Probably no theme is more common to mythic literature than the struggle between good and evil. The roll-up – the opening lines on the screen – of Episode IV A New Hope, hint at this theme which forms a pattern woven through-out all of the movies. The roll-up tells of the rebel forces’ first victory against the Empire, and their acquisition of valuableplans for the Death Star. Princess Leia is trying to get home with the plans, “pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents.” (Emphasis mine. In the movies, sinister is never used for the “good guys”.) Princess Leia and Darth Vader (anticipated here as one of the “sinister agents”) are already paired off to suggest the struggle between good and evil.
Thus, the battle between good and evil, one of the great themes of the Star Wars movies, has already been suggested before the first scene begins. After the roll-up, the action begins with a vast field of stars, then cuts to a view of a planet below. Then a ship – the rebel blockade runner – speeds into view, seemingly from overhead the audience’s perspective. It is firing at and being fired upon by a huge Imperial cruiser, which quickly comes into view and overtakes the Rebel ship. The Imperial cruiser begins drawing the much smaller vessel into the massive Emperial craft, and the movie cuts to an inside view of the Rebel craft, with screaming sirens warning of the impending emergency.
The opening scenes continue to set up the mythic battle between good and evil. In fact, in A New Hope, this epic battle is set up stereotypically, especially at first, with the “good guys” wearing white and the arch villain totally encased in black. The “good guys” and “bad guys” are very well segregated.
Probably the most obvious contrast to Vader in the opening scenes is Princess Leia. Where Vader is dressed – and totally covered – in black, Leia is dressed totally in white. Leia, dressed demurely in a long, white gown, is clearly portrayed as the classic damsel in distress in the opening scenes. She sends a message to Obi Wan Kenobi pleading for help, a plea which will be repeated numerous times in the early part of the movie: “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” And when captured by Vader, she almost seems to shrink in comparison to his size and bulk.
When Star Wars was released in the late 1970s, women’s roles were rapidly changing, and a “damsel in distress” certainly would not have played very well. The portrayal of Leia as the “damsel in distress” seems to be mainly for contrast at the beginnning; the image is rather quickly jettisoned when we see how well she handles a blaster and the fine art of lethal insult. And when her “rescuers” arrive, they are a couple of bumbling guys and she has to take charge of her own rescue – of which she seems fully capable. What we have on our hands is a rather plucky, spirited heroine, easily the equal (or the better) of the guys..
‘Obviously, there is more that contrasts Leia to Vader than the color of her costume. Her spunkiness and tenacity and even her use of power shows that she is not willing to sacrifice the things she holds sacred in order to attain power and exert control. She will sacrifice herself before she will sacrifice her principles.
So even in the opening scenes, we have a very clear demarcation between the good and the evil, and those representing each side. We have, of course, emphasized the significance of the costumes worn by Darth Vader and Leia. You may have already realized that, related to the costume issue, the Imperial Storm Troopers’ suits are all white. In the case of the Imperial troops, however, it is not the color of their suits but their name – after the feared Nazi SS – as well as their total sameness and anonymity that signals their implication in the evil Empire they support. So while the entire cast isn’t actually divided between black and white costumes, the division between good and evil is nice and neat; and the pattern is certainly regular enough not to miss the significance from the very beginning: this isn’t just a little border skirmish, but an epic battle between the forces of good and evil.
In an audio clip used in the Smithonian’s Star Wars Magic of Myth exhibition Lucas says that the colors used for the empire were solid colors, usually black or white. The main exception is the Emperor’s guards, who wear dark red, the color of blood. But in the opening scences of A New Hope, the main contrast seems to be the black of Vader’s maske and robe and the white of Leia’s gown.
Partly because of this nice neat division of “the good guys and the bad guys”, this movie was referred to by at least one commentator as “cosmic cowboys.” It is an interesting fact of the development that some of the imagery came from the old Westerns. In fact, Han Solo’s character – seen in his costume as well as his persona – costume was actually modeled after the old gunslinger image. All of this makes the first movie something of a fun lark, as well as setting up for a little different sort of treatment of good and evil in the next movie. See The Magic of Myth, pp. 126-133.
