What We Learn from Star Wars
A Fan's Contemplation After Nine Films
Ask anyone who knows me: I have been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. As a child, I didn't really consider much beyond the fun factor. As I got older, though, and as I progressed in my own journey, I kept coming back to the series for inspiration and sagely wisdom. Now that we've concluded the Skywalker Saga, I've compiled five of my favorite lessons; pearls of wisdom we can apply not just to fandom, but to life as well.
1.) The Force Does Not Belong to You
This is perhaps the most important lesson that a Star Wars fan - or any fan, for that matter - can learn, particularly as we forge a necessary path toward greater diversity in media and beyond. Masters Yoda and Luke Skywalker teach us that life itself creates and sustains the Force, and life takes countless forms across the cosmos. Who are we to decide whom the Force ordains or guides? Has not this question been a source of constant strife in our own history? Everyone claims to know the True Way or the Right Way: the True Way to be a fan; the Right Way to govern; the Right Way to love; the True Way to pray. But to claim ownership over something or someone, to the exclusion of all else or others, is to be jealous in one's attachments, and in Master Yoda's words, "the shadow of greed, that is."
2.) Love is Not Selfish
Ownership is not limited to the concrete person, place, or thing. It also applies to the abstract: the concept of how a person, place, or thing should be. To my mind, this is the message Yoda wanted to impart to Anakin Skywalker. For simpler terms, let us look to actor/athlete Terry Crews, who said, "You can't love someone and control them at the same time." To let go of his attachments does not mean that Anakin should not love Padme and Obi-Wan. Rather, that love requires the security and the willing vulnerability to view them as people capable of change and evolution, each with their own journey, rather than as the unchanging, constant idols he has envisioned them to be. It is this same trap that Kylo Ren falls into with Rey, and the reason (one of several) I personally feel that his final redemption and romance are unearned. To be honest, I feel Rey's decision to turn her back on him at the end of The Last Jedi was a healthy one, because she understands the lesson. Love - be it platonic, romantic, sexual, etc. - is not selfish. Anyone who says otherwise is misguided. And on that note...
3.) Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes?
The irony of the statement is not lost on me, but at the same time, it reminds me of the intolerance paradox as described by Karl Popper: to paraphrase, unlimited tolerance leads to its disappearance. To create the tolerant society we desire, we must be intolerant of intolerance.
In other words, don't indulge the devil's advocate. Compromise is always desirable, but there are some matters of morality and philosophy that we should not sacrifice for the sake of appeasement. Sometimes, an absolute is exactly what is needed: the line in the sand between what is good and what is evil.
4.) Goodness is What You Do
Full disclosure: I really liked Luke's character arc in The Last Jedi. It continues his narrative beautifully, because it continues the lesson he discovers in Return of the Jedi: namely, that goodness is not a one-time decision. Goodness is a choice you make every day of your life. In refusing to give into anger, he denied the Emperor. In giving into fear, he created Kylo Ren. In overcoming that fear, he restored hope across the galaxy. Luke Skywalker's life is a lesson in choices.
So, too, is Kylo Ren's, and this is another reason I feel his redemption was unearned. At every turn, Kylo Ren chose to hurt someone, to kill someone, to torture someone to satisfy his own whims. Yet, we are expected to believe that a pang of regret redeems him? Further, we are expected to believe that this earns him romance? What kind of message does this send to young people beginning to navigate gender, sex, and the privileges thereof? What kind of message does this send to older audiences?
It is not enough to say you are a good person. You have to show it, and you have to keep showing it.
5.) On Failure
So, what happens when you fail? We've all failed, and if you grew up a Gifted Child like I did, it is incredibly easy to lose all hope when you mess up.
Fortunately, there's a lesson here, too.
"Heeded my words not, did you?" Yoda asks. "Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is."
To combat those feelings of failure and hopelessness, we must choose to believe in ourselves. We must believe that each of us has a place in the galaxy. We must insist, absolutely, upon our right to exist within it as we are, and we must fight for the tools and opportunities to do so. The Force is with us, and if we trust in it, we may yet find A New Hope.