Thursday, December 17, 2015

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from "Star Wars"

At the UUCiA on December 13, 2015
NOTE: This post is a slightly adapted excerpt from my December 13, 2015 Sermon, "All I Really Need to Know about Theology I Learned from 'Star Wars'". You can listen to the full sermon here. The picture to the left is from the "story for all ages" skit that we did that Sunday. I am in the Darth Vader costume.

I was just a kid when the original Star Wars movie came out. I was 8 ½-years-old, to be precise. It was my oldest sibling – who was a senior in high school at the time – who convinced our mom to take all of us kids to see it. Believe it or not, I was not enthusiastic, at all. First of all, my generation wasn’t as versed at sitting still in front of a screen; the prospect of sitting still for two hours wasn’t that appealing. The other reason I wasn’t too psyched to go was that, frankly, I wasn’t too wild about my sister’s taste in TV and movies. Her idea of good TV was Lost in Space and My Favorite Martian. I couldn’t imagine sitting through two hours of either of those. But I did tag along reluctantly with my mother and siblings to see Star Wars not long after it was released.

I sat down, daydreaming during the previews about being outside playing baseball. Then, after the previews were over, these words appeared on the screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Then the amazing, majestic music of the Star Wars Main Theme! Then, against a backdrop of mostly empty space, words started to scroll from the bottom of the screen to the top, making it look like they were floating off into the great beyond. And darned if they didn’t pull me right along with them like a tractor beam. I was hooked – a little kid, hooked! – by orchestral music and written words. If that isn’t an amazing achievement in cinema, I don’t know what is.

I have seen the original Star Wars movie so many times that I lost count back in, oh, 1978. I know that I saw it in the theaters at least 30 times. My older brother and I would regularly save up our weekly allowance to see it again and again (movies were cheaper then, even adjusted for inflation). More often than not we’d walk down and across the highway to get to the theater – free range kids, and no one called the police!

The special effects in the original Star Wars trilogy were astounding. Whereas the Star Trek Enterprise was so obviously a model that I kind of giggled at it even as a kid, the Star Wars spacecraft were pretty spectacularly convincing. But it wasn’t the special effects that kept me coming back. I kept coming back for what might as well have been, for an 8 ½-year-old, the Greatest Story Ever Told.

I was raised as a humanistic Unitarian Universalist kid by atheist parents, and to be completely honest, I think Star Wars filled some void I was feeling. Yes, I learned the most famous biblical stories in my UU “Sunday School” (as we called it then). But they felt like someone else’s stories to me, at the time. Star Wars felt like my story… my grand tale of fighting the good fight not because you necessarily expect to win, but because it is the right thing to do. And don’t forget magic. I do believe in intellectual integrity and love that aspect of Unitarian Universalism. But there is something – dare I say it? – good for the soul about suspending your disbelief occasionally, even if just for two hours in the dark theater, and feeling connected to things beyond your immediate world and understanding. So I do think that was the deeper appeal for me. The Force. Mystery. Magic. The triumph of good over evil.

In fact, with apologies to Robert Fulghum, all I really need to know I learned from Star Wars. Among other things, I learned:

Do, or do not, there is no try.
Judge by one’s size, do not.
Patience you must have.
Don’t blast the controls before jumping into a trash compactor.
Beware the Dark Side.
Let go of your hate.
Stay on target.
Let the Wookie win.

In the words of Fulghum, “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.”

There’s even wisdom for the United States of America as the year 2015 comes to a close. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We would do well to heed these words today. Fear to anger to hate to suffering. This is not the path we want to follow. I also watch the news lately and sometimes think of the words of Senator Naboo in Revenge of the Sith, the final prequel movie, as the Republic is being taken over by dark forces, becoming the Galactic Empire. She says, “So this is how liberty dies – by thunderous applause”. The Dark Side, giving in to fear and base impulses, sometimes seems easier than the Light Side with all of its ambiguities and sometimes thankless work. And when charismatic leaders are promoting fear… anger… hate… we are in danger of letting the dark forces take over, to thunderous applause. It is up to us. Be a Jedi for justice! Don’t give in to hate. Don’t give in to fear. As Yoda said, “luminous beings are we”. May we let our light shine in these times. May the Force be with us. 

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