A theme I have loved seeing picked up again in Star Wars lore since Rian Johnston’s The Last Jedi (cue haters) is this notion that lines of good and evil are per one’s perspective.
For one it’s tyranny. For another it’s law and order.
Darth Vader’s entire arc is this tension. What he did starting from a place of love became being one of the most iconic villains in pop culture.
Our greatest danger is the echo chamber of isolation and curation.
The power of the storytelling in Star Wars is in the emotional arc of characters journeying to a place of empathy.
But it’s hard fought.
Empathy cannot thrive when one is threatened. And one’s sense of threat is heightened the more limited their line of sight.
Take Luke Skywalker. Let’s nerd for a second.
He saw Jedi (multitude of living beings who hold laser swords and refrain from emotions of anger and fear) as good and Sith (two living beings who hold laser swords and embrace anger and hate) as evil. But fast-forward to his momentary consideration of killing his nephew and his world is turned upside down.
He becomes cynical. Disconnected. And by the time a new female lead who thinks the Jedi are still something meets him, he wants nothing to do with her.
His initial entry into Jedi mythology saw a distinct line of right and wrong, but when he himself could be capable of wrong, he froze.
He connects with the tension that the Jedi in their self-righteousness missed the very evil that rose in their ranks. Instead of further connecting with his emotions while holding this new perspective, Luke closes himself off from all emotions and relationships, only furthering his cynicism and introspection and brooding.
Yoda. Of course Yoda. Not to be confused with Baby Yoda who looks like Yoda but is in fact NOT Yoda. His name is Grogu. Had to get that out there for those jumping on The Child wagon.
Yoda, this super old green guy whose lived through lots yet never disconnected from a fuller framework, reminds Luke that some of our greatest lessons are learned through failure. And we are to pass that perspective on.
The thread reappears in the Alphabet Squadron novels and The Mandalorian TV series as former Empire supporters wrestle through shifts in perspective of what they once saw as right order (Death Star, space station that looks like moon and can blow planets up) threatened by terrorists reframed by the murders they themselves were asked to commit (Operation Cinder, senseless killing to spark fear and retain control).
What makes the character are those who receive this new information and press forward.
Let’s go into religion for a minute. Let’s talk Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve had perspective on right and wrong, namely God. But they opted-in on curating their own view on life. And we know how that turned out.
They questioned truth statements. They eroded relationships. They defined their new order to things. And then they got called out on it.
What’s so striking is this person who Adam is moments before going all Shakespeare on now receives all pointed fingers of blame. What happened? He was threatened.
Let’s talk the Apostle Paul. He’s up against false teachers who would reteach theology after he left a community. So Paul calls them out. What do they do? They badmouth him. Why? They were threatened.
The draw of Star Wars, besides its killer effects and worldbuilding, is its human element. Striking the middle way of balance is the journey repeatedly made by their characters.
But this way of tension is also the teachings found in Jesus of Nazareth and his followers. And there are threads here that I believe are timely for today’s polarized relationships.
1. We set ourselves up for relational erosion when we limit our perspective
The Jedi became insular and missed their “enemy” who did such harm. They themselves were complicit yet thought themselves above it.
Anakin Skywalker’s (aka Darth Vader without a breathing apparatus) slow fade is one of manipulation and isolation that makes him question all motives until
Paul writes to the Corinthians how the false teachers got to where they were:
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
Adam and Eve closed themselves off from God, their beacon to discern right and wrong.
Today, our greatest threat is the ability to isolate ourselves from opinions by curating our own reality in the universe. Your social media feed is not the exhaustive explanation of all things lived and experienced.
2. Our relational disconnection breeds fear
The Jedi feared the Sith and hunkered down on their teachings of disconnect from all unhealthy emotions.
Luke became a hermit.
Vader got burned to a crisp, becoming more machine than human.
Adam and Eve hid from God.
The Corinthians had a pity party.
Our curated worlds have enhanced polarization and made out all people who don’t think like us as the greatest enemy the world has ever known.
3. When we feel threatened, we move to a place of antipathy
What would have happened if Anakin was allowed space to process what he was feeling rather than have his emotions the Jedi questioned stuffed and squelched?
What if Adam didn’t start the blame game and recognized Eve’s shortcomings were greatly influenced by his own actions?
Yes, these are rhetorical, but they force us to ask in what ways we have fallen in step to this cycle.
Luke was jolted out of his apathy by a renewed perspective.
Paul invites the Corinthians to get out of their bubble by pointing to the history and legacy of teaching outside of their current pod.
Vader is redeemed through the pursuit of his son to speak a different identity over him.
Humanity is mended through divine love and approval.
The thing lost is what is most needed today: empathy.
It begins by
1. Taking consideration of where the person before us is coming from. Their actions might be a legitimate threat, but what else is behind the surface? How do you contribute?
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
2. Asking in what ways I have isolated myself from perspectives other than my own. What other explanations are out there?
You’re not exempt from being stuck in the Matrix. Like Adam and Eve, we have all been isolated and made out to question what formerly gave us sense in the world.
Don’t run when you find out there’s an area in your life where you’ve been duped. It’s hard, but points of failure and revelations of complicity don’t have to be continued and justified. They can be learned and taught from so others don’t make the same mistake.
3. Reconnecting with history. Nothing is new under the sun, as much as modern advertising would tell you otherwise. Our generation, our party, our country, our tribe — none has 100% stock on truth.
If anything, our best understanding of truth is an amalgamation of differing perspectives. American society is built on Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian philosophies. (You’re welcome for having Broadway songs stuck in your head the rest of the day.)
We live in a world of autonomous beings trying to piece together all the puzzle pieces. Our best attempts are fuzzy and pixelated to what truly is.
That’s the boundary and reality here. Seek to gain broader perspective yet recognize you won’t ever gain it fully. To think otherwise is to stake claim on divinity. And you’re not it.
If there was to be an ethic of social media engagement, it would be to draw from multiple, differing voices; sit down for coffee with someone before you tweet about someone; and move people toward relational wholeness with every word, share and story. Empathy begets empathy.
I can’t get you out of your echo chamber, but I can start by getting out of mine and understanding why you might be in yours, and see where the dominoes of empathy carry me.