I have heard this question several times over the past few weeks, and am compelled to address it today:
“What is the big deal about Star Wars?”
In short: Star Wars is perfect story telling!
George Lucas consulted with Joseph Campbell at length when devising the original script. Campbell is known for reviewing Carl Jung’s archetypal theory and then doing a cross-cultural analysis, discovering “The Heroes Journey,” which he wrote about in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book that has spawned pretty much every screenwriters textbook since, including Blake Snyder’s, Save The Cat, and Christopher Vogler’s, The Writer’s Journey.
On the whole, the series is about Anakin Skywalker, who becomes Darth Vader, and how his son, Luke Skywalker, saves him from “The Dark Side.” Anakin’s spiritual salvation and heroic journey has touched so many people, because Anakin is the symbolic embodiment of “the every man.”
From a Jungian perspective, Luke was a projection of Anakin’s original positive male identifications (Animus), and Luke’s twin sister, Leia, was Anakin’s feminine identifications (Amina). Luke’s mission to rescue and help Leia is a metaphor for the balancing of masculine and feminine “forces,” Anima and Animus, yin and yang, the Kali and the Asurgas, in all of us. If one or the other becomes too dominant, we become mechanized and spiritually dead. We become Darth Vader.
Murray Stein provides a helpful example for thinking about the masculine and feminine in all of us, and how they can fall out of balance.
A very feminine woman has a masculine soul but not a very refined one…she holds a distinctive and marked feminine attitude, which we describe as receptive, warm, nurturing and embracing. Within that person is a very different inner attitude: hard, critical, aggressive, domineering…a personality made of steel. The very masculine appearing man, who is hard driving, tough minded, detached, and aggressive contains an inner personality that is sentimental, touchy, easily wounded, and vulnerable. The macho man loves his mother, loves his daughter, loves his horse, but refrains from admitting it (even to himself), and in public he will shun those feelings, but in private he may give way occasionally and blubber in his beer.
In The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke faces the illusion of Darth Vader in the cave (under Yoda’s instruction), he battles Vader, struggling to dominate his fear of a depreciated (macho, “blubbering”) masculine self. But after he cuts off Vader’s head, Luke still sees his own face in the mask. What the heck does that mean?
This scene would be considered “the ordeal” and it illuminates the crux of the internal versus external conflict. In railing against something we hate, we become that thing. Like being mean to mean girls. Or being moved to violence in the face of violence (bullying bullies, or—dare I be political—bombing terrorists). Why? Because that which we hate is usually a mirrored reflection of something we have repressed. Bullies are not born, they are made. When a bully harasses someone at school, we must ask ourselves, “What is happening to that child at home?”
Behaving destructively out of fear is to become hyper-masculine. In this sense, we are using the word “masculine” to describe an extreme set of attributes, but women can do this too—we are not talking about sexuality or gender, we are talking about energy and ways of thinking and being. If all is working well and in balance, it’s like driving a gassed up car. The masculine energy provides the frame and steerage, while the feminine energy provides the gas, make and model. Without the frame or steerage, it’s just a pile of fuel and stuffing on the floor. Equally, with no gas or fleshed out interior, there is no place to sit and the car can’t run on empty.
To become hyper-masculine is to become one-dimensional, externally focused, egocentric, and internally vacuous (if we become hyper-feminine, the destructive result is more smothering or consuming). In other words, we lose our sense of self and start to feel like life is meaningless and futile. It’s one of life’s terribly annoying paradoxes: The more you try to exert control, the less control you will have.
Here’s an example from Kindlon and Thompson’s best selling book, Raising Cain, Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys:
In a radio interview Buddy Guy, one of America’s greatest living blues guitarists, told a story about the son he sired but didn’t raise. As the boy grew into young manhood, Buddy sought him out, hoping they could become closer. His son had also become a guitarist, but he was so full of bitterness at Buddy’s absence that he wanted nothing to do with him or his brand of music. He had his own more contemporary rock star idols, most notably, the singer formerly known as Prince. When the young many anonymously sought a teacher who could help him in his quest to emulate his idol, he was told that, if he wanted to sound like Prince, he needed to understand how to play like Jimi Hendrix, the musician Prince had sought to emulate. And in order to understand Jimi Hendrix, the teacher said, he needed to learn about Hendrix’s biggest musical influence: the guitarist Buddy Guy.
Luke’s mission to save his sister and collaborate with her to over throw the Emperor is the equivalent of embracing his feminine aspects to balance Vader’s macho male identification. This allows Luke to love his father, despite Darth Vader’s negativity (and Luke’s disappointment with it), which in turn helps him to achieve a more integrated male identification—become a better man than his father.
To elaborate, in The Return Of The Jedi, we see Luke confronted with the same scenario from “the ordeal” in the final battle scene with his father, now considered “The Black Moment” or “The Resurrection.” At first he fights, but then Luke ultimately throws away his light saber, and refuses to kill Vader.
Yay! Luke has learned his lesson. Luke’s acknowledgement of his father’s buried goodness is the only way it could claw to the surface. This is the only way Luke could become a whole man, and his OWN man. It is also the only way his father could finally become a whole man too. (And, incidentally, is the work of therapy.)
Luke has become both a projection and a “narcissistic arm” for Anakin. This is like when a father tries to relive his hay day by forcing his son to join the football team, or attend a particular college, or take a certain job, or join “The Dark Side.” Had Luke continued to fight his father, this ‘goodness’ would have been annihilated for both of them. In killing his own father he would have joined The Dark Side in one way or another, either as the Emperor’s right hand man, or in killing the Emperor and taking his place (a la Castro, or Stalin.) But instead, Luke lovingly accepts his father’s goodness without accepting his father’s way is the best way, even though it might mean his corporeal death.
Basically, Luke is saying, “Dad, you got a raw deal. I know now you did the best you could, and I love you for it. I see that goodness (the repressed, depreciated feminine) in you, and I know that means you are not all machine (not so destructively macho), you are still alive somewhere in there. But I found a better way (balance within myself), and I’m going to explore it with or without you. But boy, I’d really love your company.”
In other words, a real man—a whole man—is a loving man, who does not act out of fear. Because to fear death and loss is to cling to the ego and it’s need for power and control, which by its very nature makes giving and receiving love impossible. The lesson of love is to embrace the immortality of the soul, which Anakin ultimately does. And so we see him happy and content at the Ewok’S bonfire party with Yoda and Obi wan, at the end.
If we think of Luke’s Journey as a projection of Anakin’s intra-psychic struggle, we see the full six films are a journey from the external to the internal and back again. Thus growth is all about integration, and keeping “the force” in balance.