Vergere’s Words of Wisdom: Human Emotion

Vergere is one of the most intriguing characters in the Star Wars LegendsThe New Jedi Order book series.  She is Jedi.  She is Sith.  She is both.  Or, perhaps, she is neither.  She was a Jedi during the Old Republic during which time she was also a rogue student of the Force, apparently studying Count Dooku and encountering Darth Sidious, eventually becoming a student of his and a candidate to become a Sith under him.  After noticing Darth Sidious’ greed and utter compulsion to rule, Vergere realized Sidious’ plan would devastatingly destroy the galaxy and attempted to stop him by killing him, but failed.  Vergere escaped Sidious’ retaliation by accepting a Jedi mission to visit the plant Zonama Sekot, where she met the Yuuzhan Vong and left the galaxy to live with them for fifty years (according to Lumiya’s account of Vergere in Star Wars Legends: Legacy of the Force: Betrayal).  She returned with the Yuuzhan Vong in their invasion of the galaxy and played both sides of the war, betraying both the Yuuzhan Vong and the New Republic, seemingly on her own whims.  Eventually she participated in the capture of Jacen Solo by the Yuuzhan Vong and helped torture him in order to teach him the truth about the Force and to help him embrace his destiny.  Vergere, with Jacen, escaped the Yuuzhan Vong to return to the fledgeling government of the New Republic where she encountered Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.  She sacrificed her life for Jacen so that he wouldn’t be killed by the Yuuzhan Vong and would be able to follow his destiny (which eventually led to his decent to the dark side as Darth Caedus in the Star Wars Legends: Legacy of the Force book series).

Regardless of what she truly is and where her true loyalties lie, Vergere is one of the most philosophical characters that appears (just read Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Traitor by Matthew Stover).  She even offers pointed advice to Luke Skywalker, which challenges him to step out of his pre-conceived notions and look at his beliefs about the Force from a different perspective.  In particular she makes some incredibly insightful comments on human emotion that are worth looking at.  First however, to gain a bit of context before looking at human emotion, the Jedi and Sith Codes, respectively, must be analyzed.

