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How the “Star Wars” franchise lost its way

What began forty years ago as a thrilling, cinematic exploration of the philosophia perennis has devolved into a vehicle for the latest trendy ideology—and that is really a shame.

I fell sound asleep for about ten minutes during the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi. This was not only because the narrative had wandered down a very tedious alleyway, but because Star Wars in general has lost its way. What began as a thrilling exploration of the philosophia perennis has devolved into a vehicle for the latest trendy ideology—and that is really a shame.

Like so many others in my generation (I was seventeen when the first film in the series came out), I was captivated by George Lucas’ vision. We all loved the explosions, the spaceships, and the special effects (corny now, but groundbreaking at the time), but we also sensed that there was something else going on in these films, something that excited the soul as much as it dazzled the eyes.

Lucas was a devotee of Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative religion and mythology at Sarah Lawrence College, who had spent his career exploring what he called “the monomyth.” This is the great story which, despite all sorts of different accents and emphases from culture to culture, remains fundamentally the same and which conveys some pretty basic truths about nature, the psyche, human development, and God. It customarily unfolds as a “hero’s quest.” A young man (typically) is summoned out of the comfort of his domestic life and compelled to go on a dangerous adventure, either to secure a prize or protect the innocent, or subdue the forces of nature. In the process, he comes to realize and conquer his weakness, to face down enemies, and finally to commune with the deep spiritual powers that are at play in the cosmos. Usually, as a preparation for his mission, he is trained by a spiritual master who will put him quite vigorously through his paces. Campbell was particularly intrigued by the manner in which this story is concretely acted out in the initiation rituals among primal peoples. Lucas’ mentor was Campbell, and Campbell’s teacher was the great Swiss psychologist, C.G. Jung, who had spent his career exploring the archetypes of the collective unconscious that play themselves out in our dreams and our myths.

Now one would have to be blind not to see these motifs in the original Star Wars films. Luke Skywalker is compelled to leave his mundane home life (remember Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru?), and under the tutelage of Obi-Wan and Yoda, he overcomes his fears, discovers his inner strength, faces down the darkness, and learns to act in communion with the Force. Attentive Star Wars fans will notice, by the way, that Yoda pronounces a number of the well-known sayings of C.G. Jung. I referenced the philosophia perennis (the perennial philosophy) above. This is a standard set of philosophical and psychological insights shared by most of the great spiritual traditions of the world, and it provided the inspiration for Jung, Campbell, Lucas and hence the Star Wars films.

Certain elements of all of this remain, of course, in the most recent episodes, but the mythic and archetypal dimensions are all but overwhelmed by an aggressively feminist ideology. The overriding preoccupation of the makers of the most recent Star Wars seems to be, not the hero’s spiritual journey, but the elevation of the all-conquering female. Every male character in The Last Jedi is either bumbling, incompetent, arrogant, or morally compromised; and every female character is wise, good, prudent, and courageous. Even Luke has become embittered and afraid, bearing the stigma of a profound moral failure. The female figures in The Last Jedi typically correct, demote, control, and roll their eyes at the males, who stumble about when not provided with feminine instruction. I laughed out loud when Rey, the young woman who has come to Luke for instruction in the ways of the Jedi, shows herself already in full possession of spiritual power. No Yoda or Obi-Wan required, thank you very much. The movie ends (spoiler alert) with all of the men off the stage and Leia taking the hand of Rey and saying, “We have all we need.”

Contrast this overbearing and ham-handed treatment of men and women with the far subtler handling of the same motif in the earlier Star Wars films. In accord with Jungian instincts, the twins Luke and Leia—both smart, strong, and spiritually alert—represented the play of animus and anima, the masculine and feminine energies, within every person. And the relationship between Leia and Han Solo was such a delight, precisely because they were evenly matched. Leia didn’t have to dominate Han in order to find her identity; quite the contrary, she became more fully herself as he pushed back against her. Whereas a sort of zero-sum game obtains in the present ideology—the male has to be put down in order for the female to rise—nothing of the kind existed in the wonderfully Tracy and Hepburn rapport between Leia and Han.

