I was watching Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith last night and was amazed at the depth of wisdom and good advice that comes out of some of those characters. Yoda is like an old Buddhist master, Obi-Wan Kenobi is like an experience Samurai warrior and so on. There is also a lot of political pundit banter that goes on between the Council and the Dark Side. Inspired by this re-run I went through some of the old movies and found some of the best quotes and lessons that can teach us a thing or two about life and politics.
Star Wars’ Lessons on Life and Politics
“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” Obi-Wan Kenobi
One of the best quotes that ever came out of a Star Wars movie was when Obi-Wan said that our truths depend on our point of view. This is something that my buddhist teachers in India are always telling us – don’t be so solid, stiff and rigid. Your truth is not the next person’s truth. Truth is not always truth.
A logical proof that truth is not solidly existing is the example of water. To you and me a glass of water is something to drink. To a fish, however, it is like air. To some creatures it might be like fire. The “truth” we cling to is not a truth that is the same for everyone.
The reason I like this quote so much is because many of the wars and horrible acts that occur on Earth are because people cling to their own solid ideas of truth. You see it in religion, race divisions, political party alliance, etc. If people took time to break down the dogmas that they had been fed they would soon see that truth is not truth for everyone and this would bring people much closer together.
“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Yoda, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
In today’s world we are told to be afraid. The USA has a whole system set up to tell us how much we should be afraid. Some days we are supposed to be Orange level afraid, other days we might have to be Red level afraid. But the problem with fear, as Yoda points out, is that it leads to anger, hate, violence and suffering.
Fear is something that is built in to us. A certain level of fear is healthy. If we had no fear we would walk out on to the road in front of a Hummer with no second thoughts. We would do all sorts of stupid and illogical things. However, the “dark side” type of fear is a fear that says that “those people are my enemies”. It leads to categorization and pretty soon, like in many American’s minds, you are labelling all Muslims as terrorists. This is simply not true. 99.999% of Muslims are peace loving people who contibute to our society in postive and wonderful ways. They are loving fathers and caring mother. But because of fear many people label them ALL as bad.
Fear starts wars. It starts fights. It upsets our mind’s and makes us stressed and anxious. And the funny thing is – most of the time the fear is unnecessary.
So you have a choice. Do you live your life in fear and protect yourself from every possible thing that could go wrong, spending your whole life worrying about things that will probably never happen. Or, do you open yourself up to love and compassion and the goodness in human nature and life a happy and carefree life?
For me the choice is easy.
“There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.” Han Solo, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Probably the best quote that ever came out of Harrison Ford’s mouth is the one you see above. Han Solo was a lone ranger, a true individual – hence is name! The wonderful thing about this is that he was fully independent and took care of his own happiness.
The great thing about this quote is that it encourages people to change their own crappy situations. Han Solo doesn’t leave his destiny up to The Force or God or Jesus or his Boss; he leaves it up to himself. He takes care of his own business and in doing so understands that he is the sole person who can make his mind happy.
But there is a danger here. Being an individual can have it’s downsides. Sometimes strong individuals are tempted to think that the never need anyone and as such become lonely and bitter people. You still need compassion and love in your life. If you live your life trying to be completely solo you will undoubtedly end up a very sad old person.
“What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?” Padme Amidala, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
The great thing about cinema is that is can make political and social commentary about modern issues without sounding bitter and twisted or being accused of hating America. This statement by the beautiful princess is one such comment and it is extremely important to consider.
I have long been convinced that the US Democracy is heading in strange and concerning directions. The Constitution seems to be read as a list of suggestions, the President who was appointed by a Court and not actually elected by the people can (and does!) override the representatives of the People while the rights of the American people themselves are being taken away due to a mystical war that can never end – the war on terror.
So we need to look at the Princess’ quote and ask ourselves whether holding prisioners in a cell in Cuba without trial is really what we want in a society. Sure, they might be terrorists but aren’t they supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? What about allowing one (dubiously elected) man to veto a Bill passed by your representatives that would permit scientists to use eggs (that would never become babys) to produce treatments that could potentially relieve the suffering of millions because his religion might not like it?
That sounds like dictatorship to me… not democracy.
I am touching on some sensitive issues here but my intention is not to make political statements, it is to get you to ask questions. It is to get you to open your mind. And like Han Solo and Princess Padme it is also to try to get you to realize that you are in charge of your own Politcal Destiny this year. If you do not like the direction YOUR Democracy is taking then you need to change it.
“Do or do not… there is no try.” – Yoda
I love this quote because it teaches people to believe in themselves and their own abilities. It is a confidence boosting quote that encourages you to go beyond “trying” to the point where you just do it. It gets rid of all sense of hesitation and doubt.
I once heard a meditation master say that doubt is the biggest obstacle that westerners have to happiness. We doubt we are good enough, tall enough, pretty enough, fast enough, deserved enough. We doubt ourselves all the time. Yoda is telling us to get over that doubt and just do it. Don’t just try and do it. The statement “I’ll try…” is very different to the statement “I’ll do it”.
“Don’t you see? We don’t have to run away anymore! I am more powerful than the Chancellor, I… I can overthrow him! And together, you and I can rule the galaxy! Make things the way we want them to be!” – Anakin Skywalker
The Revenge of the Sith tore my heart out and stomped it into the ground. It was a fantastic movie that had all the makings of a traditional Greek tragedy. It is centered around Anakin Skywalker who we know is heading towards becoming the extremely evil Darth Vader. Even though we know Anakin is becoming Vader we still are glued to the screen with curiosity. We are curious as to how someone so good can go so bad.
And the answer is power.
Anakin’s sole motivation is to benefit the galaxy. He is one of the most powerful Jedi to ever have lived but with this power comes the arrogance of thinking that he is able to rule and make things better. At the end of the movie he even calls the galaxy “my empire” and cries that only because of his efforts did the universe find peace. He is above the law, the Jedi Council and even his own Master. He feels he is all powerful and like the saying goes; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
For me this is an extremely crucial and touching element of Star Wars. Seeing how perfectly altruistic and compassionate intentions can turn bad when arrogance, unchecked power, greed and corruption are thrown in to the mix. It is fascinating to see the parallels between Anakin’s downfall and the current status of many people and nations on this planet. Fascinating but disturbing.
“Well, I should be! Some day I will be… I will be the most powerful Jedi ever. I promise you. I will even learn to stop people from dying.” – Anakin Skywalker
The final lesson for this post comes from Anakin. The lesson of death. It is a theme that runs through all the movies and a theme that runs through all of our lives. Death is inevitable. We cannot stop it. Even the most poweful Jedi in history could not stop it. And as we learned in the first quote from Yoda – fear creates suffering. We are all afraid of death but we are not preparing for it.
Accepting the truth of death is something that Anakin could not do. He was not brave enough. But we need to be. We need to figure out how to die with no regrets whatsoever. Yoda did. And as far as I am concerned this is the most powerful lesson that the Star Wars saga has to offer.
Will you die happy and laughing like Yoda or screaming like Anakin?
Originally published on June 10, 2o1o.