To Live By the Code of the Sith

Image Used Courtesy of Lucasfilm Animation

My wife may be a Sith. When she sees a cause to champion, she throws herself into it passionately, and when someone wrongs her or someone she loves, her anger is enough to outburn to fires of Mustafar. Those are two of the many things I love about her, yet I surely wouldn’t call her evil for having these qualities the way that I might a Sith (for my own safety, if nothing else). On our ride into work, my wife and I have been discussing the Sith Code and whether or not it’s a good code to live by or a path of destruction. She claims that it might not actually be so bad, but I think it warrants some analysis. What better character to use to study the Sith Code than Anakin Skywalker because he was not born into it like Darth Maul. He chose, at least temporarily, to follow this code, so what did he find appealing about it?   

“Peace is a lie, there is only passion.”

Anakin Skywalker never knows peace until the end of his life. From the moment he is born, he is engulfed in conflict. He is born into slavery and has to live with the turmoil that comes from being forced to serve a master and see his mother do the same. When he becomes a Jedi, it would be easy to believe that he would find peace; after all, with such an emphasis on meditation, you would imagine the Jedi would be masters of finding peace. It’s unfortunate that Anakin’s experiences as a padawan and a Jedi knight quickly thrust him into the Clone Wars because everyone, no matter how skilled, finds peace hard to find in that time.

Once Anakin falls to the Dark Side, peace becomes impossible to find because the Dark Side thrives on conflict. He has to give in to his anger and fear, and he inspires those same emotions in others. Given his life experiences, it would be easy for Anakin to believe that “Peace is a lie.” He has been a Jedi and found no peace, and he has been a Sith and found it lacking there, too. It is only his passion that can guide him.

“Through passion, I gain strength.”

Anakin is often faced with impossible situations. It may be a battle where he is outnumbered twenty to one, it may be hiding a marriage from those people who he is closest to, or it may be admitting that he’s done wrong and choosing to turning away from that path. In many cases, it is Anakin’s passion that gives him the strength to get through those difficult times.

In The Phantom Menace, Anakin has to contend with his daily existence as a slave, and it is only his love for his mother, his passion for her well-being, and his passion to make more of himself that leads him to risk his life in a podrace. Many problems depicted in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, are solved because Anakin was so passionate to help his friends or win the day that he is willing to get dangerously close to the Dark Side. Whether the risk is worth it is debatable, but Anakin certainly gets results. In the episode “The Wrong Jedi,” Anakin’s passionate pursuit of the killer who has framed Ahsoka is what leads him to Barriss Offee and Ahsoka’s exoneration. Ultimately, it is Anakin’s passion that is awakened when he sees Luke being electrocuted by the Emperor that compels him to break the bonds of the Dark Side over him.

For all the times where Anakin’s passion for his friends or family gives him the strength to do good, there are also those times where it bears dark fruit. It is his passion for his mother and Padme that leads him to commit unspeakable acts. His passion for his mother leads to a furious mindset that causes him to murder countless Tuscan Raiders and believe he was justified in doing so. It’s his fear of Padme’s death and his love for her that inspires him to leave behind the Jedi ways for the sake of saving Padme and their unborn children. Passion can lead to strength, and it can be a good tool, but it must be tempered and used responsibly, not out of anger or desperation.

“Through strength, I gain power.”

This is where the Sith code starts to lose me. Strength as a concept is generally pretty good. It allows you to withstand the hard times in life and help yourself and those around. It must be all those readings and viewings of The Lord of the Rings that makes me nervous around the word power. The idea that power corrupts is one found in countless myths and stories because while power is not inherently evil, it does give you the ability to exert control or influence those around you. You could use that power for good in service of those around you, but often even good intentions lead to negative results.

Anakin is one of the most powerful Jedi, and everyone knew it. From a young age, the rumors of “The Chosen One” followed him. He used that power countless times to save the clones who served under him, the Jedi who served alongside him, and the citizens who counted on him. His power, bravery, and compassion allowed him to influence the lives around him in a positive way, but his thirst for greater power is also what lead him to the darkness.

