The Meaning of the “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” Quote

The Meaning of the "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" Quote

When George Lucas launchedthe franchise in 1977, with themovie Star Wars (later titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope for continuity reasons), no one expected that it would become one of the biggest stories of the modern area. Star Wars wasn’t initially that successful, but as the years passed, the franchise became a cult classic, attracting generations of fans and now encompassing nine main continuity movies, video games, several TV shows, comic books and a variety of merchandise that made George Lucas famous. In today’s article, we are going to discuss one of the famous quotes from the franchise.

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes”, Obi-Wan’s reply to Anakin’s statement in Revenge of the Sith, refers to the fact that only the Sith deal and act based on absolute values, without thinking and without grey areas. There is no compromise with the Sith and they act based on that ideological point of view, which is one of the reasons they are the antagonists.

In today’s article, you are going to find out what the phrase “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” means, but also when it was said and by whom. You’re also going to find out about the ideology behind this quote, both from the perspective of the Sith and the Jedi. Enjoy!

Who and when said “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”?

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes” is one of the most famous quotes from the so-called Prequel Trilogy, which includes Episodes I to III and was released a couple of decades after the Original Trilogy. In the third and final part of the trilogy, Anakin Skywalker betrays the Jedi, becomes Palpatine’s nee apprentice and takes on the name Darth Vader.

After Yoda unsuccessfully tried to defeat Palpatine – he did survive the clash, though, but had to go into exile – Obi-Wan followed Anakin to Mustafar. There, Anakin tried to “persuade” his former master to join him and embrace the Dark Side, which Obi-Wan refused. This is how that conversation went:

As you can see, Anakin – or, even better, Darth Vader – says at one point: “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” To which Obi-Wan Kenobi replies: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” The conversation did not last very long after that moment and the two of them proceeded to duel. Obi-Wan, as we know it, won the duel, crippling Vader, who was ultimately saved by Palpatine and given his infamous suit.

What does “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” mean?

The meaning of the expression is a rather philosophical one. When Obi-Wan said it, it was an expression of utter disappointment and sadness, as he realized that Anakin was beyond redemption. This wasn’t an absolute from Obi-Wan’s side, as fans often try to explain; Obi-Wan came to Mustafar to save Anakin, not to kill him, not to fight him. Obi-Wan never dealt in absolutes, despite knowing what Anakin had done. He came to convince his former Padawan and friend to return to the Light Side of the Force.

But, upon hearing Anakin’s words, Obi-Wan knew that there was nothing he could do, not because he himself had given up on Anakin – he never acted upon that absolute fact – but because Anakin himself had strayed to far from the Light Side.

The phrase itself means exactly what it says – that the Sith deal in absolute values. It is not a matter of using or acknowledging absolutes, far from it, as some fans like to say. It is not an expression of the Jedi’s, or Obi-Wan’s, or Yoda’s hypocrisy, but a statement on the essential, fundamental difference between these two fractions.

Both sides acknowledge absolutes; that is a fact. But, while the Jedi only acknowledge them and still deal based on a rational perception of a situation, taking into consideration every possible fact (as, for example, when Obi-Wan tried to persuade Anakin to return to normal), the Sith deal in those absolutes – you either are, or you are not. As Anakin said, Obi-Wan was either his ally or his enemy, there was absolutely nothing in between, and based on that binary worldview, he acted and attacked his former friend and mentor.

This is the in-universe explanation of this quote. But there is also a real-life explanation of the quote, which is also the reason for its inclusion in the movie. Namely, the quote echoed the phrase “if you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists”, which was uttered by the then-president George W. Bush during America’s War on Terror. Lucas expressed his resentment of the quote and drew a comparison between his Sith and America’s foreign and domestic policy during the Bush administration.

Why do Siths deal in absolutes?

This is a rather complex ideological question, but it has to do with the core teachings of the Sith. The Sith yearn for power. That is one of the basic elements of the Sith’s teachings. As Palpatine states after killing Mace Windu, he has “unlimited power”, both in terms of the Force and in terms of other dealings. This explains why the biggest Sith of them all was a megalomaniac who wanted to rule – ruthlessly at that – over the whole Galaxy.

In such a rigid worldview, there really isn’t any space for compromises, is there? The Sith have to deal in absolutes – and we stress out the importance of the deal in part – because that is the only way they can “survive” and achieve their goals. Imagine Palpatine obtaining absolute power by showing mercy, compassion and a will to compromise? It’s ridiculous from his perspective!

If you’re with him, you’re an ally and you shall obediently follow in his teachings. If you won’t do that, you’re his enemy, a hinderance that has to be eliminated. There is nothing in between because that wouldn’t serve the Sith’s purpose, really. If you keep an enemy alive, you make yourself vulnerable and that is why all enemies have to be eliminated. There is absolutely no space for a compromise and that is why the Sith deal in absolutes. They are selfish and they want power for themselves, and the only was to achieve that is through such a binary worldview.

Do Jedi deal in absolutes?

As we’ve stated, the Jedi do not deal in absolutes. This is, of course, not always enforced – one might suggest that Mace Windu’s desire to kill Palpatine rather than have him face the Courts (despite the fact that he was right about Palpatine controlling the Courts) was an absolute, but Mace Windu, as his Lightsaber color suggests, was always a specific Jedi Master, despite his unyielding loyalty to the Jedi and the Republic – but as a general rule, the Jedi do not deal in absolutes.

This has been proven on numerous occasions in the franchise, such as Yoda accepting Anakin as Obi-Wan’s Padawan despite knowing the dangers of such a move, or Obi-Wan trying to win Anakin back despite knowing that he had done in the Jedi Temple. Luke Skywalker, later, also demonstrated this on several instances in the Original and Sequel Trilogies. The Jedi try to approach the situation thoughtfully and from all angles, they try to avoid using violence and they always try to “enforce” the teachings of the Light Side of the Force.

This is why we can state that the Jedi, in general, do not deal in absolutes. They do acknowledge them, but they never deal in them. They accept and acknowledge comprimises, new approaches to certain situations, which is why you can ignore most online fan rantings about the Jedi’s teaching being absolutes as misinterpretations of Obi-Wan’s statement, whose focus was on the “dealing”, not the “absolutes” part.

And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we gave you all the information you were looking for! See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments