"Jar Jar Binks is George Lucas’s critique of democracy." Discuss.

Okay, so I posed that thesis to my Facebook friends and now I pose it to you, my Camels With Hammers readers:

Jar Jar Binks is George Lucas’s critique of democracy. Discuss.

To kick off the discussion, here is the hilarious Stevarious’s reply from Facebook:

Every instance of democracy presented in Star Wars is rife with either corruption or absurdity (or both!). The Republic is a monolithic, impotent bureaucracy, incapable of acting even in instances of extreme urgency. The people of Naboo ridiculously ‘elect’ teenage girls to rule as queen. The Gungans send an incompetent fool to represent them in the Republic. (Which raises the question – do they actually think that Jar-Jar is a great war hero? Or do they just have that little respect for the Republic?) Even the Jedi ‘council’ ‘democratically’ enforce their collective authoritarian will to support their own ossified brand of theocracy.

All heroism is described in terms of rebellion against authority or successful military actions. Qui-Gon is shown (to us) to be a good jedi because he constantly defies the council. Obi-Wan defies the council and insists that he be allowed to train Anakin. Anakin also defies the council and marries whatserface. Obi-Wan and Anakin become great war heroes. Luke relies on personal insight instead of the ‘authority’ of his targeting computer, and later refuses to obey Yoda’s and Obi-Wan’s orders to ignore his premonitions – then rejects his father’s offer to rule the galaxy together. Vader chucks the Emperor down a shaft.

No where, in any of the movies, do we see any democratically devised decision come to any good. All good is performed by either military authority (It’s a trap!), or personal decisions (that are almost unilaterally rejections of authority).

In short, Star Wars is a glorification of both rugged, defiant individualism and military efficiency, and a rejection of democracy and civilian authority.

Notably absent in the entire series? The press. Where are the brave war correspondents reporting live on the ‘Robot Invasion of Naboo’? Where are the embedded journalists in the clone army? Where is the brave investigative journalist, reporting for the underground news agency from the rebel home base? The reason is simple. A free press is what makes democracy possible. The Trade Federation would never be able to immediately quell Amidala’s request for aid by saying ‘there’s no proof’ if, as in a realistic universe, a dozen different news networks already had cameras in the field. By creating a universe with no free press (or seemingly no press at all) Lucas is able to make a mockery of democracy by not including the one thing that makes democracy possible.

Think of the final battle in episode 3 between Yoda and Palpatine. What Yoda is doing here is attempting to assassinate the democratically elected leader of the entire republic.

Think about that for a second. Sure, Palpatine’s corrupt. Sure he’s evil. But lots of politicians are evil – by assassinating him, without even bothering to expose him first, Yoda betrays the principles of what the republic stands for. If Yoda had succeeded, what would have happened? Palpatine would have been lauded as a martyr. All his changes to the republic would have stood stronger than ever – just waiting for a different schmuck to step into the power vacuum, with all of those emergency powers intact – and Palpatine’d probably have elementary schools named after him to boot. Meanwhile, the Jedi order would still have been vilified.

One of their number murdering dozens of children, while another assassinated the Chancellor? It would have been TRIVIAL for whatever schmuck stepped forward to assume power to paint the whole series of events as an attempted coup by religious zealots (assuming, of course, that Yoda did not take power – which would make it an ACTUAL coup by religious zealots). Tyranny would have lived on for years, there would have been no rebellion (at least not immediately) and the Jedi would have done the Sith’s work for them to extinguish the order completely.

All because of a theological disagreement. Yoda knew that the Palpatine was working for THE DARK SIDE. What evidence did he have? Not a whit. Why should anyone believe him? Why would anyone even take his claims about ‘the dark side of the force’ seriously? He would have rotted in jail instead of on Degobah.