The Jedi and Sith Codes are embodiments of ideals on two opposite ends of a spectrum of thought regarding the Force.  Both are extreme in their positions.  While the Jedi Code advocates for no emotion to attain peace, the Sith Code pushes the opposite: peace is a lie so there is only passion (emotion).  Both of these statements are the starting points for both codes and the following statements are built upon these two principles.  The Jedi Code promotes peace, knowledge, serenity, harmony and life in the Force, all seemingly good things, at least on the surface.  The Sith Code promotes passion, strength, power, victory and freedom in the Force, also seemingly good things on the surface.  Both codes spell out a way to live life, but both codes are opposite each other in the extreme, hence why one is the Jedi Code and the other the Sith Code.
Neither Code is truly healthy.  
Living life in any extreme is dangerous.  Balance is needed in order to have a good and healthy life.  One way to look at these two Codes in light of trying to life a balanced life would be to see these as embodiments of two other extremes in our world today: rationalism and sentimentalism.  Rationalism is a belief that emotions can be understood completely rationally, which usually leads to a lack of emotional affectivity (being moved by one’s emotions) because emotions are something one can understand intellectually, put in a nice clean box, and stored away.  This is what the first two statements of the Jedi Code seem to be getting at.  “There is no emotion, there is peace.  There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.”  Knowledge is more important than emotions.  Or rather, knowledge of emotions is necessary so that one can attain this supposed lack of emotion to achieve peace.  When emotion is gone, it seems to claim, so is passion and chaos.  This is a faulty understanding of human emotion and affectivity!  Human emotion is not nearly as simple as that nor can it ever be truly contained and understood through knowledge.  Many people try to do this and end up suppressing their emotions, which leads to consequences later in life, where that suppressed emotion resurfaces since it was never healthily dealt with, only suppressed.  
Sentimentalism, on the other extreme, is an attitude of relishing one’s own feelings to excess, which echoes the Sith Code fairly well.  One could think that since emotions are not as simple as the Jedi Code asserts, it would be good to engage in them fully.  The Sith Code doesn’t try to ignore emotions, but it relishes them.  Since the peace that the Jedi Code asserts is a lie, unchecked passion leads to strength, power and victory according to the Sith Code.  This is also problematic with the true nature of humanity because unchecked passion actually leaves a person a slave to them.  A person’s emotions and desires, their passions, when unchecked, lead one’s mind to submit to whatever the emotions are inclined toward.  Emotions do not affect the will of a person directly, but indirectly (since experience shows us that emotions influence our thoughts, but don’t ultimately make decisions for us).  But since “the judgement of the reason often follows the passion of the sensitive appetite, and consequently the will’s movement follows it also” (St. Thomas Aquinas I-II q. 77, a. 1), an unchecked passion can lead to a defect in the will of a person, a person who is inclined to follow the whims of his or her passions, making him or her a slave to them.
So what actually is human emotion and what are we to do with it?  
“The term ‘passions’ belongs to the Christian patrimony.  Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1763)  Passions or emotions, then, are movements within a person that prompt one to act for a perceived good or avoid a perceived evil.  In themselves they are neither good nor evil, but are part of the natural human psyche.  They are part of what makes us human.  They are not meant to be suppressed nor engaged without restraint.
Emotions, then, incline one to a perceived good and to avoid a perceived evil within the day to day events of human life.  How that is to be done is what the Jedi and Sith Codes are formulated to answer.  But, the answer to this question is found not in either code, but in the middle of the two extremes, the mean, or average, between them.  The philosopher, Aristotle himself, is helpful here.  He discussed human disposition in chapter 8 of Nicomachean Ethics and says, “There are three kinds of disposition, then, two of them vices, involving excess and deficiency respectively, and one a virtue, viz. the mean, and all are in a sense opposed to all; for the extreme states are contrary both to the intermediate state and to each other, and the intermediate to the extremes; as the equal is greater relatively to the less, less relatively to the greater, so the middle states are excessive relatively to the deficiencies, deficient relatively to the excesses, both in passions and in actions.”  Aristotle goes on to clarify by using the virtue of courage to illustrate his point.  Courage is the mean between the two extremes of rashness and cowardice.  A man who is a coward has an excess of fear in him, preventing him from acting all together.  A rash man has a deficiency of fear, encouraging him to act recklessly and dangerously, putting his own life in jeopardy.  It is the courageous man who has the balance within himself to act appropriately in regards to the fear within himself.
So human emotion is not something that should be suppressed (an attempt to understand rationally and locked away) or given into completely making one a slave, but is something that must be acknowledged, felt completely, understood fully, and acted on appropriately with human reason.  This is the mean between the extremes found between the Jedi and Sith Codes.  Luke Skywalker encounters this truth when he encounters Vergere in the novel Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.