Now don’t get me wrong: I fully understand why, in our cultural context today, women are feeling the need to assert themselves and to put powerful men in their place. I even see why a certain exaggeration is inevitable. It’s just disappointing that this concern has hijacked a film series that used to trade in more abiding truths.

About Bishop Robert Barron 135 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

39 Comments

  1. Thank u for the insight. At 67, i had seen the first 2 or3 star wars films, but after march 24, 2003, i had lost all interest in anything that did not lead me to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, and His Mystical Body, The Holy Catholic Church. Thank u and God Bless. Ive just purchased the book and have read the first 3 chapters of “TO LIGHT A FIRE ON THE EARTH”, by Robert Baron and John Allen Jr. In hopes of getting to know him and what makes him tick better.

  2. Let’s also remember that Star Wars is no longer “a story to be told”, but a “franchise” that was bought for the money it generates (like someone who buys a painting not for its beauty but for its investment value). As such, the purpose now is not to tell the story but to keep people buying movie tickets, clothing, DVDs, toys, backpacks, costumes, Christmas ornaments, role playing games, convention tickets, rides at amusement parks, etc.

    • An excellent point, father. Even beginning with RETURN OF THE JEDI, though, and certainly after that movie, the story might well say, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

  3. Why do they need to put powerful men in their place? Powerful corrupt men, sure; but to put ALL men who have any power “in their place” is unjustifiable.

    I also question whether exaggeration is”inevitable.” Why can’t the practitioners of this agenda show a balanced view in which, like Han and Leia, men and women can be equals? This seems more like the whole foolish “toxic masculinity” idea that people are trying to push nowadays.

    As a side note, (spoiler) while watching the movie I was shocked that the purple-haired Laura Dern character was fleetingly portrayed as a coward — precisely because they were depicting a weak female! So ingrained is their bias that I couldn’t believe they’d let they slip through. But of course, in the end, they didn’t.

    • I agree . And will add, as a woman, there are plenty of powerful women that should be put in their place, and maybe even go to jail. Equality yes….. the human spirit, not sex should determine viability IMO

  4. Oh boo hoo. I’m sorry that portraying females as heroes is disturbing. We all saw what the male ego did to the church when the cover up of priest sex abusers was unveiled and rocked our world. I am a cradle Catholic who loves Mother Church. Yet I have seen many male leaders with feet of clay. In the light of what is now being unveiled about years of sexual abuse, financial inequality, and career oppression of woman, I thank Hollywood for holding up females who can stand on their own. Woman’s consummate worth is in the eyes of God, not in her acquiescence to a man.

    • Portraying women as heroines is not disturbing. Puffing up their actions by denigrating men is. And blaming the ghastly sexual abuse mess on the “male ego” is simpleminded idiocy, to put it bluntly. “Woman’s consummate worth is in the eyes of God,” indeed, but that doesn’t mean that her worth has to be shown by being more manly than the men.

      “Grrrrl power” makes me queasy.

      As for Hollywood – perhaps if some of those successful women had taken the opportunity to be heroic and, at one of the many awards shows at which they were honored, said, “I have won this award, and now let me tell you about some of the behavior that has been going on,” perhaps I would have some respect for them.

    • I just read a story of a female teacher caught with her 13 year old student. There are many such stories. Perhaps you might consider that original sin has affected both males and females?

    • OH, boo hoo. Delicate little flowers tried to make it in man’s world and no one rescued them. Proves women are not strong and need moral men around to protect them or to stay home where it is safe. Also, sounds like very lesbian finish to the movie. Homosexual ego of Catholic church is not to be confused with true masculine Catholic identity. If you truly loved the Catholic church you would understand that and not need to hate men.

