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Episode II: Attack On The Soul?
Do clonesoldiers have bellybuttons?
Hey, I'm serious! Maybe they'll be "vat-grown" or spawned in a collagen matrix and won't need to have a navel. Or maybe they do have them: remnants of some umbilical that pumped all the nutrients as they gestated.
That's what's great about fantasy: you get to make fun of the real world you're taking a respite from. Not that we haven't needed some time off after what reality's sent us lately.
Call it "Attack Of The Cloners": I've counted no less than five major stories involving human cloning since August 6th, and none of them about Ed Woo... 'scuse me, George Lucas's new movie. One wonders if The Flanneled One didn't have some ulterior motive in timing the release of Episode II's title. Either that or Lucas is in some league of prophet.
Maybe he is, and "Attack Of The Clones" will come at a time when we'll need a warning about our growing power: fantasy is about an idealized world, not the real one. J.R.R. Tolkien said that if the War of the Ring was a real conflict the good guys would have enslaved Sauron and occupied Mordor by using the One Ring, but would have lost to evil as a result. Like the One Ring, cloning is a symbol of power, and perhaps Star Wars will give it the same respect. I'll wager that Episode II's cloners will stop short of "improving" their army of duplicate soldiers. That's comforting in a way, because a billion clones could be cranked out but at least their manufacturers would leave well enough alone. As idealized characters they'll understand their power and know when to stop.
But in reality, human nature doesn't know when to stop. With everything we're coming to know about human genetics, where will it end? There's a strong likelihood that a cloned human will be born before Episode II premieres. Then it'll probably be only a matter of time before someone gets the bright idea of inserting firefly DNA so a person can have a light-up butt or something...
But I'm also wondering: will a clone have a soul? The Kaballah, the lore of Jewish mysticism, teaches that a soul is created by the fusion of male and female. Some students of Kaballah further teach that flesh originating any other way cannot possess a soul, the sole exception being Adam who was made by God. Every human since has come, in some way, from the union of two. What then of a person who comes from one other? And of more immediate importance is this: if we can "play God" in this way, how is this going to affect our own souls?
One of the themes of Star Wars is that the human spirit prevails over technology: those who win aren't the ones with power but those with hope... the ones most driven by the soul. As mythmeister Joseph Campbell noted about the saga, "our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being." Technology never overwhelmed humanity in Star Wars, but they could exist side-by-side.
And that's why Episode II - what we know about it anyway - troubles me. It's set to deviate the wildest from the humanity/technology theme: people aren't going to just be using tools anymore... people are going to become tools. So what's Lucas's angle here?
A harsh fact of military training is that in establishing a unified force of soldiers, the free-will of every individual must be crushed, then reconstituted. A man is built back up, not as an individual, but as one part of a greater whole. That's not an easy thing to do, nor should it be: the difficulty in training a soldier should humble his leaders to realize that this person - who may be asked to die for a cause - isn't an automaton. He is a living, thinking entity, who can both love and be loved, and his life shouldn't be considered "cheap" by any stretch.
Now imagine not enlisting an army but growing it. Envision a vast auditorium, millions of identical faces staring with the same hollow eyes as they learn how to kill and be killed. While those who have sanctioned this army watch in ease and comfort, their consciences unseared by the knowledge that they are sending others off to die for their own selfish motives. Why should they be troubled, when they believe that those soldiers have no souls... are not even worthy of possessing a soul as their leaders see fit?
Is that really a fantasy? Isn't this what many "leaders" throughout history have dreamt of possessing, even tried to create at some level? Could it be that even a nation supposedly as civilized as America could let it happen... perhaps has allowed to happen?
I believe Episode II is going to be a parable, and the key to its meaning may be with when Lucas began developing Star Wars: during the end of the Vietnam conflict.
Untold thousands - on both sides of the war - died. Why did that have to happen? Why was it so important for America to go to war in Vietnam? Was the average NVA regular sincerely enamoured with the teachings of Marx and Ho Chi Minh? I severely doubt it: the Vietnamese had struggled for independence for two millennia. Communist rule wasn't the goal: it was merely the tool their leaders chose to achieve that goal. Was the average American soldier sincerely interested with stopping communism? I have a hard time believing that either: there was never a rush by young American farmers and tradesmen to halt the Iron Curtain in so far away a land. As much grief as that philosophy caused this past century, on it's own it wasn't a compelling reason for most Americans to desire leaving home turf and possibly die fighting against. By themselves neither of these two men had any reason to hate the other. Only those in power at the time, the ones who stood to profit the most either ideologically or materially, wanted conflict.
But it is the exception rather than the rule that the affluent takes up arms alongside the indigent: according to polls taken at the time, many students were in favor of continuing the draft and thus the war. Yet similar numbers were also against ending the educational deferments that they themselves were using to keep from being drafted. It wasn't the ones who wanted war who went off to fight: it was the ones who were given no strength to make that choice for themselves. The people behind the war, as with those behind the majority of wars in human history, were motivated not by some noble purpose but by power at best and money at worst. What happened in Vietnam was the mechanized destruction of an entire generation of our best and brightest - on both sides - by those who believed their own station in life was enough to warrant the cost of others.
It's easy to want others to have no soul, when one fails to have a concept of his own soul's worth.
"Mechanized destruction of the soul": keep that in mind as you watch Episode II. For more than twenty years we've wondered and debated about what the Clone Wars were, while George Lucas presented idealized humanity at its best. Now he's getting ready to give us a metaphor of what we can be at our worst. Star Wars has been about mankind retaining itself despite its instrument. Episode II will be the dark side of that theme: when mankind allows itself to become an instrument, and more often than not by free choice. Whenever we choose that another's well-being - and life itself - is subservient to our own comfort, we assist in diminishing the preciousness of the soul. And it doesn't require an army of clones coming off the assembly line, either.
I'd still like to know if they have bellybuttons though.
August 21, 2001