What Yoda needed was a victory in the public arena. Some testimony from some of the soldiers, confessing that they were ordered by Palpatine to murder the jedi – and that the orders had been pre-arranged months or years in advance. He needed the security camera footage from Palpatine’s office, showing him murdering three Jedi himself – then demonstrating that Anakin was his accomplice.

The final battle SHOULD have been Palpatine trying to stop Yoda from getting to the CNN offices with the video from Palpatine’s office. THAT would have been pretty darn cool – Yoda skitters around a street corner just a street away from his destination, and a bolt of lightning streaks down and shatters the tape in his hand. Pan up to Yoda’s face as he realizes – win or lose the coming battle, he’s already lost the war. Awesome, what might have been.

Instead, Yoda’s assassination attempt, then his flight and going into hiding, played right into Palpatine’s hands. By coloring his disfigurement as the result of a Jedi terrorist attack, he was able to play the sympathy card to become Emperor. It also allowed him to paint the Jedi as the bad guys and authorize a galaxy-wide manhunt for all the remaining members of the order. Yoda’s assassination attempt destroyed the Jedi’s moral high ground and solidified Palpatines’s iron grip in a way I’m sure the Sith could have only dreamed of.

I would also note that the Star Wars prequels bring to life Plato’s account of how a demagogue can gin up fear of wealthy oligarchs and war to seize power and turn a democracy into a tyranny and his parallel account of how an individual’s soul (Anakin’s) descends to slavery to a tyrannous insatiable lust for power.

You can join in these such deep Facebook conversations regularly with me too if you become my friend.

Also read my account of why Anakin’s turn to the dark side made sense.

Your Thoughts?


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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://blogingproject.blogspot.com/ Ing: Od Wet Rust


  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Ironically, I just rewatched all 6 star wars movies (and no, this isn’t something I do all the time – its a once in 3-5 years kind of thing).

    I also thought similar critiques of the Jedi action. Though I didn’t couch things in terms of a Press/media absence per se, I also laughed at the insistence that there was no proof of what was happening on Naboo. As if

    a) the Trade Federation was totally unanticipated in choosing a delaying tactic…when in fact the “good guys” were repeatedly anticipating exactly that.
    b) with all the tech around them all the time, the frickin’ QUEEN didn’t have records of what she had been through…including tapes of the communication back & for with the TF. It should have been in her pocket. Her bodyguard what’s-his-name should have had the recordings as a way to plan against future threats. The data recording ability they have would have made it possible to keep holorecordings of all that in the physical space of a key fob.

    Even without press, the information should have been available. But it’s absolutely true that WITH press, the premises become nearly ridiculous.

    the reason I say “nearly” is because it is implied in the movie & stated in the books that Palpatine uses “mind tricks” to make people think what he wants them to think. Anakin was manipulated for years in order to make him willing to take on the role of a Sith. Palpatine simply took his most obvious weakness – his strong sense of attachment to his mother – and exacerbated it by making him lose her, then transferred it to Padme, then sent the visions to make him fear the same thing would happen to Padme as to his mom.

    Given this ability of the Emperor to control the senate and even subvert those with the best training to resist his influence, subverting the press would be ludicrously easy.

    Or at least it seems so to me.

    As a hypothetical, imagine setting up a news outlet that presents entirely biased news and then pressing the meme that the mainstream media lies like crazy.

    If you have no press providing FACTS…if the press only provides opinions & viewpoints…then you still do not have the minimum necessary function for a democracy. In fact, in such a hypothetical universe, the press would become entirely useless to those who are attempting to create a functioning democratic government, and possibly would be counterproductive to democratizing efforts.

    If you assume that somehow Lucas managed to imagine such a universe, it’s much easier to see how he could think that running to CNN with a hologram would be a useless act. I mean, even if the basic facts are uncontested, someone with a vendetta might have actually used a printer to create a document that closely approximates a document that is currently unavailable, but would be damning if it were available. You know, someone could say that the holo-font recording the timestamp of Palpatine’s violent resistance to arrest was not available on the holo-recorders of the major brand sold when holo-recorders were installed in Palpatine’s office.