    • So funny. It turns out that sexual abuse was just as rife amongst the nuns as well, but the Boston globe covered up for them, since they tend to be liberal, and it was the liberal orders that had the most abuse. But don’t let that stop your crabby outburst.

  5. Star Wars is a church (could even be the Catholic Church), a church now fully feminized, women rule the priests and bishops like puppets. Though they are not the clergy (yet) but they do run most of the church, feminist language remains in translations, many sanctuaries are filed with feminist decor and alter girls, and they (women) are now getting into Vatican leadership, like the new head of the Vatican museums. Bible verses like Gen.3:16, 1-Tim.2:11-12, 1-Cor.11:3, and Col.3:18 are all ignored or preached in a manner to neutralize their true meaning. The male has not only lost the culture war, it seems he has also lost the religious wars. Maybe God really made Eve first and Adam was taken from her side as her helper. Today the church is formed by culture, not aiding the formation of culture.

    • John, have you ever read Taylor Caldwell’s book GRANDMOTHER AND THE PRIESTS? It’s a collection of short stories, essentially, each of which is a story told by a priest about an incident in his life. They are wonderful stories, and the priests are so admirable, and definitely not feminized. I recommend it.

    • Indeed, let us see some Roman Catholic bishops stand up for men and authority of the husband in at least in their local churches. But RC bishops are afraid of offending modern liberal/egalitarian sensibilities or they go along with those sensibilities 100%.

  6. ” I fully understand why, in our cultural context today, women are feeling the need to assert themselves and to put powerful men in their place. ”

    But is that cultural context a legitimate one?

    Feminism is a cancer.

  7. And this is precisely why dear Bishop Barron and all other bishop who support female ordination will become irrelevant and fade into the distance of the past. This not a male/female dominance issue. This represents the battle between the forces of Satan and the Angelic Choirs, the The Church Triumphant, the Church Militant and the Church Suffering. It is not philosophical…it is in you face warfare for each individual soul

  8. This further advances liberalism’s support of the “gay” revolution. We are constantly told that men are useless to women and real masculinity is homosexual behavior. When every American male has been converted to same-sex mating, the only real men left will be Muslims who rape women and make them slave wives producing babies for the glory of Allah.

  9. Well at least His Excellency hasn’t fawned all over this episode as he has done over past Star Wars space opera.

    However, as usual, he can’t let his no be no. Instead he has to “fully understand” how “women feel the need to put powerful men in their place” thus negating the very point of his post.

    But, gee golly, His Excellency just wishes he could gush over Star Wars like he used to, and not need to burnish his feminist credentials!

    • You overstate your case. One does not have to be a feminist to want roles for women that are better than lying in castles surrounded by thorns while waiting for princes to come wake them with kisses. In fact, we have many such women in Scripture and in the history of the Church — Deborah, Jael, Judith, and St. Joan of Arc come to mind immediately. It does not require buying into the full feminist agenda to want real heroines, nor would it be unreasonable to suspect that a heroine might have to face a male villain (Sisera, Holofernes) or be frustrated by cowardly or indecisive men (Barak, Charles VII).

      To see what went wrong, though, just look at most “contemporary Christian music” or “Christian movies”. They may be motivated by intentions that are both good and sincere, but they usually make the mistake of trying to bash the listener or viewer over the head with their message. They are too worried that the public will be too stupid to get their point, so all subtlety goes out the window. They don’t let the message work its way through the art organically, and as a result, they fail both as art and as the evangelical tool they were meant to be.

      • “You overstate your case. One does not have to be a feminist to want roles for women that are better than lying in castles surrounded by thorns while waiting for princes to come wake them with kisses. In fact, we have many such women in Scripture and in the history of the Church — Deborah, Jael, Judith, and St. Joan of Arc come to mind immediately.”

        When such roles are unnatural and inappropriate for the great majority of women, then yeah, you are a feminist. What do the above women have in common? They were called by God when men failed; they didn’t presume the role for themselves.

