Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Star Wars. The Countdown. 2 Days. (MORE SW Philosophy)



While there is no comparison between the fantasy of technicolor and the reality of life, there are
universal aspects of Torah wisdom reflected metaphorically in the film series.

Judaism says the Force is the ultimate power of the universe: God. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS ARTICLE EQUATES THE FORCE WITH GOD, AS IF THEY ARE INTERCHANGEABLE. ODD. IT SORT OF LIKE SAYING THE UNIVERSE IS GOD. OR BIOLOGY IS GOD. (I DON'T NECESSARILY DISAGREE, BUT AS YOU READ FURTHER, IT FEELS A LITTLE JARRING TO HAVE THE TERM JEDI USED IN PLACE OF RELIGIOUS FAITHFUL. The Jedi Knight strives to perfect his awareness that God is constantly watching and teaching us through the events of life. Walking with God is the highest utilization of the power of the intellect. With Lightsaber in hand, the Jedi never allows his mind to lose focus of the message the Almighty seeks to convey.

Jedi master Yoda teaches a wisdom simple, yet profound. He makes his student unlearn what he had been taught, helping tune him in to the subtle world around him to learn its truths. The Jedi clears away layers of gunk, connecting with his internal compass. This opens the fountains of innate goodness and releases flow from the Light Side.

The Jedi learns that every bit of desire to go against God creates distance. Nothing is more precious than closeness to God,EDITOR'S NOTE: THE FORCE. NOT GOD. and every character flaw is treated as an intruder trying to break that relationship. The master demands those flaws be squelched with a vengeance.

The Jedi is devoted to the Force because God has all the right connections. He can cure disease. He can lift financial burdens. He can arrange it all. If you know the Force is always with you, that's living with ultimate power. If you forget, then God has to focus you again - by breaking the flow. EDITOR'S NOTE: SOME OF THESE ANALOGIES WORK BUT I CAN'T QUITE GO WITH GOD AND THE FORCE AS ONE AND THE SAME. IT FEELS LIKE IT'S PUTTING A QUALIFIER OR SPECIFICITY OF BELIEF ON THE FORCE.

Why do we lose our focus on reality?

The Dark Side comes to confuse us.

Every human is composed of two parts - body and soul. The body seeks temporal pleasures of honor, food, lust. The soul seeks deeper eternal pleasures of love, meaning, connection.

The Jedi knows that while physical pleasure is an essential part of life, it is only a steppingstone to higher pleasures. True freedom is the ability to put the soul in control. By making the choice of soul over body, we harness the galaxy and become one with the Force. EDITOR'S NOTE: YEAH, BUT WHERE'S THE FUN IN THAT?!

The Sith Warrior chooses a different path. Seduced by greed and power, he follows the temptations of the Dark Side. Judaism calls this the Yetzer Hara - the self-destructive bodily forces that pull us away from God.

The Dark Side gives an illusion of victory. But behind the black body armor, Darth Vader's reign of terror is a sad phantasm. His manipulations ultimately destroy lives, society - and himself.

The battle for good and evil is played out, as Darth - using powers far more dangerous than Lightsabers - seeks to lure Luke down the same dark path.

At every step, God tests our discipline and determination. A Jedi Knight must be strong in
conviction and cannot doubt. He must be certain that the Force is with him.

We attain this confidence through knowledge, not faith. God knows that through sincere investigation, His existence is abundantly clear. We observe the wonders of nature. We cry out and are rescued from difficulty. In our own way, we have seen seas split and mountains move.

Belief is bolstered through study of Torah. As the ultimate repository of wisdom, Torah reveals the Source of all wisdom.

Every human longs for the transcendental. The Jedi strives to lift into oneness with God. To enjoy Him at all times and share in His power.

In the end, the battle between good and evil is played out within each of us. Our challenge is to resist the temptations of the Dark Side - and with the help of God, become a master of self.

May the Force be with you.

by Phil Hall (2005-04-18)
When the characters of the “Star Wars” series proclaim “May the Force be with you!” to each other, the Force in question is not Buddhism. In fact, Buddhism is never mentioned anywhere in the “Star Wars” series. Or at least not in an overt manner!

The link between the Buddha and Luke Skywalker and Co. has been made by writer Matthew Bortolin. Indeed, these are twin passions: Bortolin is an ordained member of Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing, and has lived in Buddhist monasteries both in the United States and abroad. And a set of Jedi robes hangs in his closet. EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL OF COURSE IT DOES.

