There is surely something beyond fascinating characters and an exciting if familiar story that has been attracting people by their millions to see the new Star Wars movie.
My feeling is that a big part of the appeal is “the force”, the ongoing theme in the Star Wars series that gives the latest film its name: The Force Awakens.
In the Star Wars movies, the force seems to me to be roughly equivalent to the creative energy that pervades the universe, but there is also a dark side to it.
What might that mean in Baha’i terms? We are fine with the idea of a creative force and are familiar with the concept that “good has a positive existence; evil is merely its absence”.1 We could view the “dark side” of the force as the absence of the creative energy, a black hole of evil.
So, apart from the other factors mentioned, why do millions of people get attracted to a movie that has “the force” as an ongoing theme in the story?
Hard-wired into us all is a desire to transcend the mundane, the temporary physical realties of our lives. In my view, that desire is intended to motivate us to seek and ever approach the ultimate, everlasting reality, God.
We can’t resist this urge to transcend but it is up to individuals as to how they do so. Some opt for drink and drugs, others become obsessed with sport and politics, get addicted to pornography (a major cause of depression), adopt militant atheism or fanatical religion, or focus only on money and career goals.
Fortunately, despite some of us being temporarily distracted by those siren calls, there is also something in many of us that recognises that these methods of transcending our humdrum lives provide only a temporary satisfaction.
They don’t give lifelong fulfilment, and can ultimately become blind alleys, often destructive ones. The real transcendence is a spiritual journey and the vehicles that take us along that path are prayer, meditation, service, virtuous living, inspiration from art and natural beauty, and upliftment through the sacred scriptures.
This urge to transcend helps explain part, but by no means all, of the widespread appeal of The Force Awakens. Although many people are disillusioned with contemporary expressions of religion, millions are in tune with the idea of a positive creative energy, they yearn for upliftment, and they sense that the movie has an element that harmonises with a compelling truth. In fact, we are drawn as if by a magnet to this truth, even if it is only partially present in the object of our attention.
There are other elements in the movie that also harmonise with principles clearly expressed in the Baha’i teachings. (If you have yet to see the film and want to avoid a possible spoiler, you might now want to postpone reading any more of this article.)
The overall story is a mission to save the world and the conviction that this is possible. It is a story of hope and of trust. As Baha’is, we have a somewhat similar mission and it involves working alongside others — whether Baha’is or not– to create a peaceful, just global society.
What else in The Force Awakens is in tune with Baha’i teachings?
A young woman plays an active, strong and positive role in the story thereby reinforcing another truth — the equality of women and men.
The two young key characters have different coloured skin but they form a close bond of friendship. Genetics has proven that Baha’u’llah’s spiritual teaching of the oneness of humanity is also a scientific fact, so to see this symbolised in the movie is appealing.
In one of the most enjoyable scenes, we see all types of creatures — somewhat humanlike for the most part — hanging out in a bar. They may look weird to us but they can all intermingle quite happily.
One of the Ten Commandments, and a teaching emphasised in the Baha’i Faith, is to “honour thy father and thy mother”. About the worst contravention of that commandment would be the murder of one’s own parent, and we witness the horror of that in one scene.
As a counterpoint, respect for the wisdom of learned elders is an ongoing theme of the Star Wars movies. This is also a teaching of the Baha’i Faith which urges us to honour our teachers, a reference in the Kitab-i-Aqdas2 indicating that when it refers to provisions in our last Will and Testament.
In the Star Wars movies we learn about Jedi training. The young have to make an effort to acquire the skills, they don’t come automatically. There is a parallel with spiritual education. Unless we make an effort we don’t develop. There will be set-backs, but if we try and are persistent we are likely to achieve.
In a quote attributed to Abdu’l-Baha, the reference to a painter could be extended to those who produce moving pictures.
All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvellous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose when showing forth the praise of God.3
Yes The Force Awakens is commercial entertainment but it is also an artistic work that conveys aspects of divine reality, and creates a magnetic force that is attracting and uplifting millions of people around the world.