Darth Vader, the arch villain, wears a black helmet with a black mask, a full flowing robe, and black gloves. Lucas, in describing the affect he wanted from Vader, described him as “a dark lord riding on the wind”. Vader seems to personify evil, and at his first appearance on the screen, one wants to actually hiss, as at the screen villains of old. His breathing is audible through his mask and makes him seem even more ominous. No part of the man himself is to be seen. . In Obi Wan’s word, Vader “is more machine than man.” He breathes with an iron lung, his legs are artificial. His humanity seems to be covered with his costume, swallowed up in the machinery that keeps him alive.
Princess Leia programs – or commissions is the word that later comes to mind – to find Obi Wan Kenobi, an old friend of her [adopted] father. “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” Little does the viewer of the original movie even begin to guess what a pivotal line this is. In fact, not for 25 years, with the advent of the prequesl trilogy, have most of us begun to grasp how pivotal is this statement of the story. Leia seems to understand only that Ovi Wan fought with her father in the Clone Wars – another little tease that won’t be understood for more than a couple of decades. But the personage to whom she is appealling to help happened to be very near the center of the struggle – still unfolding – when it first began. And his renewed involvement will bring in a new player – one who will change the history of the galaxy.
Vader wastes no time demonstrating his evil nature. Upon boarding the Rebel ship, he picks one of the crew members up by the neck. When the crew member denies any knowledge of the stolen data, Vader crushes his neck and throws him against the wall. Thus, in his first interaction in the movie, Vader is established as more than just a pretty face in an elegant costume, or, rather, in a mysterious hiddne face in an ominous costume, for that matter; this is a nasty, evil character.
The Humble Servants
So, given the set-up of nearly epic proportions just in the roll-up, the contrast between good and evil that is set up in the early scenes, the appeal to a long history not yet understood by the viewer, not to mention the dire straits set up within the first scene of the movie, who are the first of the main characters to actually be introduced? The hero? The heroine? The arch-villain? The old friend sought out of history for help? Or, at least, the captain of the beleaguered vessel? Nope – its the droids! Machines! The droids appear, moving along the corridor in the first scene, C3PO chattering away (get used to it!), and R2D2 beeping back at him. These droids have a very particular role in the movies, and though it is a role shared with others along the way, this role is given added significance by the fact that they are the first of the main characters to appear.
The Annotated Screenplays explains the source of inspiration for the droids, plot-wise.
A strong influence on Star Wars was Akira Kurosawa’s epic film The Hidden Fortress (1958); the story of a princess who escapes the clutches of an enemy clan with her faithful commander. They make a dangerous journey disguised as peasants, with the royal fortune in gold hidden in sticks of firewood and with the help of two bumbling farmers who hope to get a share of the treasure.
The two droids did not exist in the first treatment; instead, George Lucas created two Imperial bureaucrats modeled after the two farmers from The Hidden Fortress, who were basically placed in the story for comic relief and who are taken prisoner by General Luke Skywalker after they escape from an Imperial space fortress during a battle. (AS, p. 9)
In the early drafts to which this quote refers, one can already recognize the outlines of the beginning of the droids’ journey: they escape a space fortress (the huge Imerial Cruiser) and come into the possession of one Luke Skywalker (not a general in the movie, but a farmboy). In the next of several drafts of the movie, these Imperial bureacrats became droids, both of whom spoke in the early stages of development. But in the Star Wars universe, droids – while highly intelligent – are clearly expendable. They are the bottom of the heap. Says Lucas,
You focus on the human story first, and then you begin to create this world that everybody inhabits, and playing with the lowest person in this hierarchy, I created droids. And that is really how they came about. I was looking for the lowest person on the pecking order, basically like the farmers in Hidden Fortress were. (AS, p. 9, empasis mine)
So, after the great mythic theme of the struggle between good and evil is suggested, the first main characters to appear, the first to appear in the thick of things, are the lowliest and the most humble. And what is the significance of that? It is the beginning of a theme that will appear again and again throughout the Star Wars movies: in the struggle between good and evil, no creature, no being is unimportant. Every hand (or paw or appendage) is vital.