Bortolin has outlined the unlikely common ground between these two cultural phenomena in his new book “The Dharma of Star Wars.” Covering the entire “Star Wars” odyssey from the 1977 landmark through the upcoming “Revenge of the Sith” (albeit with one notorious exception, which is discussed later), Bortolin traces elements of Buddhist philosophy and theology in the epic story lines and larger than life characters of the “Star Wars” films. Released by Wisdom Publications as part of the build-up to “Revenge of the Sith,” Bortolin’s “The Dharma of Star Wars” brings a very different and deeply compelling analysis of the galaxy far, far away.
Film Threat caught up with Bortolin at his Ventura, California, home to talk about his book and its unique considerations.

Were you initially cognizant of the parallels between “Star Wars” and Buddhist theology when you first saw the 1977 landmark, or did your connections between faith and film arise over time? And what exactly clued you to the connections?

When I saw “Star Wars” in 1977 I didn’t even know what Buddhism was and I probably wouldn’t have cared had someone told me it had parallels with my favorite movie. I was simply captivated by Luke’s quest, Obi-Wan’s wisdom, Vader’s evil and the rest of the crew. “Star Wars” instantly became part of me, my thoughts, my world-view. I think of it now as my oldest friend. “The Empire Strikes Back” made the influence of Buddhism on the saga very apparent. Irvin Kershner (the director of The Empire Strikes Back) said he tried to make Yoda like a Zen master and to imbue the Dagobah scenes with a Zen feel. (By the way, “Dagobah” is a rewording of “dagoba” or Buddhist shrine—just a little geeky trivia for you). Yoda is a good jumping off point for Buddhist themes in “Star Wars,” but they run much deeper than what that little Jedi Master taught Luke.

Star Wars fans have more than a little difficulty tolerating the likes of Jar Jar Binks or the Ewoks. What role do these less-than-loved characters serve in the Buddhist understanding of the Star Wars series?

If nothing else they teach us that the greatest saga of all time can be terribly flawed and still retain its perfection. We can still enjoy the garden despite the weeds—and we can enjoy the weeds too. Even as a kid I found the Ewoks’ victory over an entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops implausible, but I still spent hours recreating that epic battle with my Ewok Village playset. Yub, yub!

Jar Jar…now that’s a different story. In “The Dharma of Star Wars,” I liken Jar Jar to that fidgety, erratic, spastic nature of our minds. He is our mind when it is running on and on and won’t shut up no matter how many times we yank it by the tongue and order it to quiet down! Jedi Mindfulness and meditation help calm the Jar Jar within us (and yes, he’s there whether we want to admit it or not). EDITOR'S NOTE: COULDN'T IT ALSO BE SAID THAT JAR JAR IS THE CHILD IN ALL OF US. HE REALLY IS A COMPLETE INNOCENT.

Millions of people are obsessed with “Star Wars.” But is there a danger, from a Buddhist perspective, in putting too much energy and emotion into a movie series? EDITOR'S NOTE: NO.

Yes, there is always a danger in becoming overly obsessed with anything. For example, I was at the midnight showing of Attack of the Clones in LA three years ago and a fight broke out between fanboys over some prime seats. A real fight with fisticuffs and toy lightsabers! We can become overly attached to ideas, things and people (like Anakin’s attachment to Padmé in “Revenge of the Sith”) and that attachment can lead to the dark side (again, like Anakin in “Sith”). At the same time, however, it is also dangerous to overly repudiate or reject life. “Star Wars” is fun—I say enjoy it (sans the black eyes and swollen lips, of course).

Your book makes no mention of the notorious 1978 offering The Star Wars Holiday Special. Can one find any Buddhist understanding in having the likes of Art Carney or Beatrice Arthur recklessly trespassing in the Lucas universe?

Buddhism teaches that the first Truth of life is that suffering is a part of life. For me nothing makes the fact of suffering more evident than the “Holiday Special” and especially Beatrice Arthur singing the Mos Eisley Cantina patrons out the door. Just the memory makes my skin crawl. I have “watched” the “Holiday Special” several times, but I have never made it all the way through without firmly depressing the fast-forward button through most of its interminable, stomach-churning scenes. In an early draft of “The Dharma of Star Wars” I did reference the “Holiday Special.” I’ll repeat what I said there: If you haven’t already seen the “Holiday Special,” don’t! EDITOR'S NOTE: TRUE FANS TAKE THE BAD WITH THE GOOD. (AND OBSESSIVE/COMPULSIVES CAN'T HELP THEMSELVES!)

