Three Lessons Learned from Star Wars That Prepared Me For Paganism

I was four years old when Star Wars was released in the Summer of 1977 and as a result some of my earliest memories revolve around the adventures of Leia, Luke, Han, and Yoda. I’ve seen every film in the theatre, with the exception of the first which I saw at a drive-in. I have very few memories of that night, mostly just exploding tie-fighters, but I was there that Summer and have been a part of the journey ever since.

I became a certified Star Wars geek by the time The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980. I read the comic books, had many of the toys (I didn’t know any kids who had all of them), and could name every bounty hunter in the galaxy. Return of the Jedi was the first movie I saw more than once in the theatre (not counting re-releases), visiting the multiplex three times in 1983. The late 80’s and early 90’s were a rough time to be a Star Wars fan but the blow was softened by the release of the Timothy Zahn Heir to the Empire series beginning in 1991.

Promo shot for "The Force Awakens," from Disney/Lucasfilm
Promo shot for “The Force Awakens,” from Disney/Lucasfilm

I, of course, was at a midnight screening of The Phantom Menace, and while it did leave a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach I pressed on with my fandom. (At the end of the movie my then roommate turned to me and could see the disappointment etched upon my face, “at least it kind of felt like a Star Wars movie” was the only solace he could offer me.) Attack of the Clones was another misfire for me, but I quite liked Revenge of the Sith, so I’m not a total prequel hater.

I’ve got my tickets purchased for Friday morning and I’m eagerly awaiting The Force Awakens, my expectations buoyed along by the film’s current score at Rotten Tomatoes. Will it be all I hope for and more? Probably not, but I’m not sure that it matters. Star Wars has been subtly shaping me for almost forty years now and in some ways prepared me for my life as a Pagan and Witch.

George Lucas’s movies had some good messages that helped me immensely as a young person and helped me become who I am today. People read whatever they want into them, and certainly the mythological elements of the films line up nicely with a Pagan world view, but they aren’t Pagan propaganda and I’d never claim that they are. Part of the magic of Star Wars is that it allows all of us to take our own journey into the fantastic.

As it has been with me all these years, may the force be with you.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Leia Was in Charge.

It’s easy to forget just how strong of a character Princess Leia was in A New Hope. She sets the entire story into motion and much of the film directly revolves around her. Without Leia there is no Luke and on down the line. She commands the film’s first scene, sends the droids out to search for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and it’s her image that compels Luke to begin his quest.* From there we get Han, Chewbacca, and all the rest.

And while Luke and Han Solo eventually sort of rescue the Princess from the Death Star it’s immediately apparent that she’s far more competent and capable than the smuggler and the farm-boy. It’s Leia who gives Luke and Han their medals at the end of the film, definitively showing just who was in charge of the Rebel Alliance at that juncture. By the time we get to Return of the Jedi she’s sort of replaced by Mon Mothma, but things remain in strong female hands.

Princess Leia in "Episode IV: A New Hope."  From LucasFilm
Princess Leia in “Episode IV: A New Hope.” From LucasFilm
For kids who loved science-fiction and fantasy just how important all of this was cannot be overstated. There were certainly females involved in just about every fantasy/sci-fi story I loved as a child, but I can’t think of any where they were in charge. And as I said at the start of this, the original movie is really Leia’s film in a way that the other movies are not. Sure Leia is a Princess and it sucks that so many women are generally squeezed into the Princess role in movies, but she was an ass-kicking Princess!

How did this prepare for me Paganism? I just happen to be a part of a Witchcraft tradition where ultimate authority lies in the hands of the High Priestess. A New Hope opened me up to that possibility at an early age. While Peter Jackson had to struggle to find a female protagonist for his Lord of the Rings movies, Leia was there from the beginning in Star Wars. And the tradition of strong female characters and Jedi has continued over the decades in the Star Wars universe, let’s hope the Marvel and DC movie universes will eventually catch-up.

Judge Me By My Size Do You?

Yoda in "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" from Lucasfilm
Yoda in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” from Lucasfilm
Upon first seeing Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back I remember thinking “there is no way this thing is a Jedi master.” He spoke in riddles and was more muppet than Sci-Fi space wizard. I was also kind of scared of him, go and re-watch his opening scenes in Empire he was initially hard to love.

By the end of Empire I was fully in the Yoda camp, and as the years have gone by my love for the character has only grown. He’s pretty awesome in the prequels, and his lightsabre battle with Count Dooku is one of the few good parts of Attack of the Clones. (I actually squealed like a small child, and I’m not ashamed of it). That he’s dead and not likely to be a part of the new films is a bit depressing.

I’m sure Lucas designed Yoda to sell toys and other pieces of merchandises, but the character of Yoda contains a valuable message: we should never judge someone based on their appearance. In our society we obsess over how people look, but the best teachers are not necessarily the prettiest ones or the most popular. I have yet to meet a teacher who lives in a swamp (let alone the Dagobah system) but thanks to Yoda it’s not something I’d immediately disqualify someone for. Many of the most powerful Witches I’ve met over the years do not adhere to traditional standards of beauty or whatever and I’m glad that I never let such superficial bullshit get in the way of learning from them.

As Yoda says in Empire: “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not.” It’s something worth remembering.

There’s Something Connecting Us That’s Bigger Than We Are

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from Star Wars is that it’s OK to question the world and be open to other world views. Growing up I was surrounded by Christianity, and while no one in my family was fanatical about it, we were still expected to be Christians and go to church on Sunday. The Star Wars universe hinted at bigger truths in the world, and certainly didn’t have anything to say about Jesus. I wouldn’t call “The Force” a religion, but it’s certainly a mystical school of thought, and the spirituality of it made me want to explore the religious landscape a little more than some might have liked.

Obi-Wan and Luke in the Millennium Falcon, from Lucasfilm.
Obi-Wan and Luke in the Millennium Falcon, from L ucasfilm.
Early on in Episode IV Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that: “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.” Today as a Witch with pretty hard Neo-Platonist leanings this sentence really resonates with me. I do believe that we are all connected somehow, and by all I mean us, goddesses, gods, the natural world, everything. I’m not my deities, but there’s a web that exists between them and myself.

I’m not sure if our planet is alive in the sense of the Gaia Hypothesis, but we are all connected to it. We are all bound together, and the energy that we create, manipulate, and manifest has a lot to do with it.

Raising a Cone of Power in a Witchcraft circle is not the same thing as a lightsabre duel, and I’m no Jedi, and it’s not the force, but we all have an energy field and it surrounds us and penetrates us. There is something more out there than just us as individuals, and Star Wars taught that lesson pretty early on. It’s that energy that survives after death and is what allows Luke to see Yoda, Obi-Wan, and eventually Hayden Christensen Anakin Skywalker at the end of Episode VI.

Enjoy the new film everybody! And may the force be with you!

*Try to block out that Luke essentially becomes obsessed with his sister. Lucas didn’t plan for Luke and Leia to be siblings when he wrote the first film, nor did he plan for Vader to be their Dad. It’s one of the reasons A New Hope that A New Hope doesn’t fit quite properly with the other five movies.

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