Materialistic Holidays With Meaning (Star Wars Edition)


I have love Star Wars since 1977. I was pretty young when I first saw the movie. My memories originally were just impressions. But I hung a lot on those impressions. As I got older, I picked up comics, and watched the movies repeatedly. I read novels. I thought about almost everything through the lens of Star Wars at some point in time.

I can’t define what Star Wars means to other people, but I can elaborate on what it means to me, and that informs what Star Wars media speaks to me, and feels “right.”

First off, Star Wars is about mythic themes. That’s not even really an argument. You can say it no longer applies, because George Lucas doesn’t own the property any longer, but honestly, Disney has a history of buying fairy tales so they can brand them, so it’s pretty clear that they want the myth, even if they don’t fully understand it.

There are several things important to Star Wars, that don’t always need to be in the forefront, but are never fully absent from the story.

Hope—There is always a feeling that the future can be better than the present. That means that stories will often have to showcase what is wrong in the present in order to emphasize why hope is needed. This also means that “a day in the life” stories that don’t emphasize a struggle against adversity aren’t really within the theme.

  • The Rebellion’s hope to overthrow the Empire (original trilogy)

  • The Rebellion’s hope to find a weakness in the Death Star (Rogue One)

  • Han’s hope for a better life (Solo)

  • Anakin’s hope for a future with Padme (prequel trilogy)

  • Leia’s hope for Ben’s return (sequel trilogy)

  • The Mandalorian’s hope for a new start for their culture (the Mandalorian)

Redemption—Anakin’s entire arc was about redemption. The point is that it is always better to attempt to redeem something than to destroy it. That doesn’t mean that redemption always has to be successful for redemption to be a theme. The redemption can be a failed attempt, in order to showcase what went wrong. You may not show every character as being on the path to redemption, or every hero as a redeemer, but if someone in the main story doesn’t have some redemption angle, it’s straying from the formula. This is another theme that touches on hope—if the redemption doesn’t happen, the character still needed to try because they had hope.

  • Obi-wan and Padme’s concern over Anakin’s fall (prequel trilogy)

  • Luke’s redemption of Vader (original trilogy)

  • Lando helping Leia and Chewie escape Bespin (original trilogy)

  • The Mandalorian finding a new clan and purpose (The Mandalorian)

  • Asajj Ventriss finding new purpose after leaving Count Dooku (The Clone Wars)

  • Death Watch transitioning to a new, less destructive warrior class (The Clone Wars)

  • Maul’s “almost” redemption in his final confrontation with Obi-Wan (Rebels)

  • Ahsoka unsuccessfully trying to reach Anakin when she meets Vader (Rebels)

  • Baze Malbus finding faith in the death of Chirrut (Rogue One)

  • Cassian Andor remembering his idealism (Rogue One)

  • K-2SO is literally a repurposed Imperial droid (Rogue One)

Resisting Extremes—This one is harder to see, because it’s a more subversive theme. On one hand, you should strive for Hope and Redemption, but Hope and Redemption require reaching for the light, not being completely free of darkness. Accepting the darkness doesn’t mean going out and killing a tribe of Tusken Raiders and feeling justified, it’s knowing that you will make mistake as you strive for the light, and if you think you can remove all darkness from yourself, you are either a failure or a hypocrite.

  • Anakin justifying his killing of the Tuskens (prequel trilogy)

  • Luke overcoming his anger to refuse killing Vader (original trilogy)

  • Mace Windu justifying annexing galactic government as a response to Darth Sidious (prequel trilogy)

  • Granting special powers to Chancellor Palpatine (prequel trilogy)

  • Cassian realizing what he has become as an intelligence officer (Rogue One)

  • The Mandalorian resisting the killing of his crew when they betrayed him (The Mandalorian)

Struggling Against the Light—I think this is a theme that people don’t often see in the movies, even though it’s present. The context of when the original movie was released is very important. It was a very grim time in American history, where a more mythical story grated against cynical narratives. Characters are often good people that want to do good things, but find excuses for being “reasonable” and avoiding heroics. This is less about redemption, because the character doesn’t start off doing evil things, but about embracing higher motives and finding . . . well, hope.

  • Han tells himself he’s only in it for the money, when he actually care about others (Solo/original trilogy)

  • Asajj Ventriss sees herself as a failure with no other options after her master dies (The Clone Wars)

  • Ben Solo thinks that the darkness that calls to him means he cannot be a good person (sequel trilogy)

  • Cassian Andor tries to assassinate Jyn’s father “for the greater good” (Rogue One)

  • Luke wants to stay on Tatooine even though he’s expressed that he wants to leave to his aunt and uncle (original trilogy)

  • Anakin is continually told that his love and concern for others is a bad thing (original trilogy)

Masters/Apprentices/Parents/Children—These are all tied together, because despite different words, they are the same theme. The Jedi Master and Padawan are a parental unit, and the Sith Master and Apprentice are as well. The parents and their relationship to their parents, and how this resolves over time as the children become adults is always a theme.

  • Maul’s relationship to Mother Talzin and Sidious (The Clone Wars)

  • Ezra’s relationship to both Hera and Kanan, as well as the legacy of his biological parents (Rebels)

  • Asajj Ventriss’ search for family from her master, to the Nightsisters, to Dooku (The Clone Wars)

  • The desire for parents in Rey (sequel trilogy)

  • Luke’s relationship to Uncle and Aunt Beru, and his desire to redeem his father (original trilogy)

  • The Mandalorian’s biological parents and his rescue by the Mandalorians at their death (The Mandalorian)

  • C-3PO’s creation by Anakin (prequel trilogy)

  • BB-8’s relationship to Poe (sequel trilogy)

Cycles—The universe always moves in circles. The same things happen to different generations. There may be different details, but the key elements repeat. This isn’t about the futility of action in the present, but about learning from the past. The exact same thing shouldn’t keep happening, but elements of the past should echo forward and inform the future. Nothing is new, and the past is a resource.

  • The Sith and the Jedi have recurring practices that govern their actions (all media)

  • The Sith appear to be defeated, but return (original trilogy)

  • The Mandalorians rise as a warrior culture, are broken, and rise again (The Clone Wars, The Mandalorian)

  • The Old Republic Becomes the Empire, and the First Order grows from the remnants (all media)

Now, a bit of meta-commentary

The Rise of Skywalker didn’t work for me because the circle was too tight. The repetition of themes didn’t use the theme to say something new, within the same theme. It said the exact same thing, but louder. Papalpatine’s legacy wasn’t passed on, it was literally Palpatine. Ben’s confrontation with his father was almost exactly the same as in The Force Awakens, he just did the opposite this time and was redeemed. Rey just had to show up to be the representative light side user so Palpatine could be defeated. The movie tried to hit EVERY theme, all at once, without much to say about any of those themes.

Additionally, I think you can make the argument that for all of the philosophy of hope and trying to be something more and better than you are today, the commercialism surrounding Star Wars has always been that bit of the Dark Side to taint it. At times, its present, but the good outweighs the bad. At other times, there has to be a movie every year, and its primary purpose is to be a recognizable name divorced of its meaning. That doesn’t mean the light isn’t still there. There is still good in it, I can feel it.

Star Wars is a very special thing, and sometimes it’s hard to touch exactly what that special thing is. We can see the shape of it, but we can’t measure or quantify it. Just like knowing someone’s midi-chlorian count doesn’t tell us the whole story of what they will become. It is hard with the crude tools of materialism to relate what Star Wars does best, because in the end, luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

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