The Sith Within

I cannot help it. A new Star Wars movie is around the corner, and I am obsessed.

Peel back 28 years to the summer of 1977. An awkward boy with thick glasses goes to spend a summer month at his adult sister’s house in Ohio. He’s unaware of most of the culture around him, as life has been reduced to climbing a wondrous apple tree for four months and hanging out with his toddler niece. He gets back home on the plane, and starts hearing a bunch of buzz about a movie called Star Wars. Everybody has already seen it, all of his friends, even his parents!

What’s all the hype? Finally, he gets to go…and he’s hooked.

I didn’t just see Star Wars once that summer. I saw it six times. Whenever I’d get bored, it would be time to see Star Wars again. (I probably spent less money on six separate movie tickets than I spend going to the movies just one time these days.) I couldn’t get enough of the story, the scenery, the wonder.

Beyond the movie theater, Star Wars dominated my life. With my young friends, we’d take our action figures and act out countless scenes from the film. I’d draw tons of pictures of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. I played the soundtrack. I was transported to other worlds, worlds much more interesting than my everyday Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing (Here’s a nod to author Judy Blume!).

It seemed like 1978 and 1979 just crept by. Somewhere, in movie studios and locations far, far away, some brilliant people were making a new Star Wars movie. 1980 arrived at last with The Empire Strikes Back, and I was somewhat older and sort of into girls but still really into Star Wars. Three more years passed, and on the last day of ninth grade I went not to the beach like lots of normal people I knew but checked in for a second viewing of Return of the Jedi.

Don’t ask me how I survived from 1980-1999, the 19-year span between Jedi and the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. I guess I was occupied with high school, girlfriends, college, jobs, getting married, going to grad school, etc. But as soon as I saw the opening title credits of Menace, the 31-year old was 9 years old again. All responsibilities peeled away and there was just the majesty of the movie theater. And I saw Menace on the big screen three times that summer of 1999!

Why am I so captivated by this story? Perhaps because it has all of the elements: good, evil, redemption, romance, sadness, jubilation…. it weaves together all of the things we wrestle with across our lifetimes, set in the framework of a fantasy world of spaceships, unique worlds, bizarre characters.

The best art, whether film, sculpture, pottery, painting or music, does that for us. It connects with our humanity and transports us our of our environs just long enough to change us.

The central theme of Star Wars is wrestling with our inner nature, and making choices that will allow the lightest or darkest aspects of our being to dominate our relationships, decisions and character.

For Anakin Skywalker, his character could not withstand the pull of the darkness as a manner of coping with the pain of life. With blood on his hands, he gave in to the ways of the Sith, an ancient order that utilized the “Force” (a type of religious energy field or abstract power, not too dissimilar to Hindu or even biblical thinking), turning his back on the ways of the Jedi, the group that sought to defend rather than oppress people. For his son Luke, the light was stronger than the darkness, and in the end of the six-movie journey the father is redeemed by the love of the son, an interesting twist.

The best movies, whether stand-alone or multi-part series, will bring us to our own valleys of decisions, our crisis points where light and dark almost seem to cross paths. They can motivate us to bring out the best in us or give in to the worst. We each face the Sith within, agonizing in the face of disappointment, pain, tragedy, even as we know the Jedi order is calling us to greater ideals and perseverance in a broken world.

Revenge of the Sith opens May 19….you can bet I will be there on opening night. I am captivated by the story, because spaceships and light sabers aside, it is my story.
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