    People could watch the assassination & say, sure, maybe there’s a lot of evidence that people died in his office and that there’s no evidence that Palpatine reported for a meeting that was supposedly happening when the Jedi were killed. But that’s not conclusive proof that Palpatine’s a mass murderer, and if you’re going to elect someone to supreme office, the fact that they very, very likely committed a crime, that the prima facie evidence is all there and that no rebuttal of that evidence has been made, and that every available account of his life at the time suggests that such action would be entirely in character…NONE of that matters for the election, because allegations get thrown around as a political dirty trick all the time, so if you didn’t see the crime yourself, you should vote as if the fact that he’s 99% likely to be guilty is the same as being 0% likely to be guilty.

    In THAT universe, perhaps Lucas would be justified in ignoring the press-/public reveal- aspect of the story.

    But that kind of universe is such a bizarre perversion of life as we know it!

    • http://blogingproject.blogspot.com/ Ing: Od Wet Rust

      The problem is that we’re never shown or told that Palpatine has that degree of power or is doing that. Going in straight to the prequels it looks like the universe is populated by gullible morons.

    • lordshipmayhem

      Having seen the Tea Party, the 9/11 Conspiracy Nuts, the Apollo Moon Landing Hoax Believers and the Obama Birth Certificate Truthers (to say nothing of the anti-vaxxers), I have to say it looks to me like the universe is populated with gullible morons who will believe any line of malarkey.

      And that does not include those who firmly believe that all rockets leave the atmosphere above Mecca (because elsewhere the sky is too solid, the rockets would impact and blow up), and the creationists, and…

    • Kate from Iowa

      I have to agree with Ing:OWR on this one. The reason it works in the original three movies is because what’s the first thing a reasonable person does when they take over and become all Eeevil? Suppress the press!

      Doesn’t work so well when there’s a planetary congress and civilised life is ticking along like usual. There wasn’t even evidence of any muckraking going on, I mean, honestly. Annikin and Padme’s affair should have been all over the news, being touted as scandal (particularly after she was revealed to be pregnant) because it was the kind of thing that Just Is Not Done! *insert 48pt flashing holographic headline with plenty of exclamation marks here*

    • Tyro

      I love it!

      PS: Well said, Crip Dyke!

  • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

    Only if Jar Jar is George W. Bush.

    • chigau ()

      Now that is funny.

  • Deetodaemm

    monarchist religious zealots. Never forget tha to be Jedi you have to have the blood of Jedi. And the purer you are (the Force is strong inbthis family) the more equal, sorry, *more powerful* you are.

    Oh and if Jar Jar is a critique (instead of a lazy racist trope designed for cheap laughs) it is of colonialism, not democracy.

  • Midnight Rambler

    All of this is assuming that Lucas is sane and knows what he’s doing in creating these stories. Close critique of 1-3 shows that he’s not. See http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/star-wars/ for the best reviews of them (the first one is the least good, so keep up with at least the second if you don’t like it).

  • John Morales

    My thoughts?

    Star Wars was pure entertainment, and any significance is in one’s mind; a form of cognitive pareidolia.

  • MelissaF

    Somewhat OT but as a Star Wars geek can’t help myself – there are several books featuring Den Dhur, a Sullustan journalist in the Star Wars Extended Universe :D http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Den_Dhur

    • John Morales

      So, he took part in the chariot race pod-race?

    • MelissaF

      *spends a puzzled minute looking for the humour & finally clicks* Heh. Lolz.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    This goes to suggest that the Republic was already an oppresive regime and a democracy in name only. Why? No media.
    Seriously, investigative news is easily profitable. Particularly with so many recording means available. There’s no way there shouldn’t, at the very least, have been investigative news blogs, based on the technology.
    The only way to stop it is if there were strict extra-technological controls upon newsmedia, such as an oppressive government or a quasi-theocratic peace-keeping force.