What is so cool about
A long time ago, in a drive-in movie theatre far, far away…
a five year old boy saw his first movie. It was about outer space!! It was about ancient weapons and hokey religions. It was about heroes. It was about fathers and sons. It was about God.
Star Wars was more than a movie – it was a sociological phenomenon, reinventing the entire motion picture industry, in its time embracing an entire generation. But it was not by mere chance that it was able to do so. It was the right time for a story like this one – movies in the 70’s were all uber-realistic, to the point of nihilistic at times. They reflected the disillusionment of the 60’s generation which now had money to make movies and go to movies. But it was still more than that.
In Star Wars, George Lucas created a myth. If you have no idea what I mean, read my article on Joseph Campbell.
Star Wars contains universal themes common in mythologies throughout the centuries: the young hero, the wise, powerful wizard, the machine/man/monster, the rogue, the damsel in distress, the belly of the whale (trash compactor), bad guys that remind us of Nazi’s, good guys that remind us of cowboys, the ultimate underdog story – there’s nothing new in these themes – their very old, and touch us at the unconscious level. George Lucas constructed his tale using the language of dreams, to the point of virtually hypnotizing his audience. No wonder he could get away with such bad dialogue.
So what’s so great about Star Wars, and why does Fr. Mike keep talking about it in his homilies. Well, let me tell you all about it.
So we start of with Luke Skywalker, who in spite of being really annoying and whiny, is intended to remind us of US, why? because he is so ordinary. He lives far away from the adventures that define the course of history – so do we. As Luke longingly looks to the horizon for some excitement in his life – so do we.
But he’s stupid. He doesn’t know what he’s in for. The thing about living an interesting life is that it sometimes sucks. And it will for Luke. His deepest, darkest quest, will be to save his very self.
Enter Ben Kenobi (who Luke should have known was Obi-Wan – idiot). Ben is Luke’s connection to his father, for starters. Whenever you have a young man going out looking for his dad in ancient myths, what he’s looking for is his career, his vocation, his mission in life. Dad and mission are always connected – take a look at Jor-El and Superman to see what I mean – those scenes are practically right out of the Bible itself.
Anyway, just like Merlin helped Arthur pull the sword from the stone, old Ben gives Luke his vocation, his adventure, and HIS FATHER’S sword – the coolest sci-fi invention perhaps in all of history, the light sabre. Bet Gene Roddenberry was kicking himself for not thinking of it.
Luke looks at Ben as his new hero mentor to look up to – the model of what it is TO BE a hero – a “Jedi Knight.” And of course Luke figures that his Father (vis-à-vis his vocation) was just like Ben Kenobi, noble, wise, good.
And of course Ben Kenobi is killed two thirds of the way through Ep. 4. I thought that was a real bummer. But that’s what the wise mentor always does in the hero journey myth, whether he be Merlin or Dumbledore or whoever. He leaves the hero to go on the journey on his own.
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together.” -Alec Guinness as Ben Kenobi.
Well, for all intensive purposes, the Force is God. Sure there are big differences between the Judeo-Christian God and the Force – the Force is actually a lot closer to the Buddhist idea of Chi, which means Force, sort of. And it isn’t entirely clear whether the Force cares about creation, the way we say God cares about us – although I think it does – bottom line is that the Force is the most powerful “force” in the Galaxy. None of the technology, which Star Wars is full of, can compare to the non-science-fiction power of the Force. So it’s pretty important that those who yield the power of the Force do so constructively rather than destructively.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE
Notice that it isn’t the “Dark Force” and the “Light Force.” It’s the dark SIDE of the Force – same Force – the difference in how that power is used. This can be said of all power in creation – we can use them positively and for good, and we can also use them for evil – to control, to dominate, to destroy. These include scientific knowledge and intellect, physical strength, martial arts ability, political influence, sexuality, every thing that we can be in AWE of – we can be in fear of, and therefore can use as a vehicle of fear. Even the Bible, the Church, the Sacraments, the symbols of any religion, even they have a dark side, vis-à-vis our use of them – just look at the crusades, or George W. These things are not evil in themselves, as some like John Lennon believe – but they can all be used that way.
So does the Force have consciousness, the way God does? Well, no, and yet at the same time, those who use it for evil tend to have its power turn on them and overpower them. Like the Death Star, all that power concentrated in one place seem merely to make its vessel POP like a balloon. I would argue that the Force doesn’t REMAIN “darkened,” not indefinitely – it’s self-correcting, in a way. Like Captain Ahab trying to conquer Moby Dick, those who seek to control the Force tend to end up disfigured, mangled, and inevitably destroyed.
