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cass sunstein - the world according to star wars.j

Cass R. Sunstein, The World According to Star Wars:

 

But the Force is not merely about human psychology, behavioral biases, or even magic. It is far murkier and more mysterious than that. Above all, it involves a “leap of faith”. Qui-Gon insisted that “[t]he ways of the Living Force are beyond our understanding.”

 

Undoubtedly so, but the ways of George Lucas are pretty transparent, at least here. He was and remains intensely interested in religions, and he sought to convey something spiritual. When he was just eight years old, he asked his mother, “If there is only one God, why are there so many religions?” He’s been fascinated by that question ever since. In writing Star Wars, he said, “I wanted a concept of religion based on the premise that there is a God and there is good and evil… I believe in God and I believe in right and wrong.”

 

Stars Wars self-consciously borrows from a variety of religious traditions. Lucas thinks that in an important sense, all of them are essentially the same. He is clear about that, insisting that in doing that borrowing, he “is telling an old myth in a new way.” We have seen that he was immensely influenced by Joseph Campbell, his “last mentor,” who claimed that many myths, and many religions, were rooted in a single narrative, a product of the human unconscious. Campbell can be taken to have given a kind of answer to eight-year Lucas: there is one God, and all religions worship Him. Campbell argued that apparently disparate myths drew from, or were, the “monomyth,” which has identifiable features.

 

In brief: A hero is called to some kind of adventure. (Perhaps by circumstances, perhaps by someone in distress.) Initially he declines the call, pointing to his fears, his habits, and what he can’t do. But eventually, he feels compelled to accept the call and leaves his home. Encountering serious danger, he needs, and obtains, supernatural aid, often from a small, old, or wizened man or woman. (Think Obi-Wan or Yoda.) He is initiated through various trials, some of them life-threatening, but he manages to survive. Then he faces some kind of evil temptation, perhaps from a satanic figure, whom he resists (with severe difficulty). At that stage he has a reconciliation with his father – and becomes godlike, a religious figure (the apotheosis). Defeating the most dangerous enemies, he returns home to general acclaim.

 

That is, of course, a summary of many myths and many religious traditions; it also captures countless books, television shows, and movies in popular culture. (The Matrix, Batman, Spider-Man, Jessica Jones, and Harry Potter are just five examples; many comic books, and the movies based on them, have a similar plot.) In a nutshell, it’s Luke’s journey in the first trilogy. In Lucas’s words, “When I did Star Wars, I self-consciously set about to recreate myths and the classic mythological motifs.” The Hero’s Journey also captures much of Anakin’s in the prequels – with the terrific twist that Anakin becomes a monster, not a savior. But as it turns out, he’s the ultimate savior, the Chosen One who restores balance to the Force, and so his journey nicely fits the standard pattern if the six episodes are taken as a whole. Seeing the first trilogy for the first time, Campbell was inspired: “You know, I thought real art stopped with Picasso, Joyce and Mann. Now I know it hasn’t.”

 

As Lucas put it, “With Star Wars, it was the religion – everything was so taken and put into a form that was easy for everybody to accept so it didn’t fall into a contemporary mode where you could argue about it. It went everywhere in the world.” The enduring triumph of Star Wars is that it takes a familiar tale, built into disparate cultures and psyches, sets it in a wholly unfamiliar setting, makes it effervescent and fresh, and gives it a series of emotionally daring twists, thus allowing a series of kids’ movies to touch the human heart. Our modern myth is both a spiritual quest and a psychodrama, insisting that redemption is always possible, that anyone can be forgiven, and that freedom is never an illusion.

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