The Tao of Star Wars

I’m a few decades late, but I finally finished watching the original Star Wars trilogy. I’ve also been reading a translation of the Tao Te Ching and couldn’t help but notice how the films illuminate a subtle concept from the philosophy: weakness over strength.

I’m fascinated by the strength of weak things, how weakness that flows can be stronger than strength that is rigid. The palm tree sways with the wind and stays standing as the tough oak tree falls. The water nourishes the roots in soil that a shovel could never penetrate. Passivity is not passive. Weakness is not weak. Strength is not strong.

The supreme good is like water
Which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

Chapter 8, Tao Te Ching. Translation by Stephen Mitchell

At the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Luke defeats the Empire not through his lightsaber and X-Wing, but through weakness. Only when he tosses his weapon aside and lets Emperor Palpatine repeatedly electrocute him without reaction does he awaken the humanity inside his father, Darth Vader. Vader’s humanity had remained hidden for the entire trilogy, as Luke attacked, reacted, and fought back repeatedly. Luke won by allowing the evil of the Empire to be as clear and reflective through their actions as possible. He held up a mirror to his father, and Darth Vader saw the evil for himself. Luke did not give up or get cynical or give into nihilism either. His non-action was active. “I’ll never turn to the dark side.” It was a conscious choice that telegraphed to his father: look at what you condone, look at who you are. That wasn’t reactive, cowardly, or resentful. That was true power.

Practice not-doing,
And everything will fall into place.

Chapter 3, Tao Te Ching. Translation by Stephen Mitchell

Often, restraining our strength is powerful. Force of will may not reflect the will of the Force. Listen, don’t talk. Flow, don’t react.

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