “the will of the Force” AND the Jedi council sense that young Anakin Skywalker may be dangerous a sentiment that certainly becomes a reality in the following films.

Ok, you say, that’s just one person. The fact that one character’s life is the fulfillment of a prophesy doesn’t mean that any other character is subject to the same thing, right?

Well, if you think about it, Luke Skywalker’s life is pretty determined, too. Even when Luke appears to choose, he’s not really choosing according to his own free will.

Here’s my argument why:

Remember when Obi-Wan Kenobi lays the double whammy on Luke and tells the naïve farmboy that not only wasn’t his father a crewman on a spice freighter, but a Jedi Knight who fought in the Clone Wars and that he must accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan to deliver the data readouts of the Death Star to Princess Leia’s father, Luke tells Obi-Wan that he can’t go along because he’s got work to do at home on his Uncle Owen’s moisture farm? Obi-Wan tells Luke that Luke must do what he thinks is right, but while Obi-Wan’s  blowing smoke up Luke’s patootie, Obi-Wan knows that as Qui-Gon Jinn observed, events (like life) are subject to the will of the Force.

That’s why when Luke goes back home, his aunt and uncle are dead, leaving him no choice but to follow Obi-Wan on his damned fool, idealistic crusade.

And as practitioners of the Force, Jedi (including Luke Skywalker), are also filled with midi-chlorians microscopic life-forms that not only make for a fantastically handy, if not completely mystifying plot device, but are also symbiotic entities. Qui-Gon Jinn tells Anakin that the midi-chlorians tell (or is it dictate to?) the Jedi the will of the Force. This means if Luke is a Jedi and all Jedi are chocked full of midi-chlorians, and midichlorians tell Jedi the will of the Force, and the will of the Force makes things happen, like Qui-Gon Jinn meeting Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine, then events in the Star Wars universe are determined. Luke Skywalker might have thought that he had the ability to choose to stay on his Uncle’s farm, but in reality, there was no such choice.

Because like, the will of God, the will of the Force makes things happen.

You don’t have to believe me on this one,

but the midi-chlorians would say you’d be wrong if you didn’t.

And Now Here’s Something I hope You Really Like

You ever see a movie that just blows your mind?

Some people think that a movie needs lots of special effects or lots of bare boobs to be good. This is just not so. Sometimes the most amazing things you’ll see are in black and white, and need no more than a psychotic little girl with steel-toed shoes and a fierce determination to win a penmanship medal.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Bad Seed.

I’m not talking about the updated (I think 70s) version. I’m talking about the original 1956 film adaptation based on the Maxwell Anderson stageplay (based on the novel by William March) starring Patty Mc Cormack as Rhoda Penmark, 8 years of tow-headed evil, and Nancy Kelly as her more than frazzled mother. The Bad Seed may be responsible for launching the sub-genre of “devil child” films, which includes The Omen, The Exorcist, Problem Child, Clifford, and this summer’s enfant terrible tale Orphan. It’s one of those monster movies (and Rhoda is indeed a monster) that you don’t think will stay with you, but it will.

And it does.

The scary thing is, is that Rhoda is the devil you know. She comes off like a pigtailed sweetie who’ll exchange a basket of kisses for a basket of hugs, but inside that child a murderous beast is lurking. When Claude Daigle wins the penmanship medal, that Rhoda thought she had rightfully earned, she clobbers him over the head with her shoes and takes the medal as the boy drowns by the pier. When she returns home, she asks her mother for a peanut sandwhich and tells her mother that watching the boy die was “exciting”. The thing that is all the more disturbing is that we’ve all met potential Rhoda’s during our lifetimes (they turn out to be those people that we went to high school with who think that Faces of Death is a cool movie and continue to do so long after graduating from high school). She doesn’t look like a monster at all. She looks normal.

That’s the thing with alot of serial killers, they look normal.

And make no mistake, Rhoda Penmark is a serial killer.

When the handyman LeRoy runs afoul and crosses Rhoda’s path (by accusing her of having to do with Claude Daigle’s death), she promptly sets him ablaze. When Rhoda decides that her elderly neighbor Monica needs to hand over her lovebirds now, she plots to kill the old woman (we know this when Rhoda asks her mother how long lovebirds live). We also know that Rhoda may have killed another elderly neighbor when the family lived in Wichita.