Or for that matter, why is it that the Wookies have their own religious holiday in “The Star Wars Holiday Special” while the human characters don’t seem to have any visible affiliation with a specific religious persuasion?

By tapping into the archetypes of myth and religion but not being passionate about any one in particular, George Lucas dressed a highly spiritual saga in secular clothes. There is no specific “Star Wars” faith. “Star Wars” is a story of the human condition that we can all relate to in one way or another. Buddhism, as an individual practice, a practice of self-discovery and one that requires us to understand the truth about reality in our own way, squares nicely with Lucas’ universal approach. Buddhism is not just for the Buddhist. It can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

What are your personal expectations of the upcoming “Revenge of the Sith”?

I think it’s going to be awesome! I am confident that it will be the best of the prequel trilogy and perhaps the entire saga (although it will be hard pressed to outdo “The Empire Strikes Back”). Darth Vader is my favorite character and I am excited to see the final fall of Anakin and the rise of Vader. Anakin’s story is one many of us can relate to. It’s a story of good intentions that go terribly awry because life is not simple and choices between right and wrong are often blurred.

There is a saying about good intentions: “The road to hell is paved with them.” That is something Anakin discovers in “Sith.” We create hells everyday in our lives because we are also confused. Buddhist practice helps clear the confusion so we can see life with greater clarity and make choices that will benefit ourselves and others and not lead us to the dark side.

Exclusive Article: Droids and the Force
Droids, Technology and the Force: A Clash of Phenomena

By Jedi Tam Azur-Jamin; (Translation by Abel G. Peña)
Droids' rights have been a long-standing issue. Groups like the Coalition of Automaton Rights Activists and its more militant cousin the Mechanical Liberation Front, along with famous pamphlets such as San Herrera and Nia Reston's pioneering "Droid Rights" and Arhul Hextrophon's "The Problem of Droid Abuse," have succeeded to varying degrees in making headway for the recognition of droids as viable beings with certain unalienable rights.

With the recent invasion of the technologically antagonistic Yuuzhan Vong, there has been a resurgence of droid discrimination among the galactic citizenry. The Jedi themselves have been somewhat reluctant to address the topic in the aftermath for reasons that have not been made clear with the general public.

What follows is a careful dissection of the issue.

1. The Problem
In his book Of Minds, Men, and Machines, the renowned pre-Republic philosopher Plaristes argued fiercely and eloquently, and convincingly about the impossibility of automata ever achieving Artificial Sentience, citing roadblocks ranging from staggering concepts such as the postulation of reality, intention and freewill to trivial concerns like the ability to form proper syntax. Over twenty-five millennia of droids' existence, and over fifty billion droids in current service, however, have since proven him wrong.

Yet droid sentience remains as inexplicable as hyperdrive technology. Like consciousness in higher-order organics, it is only known that when certain cognitive components come together, self-awareness springs forth like an Akurian geyser. But there is no specific aspect of a droid's cognitive module or behavioral circuitry matrix that can be pinpointed as the particular cause of A.S., nor has a definite "cut-off" line been determined at a certain level of automaton: can it be said that a third degree droid (such as protocol droid) is sentient, yet a fourth degree (such as a single-minded IG assassin droid) or fifth degree droid (such as a monosyllabic ASP model) is not? Furthermore, can mindwipes, or the lack thereof, alter this perceived cut-off? Where does artificial sentience begin and where does it end? EDITOR'S NOTE: OF COURSE, THE SAME CAN BE SAID OF QUITE A FEW BIOLOGICALS, HMMM? (THE LAST EARTH USA ELECTION PROVING THAT SENTIENCE IS NOT THAT EASILY PIN-POINTED).

These ambiguities, which should sound familiar to the various fauna rights organizations, have long allowed for the stubborn denial among organic beings of droid sentience, who cling to terms such as "near-sentience." But droid engineers testify to droids having predisposed personalities (or as the comedian Joon Odovrera put it, "Some droids are just born bad.") And how many persons have not heard a droid proclaim service to a "Maker." Many beings have tried to explain away this uneasy allusion as a droid simply referring to its manufacturer, however, few have dared to ask a droid itself what is meant by this.

