“Darth Obama!” my young apprentice shouted. “One of my so-called Facebook friends posted a Darth Obama meme! And he wants to go see the opening of ‘The Force Awakens’ with us.”
He sputtered before continuing, “The guy is radically religious and wears Jedi T-shirts. Doesn’t he get it?”
“Get what?” I asked.
“Do you see any crosses on the Millennium Falcon? A Star of David on an X-Wing fighter? Do you ever see anyone in the Empire bowing to Mecca before battle?”
He sputtered again, giving me an opportunity to use the disarming Jedi mind trick of comedy.
“You sure his Darth Obama meme wasn’t a really sophisticated poke at, ‘He who shall remain nameless’—the real estate tycoon, reality show wizard presidential candidate that some say was born of a virgin on the dark side of Mordor?”
“Don’t mix myths!” he warned. “And, that’s not even funny. Stay away from Voldemort, Harry Potter, Gandalf, Frodo, and especially the virgin birth thing at Christmas. Stick to ‘Star Wars’!”
“You favor a literal interpretation?” I chided.
“The Farce Awakens!” the young lad harrumphed. “If a phrase is literal, it doesn’t need to be interpreted, does it? Like, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ for instance.”
“‘Literal interpretation’ is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Every word we will ever hear is filtered through our own experiences and beliefs. We interpret and re-interpret everything ever written: The Constitution. The Koran. The Bible. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Seems pretty literal to me. But what do I know? I have rehearsal.”
The Force is strong in this one.
The young lad strolled to his rehearsal at the Community Arts Center and I wandered downtown until I found a cup of Joe and refuge at Old Books on Front. I picked up a copy of Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth,” and sat comfortably in a nook in front of the piano.
Farce or not, the young lad raised some interesting questions. Why has “Star Wars” been popular for nearly 40 years among people of all races, colors and creeds? And who owns our heroes? Do Yoda and Obi-Wan embody the principles of Conservatives, Liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, or Communists? Can any special interest group own our heroes?
My young friend’s anger will get in his way, at least according to Yoda. “Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side of the Force they are,” said he.
I’m actually tickled when friends I fundamentally disagree with on matters of policy and conduct post memes of heroes I identify with. It reminds me that I don’t own any of the heroes I admire. It helps me remember that, despite our differences, there may be a common human attraction to strive for that is heroic.
The ability of people with fundamentally different opinions on moral conduct to identify with the same stories and heroes also tend to support Joseph Campbell’s scholarly work in comparative mythology. It tends not to support the absolute truth of the tenets of any particular religion or the world view of any particular political ideology. And Joe’s scholarship strongly influenced George Lucas and the whole “Star Wars” saga.
According to Campbell the hero may have a thousand faces, but he is on a predictably perilous journey of trials and transformations—sort of like the stories woven around Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and even Ebenezer Scrooge and Luke Skywalker Often the hero undergoes a difficult transformation from a child guided by unfocused or self-focused desires to a more mature individual guided by concerns for the greater good.
I looked around the shop, thoroughly enjoying the aroma of old books and coffee. I was glad to see Ulysses, Frodo, King Arthur, Harry Potter, and even Dickens’ Pip with his “Great Expectations.” Two miles of heroes journey to the abyss and back again!
The whole experience filled me with the Christmas spirit because I remembered that if anyone owns our heroes, we all do. Heroes are common property; a human thing. And with miles of heroic stories on these walls, our plays and on film, isn’t it possible that our entire species is on a heroic quest, an epic journey of transformation from ignorance and selfishness, to wisdom and compassion?