Star Wars, the New Age roots of Jedi philosophy

Roberto Marchesini

Star Wars, including the last chapter, is an epic saga like few others. Its most philosophical dialogues are however imbued with a clearly visible New Age culture. George Lucas, the creator of the saga, was inspired by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), historian of religions, near to the Gnostic exoterism of Jung.

I finally managed to see the last (but not the last) film of the Star Wars saga, entitled The Last Jedi. And, as usual, I gave a reading inconsistent with the reviews I read.

Yes, it’s true, it’s an epic film; Disney, but still epic. Is it unusual for an adventurous saga? It is also true that there are swords (lasers), which we like very much; and an ancient chivalric order. Great. There is also the theme of the father: hand on the heart and standing at attention. But there is also something else, much more than that.

I am not referring to Chewbacca who becomes vegan; or to that kind of penguins who smelled a lot of marketing. I refer to an absolutely enlightening dialogue, which confirms what I had long thought about the Lucas saga. We are on the island where the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, took refuge; and where he reached an aspiring knight, Rey. Luke agrees to train (in three lessons) Rey: brings her on a rock overhanging the sea and asks her to close her eyes.

This is the dialogue between the two:

Luke: It’s not just about lifting rocks. The force binds everything together.

Rey: Ok, but what is it?

Luke: Close your eyes. Breathe, Now reach out. (…) What do you see?

Rey: The island. Life. Death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.

Luke: And between it all?

Rey: Balance and energy. A force.

Luke: And inside you?

Rey: Inside me, the same force.

All clear? Clear! No? Maybe it’s better to take a step back … In the sixties of the last century, the young George Lucas attended film courses at the University of Southern California. What’s strange? Well, everything that happened in California in the sixties was rather strange: psychedelia, drugs, Vedic religions, sexual liberation … An entire movement that found one of its clots in Esalen, an “institute” that had a great influence in US culture of the second half of the last century. One of Esalen’s gurus was, for example, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987). Born a Catholic, Campbell approached the religions of the Native Americans, then the Vedic ones, and finally the Gnostic exoterism of Jung. He studied several “archetypes”, including that of the hero. According to Campbell, this archetype has some immutable and universal characteristics: a mysterious birth; a complicated relationship with the father; the withdrawal from society and the learning of an esoteric teaching thanks to a guide; the return to society and the fulfillment of a mission, often thanks to a weapon that only he (or she) can use.

These reflections ended up in a book (The Hero of a Thousand Faces) on which Campbell gave several lessons to Esalen. Do you remember something? Perhaps the plot of … Star Wars? In fact, Lucas read and appreciated Campbell’s book. When the original trilogy ended, Lucas invited Campbell to see all three films together, to thank him for his contribution.

Now, let’s re-read the dialogue between Luke and Rey: there is an impersonal cosmic energy that involves the whole universe; we are simply a small particle of that energy. This energy manifests itself as a balance of opposites (life, death, heat, cold, peace, violence). Pure new age, the same new age that Campbell and others taught at Esalen. The famous force is not Good, but a balance between good and evil. Good and evil (like all Gnostic opposites) need each other, coexist, are in each other. Let’s think about it: the sith and the jedi … the bad that is trained by the good … the conflict, in the good as in the bad, between the dark side and the luminous side of the strength … I repeat: force is not good, but the balance between good and evil, the Gnostic and Jungian “coniunctio oppositorum.”

Remember Episode I – “The Phantom Menace”? Master Qui-gon Jinn recognizes in the little Anakin Skywalker the predestined one to bring balance in force, not to make the bright side of force prevail on the dark side. Oh yes, because the force also has a dark side … In the event that this interpretation appears drawn out of the blue, here are the words of George Lucas in person: “I wanted to have this mythological base because I was basing the film on idea that the Force has two sides, the good side, the bad side, and both need to be there. Most religions are built on this, whether it is called yin and yang, God and the devil – everything is built on the push-pull tension created by two sides of the equation. From the beginning, this was the key theme of Star Wars” (editor’s translation).

In case it’s not clear yet, let’s go back for a moment to the last jedi. At one point, Master Yoda appears to Skywalker and addresses these words: “Ah, Skywalker…still looking to the horizon. Never here! [pokes Luke with his walking stick] Now, hmm? The need in front of your nose!” Now: it will be a coincidence, but the “here and now” was a slogan of Esalen, invented by one of his gurus, the psychologist Fritz Perls (1893-1970). Star Wars is therefore a new age saga? If it was said by the same jedi, we must believe …


(From La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, 2018©AP. Used with permission)


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