The Maker, according to droids, is a reference to "the One Who Creates." This concept has been treated contemptuously by the average biological being, but it is a matter of record that there exists a planet by the name Ronyards that is host to an entire population of deity worshipping mechanicals. It is also no secret that the Sunesi species also worships an entity called the Maker, and has a number of droid devotees within its religion.

These facts have made it obvious, if not palatable, to a majority of the intellectual community that droids do undoubtedly exhibit consciousness of a kind, as much insofar as one can claim the same of higher order biologicals. This, however, poses a new problem, particularly for those who work with a little phenomenon called the Force, the energy field that surrounds all living things.

All living things.

Droids and the Force have never been thought of in compatible terms. Coupled with the lasting droid prejudice inspired by the Great Droid Revolution, and revived to some degree by the smaller Arkanian Revolution, these inorganic, reasoning creatures that are devoid of the Force have caused even respected Jedi Masters like Jorus C'baoth to label droids as abominations.

Yet, other Jedi haven't been so closed-minded, daring to ask the question: do droids truly exist outside the Force? After all, if the Force can be imbued into inanimate objects such as staffs and personal trinkets, even found in lifeless rock, what makes droids so different? Tales of Iron Knights (and even wild rumors about Jedi droids named Skippy) have fueled the fire for those devoted few who dared to press the question.

Ironically enough, while the Jedi only had marginal success in finding any connection between the Force and droids, mostly through the observation of the instinctual tendencies some Jedi such as Cay Qel-Droma and Anakin Solo exhibited toward fixing machinery, the first real proof of a correlation between the Force and droids came from the Sith.

It is believed that through their bizarre alchemies, the Sith somehow stumbled upon the ability to manipulate mechanicals of complex nature through the Force: ships, computers, and, indeed, even droids. This power, known as mechu-deru, was responsible for the creation of Belia Darzu's infamous Technobeasts, which were capable of rewriting an organism's entire genetic code.

Needless to say, the idea that droids could only be touched by the Force through dark magicks discouraged the majority of Jedi from further researching the issue.

It also didn't help that 'borgs -- sentients that had been fitted with extensive prosthetics or cybernetic enhancements -- such as the Clone Wars veteran Kligson and the bounty hunter Gorm the Dissolver, often exhibited explicitly deviant social behaviors.

It was also a matter of record that Force-sensitive "cybered" beings generally demonstrated added difficulty in accessing the light side of the Force, at least initially, and often demonstrated a greater susceptibility to the dark side.

Many a Jedi, including Even Piell and Tenel Ka, in part rejected prosthetics for these reasons.

Doctors and Jedi Masters postulated that cybernetics made one "less human," reducing a person's empathy, but the accuracy of this theory was plagued by the gaps that persist in A.S. understanding, not to mention the omnipresence of droid prejudice. Certainly, great Jedi like King Empatojayos Brand and Daye Azur-Jamin would have much to say against this accusation of reduced humanity -- both lost more than half their organic selves, but a more just monarch and conscientious man are not easily found.

2. New Advances
Many things changed with the coming of Palpatine's New Order, to put it mildly, among them the Jedi taboo against researching the connection between the Force and mechanicals.

The Emperor needed tools, tools that could be used to locate and detain the Jedi. Many Jedi had long maintained that the Force could not be empirically measured, nor synthetically manufactured. They were in a sense quite wrong, and this proved detrimental, as the effects of the Jedi Purge show.

Perhaps because they could not see the Force, Palpatine's scientists could not be blinded by its wondrous light. They dissected the Force, treating it not as a supernatural phenomenon, but reducing it to its mere physical components: midi-chlorians and energy.

With the morality of light and darkness no longer at issue, a cadre of Palpatine's super-scientists that included Umak Leth, Borborygmus Gog, and Lord Cronal sought to bridge the gap between technology and the Force with an aggression and reckless abandon never before applied. The result was three of the instruments most dreaded by the Jedi: the Essence Stealer, the Universal Energy Cage, and the Force Detector. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, NOW THEY'RE JUST MAKING STUFF UP! (GIGGLE)

Procuring a Ssi-ruuvi battle droid vessel at an exorbitant price from rare ship collector Raith Sienar, Borborygmus Gog feverishly worked to discover the secrets of Ssi-ruuvi entechment -- a process by which a being's life-force could be stripped from his or her body and transferred to a mechanical construct (for the Ssi-ruuk, typically a droid ship). Gog succeeded in creating a soul-stealing machine able to rip the life-essence from a being and contain it within a giant computer-linked crystal matrix, while the comatose bodies were put in cryostasis in adjacent transparisteel containers.

