Meet Me At The Grey Side:
A Critical Afterword
by Professor P. Adder
[Read The Plaid Adder's author bio]
It is a little known fact that whereas in every other kind of evolution things move from simple to complex, academic writing evolves backward. As a young scholar, one has not yet proven oneself, and therefore one's first book must be an arcane, labyrinthine, painfully erudite tour de force which is truly intelligible only to you, your advisors, and the two people that the press sent it to for evaluation. Once one has established one's credentials, and become a minor celebrity, one can finally begin to do what one has always dreamed of doing--write up a bunch of random crap about your own feelings about this or that text and then make people read it. Well, in my real life, I have not yet achieved such heights of grandeur; but I have produced the definitive scholarly treatment of the Sith Academy. And so, as I sat down to write the critical afterword, I said to myself, "Self, instead of putting together another piece of fake scholarship, how about you just write up some shit about what you honestly think was really going on with this whole Sith Academy thing? It'd be faster, and you wouldn't have to spend so much time making up jokes that only ivy is going to get." "Self," I replied, "you have to stop talking to me out loud, or people are going to think I'm even crazier than I am. Still, you may have a point."
So, without further ado, I give you unsubstantiated drivel from my own overheated brain. Or, if you had to give it one of those conference paper titles with a colon and everything, it would probably be: "The Sith Academy: What The Fuck?"
Seriously, the Sith Academy is the kind of thing that nobody would believe if you put it in a novel. Imagine trying to pitch this idea to a publisher or a producer. "Here's the concept: dozens of people recruited randomly from all corners of the internet generate a bunch of stand-alone yet interlinked short stories about the professional and private life of a minor character from an overhyped and underwritten George Lucas film." "Hmmm. I'm not sure this suits our needs at the present t--" "Did I mention that after about 30 of these stories the protagonist and his arch-nemesis start bonking like crazed weasels?" "No, you didn't. Say, don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out." "But--but--I haven't even told you about Yoda and the biker bars--" "Hello, security? We have a situation here...
Looked at objectively, it's the kind of thing that no decent red-blooded American could even comprehend, let alone get into. Even among Star Wars fans you would think the Sith Academy would evoke only disgust and loathing. I mean, these characters are icons! How dare we depict Obi-Wan Kenobi--Obi-Wan Kenobi, for Christ's sake--as an airheaded, Perkium-addicted doormat whose only redeeming feature is his creativity with a spatula? And Yoda! My God, what of Yoda? It's not enough that he has to moonlight at Wal-Mart, he's also a transvestite slut whose idea of a good time is getting plastered at the Grey Side while searching for a biker who really knows how to spank? And the Dark Side fares no better. Are we so devoid of any regard for dignity or dark majesty that we have to turn the Emperor--wellspring and fount of all that is evil and terrifying--into a blowdried drag queen with a weakness for dancing boys? What is the matter with us?
Well, the answer to that question gets to the heart of what the Sith Academy is all about. And if you had to sum it up in one word, I think that word would be: blasphemy.
You're nuts, I can hear you thinking. The Sith Academy is all about hot guys bonking. Everyone knows that. Well, that's certainly true. But as a phallophobic lesbian who finds it difficult to drool over any specimen of manhood, I've got to find some other way of explaining my fascination with this phenomenon. And I think it's the blasphemy that does it for me. What makes the Sith Academy so scandalizingly funny is the complete dissolution, perversion, and warping of the spiritual/ethical/moral system that supposedly structures the Star Wars universe. I say "supposedly" because part of the Sith Academy's appeal is the way it emphasizes--and then blows up into rampant, glorious excess--the basic moral bankruptcy of the canon universe. After all, how do we know from the movie that the Jedi are good and the Sith are evil? Well, because the Sith wear black, make dark threats in sonorous tones, and are allied with a bunch of aliens who talk and act like the villains in an old Charlie Chan movie, whereas the Jedi wear earth tones, talk like they walked right out of one of those pocket collections of pithy nuggets of Eastern wisdom that people buy to put in the magazine basket by the toilet in the guestroom, and are allied with a group of humans led by a young and beautiful girl (and, later, with a race of stupid but good-hearted 'primitives' whose clumsy antics are comic rather than sinister). It never really gets deeper than that. For instance, as has been pointed out in the Sith Academy, the Jedi don't seem to be too concerned about the fact that slavery is an accepted fact of life on Tatooine. In order to accomplish their ends, Jedi have no trouble whammying, cheating, stealing, or killing anyone who gets in their way. Nor do we ever see this 'Council' actually doing anything aside from training more Jedi and fighting the Sith. To make matters worse, we find out that one's Jedi powers are determined not by the strength of one's mind nor the purity of one's spirit, but by the concentration of midichlorians in one's bloodstream. The film wants us to believe that good and evil are metaphysical profundities; but what it really tells us is that they are cosmetic, superficial, at most skin deep.
