A couple of weeks ago, I got a strange urge to see Revenge of Sith. Maybe I just wanted to reassure myself that Lucas’ three new Star Wars films really were that bad. I don’t know. But, at any rate, this kicked off a spat of watching all six Star Wars films. (Which, to put it more accurately, meant watching the first thirty minutes or so of each film before falling asleep on the couch. We’re an old married couple now.)
Star Wars get some press in conversations about Buddhism. So watching them again, I felt like writing about it, but it seemed like an old topic. A tired one. And then the Tricycle Editor’s Blog linked to this list from Green Cine a couple of days ago, “The Most Spiritually Affecting Buddhist Movies.”
Sith was number four.
That’s right. You heard me. Revenge of the Sith. Number four. Beating out Wheel of Time. Nudging out American Beauty which got barely an “honorable mention.”
There’s several reasons why I think this a travesty of Meaningless Internet Lists That No One Really Cares About But Provide Good Fodder For Blog Posts. First, it’s the recurring assumption that “the Force” or the “Jedi Order” is somehow a Buddhist symbol. At least this article claims that the Force only is “a rough mix of Taoism (which influenced Zen)”; but, of course, that’s a little historically simplistic. But I would argue that the Jedi aren’t Buddhists at all. If anything, they’re a gang of well-trained thugs hired by the Senate or the Empire to protect its interests. In that light, they’re similar to medieval samurai; samurai (and Asian martial arts in general) may have been inspired by Buddhist themes and concepts; but then again, what wasn’t? It’s a little like saying secular Christmas celebrations are infused with Christian themes. Of course they are. We live in a society with Christian hegemony. Big deal. Simply spouting platitudes like “your focus determines your reality” hardly makes you enlightened.
Moreover, Sith is a revenge story devoid of redemption. Sure, Yoda says that classically platitudinous line, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Whatever. The only thing Buddhist about that is the word suffering. And suffering (duhkha) is caused by a whole lot of stuff, not just anger. I mean, this is supposed to be a list of spiritually affecting films. If you want to include a Star Wars film on this list, I’d say Return of the Jedi.
I know, I know. Dancing teddy bears. But at least Jedi has that element of redemption. At least its basic message is that there is an innate goodness in Annakin that can be pulled out from behind the silly plastic mask. And I would argue that the path away from suffering is the crux of the issue in Buddhism; not suffering. Not a self-righteous Jedi knight who ” calmly sits in a meditative posture in order to prepare to face the villain.”
Like I said. I’ve been watching too much Star Wars lately. But I’ve needed a mental distraction from revising the dissertation into a publishable book. You heard that right. Barely out of grad school and already working on a book.