Setting the machine up within the old Jedi library on the abandoned Nespis VIII space station, Gog had hoped to trap the spirit of a Jedi for study. Yet, while his machine ensnared many life-forces, Gog was unable to capture a Force-sensitive, or at least not for long -- the Jedi he caught invariably willed themselves to die rather than partake in the evil experiment. No matter. Jedi philosophers had long stated that the Force was generated by all living things to a greater or lesser degree, and the Emperor's scientists found this to be true of the life-forces they captured.

The Essence Stealer was eventually destroyed during the Rebellion by the young Zak and Tash Arranda, who went on to become great Jedi in their own right. The freed spirits returned to their bodies if they were still preserved, and the rest went on to become one with the Force. It is suspected, however, that this particular machine was but one of several that were set up by Gog.

Building on the work of the demented researcher Jenna Zan Arbor,EDITOR'S NOTE: SO YOU POISON A FEW OF THE FOLKS IN YOUR EXPERIMENTS. IS THAT ANY REASON TO CALL THE GOOD DOCTOR 'DEMENTED'? SO JUDGEMENTAL. the scientists were able to study the trapped spirits endlessly, harnessing the energy field they created, and testing it. Its power was incredible. No energy source could rival it.

A curiosity they did notice was the relation between the field and the incredibly durable Mandalorian iron: they found that the metal could not be affected by the Force energy field, this effect peculiar only to iron from Mandalore and not "normal" iron. The scientists mistakenly believed then that this odd iron could actually suppress the Force energy field. This proved untrue, though the metal did make for effective Jedi containment devices, as seen with Imperial Dungeon ships and Mandalorian handcuffs.

However, it is suspected that the ysalamiri of Myrkr, creatures known for their ability to dampen the Force, could owe their unique gift to their ability to process the great quantities of Mandalorian iron to be found in the trees that serve as both home and nutrition for the creatures. It is suspected that the trees were transplanted at some point from Mandalore. EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL, SINCE THE MAIN PREDATOR OF YSALAMIRI ON MYRKR USES A RUDIMENTARY FORM OF THE FORCE TO HUNT, IT IS FAR MORE LIKELY THAT HUNTER AND HUNTED EVOLVING TOGETHER WITH FORCE POWERS, EACH DEVELOPED A MEANS OF DEALING WITH THE OTHER OVER THE EONS.

With the research gathered by the Essence Stealer, the floodgates were flung open.

The scientist Umak Leth was able to design, among other weapons, the Universal Energy Cage. The cage was specifically designed to detain Jedi, annulling their powers by turning their very Force against them. But as an extra precaution, the cage was wrapped in a sphere of electron ray energy, the same used to contain the ionized plasma of reactor cores. This added precaution made it possible to hold any variety of creature, from the mystical Jedi to an enraged Herglic.

Another device that was realized during this period was the Force Detector.

Originally designed though never implemented by Jenna Zan Arbor, and put to heinous use by the Inquisitors and others during the Jedi Purge, the Force Detector was often thought of as the epitome of the evil that could come from merging technology with the Force.

A three-component system, the Force detector consisted of a control pack and two sheet-crystal readers -- transparent paddles slightly larger than an average humanoid hand. To operate the device, these paddles had to be inserted into the control pack, then aimed and bracketed around the subject. The device then scanned the subject in question, constructing a wire-frame hologram of him or her that hovered above the control pack. This wire frame had color-coded lines corresponding to an adjacent numbers column that scrolled out data such as height, weight, approximate age, and midi-chlorian count. EDITOR'S NOTE: WEIGHT?!

Similar to the tracking methods used by Sith probe droids, a blue nimbus would appear around the wire-frame hologram. This was not a simple representation of the midi-chlorian potency of a subject. In fact, it was not even originally one of Arbor's specifications for the device. Of the 10,000 Force Detectors that were made, the Emperor requested that every one be passed into the hands of his Dark Side Mage Lord Cronal, so that he could apply his "Science of Darkness."