At the heart of the drama is psychology. The Penmark’s neighbor Monica is a psych junkie. Her rambles on about inherited evil and the exploits of some of history’s most notorious killers, including the evil murderess, Bessie Danker. When Rhoda’s mother, in a flashback sequence that would make Dr. Phil envious, discovers that she is the daughter of Bessie Danker, she wigs out, fearing that Rhoda might have inherited the evil (she eventually atempts to kill both Rhoda and herself).

That’s funny.

Not ha, ha funny, but funny.

Of course, when we talk about things like inheriting a certain disposition, or the idea that one’s future is determined by outside forces, we slip into the realm of the philosopher. The idea that a person’s outcomes are determined by outside forces (genetics, environment, etc) is determinism. The Penmark’s neighbor Monica seems to subscribe to the psychological theory that certain psychological tendencies are passed down from parent to child. As a fidgety parent will have fidgety children, likewise a serial murderer will breed killers. Monica seems to favor what we would call a reductionist view of human nature. Our behavior can be predicted by looking at the various mental and physiological processes that take place within our bodies. If a parent passes what Kurt Vonnegut called “bad chemicals” to their offspring, it is highly likely that that child will also exhibit the same tendencies as the parent. Freud said that “anatomy is destiny”. This is what Monica seems to believe as well. We know that mental illnesses tend to run in families (this is also bolstered by twin studies that find that twins raised apart tend to share physical and personality traits in common). We find clusters of manic depression, depression or schizophrenia in families, as do certain organic disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. So, if we believe as Monica believes, the child of Besssie Danker would be a natural born killer. So, ir would not be beyond the possibility that the granddaughter of Bessie Danker would have inherited some strange personality disorder that causes her to kill.

This may be ok for the hard-core determnist, but some people may say no way, they don’t believe that our destinies lie in our genes. We are not merely the products of our anatomy, but we are influenced by other things outside of ourselves. Ultimately, the choice to kill or do anything else is made by the individual — not an impulse that we are incapable of resisting. In philosophy, this is the classic debate of free will and determinism.

When we think of Rhoda, we ask if the little girl perhaps suffered from a broken moral compass – that she may have been unable to legislate morally. But when we watch the film, we see that Rhoda has a moral code — a strict one at that. Her code is strictly egoist. She wants what is best for her. If others stand in her way, that’s their problem.

When I watched The Bad Seed, I thought that the biggest philosophical question that stood out was whether our decisions are a product of free will or if our decisions are determined. But when I looked closer, I discovered that I was thinking about ideas of divine retribution (it ultimately takes and act of God to stop Rhoda Penmark), ideas of karma and justice, and how we should treat mentally ill children? I asked, when God struck down Rhoda, did she get what she deserved? When her mother Christine tried to kill her, was her action morally correct? Would I have felt differently about it if Rhoda wasn’t a child? Was Christine morally obligated to kill her daughter? If there is a real child like Rhoda who has killed or we think may be capable of killing, how are we to deal with that child? In the interest of the greater society, are we obligated to detain them? alter them chemically (like how criminals are “rehabilitated” in Demolition Man?)?should we euthanize them for their own good? Just a few of these questions popped up when I was watching The Bad Seed. I’m sure than there are more to ask. There are a couple of different versions of the story (including the original novel) so I’m sure that each interpretation will stir up a new set of questions.

So my advice is Netflix the movie, nuke a bag of popcorn, and indulge in wishing that God would strike an 8 year old child dead and gleefully cheering when he does for a couple of hours.

But you might want to be careful next time you promise a couple of birds to the neighbor kid.

Especially if you live anywhere near staircases.