Every Paw or Appendage is Vital – Star Wars’ Creatures
An old song goes:
All God’s creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing lower, some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they got!
In this old song, “all God’s creatures” are considered equals, i.e., “got a place in the choir.” Indigineous peoples, including Native Americans, respected the non-humans as “elder brothers”, i.e., older and wiser people. Modern folks tend to think of people as the pinnacle of creation and non-humans as “only animals”. And this, in spite of the growing body of evidence that animals have intelligence and feelings. Star Trek’s Spock once said (correcting for sexist language): “Only human arrogance would assume that humans are the only intelligent species on the planet.” (Star Trek IV The Voyage Home)
In Star Wars, we find a universe where, if not all creatures are sentient, an amazing number of them are. The Star Wars heroes may not like every creature they run across, sometimes with good reason. But an amazing range of human and non-human characters show a lot of smarts and compassion. If we have an open mind, we just may discover that the creature or alien in front of us is more like us than we thought.
Again and again we will be told, beginning with the droids, that the most humble creatures can make a crucial difference in the struggle. Consequently, we must never give in to the temptation to think that the role others play is unimportant or insignificant, or that we are unimportant, that we can do nothing, that we have nothing to offer. One may play only a small role, but every stand for truth is important. Every falsehood and wrong that goes uncontested is a victory for the “Dark Side”; every stand taken for what is right is crucial. But we must believe we can make a difference and not give in to evil and wrong. The lesson of the droids (and other characters later on) is that no one is unimportant, and those who forget this lesson do so at their peril – a foreshadowing of the end of the original trilogy, by the way.
Vader has been contrasted to Leia in costume and mien. But the droids also set up an interesting comparison with Vader. On the one hand you have a human being who has become “more machine than man”, who is virtually swallowed up by the machine, losing his humanity. Then you have these droids, these machines, showing definite signs of humanity and compassion. The comparison between Vader and the droids highlights Vader’s surrender of his humanity and offers a warning, not uncommon in science fiction at the time Star Wars was first released, and certainly not uncommon now: we must beware that we not allow our technology to rob us of our humanity, to swallow us up.
Human nature doesn’t really change, but technology can give human nature powerful tools – tools that can help us express either the best or the worst in us. Technology can give us tools for expressing – in ever more lethal ways – the anger and frustration and rage we feel. It can give us tools for communicating without really showing any of our self (much like Vader inside his robe and behind his mask). And it can give us tools for accomplishing more with our time, not to appreciate the time we have, but to be able to do even more, creating a vicious, consuming spiral that drains us of joy and life.
Or, technology can give us the means to better understand ourselves and to be in better touch with ourselves and others. It can improve the quality of our lives so that we can better enjoy life and share our blessings with those around us. And it can give us better means of understanding and appreciating the wondrous world in which we live. Technology need not separate us from awe and wonder. In fact, technology can enhance our wonder of the world around us, through helping us to understand the vastness and beauty of the universe, or the intricate, minute dance of atomic and subatomic particles. And it can help us better understand the interconnectedness of all things.
Technology itself can pose new ways of seeing the great mystery of existence. In a line from the science fiction television series, Babylon 5, the techno-mages, a mysterious race that uses science to imitate magic, express their mission and task in the following delightful way:
We are dreamers, shapers, singers and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit, crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. (Babylon 5, “The Geometry of Shadows”)
Star Wars is obviously not anti-technology; the use of technology is prominent from the technology portrayed in the movies to the special effects wizardry that developed along with Lucas’ films and made the movies possible. While the movies have a cautionary element regarding technology, they also celebrate technology, though it is a technology that does not swallow up humanity and compassion. They do this in a couple of ways. One has to do with Luke Skywalker and how one can use technology and still be in tune with the Force, the elemental mystery that surrounds and pervades everything. We shall return to this point later.
