Forcing the Balance, Or How I Learned to Stop Worshiping Star Wars and Understand Myself


Episode V: The Force is Strong with This One

As obvious as it all had suddenly seemed, though, some implications of this new understanding took their sweet time to occur to me. It wasn’t until more than a year after that revelation that, through the coaching work Howard and I were doing with each other, some astounding questions came to mind: What if I’d known all along that the best way to live is to do what you’re best at? How different would my life have been?

Almost as immediately as my previous epiphanies had taken hold — Star Wars compelling me to pursue filmmaking, Ishmael compelling me to pursue the systemic worldview, Creativity
and Avery Point compelling me to return to school, and Quinn’s modest email reply putting everything together — I came to a profoundly deeper understanding of my life when I asked myself these questions. I pondered how things would have turned out if I’d simply focused on music, the talent that was so clear even when I was so very young. I thought about what would have happened if I’d taken all the energy and time that I’ve since put into any number of pursuits that haven’t led me to an enjoyable livelihood and given those resources to music instead, if I’d given that early talent a lifetime of nurturing.

The prospect terrified me.

All I’ve ever really longed for was to have some sense of personal accomplishment through making a living in way that was meaningful to me. Instead, I’ve become very good at a number of things, a jack of many trades, but a master of none. I’ve become a consummate generalist. Indeed, it is the generalist in me that was capable of coming to understand the many different pieces that needed to be brought together from various fields to create my masters thesis and to come to understand the systemic worldview to the extent that I have. Yet that very understanding has led me to question the value of being the generalist that I am, since being that way has not provided me with the accomplishment, meaning and livelihood I’ve always sought.

Had I instead become a specialist and focused on music, at minimum, I’m sure I could have made a living as a musician and/or composer and found what I sought in both the doing of the job itself and in the reactions of others. To even consider the maximum, though, was too much. To this day, I haven’t fully thought it through, because each time I’ve tried, I was filled with such a sense of loss, loss for what might have been, for whatever grand scenario I might have dreamed up for my accomplishments in music. If I’d gone any further in my thinking, I was certain that I’d become despondent to an extent matched only by a handful of times I’d felt massive rejection in the face of an extremely intense romantic crush.

And what about that rejection? If I’d been more true to myself, more self-satisfied from the start, might I not have been rejected so often? Might I have had the confidence to have spoken up with certain romantic targets who I never even bothered to actually do anything at all about for fear of rejection? What of other emotional and personal issues? Would I be so short tempered? Would I be as selfish as I am now? As judgmental of others? Would I have such little empathy in my communication with others?

Indeed, it seemed that to think about this anymore was unthinkable. I had the distinct sense that I was on the cusp of seeing the entirety of the universe, and that if I allowed my eyes to look at it, I’d find nothing there but a void, an abyss.

It was suddenly clear what had happened with my life, why I didn’t have the things I’d always wanted. Quite simply, it was because I was spread thin. I’d indulged in many things, and there was nobody around me who knew any better than to let me indulge. How could there be? We live in the culture we live in, and almost nobody knows how to make themselves truly happy.

No, instead we uphold the ideal of the well-rounded person, the person who is good at many things, like I am. The person who gets good grades in every subject, like I did. The person who has no weaknesses — and that’s where the ideal becomes an impossible myth, because everybody has weaknesses. Nobody can ever become truly well-rounded. And if we could, would we want to? After all, the fully well-rounded person doesn’t need anybody. Indeed, here is perhaps the most insidious way that our culture drives us apart from each other, denies attachment. It tells us that we all need to be our own be-all and end-all, that our ultimate personal achievement would be to make everyone else useless to us. Well, that’s no way to be human.

