Lessons from the Rebel Alliance on the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars

I was watch Return of the Jedi last night on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars, and I was struck by who was leading the two missions against the Empire and what it says about the politics and culture of the Rebel Alliance. First you have General Lando Calrissian leading the Rebel fleet against the Death Star. Not only is Lando relatively new to the Rebel Alliance, but he betrayed the Alliance and handed over their top leadership to Darth Vader.

A transformative justice commitment is at work in the Alliance. Chewbacca and Princess Leia, in the heat of battle, express their real anger while also building trust as they fight off Stormtroopers, experience the heartbreak of Han taken away by Baba Fett.

Lando, pressured by draconian threats from the Empire to make the people of Cloud City suffer (likely a combo of austerity measures and authoritarian rule), was never committed to the Empire, but seeing the love and determination of the Rebel leaders as well as the evil of the Empire up close, has a conversion to not only join, but help lead the Alliance.

Within a short period of time anger, apologies, and reconciliation take place and Lando is now part of the plot to save Han and once reunited, fight the Empire. Lando’s leadership, battle skills (they must of have heard about the Battle of Taanab), and his commitment to repair harm, all earn him a top spot in helping the Alliance succeed. And it isn’t arms length reconciliation, it’s a full loving reunion.

At the heart of the transformative justice commitment in the Alliance, I believe is a historical and structural analysis of the Empire and how it’s evil forces people into compromise, into betrayal, into both inflicting suffering on others and feeling powerless to end one’s own suffering.

The Alliance has clarity about the impact of the Empire not only on the Galaxy, but on the hearts and minds of everyday people. Alongside that assessment of the Empire is a profound love and belief in everyday people to be authors of their own destiny and to make the universe more just and equitable in the process. The Alliance isn’t here to save others from a perch of privilege, the Alliance understands that this is a fight for all of their lives, for their children, for their future. They understand that the rule of the Emperor means misery on every level, and they are driven by a dogged commitment to bring down the Empire and unleash freedom. They know they need each other.

The second mission, to destroy the shield generator that is protecting the Death Star, is led by Han Solo, a working class smuggler who bails on the Alliance before the fight to destroy the first Death Star. Han also has a powerful return, as he plays a key strategic role knock Darth Vader’s ship out which clears the way for Luke to destroy the Death Star. Again there is redemption as Han fully joins the Rebels.

There is much we can learn from the clarity of vision, as exemplified by Princess Leia’s defiance and tenacity, by their inclusive culture that welcomed people into the Alliance, and by their focus on practice and showing up as the path to redemption, the path to relationship and community, the path to becoming a Rebel worthy of being called “scum” by the Empire, the path to destroying the Empire and all getting free. I want to add the Alliance also has a strong culture of intergeneration leadership, of mentorship, and of followership, for example as Luke learns from and follows Obi-Won, Princess Leia, and Yoda, on his own hero’s journey.

To all my comrades in the Rebel Alliance, happy 40th Anniversary! Let us keep building as we continue our work to defeat the Empire.

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