And You Say The Devil’s A Bad Guy

I seem to enjoy doing things that really creep me out. A couple of months ago, I decided to watch The Exorcist. Now, I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times, and there’s really nothing in it that wasn’t there the last time that I watched it. But somehow, that movie ends up unnerving me. That Spider walk is plain creepy. May I take a moment to say here, that it’s not so much the fact that the movie, that is the visuals, that are scary. What’s scary is Mercedes McCambridge’s voice! In that scene where Reagan does the crucifix number, and then whips her head around and says to her mother “do you know whay she did?!?”, I nearly crap my pants every time! So, I was busy creeping myself out, watching “the version you’ve never seen” ( during the daytime, with the lights on, I’ll admit). But I was alone, and that counts for something. Anyway, there’s a scent that is in this version, where Father Karras and Father Merrin have just finished a session with Reagan. They are both exhausted. As Father Karras, who is caught in a crisis of faith himself, rests, he asks Father Merrin a question. He asks, why this little girl? What purpose does possessing and possibly killing her serve? Father Merrin answers — the possession has nothing to do with the girl. The devil wants us to feel that we are unworthy of God’s love. He wants us to feel that we are sinful, vile, and lowly creatures who cannot earn or deserve the grace of God. That’s the way, Father Merrin explains, the devil gets us to turn away from God. That made me think. Now, if the devil wants me to turn away from God, he may cause a situation (say something like a demonic possession) that causes me to lose faith and turn from God. But, I have to remember that my rejection of God was due to my free choice, not because the devil made me do it (so to speak). I will burn in Hell for all eternity because I made the choice to turn from God. I have to be held accountable for the choices that I made and make freely. This is because I have free will. One of the reasons that we are given that there is evil in the world, is because people, like me, have the freedom to choose to do evil deeds. Because God made man with the ability to choose, he cannot interfere with our choices (because if he did intervene that would mean that we didn’t have very much free will). So, I thought, we make ourselves so busy asking what role that God plays in man-caused evil, that we don’t ask what role God plays in Satan-caused evil. If all intelligent beings created by God have free will, does that mean that the devil has free will as well? And if he has free will, is God bound to allow the devil to make choices that may be the source of the world’s evil (or at least a strong influence)? Ok, I know that Satan, as an angel, is what we call a fully actualized being. That means that he is all that he will ever be. He doesn not “grow” in the sense that people mature and find enlightenment or come to know the divine.As something near perfection, once the devil makes a choice, he’s locked into it. Which explains a bit as to why he cannot repent for his misdeeds. But that’s just it. He chose to fall from God. We might assume that he didn’t have to. That is, if you don’t believe that there is such a thing as determinism. So, Let’s say that Satan chose to leave God. There. He made a choice. And God seems to have respected his decision to do so. So, Satan decides that he is so thoroughly disgusted with mankind that he will forever torment God’s creation. He will make our lives so horrible that we will run to God for shelter. These all seem to be career choices that the devil made when he decided to leave the family business. If our actions aren’t determined, then is it ok to say that Satan’s actions aren’t determined, either? But then, if we assert that the devil has free will, we must account for exactly what kind of free will he has. According to the standard free will defense, man’s free will is libertarian — that is, with any choice we make, we are free to do otherwise. So, for example, if someone has a gun to my head and says that he will kill me if I don’t announce in a public place that I molest collies, I don’t have to choose to make the announcement. There is the choice, albeit a very unlikely one that I’d pick, to get shot. There are alternatives that I may take. But, the devil is fully actualized. He doesn’t get the mulligans that I do when I make mistakes or decide to change my mind (for instance, I can decide to repent from my evil ways and accept Jesus as my personal savior. It’s unlikely, but I very well could). Satan, as stated, cannot so as such. But he seems to make choices all the same. Although he free will is not libertarian as it is with people, he seems to have some, limited free will. This free will (if even the freedom to do one thing) is to create evil. So, it may be that we are hanging our coat on the wrong rack. We’re looking to God to explain why he allows evil (as if we are saying that God somehow is a generator of some of this evil), but we might take a look down and say that God “permits” evil because Satan has free will that God is bound to respect. As with any other agent, the lord of all that is unholy is free to do as he sees fit. Unfortunately for us, that means occasionally killing someone’s grandma with colon cancer, or running over the family pet, letting Two and A Half Men run for another season, or putting the desire to set the forest ablaze in the mind of an arsonist for the sole purpose of burning furry little animals to a crisp. To make matters worse, the fact that God is bound by Satanic free will means that (lest we give rise to a massively irregular world) God may, and in fact does, lose souls to the devil’s influence (This is due in two parts: 1) Satan has free will, and b) humans have the free will to follow the devil’s influences). I don’t know if I’m putting forth anything revolutionary (I’m sure that I’m not), and maybe I’m giving the devil a little too much power, but it is worth thinking that the devil’s influence on our actions may be because he has the same free will as we. Besides, it’s really a cheap way to say that we can have evil and God at the same time — resorting to that old, worn-out cliche “the devil made me do it”. I thought that this time I would try to give it some philosophic legitimacy. I don’t think it worked.