The Force has returned. Actually, it never left. But another generation gets to experience firsthand, in 3D in-your-face action, the power of that mysterious Force that captured a couple of previous generations.
Star Wars – The Force Awakens, the seventh in a series of George Lucas films, now masterfully directed by J.J. Abrams, with a fittingly more diverse cast, broke box office records in its first week. What is it about Star Wars that is so captivating, so appealing, and, can we say, so addicting across the generations?
For long time Star Wars fans, and mythology fans, it is well known that George Lucas was highly influenced by the work of Joseph Campbell, that they became friends, and that the Bill Moyers PBS series with Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, that catapulted him to much wider fame, was filmed at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch.
Each film in the series, this one included, follows the same essential script, what Campbell called the monomyth: an as yet untested, unknowing hero is faced with an insurmountable task, leaves home, faces dangers, overcomes them with the help of supernatural aid (the Force), becomes transformed in the process, and returns home a true hero(ine). This pattern is found in all the world’s great myths and sacred stories. But this is only part of why Star Wars is so compelling to so many people.
Joseph Campbell was a mentor to me, as well. I met him in 1970 (but that’s a story in itself for another blog). On one of my visits to his home in Greenwich Village, he gave me a signed copy of the last volume of his Masks of God series, where he wrote how this four volume set confirmed for him a thought he had long entertained: “the unity of the human race, not only in its biology but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony…” This was as true in the past as it is the present, and will be in the future, he said. Unity is the goal toward which we are evolving, whether on the planetary or galactic level.
That’s another reason why the Star Wars films are all so compelling: they have the object of restoring peace and justice to the neighborhood or to the galaxy, ultimately maintaining balance and creating unity on every level. And, yes, there are a lot of battles to get through to accomplish this, all of which could better be taken metaphorically than literally.
But that’s the nature of things here in this physical, temporal realm. The Force gets split into light and dark, or good and evil. Opposing forces set up the tension, leading to non-stop battles. But is all that really necessary, we might ask? Though it may feel gratuitous, or overdone, it is all meant to bring about transformation, through the clash and merging of opposing forces, which leads to unity and balance again. Yet, on the level of ultimate reality, the Force is always one, undivided and unified.
So the battles between the forces of light and dark are ongoing here, across all generations, always part of our history and our evolution. It is always a struggle for every generation to maintain the balance between opposing forces.
Perhaps the main reason for the Star Wars films being so popular and compelling is that the battle between the forces of light and dark is at the heart of all sacred teachings. The Star Wars films get to spirituality itself: the universality of the theme of transformation through the merging of opposing forces, which restores harmony, balance and unity, which leads to personal and collective fulfillment, which many traditions refer to as heaven on earth, or whatever galaxy it might be.
This primary theme of Star Wars is part of our spiritual DNA. In my next blog, I will go deeper into the universalities not only of the hero’s journey but also the mystic way, or journey of the soul, and what they have in common with the Star Wars films.
In a section of my latest book (Mystic Journey: Getting to the Heart of Your Soul’s Story, pp.45-47), I explore this core opposition of light and dark in more depth. The world’s religions put this theme in perspective:
Bhagavad Gita, “The Light of Lights He is, in the heart of the Dark shining eternally.”
Genesis (1:3–4), “And God said, Let there be light and there was light. And God divided the light from the darkness.”
Dhammapada, “Shrouded all about by darkness, will you not then look for light?”
1 John (1:5), “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”
Qur’an (24:35), “God is the light of the heavens and of the earth.”
In the writings of the Baha’i Faith, the most recent world religion, which emerged out of Islam in Persia in the mid 19th century, as Christianity had emerged out of Judaism a millennia and a half before that, Baha’u’llah assures us that our share of this light is already within us. “Thou art my lamp and My light is in thee . . . within thee I have placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else . . . Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished…”
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Photo by the author