Luke Skywalker, still learning and still growing, lacked mentors in this area of human growth and had to learn mostly on his own (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda both being gone early in Luke’s formation).  So in his desire to rebuild the Jedi Order, Luke did his best to embody the ideals of the Jedi Code, which he had known through his study of the Jedi of the Old Republic, thus advocating that emotion is bad and should be lacking in a true Jedi.  Vergere attacks this belief, and rightly so, pointing Luke towards a truer understanding of human nature.  She immediately asks him, “Do you believe that nature would have given us traits such as anger and aggression if they were not useful?” (p. 182).  Vergere rightly points out that Luke’s belief that all emotion is bad is incorrect.  She also points out the fault in both the Jedi and Sith Code as well, “An unchecked passion produces actions that are hasty, ill considered, and often destructive.  Serenity, on the other hand, may well result in no action at all – and when it does, serenity produces actions that proceed from knowledge and liberation, if not from wisdom,” (p. 182).  Unchecked passion, then, is just as bad as complete serenity (or a complete lack of passion, in this sense).  Vergere goes on to explain that anger (a dangerous emotion from Luke’s perspective) is actually natural and part of human nature, “Young Master, it is my contention that the anger you experienced was natural and useful.  I caused deliberate harm – pain and anguish and suffering, over a period of weeks – to a young man for whom you had accepted responsibility and for whom you felt a measure of love.  Naturally you felt anger.  Naturally you wanted to break my thin little neck.  It is absolutely natural, when you discover that a person has inflicted deliberate pain on a helpless victim, to feel angry with that person.  It is equally an emotion as to feel compassion for the victim,” (p. 183).  Luke had berated himself for feeling angry, but Vergere points out how natural it truly is and not evil in and of itself.  She goes on to point out that the emotion that Luke felt was neither good nor evil in itself but what he did with it could have been either, “You are correct when you said that if you had entered my cell and struck out at me with the Force, that such an action would have been dark.  But you didn’t.  Instead your anger prompted you to speak to me and find out the reasons for my actions.  To that extent, your anger was not only natural but useful.  It led to understanding on both our parts,” (p. 183).  Vergere points out the immense responsibility to understand our emotions as a way to live a balanced life in the good and shows Luke exactly how he did just that.  She asks him, “My rhetorical questions is this: why wasn’t your anger dark?  And my answer is: because you understood it.  You understood the cause of the emotion, and therefore it did not seize power over you” (p. 184).  Vergere is showing Luke that he didn’t let his emotion make him a slave, nor did he rationalize it away in suppression, which he had been tempted to do.  She profoundly tells him,  “Unreasoning passion is the province of darkness,” (p. 184).  And she continues to explain, “But an understood emotion is not unreasoning.  That is why the route to mastery is through self-knowledge.”  She is saying that knowledge is good, but not knowledge that pushes emotions aside, knowledge that aids the interpretation and healthy response to emotions.  “It is not possible to suppress all emotion, nor is it desirable.  An emotionless person is no more than a machine.  But to understand the origin and nature of one’s feelings, that is possible,” (p. 184).  Vergere recognizes how easy it is to become a slave to emotion and warns Luke, “When you are in the grip of an irresistible compulsion, it is then that you feel most like yourself.  But in reality it was you who were passive then.  You let the feeling control you,” (p. 184).  
Luke walked away from that encounter with Vergere lightyears wiser than he was before, and this marked a turning point, not only in the war against the Yuuzhan Vong, but in Luke’s own growth as a character.  He comes to realize how natural human emotion is and how dangerous it is to suppress it or give it unbridled reign.  The wisdom gained here is the reason Luke goes on to become the Grand Master of the Jedi in the later book series.  As Luke learns and grows in wisdom, so are we able to if we are willing to let the little Fosh Jedi/Sith Vergere teach us about our own human nature through the words of Walter Jon Williams who wrote Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.  
The character growth of Luke is a reason why he is such a great character even now and why these book series are still just as relevant, even if they are not officially part of the “canon” of Star Wars.  The Legends books are still being published so if you’re tempted to ignore them, I urge you not to.  They have some great stories to tell in them, just as we have some great stories coming up with the new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December, and the other movies and upcoming novels (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits bookstores on September 4!).  I am so excited to see and read what stories the Disney Story Group and Del Rey have in store for us in the Star Wars universe.  Get ready, because here they come!

3 thoughts on “Vergere’s Words of Wisdom: Human Emotion

  • Serenity, as it would be defined coming from its root the Latin serenus, -a, -um meaning clear, fair, and bright, is where I disagree with Vergere (or rather the verbage of the novel's author). Serenity does not appear to be the absence of emotion,and in fact it is not a way I would even strain to define serenity; rather, serenity would be a rational state of mind where the emotions are present, yet in check and clear – not suppressed, yet not overwhelming. It is accompanied by a notion of calm not stoicism. Anyway, that aside, wonderful post!

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  • I am interpreting Vergere as saying serenity is a lack of emotion. Maybe that's not what she meant…but she opposes it with unchecked passion. I agree with you. Serenity is when one has emotions balanced and in check. And actual serenity is very good.

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