Using thaissen crystals acquired from the mines of Circarpous V, Lord Cronal adapted traditional lightsaber construction techniques to give the devices ability to identify the magnitude of Force potential in a given test subject and, amazingly, any dark side inclinations as well. These inclinations manifested themselves as blue and red auras, respectively. The other Imperial scientists were of course too proud to admit the possibility that despite all their perceived empirical expertise there were aspects of the Force they still could not begin to understand.

Most of these units have been destroyed or have disappeared since the great purge, but in a poetic twist of fate, Master Skywalker recovered a few and used them to identify candidates for resurrecting the Jedi Order.

However, in an echo of the Dark Times, the dark Jedi Brakiss stole several of these when he flew from the Jedi Praxeum, and used them in turn to identify candidates for his Shadow Academy. Master Skywalker has since disdained their use, but it is well known that Master Kyp Durron used one to detect the Force-sensitivity in his Padawan Miko Reglia, and that Durron advocates the construction of more of these devices. EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT KYP. ALWAYS CAUSING TROUBLE!

Later, the technologically-minded Imperial scientists made even greater advances, pushing technology into direct interface with the Force as produced by living beings, with astounding, if not always cautiously realized, results.

One such breakthrough was Nasdra Magrody's subelectronic converter.

As most know, Magrody was a near-human Arkanian and one of the original Death Star designers. But he was also a closet Force-sensitive, reluctant --indeed, scared to death -- to reveal his special abilities.

And yet he could not suppress his desire to explore the legacy he'd inherited.

Magrody methodically taught himself to do what came naturally to most Force-users: "to influence the energy field by means of thought wave concentrations" (i.e. to use the Force).

But Magrody's scientific nature also inclined him to challenge the idea that the Force could not affect complex machinery such as droids. In his essays, "The Light Side of the Subelectronic Force," and "The Universal Energy Field," Magrody speculated the possibility of implanting a subelectronic converter in the brain of a being with the ability to use the Force, similar to Arkanian experiments with the Yaka. This would allow that person to manipulate droids through the Force, or in Magrody's words to "influence artificial intelligences of varying complexities at the individual synaptic level."

His suggestions were largely ignored by the scientific community...but not by the Emperor's Hand, Roganda Ismaren. She kidnapped Magrody, forcing him to realize this hypothetical device and implant it into her son Irek. The lethal potential of the subelectronic converter was seen in the last decades, with the Ismarens' resurrection of the Eye of Palpatine and ultimately the conversion of Irek into a mechanical monster himself.

Another breakthrough was the creation of the remarkable Shadow Droids. Unlike the Haor Chall vulture droid or robotic TIE/D, Shadow Droids were built around the living brains of fallen starfighter aces. Engineer extraordinaire Umak Leth never wholly understood Borborygamus Gog's Ssi-ruuvi research, but he was able to grasp enough of it to marry the bizarre technology with established cyber pilot systems, which combined brain matter with machine but had previously been used only for space exploration vessels. As with the Force Detector, Palpatine again demonstrated his contempt for a purely scientific approach to the Force by blessing this obtuse marriage between organic and inorganic matter with a touch of the dark side, giving the fighters a "sixth sense" in combat.

But like the Ssi-ruuvi technology after which it was patterned, the fusion of living tissue and droid components was incongruous, achieved purely through cold mathematical brutishness, and lent itself easily to decay. While initially compliant, eventually the human sentiences of the Shadow Droids yearned for fulfillment of death like a Charon cultist. This desire was then fueled by its own dark side energies, destroying the delicate cyborg interface and causing the Shadow Droid to degenerate into immobile cyberostasis at best, or insanity at worst. This perceived glitch was later rectified by installing hardware that stripped the brain matter of any remaining humanity. Thus, while the droids were undoubtedly conscious, they do not exhibit one iota of a sentient conscience.

Nevertheless, Shadow Droids were the first real success in emulating the joining of Force and sentient-programming of the fabled Iron Knights. But again, the marriage was marred by the dark side. Upon reflection, the most scientifically-minded of Skywalker's resurging Jedi, such as Cray Mingla, abandoned all hope that machines could be manipulated by means other than Sith mechu-deru. All Jedi, that is, save for the Iron Knights themselves...and their symbionts, the Shard.