        • When did God call Jael? Do you even know the story?
          Deborah was a prophetess before she went to battle alongside Barak. Was that because God could not find a man?
          Where in the book of Judith is she called? Go back and read it again, looking for a phrase like, “the word of the Lord came to Judith”.

          The real questions are these: Do you think that the story of St. Joan of Arc — or of these other women — should be suppressed because you think it is “unnatural and inappropriate”? If God saw fit to call these women, is it your place to say He should not have? Are the failings of men so rare that such a call only goes out once every 500 years or so? And finally, What makes for a better movie, the humdrum or the extraordinary?

          • ” If God saw fit to call these women, is it your place to say He should not have? Are the failings of men so rare that such a call only goes out once every 500 years or so? And finally, What makes for a better movie, the humdrum or the extraordinary?”

            Never said it was my place, but no is the answer to your second questions.

            If you’re all down for the extraordinary go support the next SJW movie about transgendered heroes who fight against bigotry.

  10. Did His Excellency happen to mention elsewhere, that Dr. Jung became “personally” involved with a patient whom he threw down a flight of stairs, or that he considered promulgation of Munificentissimus Deus on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1950 to mean that there was a fundamental expansion of the Blessed Trinity to become a quartet, with Mary becoming one of the persons of the Godhead? Did His Excellency ever turn down the sound on one of Bill Moyers’ interviews of Joseph Campbell and note the frightening, diabolic anger in Cambell’s eyes? Or did His Excellency note that the stock characters of archtypic myth feature prominently the figures of Priest, Prophet and King, which all stem from attributes of Christ, not something that Campbell or Jung were known to promote?

    • Indeed. The good bishop fails to mention that Joseph Campbell was virulently anti-Catholic and, like his mentor, Carl Jung, was a thoroughly Gnostic dualist (wherein “good” and “evil” are not absolute; indeed, they are co-equal principles of reality and the goal of the “adept” is to keep them in “balance”). This Gnosticism permeates and, I would say, poisons the whole Star Wars ethos. Perhaps, that is why when I saw the first movie as an eleven year-old boy, my overall reaction, in contrast to my classmates, was a big “meh.”

      • One of their party commended the report that in, the Parzival of the meistersinger Wolfram von Eschenbach, the angel who brought comfort to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane was portrayed as “neutral in the war between the angels”. Which is only as good as “neither” to the question, “Whom do your serve, the Lord or mammon?”

  11. I remember excusing myself to use the restroom during the original Star Wars movie, which my date had so eagerly anticipated . . and I don’t think I really had to go, I was just bored. Haven’t bothered with the sequels or ever understood what all the fuss is/was about!

  12. Just an observation, but two series of films stand in contrast. There is the Star Wars franchise and there are the James Bond films in their various iterations. The former felt the need to offer “fresh” views and story lines; the latter stuck to common themes though updated for character and technology. Seems Star Wars is striving to add numbers to its audience in an effort to toe up the score whereas Bond is willing to pursue the tried and true with a reliable audience. For myself, three was enough for Star Wars but despite some of the sameness, I always look forward to the next Bond.

  13. I am about your age (okay, maybe a year younger). As I recall, this was the very last movie I saw at the drive-in before being closed for good.

    For me, I think the franchise started going down hill when Disney became the studio.

    That being said, Han died in Force Awakens; Luke dies in this movie. Carrie Fisher is dead so no more Leia. This “trinity” of the main characters can’t be revived and I believe THIS is the end of the road for me.

    Like Adam and Eve, nothing happens when women are in charge. It is the man who ultimately causes the downfall (in this case, possibly Ren).

    I may or may not see Episode IX.

  14. Watch Bill Moyers and “The Power of Myth” to fully understand Jospeh Campbell and his archtypes and philosophy vis a vis Star Wars.

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