The Mandela Defense

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand before you today not to deny that my client committed the actions of which he has been accused. 

I stand before you today not to cast doubt on the circumstances leading up to his incarceration. 

I stand before you today not to question the handling of this case by law enforcement nor to counter the arguments laid out by the prosecution. 

Instead, I stand before you today to ask you to put yourself in my client’s shoes. 

And once you are in my client’s shoes, I want you to ask yourself this: What would you do if something you had known to be true for the majority of your life was in fact a lie?

I’m not talking about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or, God forbid, Slenderman. They are fictions with half-lives of three or four years at best. 

I’m talking about something you saw, you experienced, you lived, not once, not twice, but dozens of times. 

What would you do if that thing you saw, experienced, lived, was revealed 43 years later to be a figment of your imagination?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what happened to my client. And it broke him. 

This is a story about a good man. A kind man. A hard-working man. A loving man. A man who first saw Star Wars at the tender young age of five in 1977. A man who watched it 74 times over the course of the next year and a half and never watched it again after that. 

Yes, he saw the two sequels, the much celebrated Empire Strikes Back and the rousing, but ultimately mediocre Return of the Jedi, but he did so almost out of a feeling of obligation. Maybe even pity, as if the series was a former lover and these films were a chance encounter during a back-to-school shopping trip or a brief tryst that was over as soon as the first moment that your skin touched their skin in a pay-by-the-hour hotel? Who hasn’t had an obsession as a child that has taken hold of them like that and then later abandoned?

But we are not here to talk about Mr. Claus or Slenderman, composition books and the Shamrock Motel on Highway 276.

We are here to talk about my client. 

We are here to talk about Star Wars. 

We are here to talk about Han Solo and a fateful showdown in a Mos Eisley cantina on the planet of Tatooine in the outer rim of the Galactic Empire.

You know what I speak of. You’ve seen the scene before. It’s arguably the most famous scene in the entire Star Wars series, if not one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history.

But are you sure you saw what you think you saw? Is what you remember right, or has your memory led you astray?

In my client’s case, he was the tender young age of five when he saw that scene involving Han Solo, that handsome rogue of the stars, sitting across from a green-skinned, sea monkey menace known as Greedo, knowing that the fiend was prepared to kill our hero without remorse

Like my client, you feared for Han Solo, and you were prepared to grieve for Han Solo, and so you cheered for Han Solo when he took his fate into his own blaster-holding hand and fired a single shot into Greedo’s greedy chest in a character-defining moment .

“Huzzah!” you shouted. “Huzzah!” 

Now imagine this: Forty-three ears later, you sit down to watch Star Wars again. It’s been almost a lifetime. 

Watching it, you remember what it was like to see it for the first time, to relieve each and every scene you saw as a child. But those feelings soon turned to horror as you witness a clear refutation of all that you remembered? And it happens in that Mos Eisley cantina on the planet of Tatooine in the outer rim of the Galactic Empire. 

But unlike the previous 74 times you watched Star Wars, this time what you see is this: Greedo, not Han, shoots first.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you, would that not cause you to question your own memories? Would that not give you reason to doubt your own sanity? Would that alone cause you to break from reality?

Perhaps. And perhaps not. 

Personally, I try not to think about it.

Instead, I think about the first time I saw Star Wars, my father on one side, my mother on the other, a small bag of buttered popcorn in my lap and a packet of M&Ms. We had bought the popcorn at the theater, but I had snuck in the M&Ms on my own. I’m sure my father saw me take them out of the cupboard, and my mother heard me open them, looked at me, and smiled. 

 I remember the time my best friend Ari and I convinced our parents to let us see Star Wars on our own.

I remember that time I saw Star Wars and Ari punched Blake in the nose and Ari’s parents wouldn’t let him come to my birthday party at Showbiz Pizza. I was devastated.

Ladies and gentlemen, those are memories that a life is built upon. Those are memories that provide the foundation upon which a mind is formed. 

Now imagine that foundation being destroyed.

How would you feel?

What would you think?

What would you do?

Would you shrug it off? Or would you do what my client did? Would you, in a fit of madness, commit a crime you would have never committed otherwise?

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to consider all of this when you consider the actions of my client? After all, he is a victim. 

And so, I ask you to set him free. I ask you to help him heal. I ask you to find him innocent of going 65 miles an hour in a 35-mile-an-hour zone with a broken tail light, an expired license, and a trunk full of knockoff Louis Vuitton handbags. 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to raise your fist in the air and shout with me, “Anakin. Anakin. Anakin.”

Your honor, I rest my case. 

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