A few weeks ago in a book store not too far away, I purchased this book, along with six others, simply because it’s Star Wars and it’s philosophy. It’s a perfect mix for a geek like me. So far the “Popular Culture and Philosophy” series has 12 volumes and I’ve assimilated 4 of them, this title being the latest offered as sacrifice to my mind. And the series just never gets boring and its editors and writers aren’t lazy (with an exception or two).
Contrary to many philosophy books, they won’t bore you with long-winded prefaces where they detach themselves from the material to keep their cred as serious philosophers. They take the material seriously, they love, they hate but they never ignore it. And like in other reviews of this series I’ll reiterate that this is a book, a perfect book to immerse to non-initiated into the world of philosophy using popular culture as a conduit, thus making philosophy interesting to those who fear it. Most people fear philosophy and declare it boring; for the simple reason that it’s perceived as much too cerebral.
It’s supposed to be cerebral. Etymologically “philosophy” translates to “love of knowledge”. But here you get to do it with the force as your ally. If you dig Star Wars and love philosophy or want to take your first steps into it, this is the book for you. William Irwin, the series’ editor, goes for impartiality by choosing writers that may irk him by their one sidedness or stubbornness, not only the writers who praise the subject of his books. Thus you get a great amalgamation of diverse views, positive or negative, on all sides of potential issues stemming from the Star Wars universe… or should I say galaxy?
There are a few chapters where the philosopher is not making the reader think, but rather preaching – or it feels like preaching. They chastise George Lucas (but don’t we all?) for glorifying technology over nature.
Elizabeth F. Cook, in her chapter on Environmental Ethics, goes so far in her ideological exuberance about protecting nature that all those right wingers/cons who’ve accused me of being a tree-hugger will have to review their labeling of my person as a centrist because it seems that we shouldn’t disturb nature at all, not even pick flowers. This level of preachyness really itches my disdain of extremist ideology on both sides of the spectrum of thought. Human non-interference on nature, even from the most primitive of human societies is simply impossible. We are manifestations of nature, not outside observers. And even in this ideologue’s utopia, how does she reconcile her arguments with those of Heisenberg on observation?
Then we have a chapter where the ball is dropped because the writer accuses Yoda of being against the flesh – by saying “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter” – and supporting his theory that Lucas upholds artificial life forms and technology above the living. The writer drops the ball by consistently suffering from selective memory and using the philosophical equivalent of soundbites to make his argument, completely disregarding the whole speech about the force being in every living thing, all around us and this living force being his ally. I found it disappointing and amateurish, considering that Star Wars fans of the rabid kind will be reading this book.
And that’s as bad is it gets. There are some seriously delicious chapters like the one on Stoicism. This detachment from pleasure and pain that the Sith and the Jedi go through reminds me a great deal of the Buddha’s teachings but the difference is on compassion. Stoicism views compassion as a weakness of some sort, whereas compassion is at the center of most schools of Buddhist thought. Also the chapter on Master-Slave relationships is priceless. It exposes how the slave has the better chances at a better life than does the master, using an elaborate “it’s lonely at the top” argument. Only Vader could redeem himself and not the emperor. The emperor views all as below him, while Vader is in shackles despite having a great degree of power in the Empire. Only the shackled can free themselves.
They saved the best for last… ok the before-last. The chapter on why the Jedi seem to lie all the time and the Sith tell the truth all the time. It’s one of the ethical questions I’ve had on the religious aspect of Star Wars. Obi-wan and Yoda keep lying to Luke, while Vader and the Emperor keep telling him the truth. But like the Oracle stipulates in The Matrix movies, just make up your own damn mind – and he does, by refusing what both Jedi and Sith tell him and believing in Vader’s goodness. And that’s not the only Oracle logic that can be found in the Star Wars galaxy. It’s obvious that Mr. Impetuous Skywalker wasn’t quite ready for the truth about his lineage. That kiddo couldn’t handle the truth about Vader being Anakin Skywalker.
In some way Vader did kill Anakin, making Kenobi’s earlier statement a truth. Just like Neo, Luke must know-thyself before understanding the deeper meaning of the truth. The truth can’t be handed to you coldly, which is what the Sith do to control. They blurt out truths, hiding themselves in plain sight of all to see. Yes it’s true Vader is Luke’s father. But didn’t Vader take the most opportune moment to let his boy know the truth? This truth crippled him more than the cauterizing amputation of his hand he moments ago suffered.
The whole series is worth taking a look at and this book, for Star Wars fans, is a must read. I closed this book re-assessing my opinion of Star Wars. I viewed Ep. 4-6 as a space cowboy movie with little thought put into it. I still worshipped the movies. I’ve seen Ep. 4 and 5 over 500 times each and Ep. 6 at least 200 times in the last 25 plus years.
What’s not to love? Vader, Yoda, starships and space battles galore, light sabers and did I mention Vader? Even my blog’s theme is jokingly Star Wars influenced. But I believed it was little more than a big expensive action movie that was just burned into my psyche since I was a child, and now I can see that this was just the surface. I realize that a lot more thinking went into these movies than I believed. I’ve even gained a bit more respect for those debacles… I mean prequels. I still think they suck to no end. Even Revenge of the Sith; I thought to myself before seeing the movie, that just having Vader in it, even for five minutes, would save the movie… and George screwed up that five minutes also. And yet after this read I can see the story’s depth behind all those crappy rip-offs, so-so special effects and would-be jokes.
The force is strong with this one. Despite the fact that the book fails to explain how light can stop after three feet, this book gets a blinding 5 light sabers out of 5.