The other way the movies focus on a positive technology is the humble, bottom-of-the-pecking-order-droids. Though taken for granted in the Star Wars universe, these machines – to us – represent high technology, even to the extent of conscious awareness. They argue with each other and they indicate emotional – or at least emotive – kinds of expressions. They express frustration, fear, melancholy, joy, etc. Artoo is doggedly devoted to his mission and to those who support the right. And C3PO seems to change and grow just as do the other characters. Ultimately the droids accomplish something seemingly beyond Vader: they rise above their programming and technology for something even more powerful: humanity and compassion. Because of the droids’ presence, as well as the cautionary tale of Vader, the movies can celebrate a technology that leaves room for humanity and compassion.
The Journey Begins
As the emergency deepens inside the Rebel craft – C3PO is aghast that the main reactor has been shut down – R2D2 disappears into a side room. Rebel troops anxiously line the hallway to defend against the inevitable boarding party from the Imperial craft. The doors are blasted open, the Storm Troopers begin pouring through, and the battle is joined.
In the meantime, Princess Leia is doing something to R2D2; she inserts a card that presumably contains programming or data. We soon realize that she has been putting the stolen plans for the Death Star into the small droid , which she then sends off. R2D2 – amidst the continuing agitated protest by C3PO – leads the way down the hallway.
In the meantime, Vader is holding a wounded Rebel officer by the neck, demanding to know where the Death Star plans are. The officer insists that they are on a diplomatic mission and he knows nothing of transmissions or plans. Vader shows his nastiness by crushing the officer’s neck and throwing him against a wall. Princess Leia engages in a blaster battle with a couple of Storm Troopers before being captured and taken to Darth Vader.
As this is going on, the droids get away in a lifepod and head for the planet below. This is all fast-paced, and one does not realize in the midst of the action the full significance of the simple engagement of the droids in these scenes. But the fact that the droids are truly key to the story line in numerous places is highly significant.
Joseph Campbell, author of the classic work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, about the hero’s journey in world myth, noted how Luke Skywalker’s growth through the original trilogy follows the classic hero’s journey. But even more than that, each of the main characters goes on a hero’s journey and becomes more than they were. The amazing significance of the droids is that, though machines, they, also, undergo the hero’s journey. In fact, they appear to be the first of the main characters in the movie to embark upon that journey (unless you give Leia credit for having already embarked on a rather dangerous and heroic journey before the movie begins).
Joseph Campbell detailed the hero’s journey in Hero with a Thousand Faces, showing how heroes in different stories from different cultures undergo similar experiences and trials and tribulations. The connection of the concept of the hero’s journey to Star Wars was made in the PBS interview with Bill Moyers and the subsequent book, The Power of Myth.
Mary Henderson’s Star Wars The Magic of Myth, a companion volume to the Star Wars exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, is probably the most useful volume relating Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey to the Star Wars movies. Henderson goes into extensive and exquisite detail relating Star Wars to Campbell’s analysis of the hero’s journey and to mythology in general. This book is deeply indebted to her fine work.
Each hero undergoes a call in some form. R2D2 receives a call to service and a commissioning from Leia. From that point on, as we gather from C3PO, much of the little droid’s beeping has to do with his mission. When the scene returns to the two droids, Artoo has traipsed down the corridor and then taken an abrupt turn. C3PO is saying, “Hey, you’re not permitted in there. It’s restricted. You’ll be deactivated for sure.” The intensity of C3PO’s concern signifies a threshold, a threshold that each and every hero must cross at the beginning of the journey. Does one accept the call or reject it? C3P0 seems clearly for rejecting the call and staying with the familiar (though certainly not safe!).
For the droids, in this case, this threshold involves stepping into someplace or something that might be dangerous, especially for Threepio. Even for Artoo, it is certainly new territory. Artoo is leading them into a life pod – over C3PO’s objections – and they are ejected from the station out into the abyss of space, and descend to Tatooine, the planet below.
Into the Abyss
Did George Lucas intentionally, consciously write this section with the intent of it being a mythic descent? The following by Lucas makes a little more clear his writing method.