Han Solo comes along – is he a bad guy? is he a good guy? is he self-serving? is he a hero? Well, he doesn’t even know. He certainly doesn’t consider himself to be one. But he’s still the coolest character in all six movies.
Han has compromised all his idealism for the sake of survival, turning him into a really pessimistic character. But what he doesn’t know is that all he was lacking was something to care enough about to be willing to sacrifice everything. In this way Han is a REAL hero – he’s post idealism, and post realism – his actions are motivated solely by compassion, making him capable of existential self-sacrifice.
DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
A short diversion – there’s a guy out there named John Eldridge, who wrote a book for men called WILD AT HEART. It’s a really good book, talking about how men need to be heroes of our own stories – good way to look at it. But the one HUGE problem I have with him is regarding the role of women. For him, a woman’s mission in life is to ACCOMPANY a man on the man’s adventure. Wrong.
Princess Leia starts off as the prototype damsel in distress. Then we realize she has a snap to her that just about all heroines have adopted since her. She’s better even than Lois Lane, who’s outgoing assertiveness just got her into trouble from which Superman would have to rescue her. Leia can kick butt on her own. And unlike Luke, who gets more annoying the deeper into the trilogy we get, Leia’s story gets more compelling. And that gold bikini – yawsa!!
Still, she’s also a princess, in every sense of the word. I think its important for all women, and actually all men too, to find the balance between the adventurer on a mission, and just being a princess – one who’s worth is simply by being, for it is in doing so that they enliven and energize others.
Another digression – James Cameron apparently had a nightmare once about a cybernetic robot machine terrorizing and destroying – this was later the inspiration for the Terminator. If he had taken his dream to a shrink’s couch, he would have been told that the dream was his unconscious trying to tell him that he is a micro-managing, megalomaniac with an overdeveloped superego, disconnecting him from his humanity, turning him into a robot. And of course, that’s exactly what James Cameron is.
It’s also what George Lucas is, as evidenced by his reworking, and then re-reworking of his original trilogy, and his over-management of his SECOND trilogy, and so on.
And so am I, as it turns out. Which is why Darth Vader’s image scared me so badly as a five year old. The seeds of Darth Vader were already present in my own psyche, reflected back at me in the dark lord of the Sith.
Darth Vader is the man who has become his uniform; become his job, become the archetype that he represents, at the expense of his own humanness – a great warning for me as a priest, by the way. He needs to be in control of everybody all the time. He scares the crap out of everyone he sees, it turns out, because he’s so scared himself.
On the dream front, Darth Vader is the “mana personality” symbol – this can be a wise wizard or sage or mentor, or even a religious figure like Jesus or Buddha, but when turned into a dictator in the dream, generally indicates that the person having the dream has a messiah complex. This is because their super-ego, their conscience has gotten completely out of wack. Anyone who has a conscience that’s completely haywire tends to think that only they can save the world – they tend to be way too hard on themselves, and therefore way too hard on others, all stemming from the DELUSION that life can be controlled, and that they have, or CAN have, the power to do so. There are a lot of Catholics with a Darth Vader sitting on their shoulders, ready to cut their heads off with his lightsaber if they do anything wrong.
Interestingly enough, as it turns out, people in generally tend to identify their consciences with one of their parents, usually their same-gender parent.
I AM YOUR FATHER
I couldn’t believe it when I was eight, that Vader was Luke’s Father. But sure enough.
Of course I couldn’t believe that my father wasn’t perfect when I was eight either. That lesson was realized in my teenage years – “NO IT’S NOT TRUE!!”
And herein lies the universality of the story of Star Wars. Fundamentally it’s the story of a person who realizes that their parents aren’t perfect, but that they nonetheless are reflections of those same parents, and the more we fight against this fact, the more LIKE our parents we become, particularly in their negative aspects. Luke’s journey brings him to the realization that his father is not someone like Ben Kenobi – his father is the biggest asshole in the universe. But the angrier he gets over it, the more he becomes that same monster, reliving the SAME negative cycle that his father once lived, represented by his mechanized right hand. Redemption for Luke will mean defeating Vader – not allowing the machine-man to control him and dominate him any more – but NOT destroying Vader – instead he has to accept that his father was once a great Jedi, and Luke’s own Force aptitude, his capacity to be the hero, comes from his father. In doing so he reaches what shrinks call psychological integration of the individual – which is the ultimate goal for all of us.
