For all you wondering why your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all littered in Star Wars memes today, here is the answer –– it's Star Wars Day. The puns are strong with Star Wars fans, and every May going back as far as 1979, the much-beloved space opera gets yet another injection into the public consciousness. Are we getting tired of it? There seems to be no evidence of such intergalactic fatigue.
Star Wars is alive and well, and in that we should find some comfort. It has been with us since 1977 and has been a pillar of American pop-culture for multiple generations — offering lessons that transcend many of the artificial barriers dividing Americans today. In case you have forgotten, here are just a few of the important lessons Star Wars has given us that are relevant today.
Look beneath the surface. More than once, Star Wars characters are faced with the challenge of digging past their preconceived notions and ideas to find truth. Obi-Wan Kenobi famously tells Luke Skywalker, "Your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them." While Luke takes that lesson to heart in his famous attack-run on the Death Star, he forgets the lesson when meeting an unseemly and deranged alien on a backwater planet. Luke is searching for a great Jedi master and in Yoda he saw only a lowly hermit. When Luke committed himself to looking beyond appearances and first impressions, he was able to see a father in Darth Vader, lost and able to be found. In this era of sharp political divide and cultural fragmentation, it is worth remembering the monumental victory Luke achieved by seeing the humanity in a villain that his closest allies considered irredeemable.
Stand by your friends and be yourself. Eight Star Wars movies thus far have showcased the power of reaching out to others and forming bonds of friendship. Rugged individualism is a consistent trait in most all of Star Wars leading characters, but it's always coupled with compassion for others. Han Solo didn't come back to save Luke's skin at the end of "A New Hope" because he had to, he did it because Luke stuck his neck out for him too, and it was the right thing to do. Groups of relatively normal people with a shared goal and willingness to work together can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Fear can lead you down a dark path. Darth Vader is a villain born of fear. Fear of things you cannot control, fear of change and fear of that which you do not understand. Anakin Skywalker let fear rule his life and guide his actions time and time again, in order to have more perceived control over his environment. Yoda warned Anakin in his younger years that "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering." Truer words have never been spoken. If Anakin had heeded them, he may not have lived out the majority of his life suffering underneath the metallic shell known as Darth Vader.
There are no "pathetic" life forms. Jar Jar Binks quite literally stumbled into Star Wars in "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," and while he annoyed all those around him and audiences too, one character defended his value. Qui-Gon Jinn famously saved Binks from being run over by a battle tank on Naboo, and went on to save young Anakin Skywalker from slavery on Tatooine. Qui-Gon's padawan, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, had only this to say about Anakin joining the team, "Why do I get the sense we've picked up another pathetic lifeform?" Jar Jar Binks may not have had a brilliant political career, as we saw in "Attack of the Clones," but this clumsy misfit would have been left to die on Naboo by a younger Obi-Wan because he was deemed somehow less important. Binks helped negotiate an alliance between the Naboo and the Gungans. He served as a senator. From Jar Jar Binks to the Ewoks we see our leading characters in Star Wars interact with lifeforms they instinctively want to disregard. And every time they are shown the error in their ways. All life has value.
Star Wars has remained at the top of box offices and toy store shelves for 40 years because it continues to resonate with all kinds of people and stay relevant. There are a multitude of other timeless lessons you can draw from Star Wars to share with your kids and discuss with your friends — but on this May 4, maybe Star Wars could bring you together on Facebook with that old friend or colleague whose posts on politics always strain your relationship. Maybe Star Wars can help you go beneath that surface.
It seems we've lost many of the things we once considered to be part of a shared culture and language, but Star Wars remains here for us still. Reach out and use it.
May the Fourth be with you, always.
Stephen Kent (@Stephen_Kent89) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the spokesperson for Young Voices and host of Beltway Banthas, a Star Wars & politics podcast in D.C.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.