“Through power, I gain victory.”

Anakin fell to the Dark Side for the same reason many Sith do: he wanted more power. Even though he desired this power for a noble reason, to save Padme, the taste of power pushed him beyond just saving his wife. When Padme and Obi-Wan confront Anakin during the climax of Revenge of the Sith, he is no longer speaking of just saving Padme. He is proclaiming that he ended the Clone Wars and that he will bring order to the galaxy. In his mind, his power is still allowing him to accomplish great things for the betterment of the galaxy, but it is not tempered by humility. He would use it to make himself a ruler, not a servant of the people. His victory is for himself, not for the good of all.

“Through victory, my chains are broken.”

In The Phantom Menace, Anakin’s victory in the podrace frees him from the bonds of slavery. In Attack of the Clones, his wooing of Padme (if you can call it that because not only is he not very good at it, but he’s super creepy at times) leads to a breaking of the Jedi regulations forbidding attachment. In both of these instances, he is changed through his victory. He goes from a scared little boy trapped in slavery to a padawan and from a lonely young man to someone moved to love another. He has the potential to gain more and more personal victories as he works to grow as a person, but he fails to do so.

When Anakin fails to defeat Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith, he blames Obi-Wan and allows hate to encase him in a black, armored cage. Rather than admitting his faults and turning back to the light, Anakin embraces all the traits and vestments of the Dark Side. He uses his power to dominate foe after foe and intimidates those around him to get what he desires, but the whole time, he is still metaphorically trapped by chains of pain and hatred.

Anakin’s victories over the conflicts he faced had the chance to define him as a Jedi and a man who sought to learn and grow and become a more whole person who would be better able to offer his potential for the good to the galaxy. His victories led to something selfish instead. It led him to claim dominion. It twisted him and turned him away from his best self and trapped him in armor forged from rage and self-loathing. It could have been so different for Anakin if he’d only thought to have asked himself why he was seeking victory.

“The Force shall free me.”

This part always sounds so good. It conjures images of rays of sunlight peaking through the clouds as someone who has suffered for so long realizes that they don’t have to anymore. Anakin experiences this kind of freedom, too. When Luke reaches out to Anakin multiple times (first on the Endor moon, then aboard the Death Star) in Return of the Jedi, Anakin is being freed. Luke’s love for his father begins to break the chains of rage and pain that bind Anakin to Darth Vader. It’s one reason why the end of that film is so meaningful. Anakin is mentally freed when he turns away from his destructive path when he defeats the Emperor, he is physically freed from his armor and allowed to look on the face of his son without the dark lenses of Darth Vader, and he is spiritually freed when he takes on his luminous form on Endor. The Force, acting through Luke Skywalker, frees Anakin Skywalker.

As is often the case with the Sith, what sounds good often hides the potential for darkness. In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin tells Obi-Wan that he see through the “lies of the Jedi,” and he does not fear the Dark Side as they do. He has been freed here, too. He has been given the freedom to leave behind a set of moral rules that he disagrees with, but the problem is that he replaces that moral code (flawed though it may be) with a selfish one. He is free, but he uses that freedom to take for himself rather than using it to provide freedom and justice for others.

Like many things in life, the Sith Code is not inherently bad, just as the Jedi Code is not inherently good. It’s the person that makes it good or bad. A humble person who seeks to help others can use his or her passion to gain strength and power and victory, and he or she can break chains and free others from both physical and mental captivity. It’s a thin line though. It requires a person who can harness their passion, strength, and power for good and resist the temptation to use it for selfish ends. It’s that selfish use of all these traits that make someone Sith. Is my wife a Sith? No. She’s stronger than she gives herself credit for, and even if sometimes her rage would give Maul flashbacks to his time spent cowering with his spider legs, she recognizes when her anger burns others and makes up for it. She walks the Sith Code with a Jedi heart.

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