Star Wars Probably Taught You Some Dumb, Wrong Shit
Star Wars taught most of us some dumb, wrong shit.
No, no, it’s OK. Hear me out.
I’m right here with you. I too learned some dumb, wrong shit from Star Wars — in particular from the Jedi — and I didn’t realize entirely how dumb and wrong it all was until fairly recently.
I say this as a devoted fan of the Star Wars franchise. I have a Rebel Alliance tattoo, one femme Han Solo and two Jedi cosplays in my closet, what is probably an unreasonable amount of Star Wars merch in my home and my cat is named Leia. I love this shit. There are some people who love it more than me — I haven’t read every EU (now Legends) novel that has ever existed or played every video game ever made or read every issue of every comic, and I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of every single minor character in the Mos Eisley Cantina — but I have definitely long surpassed the level of Casual Fan.
I have daydreamed about being a Jedi for much of my life.
And I’m siding with Luke in The Last Jedi. It’s time to let those fuckers die out.
Why this sudden animosity for everyone’s favorite space warrior monks?
OK, so the thing about monastic orders is that they mostly work best when they exist at a remove from the everyday world. But is that how the Jedi do things? Oh, hell no. They’re all up in worldly business all the damn time. And yet they try to do that while maintaining a strict tradition of emotionless non-attachment.
So, like, on the surface it might sound pretty OK to have a neutral peacekeeping force made up of people who have been trained since childhood to keep their emotions in check and react calmly and rationally to tense situations. If we trained our cops in the U.S. like that, you might think, maybe there’d be a lot fewer faces of dead black kids running through the veins of our social media.
But hold up for a second and think about the actual Jedi you’ve seen onscreen. Did any of them ever live up to this ideal? No. No, they did not. And do you know why they did not? Because it’s fucking impossible to be unattached to the world and still care enough about the world to fight for order and peace and justice in it.
A couple weeks ago I wrote an essay here on Literate Ape in favor of liberal anger at members of the Trump administration. In response to it, I got the following comment: “Preaching hate and violence is not the answer.”
Listen. No matter what Yoda told you, anger isn’t the enemy of goodness and it isn’t the same thing as hate or violence. Sure, anger can be expressed violently, but that isn’t the only way to express it. Sure, you might feel hate toward someone you’re angry at, but I’ve also been very angry at people I love very much. You’re allowed to be angry when someone does something hurtful to you. You’re allowed to be angry when someone does something morally abhorrent. You’re allowed to be angry when something is unjust. Do you think abolitionists weren’t angry at the slave owners who kept people as property and denied them their humanity? Do you think the women who fought to get the vote weren’t angry at having been denied a voice in their government? Do you think the activists who fought for civil rights weren’t angry at having been denied the same rights as their fellow man? Don’t be fucking stupid. Of course they were angry. And they expressed that anger by fighting for the things that mattered to them and the things they knew were right.
It isn’t morally wrong to feel anger.
What you do with your anger might be morally wrong, but it also might not be — you’re in control of your own actions, and if you do something shitty and wrong with your anger, that’s your fault, not the anger’s.
But the Jedi act like you can bypass any problems like this altogether by just opting out of emotions entirely.
There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no passion, there is serenity. These are basic tenets of the Jedi code, and holy fuck, what a terrible thing to teach a child. And remember, the Jedi do teach these things to children — very young children whom they’ve taken away from their lives and their families, and who are undoubtedly excited because, I mean, you’re going to get to build your very own laser sword eventually and that’s obviously fucking rad, but also scared and lonely and confused because some little green jagoff is telling you that you have to just stop missing your mom and your pet womp rat Snuffles and your single-biome home planet because fuck your feelings, you fucking snowflake.
It’s wildly unhealthy to suppress and vilify all strong emotions. It’s no wonder Jedi fall to the dark side like I fall for obnoxious men (read: with some frequency). No one’s ever taught them what to do with the emotions that they’re inevitably going to feel — the Jedi teachings on managing your emotions amount to: Have you tried, like, not having them? Meditation is cool.
So what do you do when you’re a Jedi and you’re suddenly having emotions and just don’t have them isn’t working, no matter how much meditation you do? Well, you could wallow in your emotions and be an abject failure of a Jedi (womp womp). Or you could join the Sith and stop getting shat on for having feels.
Note that this is not a defense of the Sith; they’re not actually any better than the Jedi, they’re just bad in a different way. Letting your emotions be in charge of all your choices and prioritizing “it feels good” over “it’s the right thing” is no healthier a way to live than suppressing all of your emotions. The Jedi martyr themselves to an absurd and unattainable zen ideal, while the Sith are narcissists of the highest order. Both sides deny their adherents the tools and training to live an emotionally responsible and healthy life.
Seriously, look at Anakin and tell me the whole fucking galaxy wouldn’t be a lot different if anyone had ever bothered to teach him some basic coping skills. How do you healthily process grief? Not by murdering a shitload of Sand People. How do you productively face your fears? Not by letting some creepy old dude convince you that the only way to prevent them from coming true is to go on another murder rampage. How do you appropriately respond when the froyo place is out of coconut? Not by murdering the owner and all the patrons.
You can’t unsubscribe from your feelings. You can't just stomp them down and expect that they’ll never come back up and smack you in the face at an inopportune time. I promise you it doesn’t work; I’ve learned this lesson the hard way myself. I tried to follow the path of the light side, tried to accept a difficult situation and manage my emotions by just not having them so strongly. I drowned my anger and pain in serenity and peace. And when their corpses started to rot in there, they poisoned all of that serenity and peace and made a real mess of my emotional well-being — a mess I’m still in the process of cleaning up.
Anger is a legitimate response to a wrong. Passion drives people to fight for justice and what’s right. Grief is a sign that someone or something mattered to us. Love makes people care enough about the world to make it better. Strong emotions and even so-called negative emotions are not an enemy to be conquered and subdued, despite what the Jedi would teach. Emotions tell you things, and you should listen to them — though not always act upon them — and learn to value and coexist with them.
The path to goodness does not begin with burying your own needs and desires and feelings. The path to evil does not begin with allowing yourself to feel anger or grief. These absurdly extremist ideas make for pithy soundbites but don’t actually hold up to any real scrutiny. It’s time we all let the Jedi and their emotionally repressive bullshit die. Let the Sith die, too. Let go of whatever dumb, wrong lessons you learned from any of them. The galaxy needs fewer Jedi and fewer Sith.
It probably needs more therapists.