I was trying to take certain mythological principles and apply them to a story. Ultimately, I had to abandon that and just simply write the story. I found that when I went back and read it, then started applying it against the sort of principles that I was trying to work with originally, they were all there. It’s just that I didn’t put them in there consciously. I’d sort of immersed myself in the principles that I was trying to put into the script. Then I went back and honed that a little bit. I would find something where I’d sort of gotten slightly off the track, and I would then make it more, let’s say, universal in its mythological implications. (p. 10)
In the above quote, Lucas himself has allowed that much serendipity happened in the writing. So it is possible that Lucas penned the droids’ mythic descent without consciously realizing – at the time – the symbolic significance of the action.
But because Lucas did place the emphasis on the droids that he did, and given that Campbell emphasized that all of the characters experience their own hero’s journey, it seems a reasonable extrapolation to see this setting forth into the abyss of space as the first mythic descent of the movie.
And why is that significant? Read on.
This represents the hero’s descent, similar to other mythic descents, such as the descent to the underworld in Greek and Roman stories, into Hell as in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Jonah’s being swallowed by the great fish, etc. In this case, the droids are launched out into a literal abyss, the abyss of space. Their descent is to an inhospitable environment on the planet below.
After the lifepod lands – irionically named since the droids are not actually “alive” and they survived since they did not register as lifeforms – R2D2 and C3PO are plodding along in a region between the desert and the Dune Sea, so named, as we soon see, because it is a vast region of rolling sand dunes. C3PO is having a conversation with R2D2, but it sounds to us like a monologue punctuated with computer beeps, which, of course, C3PO understands.
THREEPIO: How did we get into this mess? I really don’t know how. We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.
Artoo answers with beeping sounds.
THREEPIO: I’ve got to rest before I fall apart. My joints are almost frozen.
Artoo continues to respond with beeping sounds.
THREEPIO: What a desolate place this is. (Annotated Screenplays, p. 16)
This “desolate place” Threepio speaks of was filmed in Tunisia. In fact, the name o f the planet on which Threepio is standing, Tatooine, is the name of a town in Tunisia where parts of the movie were filmed. The name of the town is Arabic; in English is spelled either Tatawin or Tatouine. It is in the southern part of Tunisia, in the desert.
Threepio complains that it seems to be their lot to suffer. Hearing the droid utter philosophical reflections does add to the commic relief of the movie. But on another level, it is a little jarring to think that these droids, these machines, might be capable of suffering. It suggests that the droids are capable of feeling. And, of course, we recognize the feelings the droids experience, for those feelings are our own, as well. So when we laugh at the comic relief element, we are actually laughing at ourselves. We begin to feel sympathy and compassion for the droids because we see a little of ourselves in them. And that opens the possibility that these characters, as they pursue their own hero’s journey, their quest, can give us insight into our own struggles to change and grow.
C3PO’s observation about what a desolate place the region is heightens the feeling of desolation, barrenness and isolation, in keeping with the droids’ mythic descent. It also strengthens the the impact of this conversation and of the droids’ role: these characters, though machines, seem to be full of all kinds of human characteristics and emotions: feelings, fears, joys, sorrow, compassion, and, as here, melancholy.
It is almost as if C3P0 recognizes the barrenness of the terrain because it reflects his inner life: full of technical jargon, but little depth. He prattles on, but seems to have little reflection behind his words. His inner being is barren of meaning and significance. But he is capable of feeling and seems to sense something missing in himself as well as in his environment. Perhaps Threepio’s descent was not just the physical descent from space, but into his own depths as well.
The Significance of Feeling Machines
Why spend so much time on the droids? Many Star Wars fans consider the droids (and later characters like Jar-Jar Binks) to be only for comic relief. As we said earlier, a number of characters in Star Wars do serve as comic relief, and many others are humorous on various occasions. Hey, the movies are fun. But no character ever serves solely as comic relief. They all have a purpose in the plot and a significance far beyond mere comedy.
