For over forty years we’ve celebrated the Jedi as heroes, the ultimate victors in the galactic conquest that spanned time and space itself, and when we had nothing but the Original trilogy to go by, that might have been true. But if the prequal trilogy has taught us anything, it’s that the truth is never what you think it is and things are never as simple as they originally appear. For example, Darth Vader is more than a suit-encased villain…he’s a little boy who builds droids to help his mother and who risks his life to help complete strangers. And the Emperor is more than a threatening hooded-figure holding Vader’s leash on the Death Star, he’s a suave, well-liked politician who comes from one of the most peaceful planets we visit in the entire series. Even Obi-Wan was once a student with a flair of a temper who questioned his teacher. Time and again we are shown that our first impressions of these characters and themes are wrong, or incomplete because we didn’t know the whole story. So with all that in mind, are we to believe that the entirety of the Jedi order just conveniently misunderstood the word balance and nobody bothered to correct them?
“You refer to the prophecy of The One who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this boy?” – Mace Windu
I know prophecies can be interpreted in a thousand different ways and none of the interpretations be correct, but balance has a straightforward definition as words go. Balance: a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. Pretty easy stuff. And yet a roomful of highly intelligent and supposedly wise, leaders of the galactic police-force all misinterpreted it? Even Master YODA?! He’s been around for over 900 years at this point and has presumably spent a great chunk of that time meditating and seeking wisdom, so either he’s really bad at it, and by default, the rest of the Jedi are as well (which I find difficult to believe) … or our more likely, our heroes knew exactly what balance meant — and actively fought against it, because it makes no sense that such a diverse group of enlightened individuals all came to the wrong conclusion about the meaning of such a simple word.
There’s a line Padme speaks in Revenge of the Sith that catches my attention every time I revisit the saga: “What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?”
Ergo: What if our heroes are not heroes at all…what if they’re the villains?
Let’s be honest, the Jedi Council knew exactly what the prophecy of The One meant because if they didn’t then their lack of intelligence is unbelievably staggering. So when Anakin finally appeared before them, they immediately shunned him– and by proxy, the will of the Force itself – because they knew balance does not mean wiping out the Sith to leave the Jedi unchecked. Balance means a clean slate. It means equality. It means an end to their powerbase and their perceived right to judge the galaxy by their views and opinions.
That’s right. When a little boy newly freed from slavery stood in front of a roomful of heroes and asked to join them in their quest to help bring peace to the galaxy, they responded with a harsh and resounding: NO. He is too old, they crooned, too full of fear. And because they’re our heroes of old, we and the rest of the galaxy listened, and in their excuses heard wisdom. But is anyone too old to learn to be a better member of society. Is anyone too old to try to do the right thing? I personally wasn’t aware that there was an age-limit on becoming a good person. A child who has been a slave all of his life and who suddenly has the autonomy to choose his own course in life, decides to give himself over to selflessness and the good of the galaxy and you belittle him and tell him no…because he’s nine…and has the emotional maturity to handle all the things life has thrown at him without becoming bitter or violent… and you’re the heroes in this story?
I don’t think so.
The plain truth is the Jedi Council recognized Anakin for what he was the moment he first stood before them: he was their reckoning, their downfall from power. And in their own palpable fear, they rejected him. They purposefully rejected the will of the Force and because we hailed them as heroes, we didn’t see it. Anakin was the physical manifestation of the Force itself coming to wipe the slate clean and put an end to the warring extremist ideals, which would in turn leave the notion of the Jedi in the antiquated past where it belonged, and as a collective voice the Jedi Council said no – we wield the Force, the Force does not wield us.
So no, I do not see heroes here. I see an inflated sense of self-importance, a belief in their own divine right to rule and judge both the Force itself and the morality of the galaxy at large. I see narcissism, and fear, and the refusal to compromise. You can preach and speak peace and love and harmony, but your actions better reflect all those things or everything you claim to stand for is meaningless. If your hallmark is compassion, then you damn well better show it.
“See through you we can.” – Yoda
In the end, the prequel trilogy sets us up to discover all the hidden truths in the Star Wars saga that we ultimately missed the first time around, and it all begins in The Phantom Menace. We learn that Vader was more than a monster, and that the story we thought we knew is only partially true. But perhaps most important to the tale as a whole, and yet sadly overlooked due to our emotional attachment to the original story, we’re given a harsh truth about those we’ve come to love, emulate, and admire above all others. We just have to be brave enough to see it. Because again, the truth is there in the simple meaning of the words: The Phantom Menace. It’s not referring to the darkness we all plainly see coming, it’s hinting at those who hide in plain sight, those whose darkness is masked by faces of those we trust most. The true phantom menace.