Star Wars quotes have invaded recent blog entries for a reason. For the last month the boys have been nearly addicted to the Wii Lego Star Wars game, working through the stories, building Minkits, buying characters, etc. They know the name of places, characters and battles better than I do. You know it’s something when your just turned five year old son asks for help on a video game, and you have to say “you know how to play this better than me.” Luckily, he can turn to his seven year old brother who is an expert for help.
Of course, they also wanted to see the movies, and last weekend Dana (the five year old) had me talking like Obi Wan, while he pretended to be either Anakin or Yoda. I realized I was losing myself in these fantasies when I talked like Obi Wan to the cashier at the grocery store. Last night Jon Stewart comes back from his holiday break and wouldn’t you know it — the first bit is a nice comparison of Barack Obama to Luke Skywalker.
Finding myself drawn in, I re-read a book I got over a decade ago called “Empire Building,” by Gary Jenkins, giving the history of the Star Wars effort, and a short bio on George Lucas. The book was released just before the new trilogy came out, and I was pleased to read that George Lucas said the series was really about Anakin’s redemption. That was cool since I wrote a blog post titled “Anakin’s Redemption” a couple weeks ago! It’s pretty remarkable how a film that many at Fox studios thought a waste of money ended up becoming such a cultural icon.
Why has the movie become so iconic? The conventional wisdom holds that in an era where dark, realistic and psychologically deep (and depressing) films were the norm, Star Wars came forth with optimism and a simple ‘good vs. evil’ message that spoke to the inner child in all of us. Moreover, it was fun, an escape from reality. The heroes were likable, the villains were clearly evil, and there wasn’t a lot of complexity. Obi-Wan and Yoda’s bits of wisdom were short and succinct, patterned after zen phrases rather than complex moral dramas.
Of course, the three ‘prequels’ that came between 1999 and 2005 added more special effects and complexity to the story, as we got to watch Anakin Skywalker slip towards the dark side. And, at a time when the US was over-reacting to terrorism and President Bush embraced war in defiance of the world community, the story of a Republic morphing into an empire out of contrived fear seemed close to home. When Anakin says “if you are not with me, then you are my enemy,” and Obi-Wan replies “Only the Sith deal in absolutes,” Lucas provides a very political statement!
But the reason I think Star Wars became the most successful movie of its era may be because of the spiritual world view of the Jedi — “the force.” George Lucas calls himself a “Buddhist Methodist,” and one can see the mix of Christian and eastern ideals in the Jedi vision of the world.
Consider some of Yoda’s quotes:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
“Do or do not… there is no try.”
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”
When Luke skeptically says “I can’t believe it,” Yoda replies “That is why you fail.”
“Remember, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”
“You will know (the good side of the force): when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
And my favorite: “Train yourself to let go of the things you fear to lose.”
Or as Obi Wan (Alec Guinness) put it: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
Also Obi Wan: “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
Back a couple years ago I wrote that I thought we needed a new axial age, a fundamental shifting in how we look at faith, religion and philosophy. I think Star Wars is so powerful because its moral voice reflects truths which transcend particular religions and world views. The action and story line is connected by an understated yet dominate moral thread: the force. There is a good side and a bad side. The dark side comes from fear, and is associated with hate, death, and anger. The good side comes from a calm, clear vision, with self-mastery and perspective. The dark side is confused, doubting, impatient, and discontent. It is suffering. The light side is confident, patient, and does not over-react. It is love. There is a spiritual, psychological and practical wisdom in Lucas’ simple yet elegant “force.”
Without the “force,” Star Wars might have been a hit, but may not have been the world wide blockbuster it became. It speaks to core values that unite us, transcending the different religious myths and stories that divide us. And, of course, the core value of forgiveness is present in how Anakin Skywalker, even after engaging in massive atrocities, such as murdering Jedi children and committing genocide, is redeemed through his sons’ faith that he still had good inside him.
May the force be with you.