Star Wars : 40 Years of Freedom Fighters
Star Wars turns 40…
On the 25th of May 1977, our world was forever changed. Across America people lined up for blocks around their hometown theaters to see the film that Twentieth Century Fox billed as “the most extraordinary motion picture of all time”. That day audiences saw both the birth of a new era of cinema and the rebirth and validation of a core set of values timeless as the film itself would prove to be.
The 1970s was a bleak time in America’s history. Years of social and cultural upheaval, the exposing of government corruption, and over a decade of conflict in Vietnam had left a cloud of fatalistic cynicism hovering over the nation. People were desperate for hope, for truth, and for some sense of meaning amidst the madness. The country had indeed reached its moral and cultural breaking point.
Then along came Star Wars…
In Star Wars, visionary filmmaker George Lucas repackaged the mythological “Hero’s Journey” into a visually spectacular, Sci-Fi adventure underpinned by a foundation of timeless archetypes, immutable moral values, and deeply-rooted philosophical ideals. Audiences were dazzled as they watched a motley crew of misfits, outlaws, and otherworldly creatures unite in the common cause of fighting for freedom from the tyrannical evil of the Empire. Far from being just a “romance of the future” as Fox’s trailer suggests, moviegoers in the summer of 1977 bore witness to nothing less than modern myth in the making.
WATCH : 20th Century Fox Star Wars Trailer (1977)
Star Wars and the power of myth….
“Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you.” Joseph Campbell — The Power of Myth
Star Wars hit movie screens at a time when hope was a scarce commodity in the United States. Gas prices were high, morale was low, and the nation seemed to be on a fatalistic downward spiral to a nihilistic nowhere. The culture as a whole had become narcissistic, self-indulgent, and resigned to a world without objective values and high ideals; A world devoid of heroes.
Forty years ago today, a farm boy named Luke Skywalker, from a galaxy far, far away, stepped in to fill the void.
Luke, of course, represents the hero archetype of classical mythology. Often referred to as an “every man”, the hero in a “hero’s journey” narrative represents each one of us. He has the same doubts, insecurities, and fears as we do and serves as our mental point of entry into the mythological universe. Because of this personal human connection formed with the hero, the audience is then able to experience the trials, tribulations, triumphs and failures of the hero in a deeply meaningful and often profound way. Simply put, myths are powerful because they speak to the heart of what it is to be human – Fragile, frightened, yet capable of accomplishing extraordinary things in the gravest of circumstances.
Like all great heroes of myth, Luke is called to service of a cause that is much greater than himself. He is called to forsake everything he knows to join the Rebellion in the fight against the Empire; a fight against evil in the form of an authoritarian regime. Luke is called to sacrifice himself on the altar of freedom. A core message here is that good and evil absolutely exist. They are not relative, subjective, or abstract concepts but rather they are literal forces in the universe – And evil must be defeated, no matter what the personal cost. This reinforcement of the fundamental idea of an ongoing battle between good and evil (and our duty to choose sides) perhaps couldn’t have come at a better time to speak to America’s wayward cultural soul than the late 1970s. Until now, that is…
Why Star Wars matters more than ever…
Central to Star Wars is the theme of the fall of free societies and the rise of dictatorships and throughout the entire saga beats a constant tension between those who wish to rule themselves and those who wish to rule over them.
A major theme of the original trilogy is the portrayal of the battle of good vs. evil through the Rebellion’s struggle for freedom from the dictatorial grip of the Empire. In the Prequel trilogy (Yes, I’m going to talk about the Prequels) the struggle between the Jedi and the Sith (good vs. evil) is largely staged against a backdrop of political intrigue, government corruption, and the necessary moral erosion that precedes a free society’s collapse. In fact, the Prequel films continuously concern themselves with the corruption of government as a manifestation of a deeper moral and spiritual issue within the fabric of the society itself – An insidious force at work behind the scenes (Think Chancellor Palpatine and his gradual, but total control of the Senate). By the time his takeover was exposed, it was already complete, and not even the Jedi saw it coming. Ultimately, a lack of discernment lead to the fall of the Republic and rise of the Empire – Free societies never collapse from without before destroying themselves from within. We in the West desperately need to take that message to heart…
True to mythological tradition, Star Wars is a cautionary moral tale. It urges us to recognize how fragile our freedoms are and how easily they may be stripped from us when our ability to discern good and evil is compromised – And, once lost, you may have to wage an epic battle against a “technological terror” to have any hope of getting your freedoms back.
If the entire Star Wars saga has taught us anything it’s that we must choose good over evil, no matter the cost. It teaches us that the choices we make have consequences, and we will ultimately bear the responsibility of our actions. It encourages us to question the motivations of our political leadership, the government’s authority over us and, if government becomes our oppressor, to stand up and fight against it.
If we in The West are to survive as a liberated people in a free society, we must embrace these very ideals and turn them into action. We must each embark on our own “hero’s journey” and commit ourselves to the cause of preserving liberty – a cause so much greater than ourselves. And as Star Wars reminds us, committed individuals can and do change the world.
Star Wars has purposefully instilled in its fans eternal moral values, principles, and a love of liberty. It has created 40 years of freedom fighters – and we need those now more than ever.