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Channeling the Force

Why America needs Star Wars now more than ever


  • Caleb Walsh illustration

Star Wars is the greatest movie franchise in the history of the world, an epic galactic story about the clash of dark versus light, told through the lives of a single family of Jedi.

Perhaps one of the most repeated and simultaneously forgotten elements of Star Wars is that it's meant to be a story from the past, not the future. It's about something that happened "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."


The point, I believe, is that the archetypes expressed in this sci-fi masterpiece are universal ancient truths, not merely set pieces in a soap opera in space.

This isn't a new or novel conclusion. In fact, I'm not sure it's possible to say anything new about Star Wars, as I believe that roughly half of the entire Internet is devoted to the series. But the value in repeating old stories that have already been told in slightly new ways is essential to the power of Star Wars.

Star Wars creator George Lucas was a student of Joseph Campbell, the famous professor of mythology. My favorite book of Campbell's is The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, Campbell explains how stories from throughout human history and across the world all share a common structure — which is essentially that a hero leaves home, discovers a new, strange and often frightening world, wins a victory, then comes home with newly gained power from this quest and uses it to aid humankind.

It's well documented that Lucas used this structure in creating Star Wars (for supporting information, see the Internet). Campbell believed that this structure wasn't just a great way to tell stories (although, as Star Wars shows, it is), but also an essential tool in understanding and deriving meaning from our own lives.

Right now, more than ever — like Luke Skywalker or the Rebel Alliance — we as individuals, and collectively as a nation, need to begin a Hero's Journey. We have left the relative safety of the past and are entering a strange world of ever-expanding technology, terrorism and potential environmental catastrophe in the form of a changing climate.

As a people, we have gained powers far greater than anyone could have imagined only a few decades ago. Today, we have a choice about whether we will embrace the light or dark side of the Force. Will we rebuild the Empire or our own Rebel Alliance?

Phrased that way, it's an easy question to answer, but the decisions we face aren't always as clear. After all, Star Wars shows the powerful seduction of the dark side. It also reminds us that no one is beyond redemption. After all, Darth Vader ended up being convinced to save the universe.

At the core of succeeding in our quest is that we must find meaning beyond power. In Star Wars, this meaning is found in family and community, whether that's an alliance with furry Ewoks or a newly discovered twin sister. To emerge victorious, we must find and build new bonds with each other.

If we can find a path to come together and win these battles, then I believe we will find ourselves changed, and returning home with gifts for the future of humanity. May the Force be with us. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, studied at the College of Idaho and currently resides in Seattle. He has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's Republican Party politics.

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