Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Philosophy of A New Hope: Unity and Balance

The original Star Wars is the reset button for the Saga.  The first generation took their shot and failed.

A New Hope attempts to put right what once went wrong.  It is strange that war and oppression can lead to a cleansing of moral ambiguity.  A friend of mine, the Bishop, pointed in Dr. Zhivago that when the war broke out it was almost a relief from oppression of illusion.  The lies of Stalin had to be set aside for the tactile encounter with war.

Sometimes when we come face to face with the horrors of evil and oppression, we break free from the illusion of moral relativsm.

And say what you will about A New Hope, but it has the refreshing exhilaration of moral clarity.  There is good and there is evil.  That isn't to say that the story is simplistic or that the characters are flat.  This is often a charge laid against The Lord of the Rings, but just because there is a clear moral line, it does not mean that the characters do not struggle with where they find themselves on that line.

As we have seen in the metaphysics of the Prequel Trilogy, the story shows a purposeful universe of higher callings and destiny.  Providence brings our heroes together and it is only in this particular convergence of persons that victory could possibly be achieved.

The biggest philosophical departure has to do with the role of connection to others.  Anakin Skywalker's basic problem was that his relationships brought him constantly into conflict with his responsibilities and the supposed "greater good."  But for Luke Skywalker, his relationships bring him closer to the greater good.

Uncle Owen tries to discourage Luke from his higher calling.  He is not without reason, as Anakin's adventures led ultimately to tragedy.  But Own's call to forget his nephew's yearning for some connection to his long lost father is more of an obstacle than a help.  This is probably why Luke turns to Obi-Wan as a surrogate father figure rather than Owen.

And as Luke goes further into his journey, he is not brought in to deeper isolation as Anakin was.  Instead he is taken in by a community that he needs as much as he is needed.  The Empire is not a community that is interconnected.  The senate is disbanded and the regional governors have direct control over their territories.  Vader, Tarkin, and the Emperor are connected, but they really don't have anything in the way of relationship (hat tip to the Doctor for pointing this out to me).

Let us take a look at the three central characters: Luke, Han, and Leia.

Alone, none of them are able to be what they are called to be.

Luke would be stuck on his farm, never learning about the Force if it had not been for Leia sending the droids.  He also would not have gotten very far on his journey without the help of Han who not only is a tough ally but who rescues him in the end.

Han is an impulsive, greedy, and violent man when we meet him.  To be sure he is not wicked, but he is clearly selfish, motivated by greed.  But Luke shows him real heroism and courage.  Leia brings him enlightening wisdom ("If money is all you love, then that's what you'll receive).

Leia is brave and strong of mind, able to resist Vader's threats and tortures.  But she still needs Luke and Han to save her and help her get her information to the rebels.  She is also able to experience real affection and friendship with Han and Luke, something not evident about her in the beginning.

In Plato's Republic, the character Socrates examines the question of justice in the human soul.  He famously designs a very detailed society or republic with different social classes with different functions.  What is often misunderstood (at least to my mind) is that Plato really wasn't interested in telling his readers how an ideal society should be formed.  Instead, his republic is a metaphor, an analogy.  Just as a well functioning society is one where all of its members are in perfect balance, so too should it be in the human soul.  The parts of the soul should be in perfect balance.  What are the parts of the soul?

Sigmund Freud used Plato's classic division and he called them the id, the ego, and the superego.

The id is the impulsive, emotional part of the person.  The superego is the higher intellect in charge of rationality and logical principles.  The ego is the human will that choose the direction of action based on the influence of the ego and the superego.

Just as Plato used a whole republic to stand in for the human soul, A New Hope uses there persons to do the same.

Han = Id
Leia = Superego
Luke = Ego

One cannot have a balanced soul living by only one of these.  Someone of pure impulse will ultimately lead to there own destruction.  Someone of of pure superego will miss out on the emotional realities of human life and also not be successful.  And someone of pure will, without the content from id or superego will make many choices but do them badly because they have no compass.

If you look back on the Prequel Trilogy, you can see immediately why things were out of balance.  That breakdown would look like this:

Anakin = Id
Obi-Wan = Superego
Padme = Ego

The central hero really should be the one representing the ego, because they are the ones who are most likely to balance the extremes of the other two and find the mean between them.  Anakin is too impulsive and emotional.  Padme should be the one steering the events of the story, but in Revenge of the Sith, she is a much more passive observer than in the first two.

To be sure, Luke leans a bit more towards id than superego when we first meet him, but that is less an inherent character flaw than a lack of maturity.  This is emphasized by the constant references to him as "kid,"  Even Leia points out "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?"

Whereas the Anakin/Obi-Wan/Padme relationship led to division and destruction, the Luke/Han/Leia relationship leads to unity and victory.

Nowhere is this better seen than in the final battle.  Luke leads the final run.  The only reason that he has any shot of winning is because of the information received and given by Leia.  She gives him the content and strategy for victory.  But if he simply did what was ordered and planned, he would have lost.  He needed to listen to his feelings and trust them.  It is the impulsive and reckless Han who shows up unexpectedly at the last second who saves Luke.  But Luke also surrenders to his instincts in the crucial moment when Obi-Wan tells him to use the Force.  Notice how this is a rejection of pragmatic approach of The Phantom Menace, but instead is an embrace of faith.

This is the power of friendship.  It is a loyalty that is deeper than mere sentiment.  It raises people up instead of pulling them apart.

The journey, of course, is not over.  But what we can clearly see from the philosophy of A New Hope is that human beings are stronger when they find themselves in a loving community that challenges them to be the best version of themselves.

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