As I’m lounging on my couch sick at home, John William’s brilliant soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back resounds across the living room as Luke Skywalker grapples with his potential origins in the dark side of the force. Boxes of tissues are scattered across the room so that with very little effort I can keep lounging and blowing my red nose, but luckily, my mind is more focused on thee grammatical patterns of Yoda’s endearing speech.
If I had to pick a religion that most echoes the world of Star Wars, I might pick Hinduism. And in fact, many sources suggest George Lucas holds Hindu beliefs, and so many other before me have made the same connection, pointing especially to the “Force” as a reflection of Brahman.
But if the Force is an echo of Hindu beliefs, it is a very diluted one. For one thing, although the Force apparently is in all (and can be used for either good or bad), the Force is not all. There is nothing to suggest beings themselves (for example Darth Vader and Princess Leia) are anything but distinct, lacking the monism of Hindu cosmology. Furthermore, such an extreme dichotomy between good and evil (the dark side and the light) is more representative of a Judeo-Christian ethos than a Hindu one, in which destruction is necessary for recreation and morality is dependent on dharma and the maintenance of the social order.
Chewbacca seems to be making fun of me as I have these thoughts. Perhaps having missed school today (and subsequently my World Religions class), I am trying to make up from it by referencing my class material. Of course, George Lucas was not tied down to perfectly recreating a Hindu worldview in his filmmaking and I’m certainly not suggesting he was trying to at all. But there is an interesting note to be made in how Western pop-culture uses belief systems and cultures, especially that of different cultures. It has gotten to the point where words like karma and reincarnation are more likely to remind me of an twenty-something year old hippie playing guitar in Washington Square Park than an actual Hindu practitioner of Indian descent. But it’s hard to truly engage in conversations of comparative religion and worldview when our conception of belief systems are so far removed from their original culture. The reason Star Wars can’t perfectly replicate a Hindu cosmos is partially because that Hindu cosmos is intricately intertwined with the geographical, social, economic, and political history of its people.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this particular post. Maybe it’s the consistent sinus pressure or the fact that Han Solo has just been encased in carbonite. I guess I’m trying to say that although connections between films and religion/philosophy are fascinating and worth a thought or two, we cannot rely only on the plots of Hollywood blockbusters to critically analyze the implications of world views. Simply put, The Empire Strikes Back may end in a victory for the Rebel Alliance but the cyclical universe of Hinduism doesn’t include an ending at all.
- Alexandra Kytka