I am Star Wars fan. I was hooked the moment my five-year old eyes saw the words A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away scroll up the theater screen opening Episode IV. Given my adoration, you can imagine my awe and horror when my husband first revealed to me that he only has lukewarm affection – at best – for the original trilogy. He could not even keep the main characters names straight. How is it even possible that a person cannot distinguish Han Solo from Luke Skywalker?! At the time he made this unbelievable confession, we were only dating. Through a forced smile, I did a quick internal and panic-led evaluation of my relationship. Could a man who does not like Star Wars really be the guy for me? Should I rethink this whole thing?
After the initial shock of this news wore off, in order to conclude my analysis, I took a cue from none other than Darth Vader. Spoiler Alert: if you have not seen the original Star Wars trilogy, I am about to give away the big reveal so you may want to stop reading and run immediately to your television. Also, unless you are younger than fifteen, what on earth have you been doing all this time? But I digress.
Like the great William Shakespeare before him, George Lucas takes us on an epic tale of good versus evil only to reveal that the lines between good and evil are often very blurry. (Yes, I compared Star Wars to Shakespeare and I stand by this comparison.) Darth Vader, second in command to Emperor Palpatine, head of the evil Galactic Empire, is revealed early on as the villainous foe of Luke Sykwalker, Princess Leia, and the rest of the Rebellion. Vader does any number of horrific things in the first movie including choking people with his Jedi mind tricks, kidnapping the Princess, and blowing up Alderaan,- an entire planet of innocent people. Needless to say, when it is revealed in epic Shakespearean proportion that Vader is Luke’s father, the hero Skywalker is less than thrilled. But … just when you think Vader cannot get any worse, he redeems himself by sacrificing his own life to save his son Skywalker from being, shall we say, electrocuted by the Emperor.
Vader’s redemption caused me, at a very young age, to reflect upon the complexity of human beings. His self-sacrifice serves as an example of the fact that humans are neither all good or all bad but actually much more complex than any one-dimensional character. As humans we are each a unique reflection of our own experiences, choices, and circumstances. We are as nuanced and varied as our own fingerprints. Don’t believe me? Need a less obvious Star Wars example … how about Han Solo? Solo begins the original trilogy as a selfish (albeit devastatingly charismatic and handsome), narcissistic, smuggler who cares only about his own enrichment. After proclaiming his loner status and refusing to help the Rebellion, Solo’s conscience gets the better of him and he risks his life at the eleventh hour to assist Luke Skywalker in a harrowing space battle to defeat the Empire. So, what is this lesson George Lucas is trying to teach us?
Simply, Star Wars reminds us that people cannot be categorized as either good or evil. Good people may occasionally do bad things and a traditionally bad actor can redeem himself. There are enumerable examples of similar stories from the Bible to Romeo and Juliet.
Good guys and bad guys, friends or foes, for me or against me – why do humans tend to categorize others this way? Psychologists root this sort of “black and white thinking” in our brain’s tendency to over-simplify stimuli in our social worlds. According to Psychology Today, humans tend to group people into categories in their minds. While categorizing people may have helped our ancient ancestors determine who they could count on for support, such oversimplification can be damaging today. One reason is because research has shown we treat people very differently if they are in our psychologically constructed group or not. To consider how damaging this could be, reflect on whether you would want your personal legacy to be based off your biggest mistake or worst day? In this context it is easy to see that oversimplification in our social perceptions can be the basis of many problems in our modern world.
Unlike the Emperor Palpatine, people do not easily fall into categories of good or evil, smart or dumb, hardworking or lazy, loving or not. What is so fascinating about humans is how different we are from one another and frankly from one day to the next. We have our good days and our bad days and many days in between. While my husband does not like Star Wars, I ultimately concluded this should not automatically disqualify him from relationship status. Despite even that epic flaw, he is a pretty good guy. So, like Darth Vader taught me, I decided to give him a chance because humans are complex, layered, and nuanced. We are neither all good nor all bad. Humans make mistakes. We are flawed. The best we can do is learn from our mistakes, look inward for our flaws and try to make subtle changes, and forgive others for their mistakes. So dear husband, I dedicate this article to you. Remember to look for the grey areas and … may the force be with you!
And MAY THE 4TH BE WITH YOU – when you join CNFLA for GIVE FOR GOOD 2021 on May 4 to help raise funding for North Louisiana’s vital nonprofits at giveforgoodnla.org.
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on April 24, 2021.