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put the Force back in the Fourth
The myth of Star Wars has become, like all great stories of our time, a replacement for religion as a modern paradigm of spiritual enlightenment. Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces, hero’s journey, etcetera. It is not the only story to achieve this, but it is one of the few that has become so ubiquitous as to merit an entire ‘holiday’ in its name. It has escaped the dominion of the nerds and found its way to the masses. You are now liable to find a member of the local sports collective who enjoys Star Wars nearly as much as you do and will unabashedly tell you how ‘sick’ the new TIE Fighters look in the latest movie. Rachel dressing as Princess Leia for Ross on FRIENDS was once a punch line - it’s now a gracious and loving cosplay. This magnitude of following has gained enough traction in our culture to manifest a day of Onanistic celebration in its own honor.
Like most holidays, the meaning of May the Fourth has been corrupted by capitalist interests, in this case the Mouse that owns the intellectual property behind it. If we can cut through the noise of frivolous new releases, theme park rides, branding deals and corporate partnerships that will make their presence known today, we can put the Force back in the Fourth. May the Fourth should be a day to reflect on what Star Wars means to you.
When I think about Star Wars, I think about being young and playing pretend. A squirt gun becomes a blaster; the automatic doors at the supermarket are opened with the swipe of a Force-wielding hand; the pocket of woods in your neighborhood is a planet with a single biome.
My wiffle ball bat was always a lightsaber – it certainly wasn’t used to hit plastic balls. One time I was leaping around the yard with it, scything away the tops of newly sprung spring flowers from their stems like hapless battle droids. I couldn’t have been older than eleven.
“You’re supposed to be picking up sticks so I can mow,” my dad said.
“I am,” I lied.
“No you’re not,” he said. “You’re running around pretending like you’re Luke Skywalker.”
“Actually, I’m Kyle Katarn,” I corrected him. I didn’t bother explaining who this was because I knew he didn’t care. It’d be impossible to explain to him that there are characters in the mythology who are wholly removed from the movies.
“You’re old enough to mow now,” he told me when we were done picking up sticks. He let me hop up on the riding mower for the first time and showed me how it worked. Of course, this riding mower became a speeder, veering between landscaping and trees to escape stormtroopers.
The resultant mowing pattern of the lawn was haphazard at best.
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you? So I don’t ever ask you to mow again? Fine, I won’t then,” my dad said.
This memory makes me think of Disney World. It’s funny, because now Star Wars and Disney are inextricably linked, but back then one of the few incorporations between the two worlds could be found at a Lego store in Downtown Disney. I was told I could pick one thing. I chose Anakin Skywalker’s pod racer and promptly put it together to fly around the hotel room.
We were at Disney World, but I didn’t want to go on rides. Rides are scary. I didn’t want to go down to the hotel pool or eat at Rainforest Café. All I wanted was to stay inside and play with my podracer.
After giving my family an admittedly difficult time, my dad wrenched it from my hands and threw it against the wall: “There, do you still want to play? Can we go now and be a family on vacation?”
These days there’s a whole part of Disney that’s supposed to immerse you in the world of Star Wars. I will probably never make the pilgrimage to this new Mecca of the religion. We don’t need to go to Disney to experience the true meanings of Star Wars. The galaxy far, far away is deep within us. We only have to visit the cave on Dagobah within ourselves to know exactly how deep it goes.
When I go there, I see what Luke saw – myself, masked in the fear of becoming my father. As I meditate on this as Yoda might do, I realize the only part of any Star Wars movie that brings me close to tears is when Luke removes his father’s helmet, desperate to bring him aboard the shuttle back to safety as the Death Star destructs:
“I’ve got to save you,” he says.
“You already have, Luke.”
What this means for me, I’m not sure. All any of us can do is take a breath, put away our targeting computers, and let Lucas take the wheel.
May the Fourth be with you.
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