the force that binds and breaks
Originally published at www.sproutmagazine.org by Liana Fu.
Yes, the force — the battle between good and evil, the extensive metaphor for testing moral and spiritual thresholds. On Earth, it’s over a billion dollars in box office sales and counting, a devoted fan following, and irreplaceable pop culture references. In a galaxy far, far away, it’s the implicit aura that binds and breaks the universe. Star Wars is, in short, a force to be reckoned with.
In Star Wars (an unspecified amount of time ago), the Galactic Empire tried to crush the Rebel Alliance. On Earth, in the twentieth century, the Axis fought the Allies.We pit ourselves against each other in every possible universe; peace is wrongly perceived as unattainable. After the Paris attacks, the world went back to marginalizing Islam to a dangerous stereotype. We want clearcut superheros and villains in the world; we want absolute truths. But what is light but the diminishing of darkness, not its absence? In absolute darkness, we are blind, fumbling forward into uncertainty. Likewise, in absolute light, we are blinded by brightness. In the case of Islamophobia, the power of fear turned millions into villains. This is the power of vitriolic force.
It would be nice to simplify life as a battle between light and dark — after all, that’s what Covergirl is doing with its new Star Wars co-branded makeup line (“light” and “dark” side mascara is still the same shade of black), or Google prompting users to “choose” a side to customize their applications. But it’s much more complicated than that. We want life to have simple moral divisions, but it’s a toe in heaven and a finger in hell. If it was that easy to extinguish evil, why not light a million candles to get rid of someone’s fear of the dark? It wouldn’t work, unless the desired outcome was a world on fire. In the Star Wars prequels, Anakin’s struggle with the darkness inside him prompts Luke’s efforts to drag his wayward father to the light. After everything, Anakin (AKA Darth Vader) was still capable of light, reaching into the recesses of his mind for good before removing his helmet and accepting death. It seems as if the Force teeters on a wire like a tightrope walker; one foot brushing into either side for those sensitive to it. As much as we loathe the evils of the world, if Star Wars has taught us anything, evil never dies. It comes back in many forms. To quote the character Maz Kanata from The Force Awakens, “I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order.” Just as the world today sees many forms of evil — in racism, war, prejudice — it has seen them all before. History repeats itself. So who are the mediators? Where are the Jedi?
We can find the Force without Star Wars. It’s our unspoken unification in the battle against discrimination. It’s a connection to each other and the environment. In Star Wars, the Force surrounds every living being. We don’t need to be Force-sensitive; this isn’t about midi-chlorian counts.
In the past, the Force has been compared to worldly religions. Many Jedi practices — celibacy, temples, and cardinal rules — point to Buddhism, Christianity, and other religious practices. (There’s a real religion called “Jedism,” but it’s hard to say if followers are serious or satirical.) Historically, religion has been the key to the rise and fall of civilizations and to the current discourse faced in America that stands on the remnants of early, outdated settlements. The theory of Force mirroring religion is true in certain respects. Star Wars embodies the battle between perceived absolute truths, a parallel to the divisive battle between opposing religions. But if the Force should be compared to a modern-day equivalent, it’s really just raw power. Who wields it? Is it the president, the government? Is it a grassroots movement? Or is it the billionaires, the top 1%? The Force is influence, and just like the Jedi, those of us who are sensitive to it must refuse the temptation of the dark side.
We debate, kill, and condone over the qualms of power. Battles thrive about police brutality, about gay marriage, about terrorism or about the new presidential face of 2016 forward. We see, constantly, a struggle in humanity to right its wrongs. Somehow, we are unable to leave history behind. It repeats itself. In America, it can be for better — the resurgence of the civil rights movement in #blacklivesmatter — or for worse — white extremism.
The Force Awakens delivered, almost poetically, the one thing we needed before the close of 2015. The box office numbers show unparalleled interest, and the story speaks to our underlying desire to see the struggle between “light” and “dark,” to witness the revival of a long-awaited intergalactic legend from long ago in a galaxy far, far away. The worldwide obsession with Star Wars, and with the Force, tells us much about ourselves. We like the idea of a higher moral ground, but we also enjoy the conflict of achieving it. We want to see the Force used for both good and evil. We want to see Luke battle his enemies and himself. We want characters to mirror ourselves, and that’s what makes them universally idolized.
The Force only exists in Star Wars, but a version remains in reality. Until we realize how to use the Force wisely, we’ll be wielding a lightsaber blindly into the darkness to come.