And while we’re not upholding the well-rounded ideal, we’re settling for fun and games. Never mind finding out what makes us most satisfied and making sure we have a chance to do it as often as possible, letting our greatest enjoyment flow from what is, in the end, actually most enjoyable. Let’s find another recipe to tingle our tastebuds into submission. Another decoration for our walls and another bauble for our bodies, to make our world and ourselves look pretty enough to keep our minds off what’s inside. Another game to play so we can look back at our day and know we had a bit of fun. Let’s take another vacation that we can only pay for because we’re working a job that pays us enough to afford to get away from it. Let’s pursue recreation whenever possible to distract us from the fact that the selves we’d created in the first place aren’t worth recreating. Even for those of us who aren’t capable of or interested in being well-rounded in a culturally respectable way, we still find ourselves compelled to seek the equally acceptable cultural goal of a good time. And that’s just another way to ensure that we spread ourselves so thin that there can be no substantial part of us left with any resources to try to make anything substantially better for ourselves. Well, that’s no way to be human either. Rather, the best we can hope is to cultivate what we do best with maximal support and minimal distraction.

And for me, Star Wars was the biggest distraction of all. It was huge, splashy, successful, alluring. It instilled me with an obsession for film, an obsession I’ve pursued along with many other things. The results have been serviceable, likely above average. I’ve made a few decent short films, written a few decent plays and screenplays, come up with a number of what I think are good ideas for feature films. But in comparison to what I can do with music, even now with only a fraction of my life having been devoted to fostering my musical talents, my work in film pales in comparison.

It then occurred to me that perhaps the difficulty I’d had in writing Forcing the Balance had something, everything, to do with all of this. Here I was trying to write an essay about how substantially meaningless the Star Wars films had suddenly become despite, or even because of, George Lucas’ attempt to infuse them with greater meaning than was actually there. Yet it hadn’t yet occurred to me that my lifelong obsession with film, which started with Star Wars and continued to the present, reflected much the same thing. There was no way around the fact that my cinematic attachments had, in retrospect, sapped my life of much meaning. Yet I continued to imagine that I’d find my greatest successes there. How could I complete this essay without having to face up to this gaping hole in my existence? I couldn’t. And, indeed, I didn’t.

The greatest irony of all is that George Lucas wasn’t the only person trying to infuse Star Wars with greater meaning. Here I was, talking about how Star Wars could have exemplified my worldview, if only… If only. That was the key. It’s not that my interpretation of the Star Wars films was wrong or misguided — it all still seems very valid to me. Rather, the salient point is that the real conclusion of my interpretation was that, for someone with my worldview, the films simply meant nothing at all. And a film that means nothing at all isn’t worth spending so much time analyzing, much less founding one’s life path upon.

The films simply didn’t exemplify my worldview, but I was trying to make them do so. I was trying to inject meaning where it did not, could not, exist. I was trying to paint a scenario in which the Force could be balanced on my terms, but it couldn’t be done. In the end, who was forcing the balance, George Lucas, or myself? I think we’re both guilty, but I think I did it far more strongly than even Lucas did.

I look back on all that time, nearly 28 years, a full 80% of my life, obsessed with films and obsessed with Star Wars, all that time playing with the toys, all that time looking forward to every last sequel, TV special and DVD extra, all that time writing more than a dozen versions of Forcing the Balance, and for what?

So that that I could see that Star Wars is fundamentally about betrayal.

How Palpatine betrays the Federation? How Anakin betrays the Jedi? Yes, but there’s much more.

It’s about how the Jedi betray themselves by failing to understand their prophecy. How they betray the Federation by consequently failing to handle the Sith. How they betray the entirety of humanity by idealizing detachment from their own very human emotions.

It’s about how George Lucas betrayed moviegoers by giving them poorer storytelling in the new trilogy compared to the original. How he betrayed the monument that was his original trilogy by messing with its mythology in a way that undermines its credibility.

It’s about how the entire Star Wars phenomenon led me to betray my best self.

In the end, though, Vader/Anakin betrays Palpatine, and in doing so he redeems himself. And Star Wars is also about redemption for me, since it’s through attempting to understand Star Wars that I came to understand myself.

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