FEELING THE FORCE

Do battles make us happy? Yoda said, "Wars not make one great!" But they do make for compelling movies. Photo courtesy Disney/Lucasfilm

Do battles make us happy? Yoda said, "Wars not make one great!" But they do make for compelling movies. Photo courtesy Disney/Lucasfilm

The Force is strong in Hollywood this month. Unless you've been living on Tatooine, you probably know that the latest installment of the Star Wars saga is about to drop into theaters all around the galaxy. That's Episode Seven for those of you keeping track of these sorts of things, and for the first time in Star Wars history, the episode number and the actual number of the completed movies will be in sync.

In terms of a blog focused on creativity, the lives of creative people, and the motivations that propel both, there are billions of pixels that could be burned on the subject of Star Wars. In fact, billions of pixels have already been burned on this very subject, with websites and books and pajamas and sippy cups for toddlers too young to know a tauntaun from a transponder.  But with age comes perspective, and one of the things that’s most captured my attention of late has to do with how this series seems to speak to profoundly diverse audiences. Red-staters love it; blue-staters love it. Populations in repressed Third World countries love it; oligarchs in semiprivate second world enclaves that already ape sci-fi dystopias see themselves in the Star Wars galaxy, too. What used to be an evil Empire – – the enemy we all love to hate, managed by the Grand Moff Tarkin and that black caped guy with emphysema – – has spawned a strangely partisan group of fans. It's not that people love storm troopers, per se…but then…one starts to wonder what’s going on.

Similarly, many of us begin to question the absolute righteousness of the Jedi. Once we’re pulled into the romantic appeals of this apparently enlightened crowd, we begin to wonder about the hermetic nature of their culture. Selected into a kind of monastic existence that separates them from much of society, with a push to eschew ordinary pleasures, one wonders what the appeal might be besides extraordinary power. Of course, the pursuit of extraordinary power for intangible purposes, purportedly good purposes, risks corruption, and if power inevitably corrupts, we risk bouncing right back to the Dark Side. 

Ultimately the Star Wars mythology asserts that galactic order is a function of militant power exerted willfully, whether from the light side or dark side. Taken as a political exegesis, I fear the influence of this tale, even if the adolescent geek that gleefully resides inside me can’t wait to see the movie.

Star Wars is a strange phenomenon these days. Very few cultural experiences are so multiculturally revered. Even the Olympics, the global sporting match purportedly designed to celebrate youthful athleticism and laudable character building, has become a gigantic commercial event, celebrating larger than life superstars and their endorsements more than the principles of the Olympics themselves. It’s the same for Star Wars. As a cultural touchstone, the immense story arc becomes a Tabula Rasa. In it we see what we wish to see, and in these unsettled times all over the world, what we wish to see isn’t necessarily the same as what the person next to us wishes to see.  The funny thing is that after we both gaze at that vision, we turn to each other smile, and perhaps even high-five. 

“That was awesome, right?”

“Right!”

This makes me laugh as much as it makes me just a little nervous. When people think they understand each other, but actually see entirely different things in the same object, we begin to encroach on the realm of religion. Said another way, we begin to realize that it's dialogue more than facts that most powerfully propel culture and conversation. Star Wars gets a huge conversation going, no doubt. It’s a conversation has been going on since Episode Four (A New Hope) dropped into theaters in 1977. But here in the second decade of the 21st-century, one has to wonder if these shiny objects wrapped up in fantasy clothes espousing simplistic power structures and strangely, dangerously sanitized violence, will have any political impact beyond a global day spent at the movies. Considering that movies have lost so much of their currency in the era of ubiquitous sophisticated media, the day that Episode Seven opens will be a strange day indeed.

But to be clear, I’ll be there, in IMAX, with my family, totally committed to the experience. Popcorn, no butter, center seat.

May The Force be with you.

@michaelstarobin

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