From the early drafts, Lucas wrote Star Wars from the droids’ point of view. That in itself seems to imply that they have a point of view, i.e., are more than just machines. In terms of both plot and mythic sigificance, the droids are the heralds that bring the call to Luke. Thus, they are in on the action from the very beginning. They also subtly introduce – or at least suggest – a number of the great themes of the Star Wars movies. No being is unimportant in the struggle between good and evil. Everyone, whatever their mission, must follow their own path and pursue their own destiny and endure their own struggle to change and grow. Feelings are important and connect us to our deeper self as well as to our destiny.
We mentioned earlier the droids’ descent – being ejected out into the abyss and down to the planet. The significance of seeing this as a mythic descent is that it further establishes the droids as genuine characters, not just comic relief, i.e., window dressing, stage props etc. As genuine characters on their own journey, and as the machines that they are, it serves as a fine jolt to our senses when the droids start talking about and expressing feelings: fears, angst, annoyance, compassion, concern, devotion, longing, etc. The fact that the droids are obviously machines really highlights these feelings and emotions they show. And, without a word of commentary or dialogue drawing attention to the fact, the shock of these machines feeling things introduces the importance of feelings, as well as using those feelings to interact with the world around us with something other than just reason and rationality. This interaction with the universe at a feeling level is an important component of contemporary spirituality, a component that was starting to take root in the 1960s and 1970s. And trusting one’s feelings became a theme of the Star Wars saga.
There are numerous references to feelings throughout the Star Wars movies, but it is interesting that there is so much about feelings in these opening lines with respect to the droids, machines whose inner sense and feelings startle us.
The idea that the droids feel or sense things – or at least react to them – in a way that is more than just electronic/mechanical, is very significant. That the droids have feelings indicates that they, too, have an inner life. We sense in R2D2 a gritty, devoted determination. And though Artoo doesn’t speak, we can easily interpret his feelings (or whatever corresponds) by his tone: fear, annoyance, etc. We sense in C3PO a wistfulness, a yearning, like his haunting observation looking out over the Dune Sea: the desolation he feels in the desert seems to be a reflection of the desolation in himself – full of the meanings of millions of words from thousands of forms of communication, but no real purpose or meaning within himself.
While not the only pathway, feelings and emotions are a very important path into our interior life. This is true whether or not we speak of either spirituality or religion. Individuals who suppress their feelings are not healthy individuals, and this dis-ease shows up not only in their relationships, but sooner or later seems to manifest itself in physical illness as well. Certainly reason and logic are important, but it seems to be feelings – and images and archetypes and dreams that evoke powerful feelings – that lead us into our murky innards, that show us the depths of ourselves in a way that reason and logic don’t seem to be able to do.
This is not to say that reason and rationality and logic are unimportant. The rational side of our nature has helped us develop a level of civilaztion undreamed of in past generations. And before you decry the technology, remember that Star Wars doesn’t. But reason and rationality, as we have deified it – as the only reasonable means of being – is a fairly recent phenomenon ins human society. For untold millenia, humans related to their world to a large degree through myths, religion, rites and rituals, dreams, superstitions, etc. While each of these had a rational component, the primary base was feeling. It was feelings through which the individual related to his/her world, his/her cosmos.
We have not lost this feeling connection to our world. We have simply ignored it. We have suppressed the feelings, so that we do not even begin to understand our reactions to certain events and incidents in our lives. Nor do we understand the sense of isolation we feel from our world and ourselves. Thus, a major term in 20th century theology has been “alienation”. We experience alienation not only from God (even if we are believers), but also from Nature and from our very selves. We experience an isolation and alienation unkown – or practically unknown – to earlier generations.
This has resulted in a great deal of our mental illness and dis-ease. Although much of the struggle represented in the issues about which we seek therapeutic assistance is basic to human nature, it has been exacerbated in many instances with this alienation from ourselves. A key component in any thereapy, and any reclaiming of our lives as truly our own, depends upon our beginning to listen to our feelings, to hear the clues as to what is important to that dialogue being held in the inner sanctums of one’s personal being. The feelings are a pathway into ourselves, perhaps into our destiny: C3PO’s sense of melancholy, perhaps even angst, looking out over the Dune Sea, indicates where his journey will lead him – to a state where he is more than just “___ thousand forms of communication” and will have meaning in himself.
