Star Wars and Hemingway

Mental life takes funny bounces. Because of something else I’d seen on YouTube, I watched the three-part series on Jung. Because that series referenced something in Star Wars as an example of modern myth, I wound up re-watching the Star Wars trilogy video tape that I bought a few years ago. And because I had recently re-read For Whom the Bell Tolls, I found myself making invidious comparisons.

Now, I do realize that Star Wars, no matter how successful and artistically innovative it was, was just a series of commercial films, designed to entertain. I really do realize that. Nonetheless, as I was watching it, I repeatedly found that its assumptions look very different in 2013 than perhaps they did in the 1970s and 1980s. This morning, writing in my journal, comparisons with Hemingway’s work came to mind, and I thought, “all right, you’re annoyed. So turn it into a blog entry or let it go. Or both.”

Both. At least, I hope both. The blog entry is a lot more certain than letting it go.

Of course Star Wars has likeable characters. But look at the attitude it embodies.

  • Everybody is in love with machines. Access to high technology is assumed, and of course celebrated. These rebels hiding from the empire have somehow constructed and maintained a fleet! (And, since the empire controls all the real estate, the rebels apparently built their fleet and paid their men without taxing anybody!)
  • Warfare is easy and fun, if scary. Your own losses are irreplaceable and are worthy of great grief (of course no major character among your friends will be killed or even irreparably harmed) but killing others has no consequences and doesn’t matter, provided that they are of the enemy.
  • Darth Vader, who is contemptuous to his subordinates and abjectly subservient to the emperor (though this is softened by the emperor’s manner toward him), is supposed to be the bad guy, but he is built so as to inspire a sneaking admiration for his power and ruthless efficiency.

I could go on.

By contrast, look at Hemingway’s book (I haven’t seen the movie; God knows what they did with it). The old man, Anselmo, sees that the enemy is a man like himself. He recognizes that it is his duty to kill him, but he knows that it is wrong and thinks that after the war is over, they should do a great penance to atone for so much killing. For that matter, Robert Jordan sees it more or less the same way. He knows that good and evil are shared among all, that it is never all good on one side, all evil on the other. They – and indeed all the guerrilla band – know that warfare is brutal as well as dangerous, unfair as well as chancy. They know that the good guys don’t always win, and that sometimes they don’t even remain good guys.

What a world of difference there is, in level of being, between Hemingway’s book that deals with the real world, and the Star Wars movies that make a cartoon of warfare in order to please and excite teenage boys.


4 thoughts on “Star Wars and Hemingway

  1. Frank, Excellent comparisons and connections, however, my conclusion is: Hemingway’s work is full of soul,expressing wisdom, understanding, tenderness, a oneness of universal intelligence, while Star Wars mirrors too well what what we are witnessing today in Drone attacks that are made by “boys” and contemporary warfare that is making the “enemy” other and non human while dramatizing our military as heroes who are making a great sacrfice. Could Lukas have mirrored our collective adolescent energy which seems to have become the norm in our day? The recent revelations of what is going on in Cuba for instance with force feeding those protesting is a horror to me. The human rights organizations have called this war crimes. Yesterday I listened to a former Vet read his poetry about how we are a nation at war that has no sense of what we are doing to others or that there are real consequences. These are important topics that will hopefully be explored on more than just on Memorial Day. I read your Hemingway book 3 times. I feel more intimate with the author now. Many thanks.

    1. I agree on both counts, Hemingway’s depth and Star Wars’ cartoonish view of the world, glamorizing warfare and polarization. I once had a conversation with a van driver in Colorado. I said (quoting somebody, but I don’t remember who it would have been) to the effect that America’s problem is that it thinks it is Luke Skywalker, but it’s really Darth Vader. He said, in some excitement: “They’re kin! They’re flesh and blood,” and of course, that’s true.

  2. For me the difference is in the degree of complexity. (Teenaged boys aren’t too good at that, last I checked.) P.S. I don’t often comment but I do read and appreciate your blog.

    1. I think that’s true, although I do take the point another reader made, that teens can learn good lessons from watching bad behavior, too. Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.