It's hard to believe that we've hit the final stretch before the much anticipated release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And, as I eagerly (and admittedly a little nervously) await this next installment, I've had the opportunity to reflect on what the Star Wars franchise has meant to me over the years.
I was certainly a Star Wars kid. I can remember the Christmas my mom got a VHS boxed set of Episodes 4-6 (the only movies I'll be discussing because I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to these things). We watched all three movies together, mom, dad, sister, and I, over the course of the holiday break. And, my sister and I were instantly mesmerized.
We started watching the movies on our own, so many times that we eventually began to wear out the tapes. We memorized the lines. We knew every detail about every character. We fought incessantly over which movie was best (My sister championed Empire Strikes Back because Luke lost his hand, while I loved the mostly happy endings--and Ewoks--in Return of the Jedi). We took the story in as though it was our own and it invaded our lives.
I can recall a number of pumpkins carved with Yoda ears at my sister's behest. Or making light sabers out of wrapping paper tubes, pool noodles, or just about anything we could get our hands on. We memorized the words to Weird Al parodies and performed them for family members. Han Solo was my first fantasy man, an awakening to sexual attraction (as I'm sure he was for more than a few of girls and boys). But beyond all that, our obsessive watching taught me some incredibly valuable lessons as well.
Fear is powerful.
We come to understand this time and time again throughout the films. As Yoda explains in Empire Strikes Back, "Anger, fear, aggression! The dark side of The Force are they." Fear, along with other negative emotions, is the backbone of the dark side. So much of Luke's journey to become a Jedi revolves around mastering his fears. He fears failure. Eventually, he comes to fear for his friends, for his sister. Most of all, he fears himself, what he might be, what he could become.
This feels so universal. We are all afraid. And, just as this fear can lead someone down the path of the dark side in the Star Wars universe, so can it incapacitate us in our own lives. But the Jedi combats fear in a unique way. For Yoda also explains that "A Jedi uses The Force for knowledge." This sense of seeking that is so quintessential to the Jedi is something we can all take note of. We fear what we do not know, what is beyond our grasp. For this, learning and understanding are always the answers.
There's a little good and evil in everybody.
Star Wars is no doubt a story of good versus evil. Light versus dark. And, critics would say these lines are drawn too obviously, the contrast too stark and lacking in any sort of nuance. I've heard words like "childish" or even "hokey" to describe the mechanics of the Star Wars plot. And, in some ways, this is probably the case. But, at it's very heart, Star Wars is a story born of "mythic imagination," as mythologist Joseph Campbell might put it. It's well documented that George Lucas drew a wealth of inspiration from the work of Joseph Campbell, who believed that "We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet." Or in the case of Star Wars, the universe.
One way that Star Wars creates this sense of universality is through character development. Even if a little predictable, nobody's perfect in the Star Wars universe. Luke is a would-be Jedi, our hero, who is full of fear, and sometimes even hate and vengeance. And, then there's Han Solo. A criminal, an outlaw, interested in making a quick buck. He's the guy who shoots first, puts himself before everybody else. But he also does the right thing time and time again.
And, this works both ways. Just as our heroes grapple with their own imperfections, our villains our complicated as well. Look at Darth Vader. He's ruthless, a murderer. He stands as the predominant antagonist throughout the trilogy, blowing up planets, freezing people in carbonite, and strangling his own men with the power of the dark side. And yet, in the end, he is also a father. One who saves his son by sacrificing himself and everything he has worked to achieve.
As black and white as the Force might be, the characters within the Star Wars universe are a little of both. Perhaps like all of us down here on planet Earth.
Anyone can be a hero.
I wanted to be Luke, or Leia, or Han. I wanted to be all of them. And for good reason. They are all heroes of their own stories, and in the way their stories intersect with one another. Luke, of course, is the archetype, the monomyth as Joseph Campbell would describe it, who sets out on a hero's journey of "separation, initiation, and return."
But what about Leia? She goes from princess and political ambassador to rebel fighter. She is a hero for herself, her people, and for the people she loves. She even sacrifices her own freedom at the hands of Jaba the Hutt in an attempt to rescue Han Solo.
And what of Han? What starts as a business transaction becomes a chance to stand up for something greater than himself. His personal evolution, his act of growing up, is a heroic act in of itself.
And, then there's Chewbacca the Wookie, or those little Ewok warriors, and even R2-D2 and C3PO. you don't even have to be human to make heroic decisions in this galaxy.
Each of these characters have their own style of heroism, and yet, in the end, they all perform acts of courage and sacrifice for some greater good. Not bad life examples, if you ask me.
The Force is with all of us.
"May the Force be with you." Truer words are rarely spoken. Just as the Force is the lifeblood of the Jedi, so too is it the lifeblood of the Star Wars universe. I remember thinking to myself as a kid, over and over again, "I want to be a part of that. I want to be the Force." I was captivated by this concept that something beyond seeing, tasting, touching, something so mythic and powerful, could connect people to each other, the world. I wanted in.
It wasn't until much later in my life that I realized I already was a part of the Force. I've come to believe we all are. Call it God, or love, or the benevolent energies of the universe, but I believe these forces connect us all. I'd like to say my early desires to be a Jedi played a part in my adult understanding of the connective tissue that seems to hold the world together.
Perhaps the feeling of good triumphing over evil, of the underdogs succeeding, and mostly happy endings is partly what critics dislike about Star Wars. And, it is a simple message. But, for me, in the end, the overarching theme of every individual character arc, as well as the collective success of the rebel army, is that love wins.
All kinds of love, sure. Love of freedom (from the empire, from tyranny), love of friends and close relationships (the Skywalker family, Han and Leia, Han and Lando), or love of progress, of hope for a better world. And, maybe that is a little hokey, but in this day and age, I'll take love winning in a galaxy far, far away any day of the week.