Our feelings not only provide pathways to our inner lives, they also connect us to the world around us. In Star Wars, awareness of our feelings is also the pathway to awareness of the Force, that mysterious energy field Obi Wan describes early in the movie. And how we respond to our feelings is critical. While many spiritual/religious traditions would have us shed our desires, to detach ourselves from them, others, notably Western mysticism, would have us refine our desires, to allow our deepest and truest desires to draw us to that which is most important.
We mentioned above that part of the significance of the droids is that in the battle between good and evil, no creature, no consious being is unimportant. Here we come to another layer: our yearnings and desires can help us to persevere and press through all of life’s struggles and meanderings to what is most important, or they can lead us to pursue less healthy responses such as attempts to dominate and control. It is at the feeling level that we make the choice between good and evil. It is at the feeling level that we press through to discover our deepest desire. If we are able to be honest with ourselves, our deepest desire probably has nothing to do with wealth or power – it has to do with transformation. Our deepest desires usually involve change, growth, becoming what we have some hazy sense that we are capable of being, perhaps what we feel we were meant to become.
Since we have suppressed much of our feeling life, we often ignore these deepest desires, or channel them into pursuits for things. We may rationalize this by answering our desires for change in our lives or in society by saying, “I can’t do anything about it” or “It’s not my fault!” While these responses harbor an element of truth – what we can do is limited – we are not totally helpless, and such responses are usually a way of refusing responsibility. And as we refuse responsibility for choices and changes we can make moment by moment, we slowly relenquich responsibility for our lives. And to refuse responsibility for our lives and our actions is a way of denying our deepest and trues desires.
We will see that our feelings are an important link to our inner selves, our inner space; the best decisions in our lives are often made after weighing our feelings for a period of time. This does not exclude the importance of clear thinking, but as we listen to our feelings over a period of time, through a variety of life experiences, our deeper feelings and desires start to come through. We begin to realize, in any given situation, what is really important to us. What is, ultimately, most important? Gradually we start to realize this as we travel our own adventure, listening to our feelings, learning to trust our feelings, to trust ourselves.
In A New Hope with its neat division between “the good guys” and “the bad guys” it can seem like our choice of good and evil is predetermined, that we are destined to be good or evil. While most of us see ourselves as good (or reasonable or rational or whatever) we tend to think that those who are evil were destined to be that way. We like to draw nice neat lines between the good (including ourselves) and the evil that exists around us. What we shall see in later episodes of Star Wars is that the division – and the choice – is not all that simple. And the root of the choice lies in taking our feelings seriously, listening to what is important to at a deeper level that reason and consciousness, finding our deepest longing and following it. To put it in terms of the contrast between Vader and the droids, the choice between good and evil is about overcoming our inner programming and listening to something even deeper and more basic.
Heralds of the Journey
The droids – without a word of commentary in the dialogue – have introduced one of the great themes of the movie: the importance of listening to our feelings, our gut instint. It will fall to Luke, the central hero, to demonstrate the full importance of trusting our feelings. But the droids have introduced this important theme, if only by suggestion.
Joseph Campbell has written that the hero’s adventure often begins by the appearance of some herald. The droids will soon serve this role for Luke as they lead us to the main character and serve – for him – as the harbingers of the coming adventure. But they have been, for the audience, guides to and heralds of a new adventure in the midst of our existence.
We have emphasized the significance of the droids seemingly having feelings. Not to belabor the point – okay, not to belabor it too much further – a related issue is not just that the droids have feelings, but that they seem so human. Most of the Star Wars characters are made to come across as utterly human; the power of the myth is heightened if we can relate to the characters’ human quirks and foibles, even when the characters aren’t human. This also seems to include the droids. Machines though they are, they seem human. A sense of common humanity, even if it is with non-humans, can be a powerful bond. This bond is used effectively to lead us to our own better, deeper nature.
