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  • Matthew Emerson

Jedi, Sith, and The Cult of "Feels" - How Star Wars Explains Emotional Development


Let's be honest, the Imperials always had the classiest look.

I remember the first time I watched Star Wars. I'm sure most of us can. Nerd and non-nerd alike can agree that Star Wars changed cinema in a profound way. But I'm not here to discuss cinematography, I'm here to examine a deeper truth about ourselves that Star Wars masterfully illustrates. That being, the great tug of war between thoughts and feelings that goes on every day in minds and hearts.


In this day and age, we live in a cult of "feels." We are encouraged to be hyper-aware of our feelings,. We want to make sure we feel okay. We want to make sure we feel valued. Carl Rogers, the great counselor of the late 20th Century worked on genuineness and authenticity with his clients. He worked with his clients to make them more congruent, ensuring their inner-self and the outer-self agreed. This is all well and good, but it doesn't promote much change. If we are constantly chasing feeling, particularly feeling good about ourselves or our situation, we are like a dog chasing a car. We won't catch it (and we're likely to get hurt in the process). Cars go faster than dogs. No matter how hard we try, we'll never get that "good-good" feeling. We'll get glimpses of it, hell, we may even feel really good for a hot minute, but there is always a better feeling out there.


No matter how hard we try, we're never going to be perfectly happy with ourselves. I'm not being cynical here, it's just the truth. Besides, this can be a good thing! That natural discomfort ( which I wrote about here) with ourselves is what inspires growth and change. If we always just felt good about ourselves, we'd never improve, never grow, and never progress. The more we get get wrapped up in our feelings, the more we turn inwards. It's less about others or our relationships with them, but how we feel. If people get annoying, get rid of 'em. How dare they impede your quest for a good day. We've become addicted to our own feelings. The more we try satisfy them, the more numb we become to them. Pretty soon we're chasing stronger feelings, bigger highs.


And that, my friends, is where Star Wars comes in.


The cult of "feels" is represented by the Sith. Our black-cloaked baddies are pretty predictable: They embark on an obsessive quest after power and the destruction of their enemies. Two-and-a-half hours later they're alone, betrayed, and/or destroyed. Ouch. Yet, even though this never works for them, we try it daily. Like the Sith, we chase a fantasy ideal that we will never grasp in our hands.


"Peace is a lie, there is only passion..." [1]


That's the haunting first line to the Sith Code, which makes sense within the framework. There is no room for interior peace during the pursuit of passion. The more we are encouraged to feel our pain, our lusts, our happiness, the more it eludes us. There is no peace in ecstasy. Now, I'm not decrying these things. This religion of feeling was birthed out of a generation of repression. The Victorian era was burdened with sexual repression, remarked on famously by Sigmund Freud. But, that doesn't mean we possess the right to deify our feelings. Our feelings are often wrong. When we follow them zealously they become cruel and fickle gods whose wills change on a whim.



Hence, the Sith. A cult of emotions. Feelings are powerful forces that work within us. Carl Jung spilled gallons of investigating the emotional underpinnings that wire our subconscious. When our passions are uncontrolled, we become slaves to them. This is why Christians throughout history fasted, and why abstinence became so crucial to their journey of life. We fast so that we are not controlled by our stomachs. We abstain so we are not controlled by our genitals. It's not that these things are bad. Food is delicious, Sexual intimacy is to be treasured. When our urges become the pilots of life's plane, however, we very quickly spiral out of control. So, what can be done about it?


Well, let me return to Star Wars So, as it turns out, the Jedi represent the best way to live life. Set aside your feelings, understand that attachment to the world is wrong, and...Hah. Gotcha.


The Jedi offer a perfect representation of the repression of emotion that so often proceeds riotous, unrestrained indulgence. Just consider the first line of their code:


"There is no emotion, there is peace." [2]


Well, isn't that helpful. To the Jedi, not only are emotions powerful, but they are also dangerous. You can't blame them for that line of thought. It's true. Tet it does seem to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. After all, what is life without emotion? And don't ask Dan, because he'll offer a one word response: Paradise. Seriously, though. Can you even begin to imagine life without awe, passion, or wonder? Gazing over a mountain range you've just hiked. Butterflies surging in your stomach as you give red roses to your stunning date. Life is a canvas and our emotions are the paints that give it color. We're not robots.


We shouldn't try to be robots, either, Especially since repression brings way more harm than good. There's a reason why it's usually followed by an explosion of promiscuity and indulgence. The Victorian repression birthed the Sexual Revolution. Extremes are rarely, if ever, good. It's in the in between that we find what is workable. Boy, oh, boy though, is it ever hard to color inside those lines.


That said, there's a reasonable amount of space inside those lines. Total rejection of pleasure is antithetical to life itself. Pleasure points us towards the things we need. Hunger overtakes us to inform us of the need to get some bread. Now, where do we draw the lines between satisfying hunger and gluttony? That's tougher. This tension between hedonism and asceticism will follow us forever. It's a tension that can bring about gorgeous pieces of art, or horrid atrocities. Ultimately, though, that tension explains itself. It's not about worshiping or rejecting emotions. It's about using them to their proper order. Sexual hunger can bring about great gestures of romance, or terrible acts of adultery. It's up to us to channel and control our emotions.


So, that's a strike out for both teams. Too bad. It would be nice if it were so easy. I suppose we'll have to settle for forging our own destiny in the stars, writhing in a galaxy of passion, peace, and consequences.




[1] https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Code_of_the_Sith/Legends

[2] https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Jedi_Code