106. Duration (II)
As with The Iliad, the original series of Star Wars films starts in media res. This was part of the charm and genius of the original series, for it increased the mystery and wonder of the films. When I was a child I only had access to the local video rental shop and the shop only stocked The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. I spent hours imagining the first part of the series and created my own explanations for Vader and all the rest. The mystery forced people to imagine more, to search within themselves for explanations; and so the series deepened and took a hold on their lives. It was all ruined when—acting out of vanity, not greed—Lucas made another trilogy. His error, his great vanity, was to fill in the gaps, just like a model railway set where every village is a perfect replica of real life. The mystery and charm were destroyed by banal explanations—always so much more boring than imagination. I have not seen the later films, but these seem to have moved from vanity to ideology and profit-making. And so, at last, all things decline.
Alec Guinness, after watching his first appearance in the series, said he stepped from the theatre and felt that London was drab and grey; he admired the innocent heroism of the films. Star Wars was fresh because, just like Homer, it was mythical. Its youthful naïvety refreshed and restored. The original films constitute a quasi-religious experience because the plot was based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. Campbell identified this underlying structure to all the world’s myths and, in doing so, was hailed by Shinto priests and reviled by Jewish esotericists—the latter scornful of his Catholic heritage. This monomyth is the story all men must live: put simply, we leave our village and seek a great boon; and then we return and offer it to our people. This is why the original Star Wars films speak so deeply to us; they are distilled religion, the essence of religion.
Yet the films are not entirely religious: there is still a meretricious element, even in the originals. In part, this is because the films, to appeal to Americans, must attack authority: the British—the Empire—are the bad guys and the Rebels are the good guys. Religion means submission, submission to the will of God, but Star Wars—just like the spirit of ’76—speaks to revolt against authority; ultimately, revolt against God.
Aside from these connotations, the Empire represents the Indo-Europeans; a group that is martial, technological, dominates in space, and has a reptilian nature—the Scythians were, after all, the dragon people. This is a theme repeated in many Hollywood films; the root of the West is demonised. The Empire represents the Promethean aspect of Western man, the desire, found in some strains of Gnosticism, to become one with the godhead; to become a hero, a god. Thus the Emperor possesses the power to shoot lightning from his hands, not unlike the Buddha’s diamond-lightning of enlightenment—and it is purple, the colour of empire. His elite soldiers are clad in black, the colour of wisdom in the European occult tradition. Thus the Empire represents, in Jungian terms, the rejected martial and paternal force at the root of European civilisation.
The Force sounds like something very Zen—Yoda is surely a green Lao-tse—but it is not entirely so. Real non-dualism would hold that the Empire is not “evil” and the Rebels “good”, it would hold that whether each side is good or bad depends on the situation; too much empire is bad, but so is too much rebellion. Instead, Star Wars presents a dilemma, typical of the Abrahamic religions, especially the Manichaean heresy, where a person is either “good” or “bad”.
Thus Star Wars only contains a small part of the mythic awakening that would possible if—without commercial constraint and in line with racial archetypes—we remythologised our societies.