Star Wars: the ambiguity of religion

There is something compelling about the Star Wars saga (I’m only referring to the original films 1977-1983). It manages to be original whilst being heavily plagiarised (from 1940s war movies and 1950s B-movies to pirates and Robin Hood movies, mixed with video-games). The films follow the standardised construction of the (white-male-Protestant) hero (reminiscent of Campbell’s The Hero of a Thousand Faces), which aspires to be universal, but it really isn’t and, after over 30 years, one can tell. What I find compelling, however, is the effort of making an imagined future look like the past. Luke’s attire, from farmer to monk, has a medieval flavour. He is a crusader, a Parsifal of the future, much more than a contemporary jihadi, as argued by some. The royal elements among the rebels and the religious Jedi structure are distinctively medieval, while the pluralistic multi-racial composition of the Empire is a clear reference to the Ottoman millet system.

Sexist Hans Solo & Asexual Luke

I have always liked and hated the star wars films. The characters have with little nuance, the acting is wooden and unable to overcome the very bad dialogues, and the action has no suspense. It is also pretty sexist and I am not referring to Princess Leia’s slave-bikini, but to Han Solo’s cocky masculinity. Leia makes perfectly clear that she is not interested in him, but of course the writers had to make her fall for one who is persistent rather than charming. The arrogant and disrespectful egocentric scoundrel tames the supposedly powerful and brave Princess. The message is that all a man needs to get ‘any’ woman is to ignore what she says and wants and impose himself. It is a construction of masculinity and of gender relations, which is now (hopefully) outdated.

The other model of masculinity is Luke Skywalker, the ‘monk’, who renounces his sexuality. There is no responsible, mature, and loving father in the saga. Darth Vader asks his son Luke to join him or face death. Father and son have both rejected the corrupting flesh and female company; yet neither show great wisdom or humility. Luke is the samurai-monk version of Rocky. He is immature, impatient, and presumptuous. When he first meets Yoda, the thought of showing some hospitality or respect for an elderly doesn’t even cross his mind. He learns no wisdom or humility, he just dons black clothing and looks gloomy. Jedis, like ‘anchorites’, believe in the dualism of light versus darkness (and also of spirit versus flesh); yet it is difficult to see what distinguishes the Light from the Dark Side, apart from the colour of light-sabres. Even the clothing is not consistent with Luke wearing black once he’s a Jedi and with the Empire forces wearing white.

Light, Dark, and Yoda

There is no sense of ethics, compassion, or humility. There is only violence, allegedly motivated by a desire for a free society, although it is not clear why the rebels are better than the Empire. Jonathan Last and Sonny Bunch have stood bravely in face of the accusation of revisionism and put the case for the Empire. These efforts should not go unnoticed in the current euphoria for the return of the rebels. Nevertheless, whilst it is possible to defend the Empire on pragmatic grounds, Jedi religion, of which Britain counts many adherents, has yet to face proper scrutiny. It is true that Yoda stille stands as a towering figure of humility and strength. He has never abused the power of the Force. He has always seen himself as just one element amidst all the others that are held and nourished by the Force. This is why, Yoda’s faith reflects a relational conception of belief and personal transformation through the surrender of the self. Nonetheless, whether Luke is really following Master Yoda or whether he is too keen to use the Force to defeat others, remains to be seen.

This entry was posted in belief, Empire Strikes Back, faith, fantasy/supernatural, gender, good & evil, humility, masculinity, monasticism, morality, myth, religion, sexuality, Star Wars, The Return of the Jedi, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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