The Sith Academy takes this and runs with it. Oh, sure, it started out as a series of harmless little vignettes about Maul honing his rage on various menial tasks. But while Maul was learning how to mow lawns, babysit, and do tech support, the Jedi began quietly slouching toward turpitude. Qui-Gon became a pathetic hypocrite whose only goals in life were to stay stoned, get laid, and keep one step ahead of his creditors. Yoda slipped from one unutterable perversion into another. The only Jedi who ever appeared to really believe in the nobility and goodness of the Jedi mission was Obi-Wan--and that was just because his character was defined by a mindless, spineless, completely unfounded optimism which ultimately became so surreal that it had to be explained as the result of drug addiction.
Meanwhile, on the dark side, Sidious underwent his own transformation from mysterious and sinister mentor into the kind of petty, manipulative, tyrannical yet impotent boss that we all know and hate. Initially collaborative, Maul's relationship with Sidious becomes more and more adversarial as Maul starts to realize that Sidious's approach to the Master role is as dishonest, manipulative, and cynical as Qui-Gon's. In the end, the only people left for us to sympathize with are Maul and Obi-Wan--who are both at the mercy of unscrupulous masters, both frustrated with their perpetual training, and both stranded between apprenticeship and mastery. Sure, their relationship is about spandex, spatulas, and Wookieemint; but it's also about creating a gray area that they can both share, in which they don't have to be either dark or light--a space which turns out to be the only place in the Sith Academy universe where anything real or valuable happens.
So what does it all mean? Well, for one thing I think it says that at least some of Lucas's fans are smarter than he thinks they are. His Jedi magic has not worked on us; the Sith Academy writers and readers demonstrate frequently that they are perfectly aware of the cynicism at the core of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which might just as well have been titled I'm George Lucas: Now Give Me Your Eight Bucks. If you read Siubhan's final story, you'll be struck as I was by the contrast between Siubhan's dialogue and the dialogue written by Lucas, which is so flat, banal, and stupid that it's hard to believe it's coming out of the mouths of characters who are normally vivid, funny, and interesting. We here at the Sith Academy know that you shouldn't say "be mindful of the future" unless you say it with a smirk; and that puts us a big step ahead of Lucas.
But that alone doesn't explain the strength of the Sith Academy's appeal. Instead, I think we have to go broader and look at the world in which we have to live. Is being ruled by Cheney through Dubya that much different from being ruled by Sidious through Amidala? When you scratch Clinton's surface, does he come out looking any better than Qui-Gon? Have we all not wished that our country's religious leaders could suffer from perversions as harmless as Yoda's, instead of the ones for which they are constantly being busted? And do we have any more of an idea of how to fix any of this crap than Obi-Wan and Maul do about how to whip their elders into shape? No, of course not; and just as Obi-Wan and Maul turn for solace to Hamster Death Gulps, PlayStation, and force-driven monkey love, we turn to the Sith Academy. Maybe someday we'll figure out what good is and how to fight evil; but until then, you could do a lot worse things than bust a gut laughing at this train wreck of a universe, and for me, that's what the Sith Academy is all about.
Like all writers, I have long fantasized about having my work taught in undergraduate classrooms. I was startled to hear from Siubhan that my ambition has finally been realized, and some lunatic at Williams has put "The Thirteenth Mary Sue" on a syllabus. Henry "Textual Poachers" Jenkins himself is assigning the Sith Academy to students at MIT. I can see what pulls them in: in addition to all of its other features, the Sith Academy is wrapped in so many layers of metatextuality it could make your head spin. And for those interested in the fanfiction phenomenon, the Sith Academy--thanks in large part to Siubhan's herculean efforts as an editor--assembles in one place a huge body of work which, as obscene and blasphemous as it may be, is consistently well-written and funny as hell. So even though the saga has ended, and Siubhan is enjoying a well-deserved rest, the Sith Academy will survive--in classrooms, in our brains, and in the Annex. Because it's funny, because it's sexy, because it's good; but more than anything, I think, because we live in a world that has been grievously warped by the desire for black and white, and we all really need the Grey Side. So everyone join me in thanking Siubhan, the writers, and all the artists one more time for making this place what it is. And after that, someone break out the Hamster Death Gulps and fire up the karaoke machine.
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