Rather than a Darth Vader on our shoulders with lightsaber drawn, what our consciences are SUPPOSED to be are little Jiminy Crickets, sitting on our shoulders, giving us advice: you might want to do this, probably don’t want to do that – advice that we can listen to or not. The price for not listening is not divine punishment, but simply the consequences themselves of those mistakes, that Jiminy Cricket is trying to save us from.
Or maybe he’s a frog. Or a little green troll. Yoda is this same archetype. He’s wise and powerful, but not threatening (unless you’re a battle droid or a clone trooper). Yoda is the “mana personality archetype” in proper balance.
THE APPENDIX TO THE STAR WARS TRILOGY – THREE MORE MOVIES
When Episodes I, II, and III came out, they were greeted with unabated anticipation, immediately followed by universal disappointment. They didn’t have the compelling characters that the first series had –that was the problem. No one really cared that Anakin Skywalker was turning to the dark side of the force. Ep. III was better with thus, but by then it was already too late.
However, the pre-Trilogy does help us fill out the myth a lot better. We can see more clearly how these images interact to make the whole.
ANAKIN: THE CHOSEN ONE
We start out back in the days of the Old Republic, in the good old days – but they weren’t all that good after all. Trade federations could blockade and invade planets; slavery was unchecked in insignificant systems, bureaucratic corruption slowed action to a stand-still, and even wise and serene Jedi turned out to be a little on the arrogant side.
So we learn very early that Anakin is the Chosen One, (and we can see which side of the family Luke gets his annoyingness from) who was supposed to bring balance to the Force (whatever that means), and in fact was himself the product of an Virginal Conception. Anakin is the incarnation of the Force itself, and as such, of the fate of the Galaxy.
And this brings me back to the argument about the connection between the Force and God – I wonder if this incarnation was somehow willed BY THE FORCE to address the injustices mentioned, in the supposedly ideal, but in fact hypocritical galactic republic.
Padme, on the other hand, represents the Galaxy’s citizenry. Love for Padme will motivate Anakin, as will love for the Galaxy as a whole. However as Anakin grows more and more to wish to control the Galaxy, he will enslave it – simultaneously, as he seeks to control Padme’s destiny, he kills Padme.
Lucas very cleverly ties the state of freedom and happiness in the Galaxy to Anakin’s relationship with Padme. When things are good with them, their good with the Galaxy. Padme dies at the very instant that helmet is pirched upon Anakin’s disfigured head – she is the humanity that he has lost. Now he is technology, and duty, and bureaucracy, and industry. He’s a Borg. He’s a Terminator. He’s Darth Vader.
But there’s hope – not all the “good in him is gone” because baby’s Luke and Leia ARE the good that is still in him.
Similarily, Palpetine wants to control the Galaxy – by controlling Anakin, he controls the Galaxy. We can see throughout the series that there’s a one-to-one connection between Palpetine’s relationship with Anakin and his political power.
But all will be well in the end. Turns out Anakin will balance the Force after all – he’ll destroy the Sith once and for all – and I think this is what makes him, and NOT Luke, the CHOSEN ONE – he can go further than anyone else can, he can go all the way to the DARK side of the Force, and then come back.
Herein we see the Christological parallel in the Star Wars Saga. Darth Vader is the Jesus Christ of the Star Wars Universe, sort of. He’s a bit darker, mind you, representing a different philosophy on the nature of self-individuation, but still a powerful symbol. And he satisfies one of Joseph Campbell’s adages, “The Hero that does not commit self-sacrifice, ultimately will become the tyrant.” Darth Vader becomes the tyrant, and then somehow the hero again, through his own self-sacrifice. I’m not sure if he serves my preaching purposes all that well, in comparing Darth Vader to Christ – plus, unlike Christ, Vader doesn’t do it on his own, Luke has to save him first, so Luke is part of the Personae Christi image too – but he’s the best symbol I can think of for the idea of redemption - great for a penitential celebration – helping us to face the fact that the darkness does dwell inside of ALL of us, and unchecked it can rule us, but even from the darkest depths, we can be saved.
So that’s what I think is so cool about Star Wars. It’s a universal story. In some way its MY story. It’s about learning to forgive our parents for not being perfect. It’s about knowing that the Universe around us cares about us apparently insignificant vapour farmers on the far reaches of creation. It’s about the hero journey inside of all of us, springing us into a life of excitement and romance, turmoil and frustration, integration and peace.
TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. 2008. All rights reserved