Christmas came early for Star Wars fans, like me, this year. Last weekend’s opening smashed box office records, touched hearts and thoroughly entertained. My wife, two sons and I saw Episode VI on Saturday evening after December Commencement. Like thousands of others, our theater was filled with families and friends enjoying every moment – many on the edge of their seats. We left excitedly discussing the events that unfolded and the mysteries that still remain. The magic of Star Wars is back!
Much has been made about J. J. Abrams getting “IT”. His TED talk from 2007 shows that he knew what makes a good story and film. Ironically, years before he was tapped to write and direct the reboot of the series, he used Star Wars as his example of the power of mystery in making a great story. Click here to watch. The Force Awakens demonstrates his ability, once again, to apply that lesson he learned from the “mystery box” to make a compelling, character-driven, human epic.
During the long advertising advent building-up to the premiere, scholars from a wide variety of disciplines weighed-in on every aspect of Star Wars. Each provided a particular lens on how the Star Wars saga can be used to teach, inform and guide, as well as entertain. Saint Vincent College contributed our series, The Force Enlightens, put together by Jared Bundy and Alex Byers which can be viewed here. You can find connections to leadership, medieval history, astronomy, Catholic theology, Benedictine monasticism and more.
A similar series was done by Georgetown University with Ask a Professor. A quick search of the web yields more experts discussing the ethical implications of C-3P0 posing as an Ewok god, the galactic economic consequences of the Death Star project and even a debate on the Empire’s destruction of Alderaan satisfying Just War criteria (now come on!). Continuing on a satirical note, the Washington Post produced a tongue-in-cheek Ken Burns-inspired documentary on the Galactic Civil War along with a detailed analysis of the trade and insurance implications of the Han Solo’s famous Kessel Run. Click here to watch and read (I enjoyed the pundit quoting Senator Jar Jar Binks with such a sense of reverence).
What makes Star Wars so popular with professors? Some answer that relating to pop culture makes lessons more relevant. Others state that the mythic archetypes used by George Lucas tap timeless, humanistic themes. I believe that Star Wars was so influential personally that we look for ways to share our excitement with others. Of course, all or most of the above are likely true in a given case.
In 1977, playing with Star Wars figurines, I imagined what Luke, Leia and Han would do in swashbuckling adventures among the stars. Now kids will be doing the same with Rey, Finn and Poe. Like all art forms, exceptional sagas entertain the senses, inspire us to dream, assist us to understand our reality and motivate us to action. Epics in particular help us through challenging times. In critical moments our favorite stories inform our decisions and help us discern the correct path to follow.
During the last days of 2015 and first days of 2016 a reflection on the obstacles (both small and large, individual and collective) that impede peace on earth and goodwill to all is appropriate. Yoda and Obi Wan counseled that when our mind is calm, we know how to stay on the path of light. Conversely, the dark path is the one we follow when fear, anger and revenge consume our thoughts. This path is the way followed by the likes of Darth Vader and now Kylo Ren, the way of the Empire and now the First Order. The news shows attempts to incite terror and shares seemingly insurmountable global problems. An individual's actions can make meaningful and significant differences. Maybe one's impact will not be on a galactic or global scale, but in this year of mercy, we should do what we can to serve the least of our brothers and sisters. Star Wars, along with many other heroic sagas both historical and fictional, help us find the courage to resist the easier, dark path and to stay true to our principles of kindness, liberty and justice for all. So in this special season in which we celebrate humanity's most precious gift, may the force be with you; or, put another way, may the Christmas season bring calm and peace to you, your loved ones and lifeforms everywhere.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year!