3. The Shard
One hundred years before the fall of the Old Republic, scouts encountered the crystal-like Shard on the planet Orax. Silicone-based lifeforms, the Shard are immobile, growing in clusters along rocks near the mineral-rich springs of their homeworld. Able to sense and produce electromagnetic charges, the Shard share a collective-consciousness. It is only through this electromagnetism that the Shard are able to perceive anything, and thanks to it that they are gifted with a facility for mechanical manipulation. They were naturally intrigued by the Republic scouts' droids.

Only a few dozen Shard took to the idea of separating from the group-mind, but those that did immediately formed a strong symbiotic relationship with their droids. The two entities complemented one another perfectly, the droid giving a Shard mobility as well as a variety of modes of perception, and a Shard in turn giving the droid a decidedly living quality, as well as rights equal to all other organic sentients. In this way, Shard and droid both were able to explore the galaxy and a multitude of new experiences.

Then Palpatine's New Order emerged, and with it a shameless prejudice against aliens and disdain for droids unlike ever before. The Shard ambassadors, belonging to both parties, were doubly disparaged, and many were killed, dismantled, and destroyed. Most pretended to be mere servile droids to escape execution.

There were some Shard, however, that were still more persecuted, for they were a menace in yet another sense. For not only were they droids, and not only were they aliens, they were Jedi.

4. The Iron Knights
While most have forgotten the Iron Knights, fewer still remember that this name was not originally intended to be a flattering one. So named by other Jedi because, like early theories concerning Mandalorian Iron, they repulsed many in the Jedi Knighthood, it is a testament to the Iron Knights abilities that they made the name into a respectful one.

Of all the Shard that left Orax, only the one calling herself "Ilum" could feel the Force. But from that lone Shard sprung an entire family of Force-sensitives. While most Shard ambassadors fused with whatever droids were willing to host them, Ilum and several of her kin took the bodies of deactivated Juggernaut War Droids -- once dreaded during the Great Droid Revolution -- re-igniting the automaton consciousnesses within. While the warbots gave them unrivaled physical prowess, the Shard in turn gave something to their droid symbionts that had once been thought inconceivable -- the power of the Force.

Given the varying degrees of droid prejudice among the general public, as well as the Jedi themselves, finding a Jedi Master willing to school Ilum and her kin proved less than simple. But there were a few that advocated research in the area of Force influence on droids.

The Sunesi Jedi Master Aqinos -- who had trained several Jedi students in his time from Coruscant's Jedi Temple to Master Djinn Altis' unorthodox roving Chu'unthor Academy -- sought out Ilum, and secretly trained her and her dozen off-spring on the planet Dweem in an abandoned Republic base used during the threat of the Terrible Glare. EDITOR'S NOTE: THE "TERRIBLE GLARE"? A MONTY PYTHON MOMENT IN THE SW EU?

However, when the Clone Wars erupted, Jedi Knights were shocked to encounter Force-endowed, lightsaber-wielding FLTCH series droids, Uulshos Justice Droids, and Juggernaut War Droids fighting along side them. Master Aqinos's involvement was soon exposed, and for his "presumptuousness" and "highly dangerous initiative," the Jedi Council excommunicated he and his Iron Knights from the Knighthood. Funding for droid-Force interface research, which had never endeared itself to the Council, was systematically eliminated.

However, there was no ignoring the good that the Iron Knights did during the war. Those that survived were elevated to the rank of high marshal by the Republic Chancellor. However, it was soon apparent that the move was politically motivated, more in the interest of gaining the support of the Coalition of Automaton Rights Activists than in rewarding true heroism and the Iron Knights soon found themselves without support. Unwanted, Aqinos retreated with most of the Iron Knights to their stronghold on Dweem. Other Iron Knights continued to serve the Republic despite the prejudices they faced. They were among the first casualties of the Jedi Purge.

Approximately two years after establishing his Jedi Praxeum, using clues the Old Republic Jedi Callista Ming had provided in conversation with Master Skywalker, a group of his students successfully tracked the estranged metal defenders to their base on Dweem. There, Master Aqinos and the Iron Knights had resided for seventy years, and were more than ready to rejoin the Knighthood to help establish a new Jedi Order.

Of course, when the Yuuzhan Vong invaded the Known Galaxy, droid-kind again found itself under assault. This time, however, droids had their High Marshals to defend them. The Iron Knights successfully repelled attacks by anti-technologists such as the Red Knights of Life on the planets Osarian and Uffel and reportedly even saved Kligson's Moon (known as "Droid World") from Yuuzhan Vong attack. However, the decimation of the Hosk space station is known to have prompted the fall of at least one Iron Knight to the dark side.

