With this week’s release of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” moviegoers will witness the final transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. So, after two trilogies and countless merchandising opportunities, what have we learned about the nature of evil and the dark side of the Force?
True, Star Wars creator George Lucas has bollixed up the final installment of his space opera with an unfortunate plot twist suggesting that matters of the heart played the deciding factor in Anakin’s descent. But when all six films are taken together, we see a once-liberal warrior seduced by the promise of power and order — and fed up with the bumbling State Department-like political bureaucrats who have come to dominate the United Nations-like galactic senate.
To paraphrase neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol, an evil Sith lord is a noble Jedi knight mugged by reality.
Or, to put it in more contemporary terms, Darth Vader is the galaxy’s first neocon.
A stretch, it is not. Just ask Washington’s most influential neoconservative journal, The Weekly Standard, which published an article in 2002 defending the takeover of the galaxy by Darth Vader and his evil master, Emperor Palpatine.
“The truth is that from the beginning, Lucas confused the good guys with the bad,” wrote Jonathan V. Last, online editor of The Weekly Standard. “The deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good.”
Vader is simply quashing “traitors” as he wreaks havoc, and his emperor is just an “esoteric Straussian.”
“Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator — but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet,” Last wrote. “It’s a dictatorship people can do business with.”
Of course, here on Earth, much has changed during the past three years. Back in 2002 neocons were still investing a great deal of energy hyping the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and insisting that Iraq and Al Qaeda had a working relationship. Now, democracy is the fundamental argument when it comes to justifying the invasion of Iraq.
No more singing the praises of friendly despots in the name of defeating an Evil Empire. These days, as Michael Kinsley has noted, the mugged-into-reality neocons have become utopians on the issue of democracy.
“The great neocon theme… was tough-minded pragmatism in the face of liberal naiveté,” Kinsley noted in a column last month. Neocons, he added, used to argue that “liberals were too hung up on democracy and human rights, refusing to recognize that the only important question about other countries is ‘Friend or foe?’”
Cynics on the left and right have derided the neocon transformation. But cut them some slack — it is their destiny. Like Vader turning on the emperor in “Return of the Jedi,” the neocons are simply getting back in touch with the good side of the Force.
Most notably, Paul Wolfowitz has left the militarism of the Pentagon to head up the World Bank, where he can advance democracy by being more of a neoliberal than a neocon. As Luke Skywalker said about his Jedi-turned-evil father, “There is still good in him — I can feel it.”