Few film series have had the impact of the Star Wars saga. Now, with Disney and J.J. Abrams ready to once again make the jump to hyperspace, The Drunk Monkeys Film Department begins a year-long exploration of the series, including personal essays, interviews, and in-depth discussion posts.
To kick off our coverage, Scott Waldyn explores the dual themes of hope and fear in the original 1977 classic.
“Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.” – Grand Moff Tarkin
In the first half of Star Wars, Tarkin (played expertly by Peter Cushing) confidently states the above quote to a round table of peers. Tarkin is almost casual about it, his demeanor cold and calculating and calm as he affirms his presence at the table. His eyes are hollow as he gazes at his fellow officers, appearing more mechanical in his uptight posture than human, and in this scene, Tarkin embodies everything the Galactic Empire is, everything Star Wars firmly stands against. Because at the end of the day, Star Wars is more than just a movie. It’s a fable on fear. It’s a testament to the courage and bravery of the human soul. Star Wars is a phenomenon that asks of us to discover our self-worth and follow our instincts. It’s the one space adventure that so optimistically encourages us to be like naïve farm boy-turned-hero Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill). It encourages us to chase our dreams wherever they may lead because we can be the heroes in our own narratives, we can tap into the pool of destiny that’s waiting by and beckoning us forward. To do otherwise, to bow down to the status quo or succumb to group think, would be dangerous.
Old Ben Kenobi (Alex Guinness) calls our instincts The Force. He teaches Luke to learn its ways, to trust in the mindset that ruled a “more civilized age.” And through Luke, we see a youth take these teachings and struggle to overcome one of the greatest challenges of all — learning to trust himself. Feeling over thinking. Sensing over seeing. Listening to that quiet voice in the pit of his stomach beckoning him closer to his destiny. It’s himself, but it’s more than himself. It’s a judgment call beyond the five senses. There’s more out there than we can physically touch, Kenobi conveys to Luke, but it’s so very hard to hear amidst the chatter of the people around Luke, of his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen.
Beru and Owen aren’t evil people. They’ve just given into safety, comfort, and fear. They’ve retired to the countryside, away from the excitement of the cities or the adventure of interplanetary travel. While an Empire wages war with a band of rebels and digs its boots into sovereign planets, its stormtroopers searching house-to-house in a relentless quest to capture dissidents of the status quo, Beru and Owen keep to themselves and wait it out. Life is simple for the pair. It’s serene. And it carries the illusion of safety until this Empire immolates them under pretense of a mere suspicion.
This is a harsh lesson Star Wars teaches us. Even if we think we’re safe, we’re not. The rigid enforcers of order through fear will slam down the hammer whenever they see fit on whomever they see fit. They’ll disintegrate entire worlds, if it means keeping neighboring civilizations in line. One can try and ditch the ebb and flow of the galaxy, but it’ll catch up to him. If they, we, ignore that little voice in the pit of their, our, stomachs, we may very likely meet a fate like unto death.
But it takes bravery to follow one’s instincts. It takes a level of trust most people don’t have in themselves, and it’s why Luke is such a special character. He learns this trust. With it, he overcomes the absolute embodiment of fear and saves the day. In piloting a small fighter through a dangerous trench, he fires a torpedo into the belly of the Empire’s massive world-destroyer, the Death Star, and turns an insurmountable weapon of force and coercion into a cluster of space debris. And Luke does it through feeling. He switches off his targeting computer and pulls the trigger when The Force tells him the moment is right. What was once a youthful farm boy is now the physical manifestation of his former dreams. He’s the epitome of courage. He’s the idealized hero Star Wars creates for us. And it’s our only choice the film presents for us to live by. Follow your dreams or die. Pursue the impossible or get roasted at home. Join the rebellion, and believe in yourself.
Our heroes are awarded. The music swells to an upbeat crescendo. The credits roll, and we sit there, starry-eyed and fascinated. Our imaginations are firing with possibilities. Whole worlds are spiraling without limitation. Everything we’ve been told in our real lives not to do has been done. We’ve seen a half-crazed idiot go with his gut and come out on top, and now every person giving advice to us, our relatives, our neighbors, our civic leaders, our radio hosts, our advertisers, and our news anchors, seem like agents of the Empire — sniveling worms intent on keeping us in line.
They tell us what route of action is the preferred route. They tell us to play it safe, but safety is an illusion. We could die at any time by any number of variables. The wheels of Fate could propel infinite traumatizing possibilities, altering the course of our destiny forever. So why live in fear? Why fall in line when we could confidently go forward and face the vast expanses of space that lie just outside our doorways?
If the real world is a crisis of confidence and limitless possibility, Star Wars is the cure. It always has been. Since 1977, this film has been rousing the human soul from its slumber and demanding that it snuff out the silent acquiescence of fear. Because fear is the mind-killer. Because fear is the manifestation of evil.