5. Conclusions
The question persists: can droids feel the Force without a living mediator?

For many, the distinction is probably academic at this point, but under the New Republic's strivings toward droid representation, and especially in light of the recent rise of anti-droid groups spurred by the Yuuzhan Vong's hatred for all technology, the question has begun to find strong voice among droids' rights lobbyists.

Perhaps the most promise for direct affectation of the Force by a droid was to be found in the infamous bounty hunter 4-LOM who, according to Master Skywalker, insisted on his self-awareness and who purportedly learned to see visions of possible futures from the Gand findsman Zuckuss.

Sadly, the droid never pursued instruction, and the droid's lifestyle is not encouraging for those wanting to disassociate mechanical manipulation of the Force from the dark side. Of course, it would be shortsighted to say that all bounty hunters are evil. Also, for their part, the Iron Knights have never demonstrated any more susceptibility to the dark side than the average wholly organic Jedi.

To those who continue to insist that affecting mechanicals and technology through the Force is the way of the dark side, there still remain simple counter-arguments: what of lightsabers then? Do these devices not help attune a Jedi's living Force? What of holocrons? Are they not considered among the greatest wonders of the Jedi, inspiring awe even in the worldliest Jedi Masters? And yet both are technological derivatives.

Jedi Master Aqinos once addressed these questions: "I have heard the hypocritical argument that 'technology' and 'droids' are not the same thing, which of course only makes sense if droids are in fact conscious, and thus in some sense indeed alive. Instead of wasting my breath refuting this statement, I will address the stronger rebuttal that admits of a connection between droids and technology, that is that the channeling of the Force through lightsabers and holocrons is a purely 'inobtrusive' act, unlike the aggressive manipulation of, say, mechu-deru.

"Perhaps. The same weak argument has been made to contrast Jedi use of affect mind, and its so-called 'dark' counterpart control mind. Is this what we have been reduced to, petty semantics, returned to the dark age of Plaristes?

We must be wiser than this. I am reminded of the time when I was still a Padawan, and my Master Jaled Dur led me to a row of rocks sorted in size from pebbles no larger than a fingernail, to boulders the size of, well, a mountain. Every Jedi knows the story of Master Ferleen Snee who lifted the Muntuur Stones with ease, and I ached at my chance to similarly prove myself. I viewed the smaller pebbles condescendingly, knowing the ease with which I'd be able to lift them, and I looked at the mountain standing on the opposite end, feeling it would be impossible to move. But as I brought my attention to the middle way, I felt certain I could lift the boulder equal in size to me. Then my eyes moved to those rocks of progressively greater size. And I knew I could lift the next one, and the next, and the next, knowing the only difference was in my mind... But when I tried to actually levitate that mountain, to no one's surprise but my own, I could not. Nor the boulder before it, nor the one before that.

"There is a definite and unmistakable line one cannot cross, regardless of belief. It is finding that definite line, that balance, that being a Jedi is about. Between light and darkness, living and unifying Force. It is that balance I have striven to find among organics and inorganics, among droids and the Force, between life and death.

Do our bodies not require dead minerals for sustenance, do not mynocks and space slugs, more rock than beast, still live? My skin has grayed, and my eyes have gone stale in this pursuit, but by the Maker, I regret nothing. My memory has blunted the exact position of the line I found that day with Master Dur among those lifeless rocks, but what I do remember is how vibrantly those same lifeless rocks gave off the emanations of the Force." (Master Aqinos died during the war with the Yuuzhan Vong).

Since the end of the war, the Iron Knights -- along with the great majority of the galaxy -- have struggled to view the invaders as anything other than their mortal enemies. But like their teacher, they too, hope and struggle to find that balance of which Master Aqinos spoke.

It is the hope of serious researchers and droids alike that one day immorality concerning the exploration of the correlation between droids and the Force will cease to be the lopsided issue that it is. Many years of investigation and patience still lay ahead, for the general populace and the Jedi as well. EDITOR'S NOTE: IMPRESSIVE AND SOMEWHAT FRIGHTENING SCHOLARSHIP HERE. (SOMEONE WHO HAS DELVED EVEN MORE INTENSIVELLY INTO THE EU THAN I. I BOW TO THEIR SCARY WIDSOM AND KNOWLEDGE).


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