NOTE: This is PART 1 of my development of MECHA AMIDALA. PART 2 will be coming soon!!! ❤
R2D2 as Unreliable Narrator
Behind every great story, there is a great storyteller. In the fictional universe of Star Wars, according to George Lucas, that great narrator is R2D2.
R2D2 as narrator opens up the possibility for us to consider them as unreliable. Which is not to say that they are lying to us about the events that transpired – simply that they have a complete lack of understanding of the force, of the Sith, and of the Jedi order itself.
This is a convenient way for me to frame my reading of the Jedi order as representing a straight, cis, white masculinity bent on projecting all the abjection such a positionality rejects onto the bodies, psychologies, and livelihood of an abject Sith Other. But let’s pretend that this is all due to R2D2’s ignorance as a narrator. I mean, they’re a robot. What do they know.
R2D2 Fails to See the Violence of the Jedi Imagination
In order to legitimize the displacement & genocide of a people, one must first become convinced that such a genocide is moral. In order to legitimize the enslavement, rape, abuse, & torture of a people, one must first become convinced that such a thing is moral.
The history of whiteness, then, is a history of legitimizing such acts of terror, and the purposeful imagination required to accomplish a belief in such legitimacy. We’ll call this history colonial history. We’ll call this history the history of the white supremacist imagination.
Whiteness’ other history is its post-colonial history, or the history of laboring to continue legitimizing a belief in the technology of a white supremacist imagination developed in the colonial history phase.
These two histories have overlap, and oscillate between one another frequently. But this is how I understand it, when I look at the history of white imagination. First, the development of the oppressive imaginary, and then, the continued refining of that imaginary in whatever way best continues to allow the white supremacist imagination, and therefore white supremacy, to replicate itself.
If this is true, then it is not too big a stretch to say that perhaps R2D2, in the context of the Star Wars universe (originally imagined by some old white dudes), bears traces of the white imagination that legitimized the genocide and enslavement of POC in the white colonial period.
It is not too big a stretch to say that Star Wars, as a series, bears traces of this (straight, cis, male) white imaginary. In fact, it makes perfect sense. And nowhere is this more clear in our narrator’s depiction of the Sith & the Dark Side.
R2D2 Fails to See the Projections of the Jedi Imagination
The white imaginary’s main technology is its malleability in the face of confrontation and its ability to self-replicate across multiple subjects all seeking to legitimize the imbalance of power felt but unknowable. Whiteness is a privilege that cannot be known in a way that our minds are ready for; privilege is a very puzzling concept for the ego.
Whiteness’s id’s like: So you’re saying there’s no punishment?
And whiteness’s ego’s like: But you’ll feel bad, though. Seriously.
And id’s like: But there’s like, totally no punishment. So, like, it can’t be all that bad.
And whiteness’s ego’s like: Yo, but what will people think about you?
And superego’s like: No punishment means we must be right. Let’s just be terrible.
The problem then becomes, after the id has it’s way, and accepts that it’s okay to be terrible, the guilt of being terrible remains. In order to deal with this, the white imaginary then projects all of that guilt, shame, anger, etc. onto the abject other being terrorized, such that the other becomes the site of guilt, shame, and anger. Such that POC become the reason that white people are feeling the way they do. Which eventually solidifies as POC becoming the feeling, or becoming the imagination.
This is why Claudia Rankine writes:
because white men can’t
police their imagination
black men are dying
The terror of recognizing oneself as terrible, of being descended from a lineage of terror, the terror of accepting guilt, becomes the terror enacted upon others, or the terror of denying such a terror exists. Whiteness is the denial of terror. Whiteness is the inscription of terror on the bodies of POC. Whiteness is the act of refusing to recognize one’s positioning in a history of terror, refusing to feel that terror, refusing to see that terror, for fear of compromising the white ego-ideal.
So then it makes sense that the Sith are characterized as angry amoral terrorists, violent and vindictive sadists who should feel guilty, who should feel ashamed, at being the way they are. Who have no purpose other than the destruction of the white male Jedi order. Because, in the white imaginary, the only way to continue to legitimize whiteness is to believe that whiteness is the natural order, and that all else that seeks to simply exist is bent on the destruction of that natural order.
Black existence is bent on the destruction of the “natural” white order, and therefore must be destroyed.
Immigrant existence is bent on the destruction of the “natural” white order, and therefore must be destroyed.
Trans existence is bent on the destruction of the “natural” male order, and therefore must be destroyed.
“Christianity is under attack!” really means various intersections of cis, straight, white, masculinity are recognizing those outside of the order who simply wish to exist as they are. And this very existence is threatening.
