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Eternal Return of the Jedi: The Phantom Menace Approaches

If, as Nietzsche suggests, eternal recurrence is all that we can expect from a god, then Star Wars is not just a science fiction film trilogy projected on a screen, but an illumination from the divine.

Megan Shaw

Issue #43, April 1999

"The question in each and every thing, 'do you want this once more and innumerable times more?' well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate confirmation and seal?"
— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, rumination 341

Nietzsche's little-known devotion to Star Wars is shyly revealed here within his flirty postulate of the theory of eternal return, the theory that everything that ever has been or ever will be is cycling through history in a loop of eternal recurrence. If, as Nietzsche suggests, eternal recurrence is all that we can expect from a god, then Star Wars is not just a science fiction film trilogy projected on a screen, but an illumination from the divine. A casual observer of the Star Wars franchise zeppelin might mistake it for just another marketing diversion — indistinguishable from the other breaths of American life, omnipresent as Coca-Cola. But Coca-Cola is not a story, and therefore its recurrence as a motif has all the resonance of the staccato whine of a telephone's busy signal.

No, Star Wars is not a thing like that, but rather a fractal compendium of everything that ever has been or ever will be. It must be so, because our commonly held faith is that the future beyond our sight lies in the stars, and there are the stars. It must be so, because the film tells us prima facie that its story takes place "A long time ago...." and there is the past. Within Star Wars lie both the unseeable future and the unknowable past knit seamlessly together. And it must be so, because within Star Wars' mythical time, writers have found inspiration for essays about the holy and the satanic alike, as well as the medieval, the future, and the '70s. If Star Wars is not a film trilogy but an illumination of the sum of the infinite, then George Lucas is revealed to be not a director, but a channeler. As channeler of the totality, he was joined until death did them part in holy mutual rapport with Joseph Campbell, the master totalitarian. Campbell's life work of assimilating all myths and summing them as One was a parallel task to Lucas' painstaking inclusion of every moment of known and unknown history into three films.

Why did Star Wars choose 1977 to manifest physically in its most complete detail? Because 1977 was the most culturally destitute year of the century, and therefore the most transparent moment in time for the past and the future to merge together in the complete form of Star Wars. Very few dimensions of culture were original to that year; the culture products were echoes of the past. All the free sex the hippies left behind was enjoyed that year on the Love Boat; all the drugs they left behind were consumed by Elvis. Bell-bottom fashion was an echo of the glamour of Marlene Dietrich, and a foreshadow of the platform-clad nineties. Nature saw this vacuum of the '70s and so abhorred it that into that black hole she poured Star Wars to absorb all those rhythms of past and future and wrap them up into a two-hour narrative. These two hours are a collage of Heidi hairdos of the '30s, stormtroopers of the '40s, be-bop rhythms of the '50s, and the aura of transcendent hope of the '60s.

The re-release of the original Star Wars film trilogy on the silver screen in 1997 came after a twenty-year hiatus. The children of 1977 are now adults with children of their own. The return of bell-bottoms synchronizes the 1990s with the 1970s. It is no coincidence that the Heidi hair reappeared in Madonna's Sex book, and that radio stations have turned their dials back to the BeeGees and Peter Frampton. Those are fragments of history occurring, recurring, now that the audience has regenerated itself.

Star Wars has a chosen people, those who were in their most formative years during Star Wars' first big-screen appearance, and who have grown their lives from the seed of exposure to Star Wars. As kids we wore Star Wars Underoos; as pre-teens we learned to care for our teeth from the Star Wars Dental Health Adventure Book; in adolescence we channeled our eroticism through visions of Han Solo and Princess Leia. This generation (sometimes referred to blandly as "X") has produced thinkers who have based many socio-philosophical treatises on Star Wars.

One example is the film Clerks, in which characters hold a discussion of the political status of contract workers. They point out that given that the Death Star employs slave labor, it is politically inconsistent for the guerrilla warriors of the Rebellion to conscientiously destroy the entire Death Star. By doing so they are taking appropriate political action against a fascist dictatorship, but at the same time they are killing perhaps hundreds of thousands of people for whose rights they are supposedly fighting.

An unpublished treatise by Star Wars-generation biblical scholar Dan Wilson responds to New Testament interpretations of Star Wars. In the book The Force of Star Wars, former Walt Disney publicist Frank Allnutt analyzes Star Wars in terms of its representations of New Testament figures. Allnutt claims that Obi-Wan Kenobi represents Christ, that Darth Vader represents Judas, and that the Emperor corresponds to Satan, while Han and Luke represent the Gentile Christians and the Hebrew Christians, respectively. In response, Wilson points out that Star Wars is just as potent a metaphor for the Old Testament story of Samuel in which Samuel, faced with the fall of a king, must choose a successor. According to Wilson, Obi-Wan Kenobi chooses Luke to be the torchbearer of the Jedi Knights to replace the fallen Darth, just as Samuel chose David to be King of Israel to replace the fallen Saul.

Now, on the cusp of the millennium, the Star Wars saga has opened a door into our world and is passing through once more. This time, due to the directionless nature of eternality, we will see an earlier part of the story than has been seen on the silver screen in this century. Infinite loops have no beginning or end, thus any attempts of ours to impose on them conventional directionalities of time and narrative are destined to remain nothing more than vain human attempts to codify the infinite. It is therefore up to us to make our own private meaning of the fact that the millenial eve manifestation of the film Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which will be released this May, tells a part of the story that we have not heard before, the story of the childhood of Luke and Leia's father, Anakin Skywalker. Perhaps it is precisely because of the millennial nature of our era that the Star Wars story brings to us this year the story of a child on the brink of discovering his power. More than any other segment of the grand narrative, this transformation of a little boy into a great wizard is itself a millennial tale, as the power that he unleashes within himself will come to transform the entire universe that he inhabits.

Six years ago, the Star Wars generation found its voice in the format of the classic underground 'zine Report from the Star Wars Generation. This 'zine had a long run in Xerox, but lasted only one glossy issue. But its death, like the recall of Star Wars from the silver screen twenty years ago, was only physical. Far from being a death of the spirit, the cancellation of Report from the Star Wars Generation was a gateway for rebirth. Like everything that is Star Wars (a tautology, because Star Wars IS everything!), how well we were disposed to want this thing once more and innumerable times more! And we were not disappointed. Though the legal anvil of Lucasfilm crushed the body of RSWG, it pulled the editorial spirit closer to the Source and transubstantiated it into the editorship of the "official" Star Wars fan magazine, the Star Wars Insider.

That drama was symbolic of the coming of age of the Star Wars generation, the gain of adult wisdom over adolescent rebellion. Since that time, the Star Wars Insider has evolved far out of Bantha Tracks, the children's plain-paper tabloid that was its original incarnation, into an adult, introspective journal. Yes, this year is the remarkable "return" of something that never left. Something that has no beginning and has no end. The black felt template for our subconscious that in the last century was dreamt of by Nietzsche. Star Wars.

Megan Shaw sleeps with a glow-in-the-dark Obi Wan Kenobi doll next to her bed. She dreams of having this essay reprinted in the Star Wars Insider.

Copyright © 1999 by Megan Shaw. All rights reserved.