Star Wars — A(nother) Toxic Myth?
It might seem weird, coming from someone like me at least, to have a hostile approach to one of the few real mythologies of our age, the galactic saga known as “Star Wars”. As a cultural phenomenon, SW — both the movies and the additional paraphernalia — defined at least a generation, and left a significant mark in contemporary culture & civilization. But at the same time, an in depth analysis of the philosophy behind the Skywalker saga reveals something a little bit unsettling, or at least awkward, about the greatest story ever told in the past 50 years.
Some might say (including some members the main cast of the movies) that there is no actual depth to go into, or at least no depth worth exploring; but even a major fad of pop culture deserves a certain analytical insight, as its influence is far too wide to be ignored.
From a personal and extremely subjective point of view, it feels rather bizarre to “switch sides”, and turn from a fanboy into an acid critic. But I do not believe that an explanation is due; my position that I will tend to explore here does not contradict my 32 year background in SW lore (counting from my original contact to episode 4, in 1990), and I do not wish to justify neither of my standings.
So after such a long experience in a galaxy far, far away, and an intense exposure (direct or indirect) to the overwhelming products and productions of George Lucas’ corporate empire, I dare say that the vast majority of the “philosophy” aggressively promoted by SW is fundamentally toxic & harmful to individual development. I’m not talking here about in-universe ideologies; it’s not something like “empire/Sith = good, republic/Jedi = bad” etc, but rather a real world understanding of such viewpoints, where the psychological triggers behind them, imposed on the viewer both by direct assertions but also by ulterior inductions, prove to be rather something different than what they claim to be.
The original Skywalker Saga, "the tragedy of Darth Vader" (meaning the episodes 1 to 6), and the sequel trilogy as well (episodes 7, 8, 9), promote the spiritual evolution of an individual as being captive to a very few molds that nor himself — the titular character, Vader — nor his descendants — his son Luke and his grandson Ben — can evade even the slightest. “You cannot escape your destiny” is a line repeated and insisted upon ad nauseam. There is the “good” side — mystically manifested by the “light” side of the Force (the pseudo-divinity and official explanation for space magic of the SW universe), politically expressed by the Republic-Rebellion-Resistance, and there is the “bad” side, as in the “dark” side of the same manichean & gnostic Force, for whom the Empire & the First Order are the main exponents. "There is no other way", several characters claim throughout the saga; you either go in line from the start with your (narratively) pre-established path, or you turn to it later, and most of the times, filled with anguish and regret.
And there we have the main protagonists of the story (I am not counting Rey, the “hero” of the final trilogy, because she is so badly written she doesn’t fit any mold or model; story-wise, she does not exists): Anakin/Vader, his son, Luke, and his grandson (and Luke’s nephew), Ben/Kylo Ren. As the order of the fictional chronology demands, Luke acts as a both a link and turning point between Vader and Ren; a link in a chain of causality, a chain of generation trauma and tragedy. None of them — nor the other characters — are free, not even as much as a fictional character can be free. The story itself, the script, is deterministic, and even more than that, it claims high and wide that determinism is the only natural state of things. Or at least it can be easily perceived as such.
Anakin/Vader is raised in an unfit environment; he is born a slave, owned by an abusive trader, and freed through trickery and fraud just to be introduced in a system responsible for the decline of the galactic political system. I’m talking about the Jedi knights, something between a medieval order of crusaders and zen monks, but just as captive to some base dogma of philosophical truisms. Dedicated to “guarding peace & justice in the galaxy”, but just as well to preserve the status quo, they do nothing less than brainwash their adepts into being mere instruments of the political will of the leaders of the order. In this framework, a troubled individual like Anakin is subject once more to abuse (this time mainly emotional), and made to become rather an adversary than a docile tool to the cause.
But he’s a rebel (pun intended) and once he gets in shape, he starts breaking the rules; he falls in love with the obvious love interest (romance technically non-existent, but it had to happen according to the script), something against his monastic order that practices celibate (“attachments forbidden”, as they put it). In the meantime, war breaks out, instrumented by the rival order, the Sith, led by none other than the chancellor of the republic, under the guise of the evil “Darth Sidious”. Adding insult to injury, the same chancellor poses as Anakin’s mentor and elderly friend, slowly guiding him towards “falling to the dark side”.
Now given the awkwardness of it all, Anakin’s evolution towards becoming the evil Darth Vader feels not only natural, but even necessary; for the first time in his life, young Anakin (around 24–25 years old) takes a chance, thinks for himself. Even though the writers cover this important decision in the young man’s life under manipulation and turning into a psychopath, it is obvious that the point is to hijack a healthy real-life attitude into “turning to the dark side of the force”. And running away from a toxic work environment and a highly nonfunctional (surrogate) family becomes betrayal.
Around 20 years into the future of the narrative, it’s Anakin’s son that has to “face and turn” his father back to the “light”; his “true self” is the traumatized little boy hiding behind the robes of his masters, no the adult that accounts for his decisions, be they right or wrong. Of course, we have to keep in mind that all this psychological mechanics are disguised into the oversimplified conflict of good vs evil, and the subtleties of toxicity can just as well escape the casual viewer.
Another 25 years go to waste, and Luke now is a bitter old man; he realized that the ways of the Jedi of old were wrong, this causing the fall of the republic and the ascent of Darth Sidious’ empire. Obviously, there is no escape, not even for him, as his old master turns up as a ghost and determines him to “help” an unknown girl, eventually retconned as Sidious’ grand-daughter, a non-character that only exists as a plot device, in the ways of the same old Force.
And finally we’ve got Kylo Ren, formerly known as Ben, who, disappointed by his family, turns into a Vader fanboy, just to be ultimately “redeemed” by the girl mentioned above. So the generation curse goes on; Vader, Luke, Ben, are nothing but slaves to their “destiny”, just as much as they are slaves to the script. Every attempt at individualism, or even authenticity, becomes “betrayal”, becomes “tuning to evil”.
Just as George Lucas intended.
These deep layers of a rather simplistic story usually escape the casual viewer; the higher morals, the antagonism, the heroic sacrifices, the special effects etc are more obvious to see than the twists and intricacies of the ulterior subtext.
And the excuse that they are children’s movies does not absolve the producers, as it does exactly the opposite: children are inoculated with a toxic narrative that can produce serious damage to their psyche and their psychological evolution.
And this is where reading too much C. G. Jung gets you.