Much of contemporary spirituality is based not in a person’s religious habits, as in past generations. Rather, a good deal of contemporary spirituality is rooted not in religion at all, but in the innate spirituality of one’s human nature. One need not be religious to be spiritual, just attentive to one’s life and feelings, one’s surroundings, and to the great mystery which surrounds us.
I was sitting around a campfire one evening with a group of guys. Somehow they asked me what I had been reading lately, and I said that I had been reading Hymns to an Unknown God by Sam Keene. Hymns is about what Keene calls his post-Christian faith and spirituality, and I could really relate to what he had to say . When I mentioned this book and its powerful spirituality, one of the guys around the fire said, “Oh, I’m not very religious.” I replied that that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean one isn’t spiritual. Of course, he didn’t follow me, thinking that religion and spirituality are the same thing. I replied that he might not be religious, but that didn’t mean he was wasn’t spiritual. I granted, however, that if he could look at a newborn baby and not be touched, if he could look at the stars above us and not be moved to wonder, if he could look at a sunset or a thunderstorm and not be wowed, then I might allow that he isn’t spiritual. Being spiritual doesn’t have so much to do with whether or not one is religious as it does how one is in touch with themselves, their environment, and one’s own nature. And that connection, as we have seen, comes through our feelings.
In much contemporary spirituality, religion and spirituality are assumed to be different, even antithetical. Usually, religion has a negative connotation and spirituality has a positive connotation. In the text we have used this distinction to make the point that spirituality is not tied to religion, as often assumed in the past. However, the distinction is not always that simple.
Spirituality and religion may relate in different ways in different individuals. Being religious and being spiritual may overlap; then again, they may not. A person may be both religious and spiritual. Or a person may be very religious and not very spiritual. A person not be involved in institutional religion may still be both religious and spiritual. And a person may be totally non-religious, may not believe in what other people call “God”, may have great disdain for religious institutions and still be spiritual if their life is centered around some worthy value and principle (or principles) such as love, justice, compassion, attention to the mystery of life, etc. They may have connection with what we call the Divine without being religious at all.
In my opinion, this is a significant attribute of much contemporary spirituality and religion. Religion often is not institutional and spirituality is often not religious. But if rooted in a concern for something more than just day-to-day business, get ahead, how much do you make, what kind of car do you drive or what neighborhood do you live in, then spirituality can be genuine and real and fulfilling whether religious or not, and religion can be meaningful whether institutional or not.
All of this is to say that the power of the droids’ is in their seeming humanness. We are startled by these machines that seem to have feelings, can be irritable, rude, hopeful, melancholy, as well as devoted and compassionate. These are machines who seem amazingly human and are thus able to undertake a greater and grander quest: nothing less than the hero’s journey. And this in the contrast to a villain – a human – whose humanity seems to have been swallowed up by the machine he has become.
While Threepio is trudging through the Dune Sea, supposedly at his low ebb, he sees a transport and thinks that all is well, that he is saved. Well, things are going to get better soon, though not in the way he might think. But first, there is one more turn, one more descent. Rather than being saved, Threepio has finally reached his final descent. From the ship into the abyss of space, down to the planet, and into the vast desolation of the Dune Sea. Now, he is about to descend into the belly of the beast.
Meanwhile, Artoo is beginning the final part of his descent. As R2D2 continues on his way, he traverses a narrow, shallow gorge. It is in shadow and there are sounds of creatures nearby. A rock rattles down the steep slope. From Artoo’s chirps and mechanical whintes, one clearly understands that he is feeling fearful. When the Jawas shoot an electrical charge that stuns him, Artoo lets out a scream before he falls over. He is then transferred to the sandcrawler. Artoo, like Threepio, has descended into the abyss, down to the inhospitable planet, and finally to the belly of the beast.
As in Threepio, we again see the feeling motif in Artoo. When the droids are reunited, this reunion takes place in the belly of the great transport the Jawas use to travers the desert expanses of Tatooine. The droids – as the beginning of their hero’s journey – have descended into the belly of beast. They have met their dark night of the soul. Do droids have souls? What do you think?
(C) Ron L. Clayton 2004, 2009