So is it very different to say “The Jedi order is under attack!” really means various intersections of cis, straight, white, masculinity recognizes those outside of the order wish to live as they are? This is what the Star Wars saga is built upon – the destruction of the Jedi order, and the heroes seeking to resists that destruction, who know, in their hearts, that their form of governance is the governance that is right and just. That their government is the government of “freedom,” of “liberation,” without realizing that this government is built on historical acts of terror.
R2D2 Fails to See the Historical Oppression of the Jedi Order
As per the Sith Wikipedia 🙂 page (4/24/16):
Jedi are built on displacement: “The Jedi chose … to strip their former allies … boarded them onto unarmed transport ships, and sent them into deep space.”
Jedi are built on genocide: “He ordered the Jedi and Republic armed forces to invade Sith Space and destroy any remains of the empire and its citizens.”
Just as liberalism is built on the “freeing” of certain people through the oppression of others, so too is the Jedi order built upon the displacement and genocide of those whom it imagines to be a threat to its order – it is not enough to thwart resistance; the entire population must be destroyed.
From this we can gather than the Jedi imagination functions much as the white imagination does; in order to legitimize these acts, even the writers of the Wikipedia page (!) had to legitimize the oppression of the Jedi, because unconsciously, we recognize the terror of these acts, and must work to protect our ego-ideals in this confrontation of recognition.
“the public demanded their execution. Ever the merciful diplomats, the Jedi chose to …”
Genocide is the will of the people. Displacement is merciful and diplomatic.
“they did what Jedi do:”
Which is inherently righteous.
“Old feuds die hard, so”
The Sith have no intent other than to fight. They have no philosophies, no morals, and are mindless vengeful machines bent on the destruction of all that is good.
This overlap between whiteness and Jedi order is most likely an unconscious process for the writers of the Wikipedia article. But this rhetoric is exactly the sort of rhetoric we hear from our own nation-making elected officials: America is the greatest country on earth (and therefore, what we do must also be great). Democracy is the will of the people (and therefore it’s okay to vote away others’ freedoms). The enemy are terrorists. Because they seek only to cause there. Because there is no room for negotiation with them. Because we will exterminate them, that is all. And anyone who chooses to do anything else, we will exterminate them, too. We will exterminate everyone. For freedom, liberty, justice, huzzah.
R2D2 Fails to Understand the Dark Side
All of this is to say: the Dark Side is a projection of the Jedi order’s imaginary, which is inspired by the white male order’s imaginary.
Returning to our idea of the “natural” order of white masculinity, the Dark Side is often characterized as a place in which “unnatural” abilities take root. It is hinted that the Dark Side has the power to save lives, to respond to a full range of human emotions, including those rejected by the Jedi order and projected on the Dark Side, and to exist as a cyborg, a monster – the Dark Side is a place of refuge for those rejected by the Jedi order.
And indeed, Anakin does not “convert” to the Dark Side so much as the Jedi Council refuses to recognize Anakin’s legitimate desire to save Padme, which forces him to do what is best for those he loves: to leave the Jedi order, seeking training elsewhere.
What if the Jedi were in touch with their own Dark Sides? Could they have trained Anakin to rescue Padme? It is clear, as Anakin “returns” to the Light Side at the end of the series, that the binary is false: one can exist as both Light Side & Dark Side at the same time, or can transition between the two, at the very least. The refusal of the Light Side to see this truth is what leads to Anakin’s departure and his very legitimate concern that a Jedi Order that fails to recognize their own Dark Sides will never be able to utilize the force to its full capacities, and therefore will continue to let people die when that death might be preventable.
This ability to let people die is exactly what Foucault describes as government’s biopolitical turn, and for Anakin to recognize the tyranny of such a governance is actually quite admirable. Anakin seeks not to destroy the Jedi, so much as destroy the Jedi order’s continued repression of imagination, which finds itself as a projection upon the Sith, because this repression of the Jedi imagination’s very real consequence is the death of Padme.
In this frame, then, Anakin is our hero who sees the Jedi for what they are, a group with a repressed imagination due to the necessary task of that imagination to labor towards the legitimization of the Jedi order’s biopolitical terrorism stemming from a history of displacement & genocide.
In the End, R2D2 Is Telling the Wrong Story
But I’m interested in a different hero. My hero is not a white man. My hero is an Asian woman, named Padme Amidala. Who is not replaced by a white actor in the series. Who is not written into a teenage love interest in episode two. Who is not killed off in episode three.
Instead of Anakin, it is Padme who is saved. Who becomes a cyborg. Instead of Anakin, it is Padme who leads the fight against the Jedi order. Who masters the force. And who ultimately destabilizes the force, oscillating between the Dark Side, the Light Side, and refuting all attempts at categorization along any binary, causing the entire system to implode.
More on this coming later. ❤