By Drena Griffith, Art by Brandon G. Walker
To me there’s nothing more sacred than a story. And one of the most significant stories of my childhood was the original Star Wars trilogy. So with great eagerness I spent most of December (heck, much of last year!) awaiting the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It did not disappoint. Attending the movie's release was more than an afternoon spent at the local movie theater--it was, truly, a transcendent experience! As the final credits rolled across the screen, I rested deeply, in immeasurable bliss at the restoration of my childhood essence in the reawakening of this great mythological tale.
(Given the fact that in only three weeks in theaters The Force Awakens became North America’s top-grossing film of all time, not to mention that ever since the movie’s release, from the comic book shop to the local office supply store, I have regularly encountered strangers avidly participating in passionate exchanges and swapping fan speculations, clearly I’m not the only one!)
But what is it about the power of Star Wars and the sacredness of stories in general—especially the ways certain characters and tales intersect our inner lives and help us deepen our own rich experiences? In the book The Power of Myth, based on a series of interviews with mythologist Joseph Campbell, journalist Bill Moyers commented: “So the new myths will serve the old stories. . . After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, ‘Why do you go so often? He said, for the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life.’ He was in a new world of myth….” That was, admittedly, part of Star Wars creator, George Lucas' goal--to "recreate myths and the classic mythological motifs. . .I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that existed today."
But then I remember an old saying: "there’s only one story." At the end of "today", a life, an eon, the epic battle between good and evil continues. Though it’s a bold statement, perhaps true on at least some level, I believe it’s the stories we tell ourselves, and the characters and roles with which we define ourselves, that have the final say about who we are and most especially how we live.
Last November a Facebook post from Humans of New York (a blog that features photos and stories of the denizens of New York City) illustrated for me this profound, yet often subtle connection people have with character and story. This particular passage read:
“My mom knew I was getting picked on at school. I tried not to tell her, but she’d see me come home unhappy every day. She’d open up my binder and see the notes I wrote about hating everyone. She’d tell me to trust in God. And that God was always with me. And not to fight back, because God was working out justice, even if I couldn’t see it. She was the closest thing I ever had to heaven. She was like Mother Theresa. When I was around her my anger would go away. Not completely, but almost. She died when I was twenty-one of esophageal cancer. I feel like The Flash sometimes. His mother was murdered when he was a child, and he’s always obsessing about going back in time to save her. I wish I could go back to a year before they found the cancer, and say: ‘I know you don’t feel anything right now. But you should go to the hospital and get your throat checked.’”
When I first saw this man’s tender retelling of part of his life's journey, I was struck by the archetypal reference to the DC comic and television character The Flash and how this fictional being was allowing, even helping this stranger in New York City articulate and carry his very real, very human pain. I don't think such bonds at the intersection of myth and real life are rare.
Several weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing the power of symbolism while browsing Star Wars memorabilia at our local 2nd & Charles bookstore. A woman shopping nearby overheard us and joined in, speaking with pride of her own devotion to Wonder Woman— a character so beloved to her even in childhood that she pledged to her mother when she got older she would have the Amazon goddess tattooed on her thigh. It was a promise she kept! When I asked the reason for her devotion, she replied that Wonder Woman was a powerful, strong individual. Growing up at a time when she didn’t feel women were encouraged to move beyond prescribed societal roles, Wonder Woman helped her to believe in her own strength and authority.
Of course there are many such archetypes that live in my own psyche, though Luke, Han and Leia definitely all hold places of honor. Already I care about the new characters, and yet, seeing the old guardians in The Force Awakens definitely deepened my own understanding and connection. Like any powerful story, I was transported to another world while also simultaneously incubated in the womb of human struggle--that one story. But my childhood heroes have all grown older (as have I) and realized that in spite of the call of destiny and their best efforts and plans, the grand mountaintop victory, and even the power of love as a tool of redemption, their dreams didn’t quite turn out like they planned. Yet in spite of darkness, the essence of their original story--the call to adventure, the power of hope, friendship and presence, reawakens in them the next iteration of their journey.
So much like real life and yet…isn’t that ultimately why these characters matter? They enact for us the courage we need to believe in our own destinies as incarnated beings, the strength to face our difficulties, no matter what they are—and the wisdom to hold on to what matters in spite of loss, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the future where all hope lies.
Clearly Star Wars: The Force Awakens has invoked something sacred within me personally. At the same time it's also reminded me that in the grand scheme, no matter which stories we each carry within our private hearts, we are all characters in each others' myths and, overall, participants in the one great story— but not solely the one about the irreconcilable war between good and evil. That’s an old version, and it’s more than fulfilled its purpose. But digging deeper we find an even more integral one--the story of a world full of incarnated beings--the Oneness realizing itself through many multifaceted, complex lives-- and the gift of being human, with our vulnerabilities standing alongside our ability to renew our dreams and awaken to the inherent possibilities within.
“There are stories about what happened….”
“It’s true. All of it."
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