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Star Wars and the Afterlife
I have questions and observations, but few answers
This post is part of the A Month of Star Wars series (experiment?). More info here.
It’s established in The Empire Strikes Back—the second Star Wars film by release date—that the afterlife is real. Or at least the people living there seem to think so.
After Luke Skywalker goes missing on the ice planet Hoth, Han Solo heroically—or foolishly, the line is often blurred with Han—decides to ride out and look for him. Given the plunging temperatures as dusk approaches, a NPC technician tells Han that his Tauntaun—ugly lizard/horse hybrids the Rebels use as mounts—will freeze before Han gets very far. Han’s response is short and to the point.
This always struck me as a bit odd and out of place. Star Wars has a hell? How does that work? Hell has clear Earth connotations, tied-up as it is with a number of our religions.
Hell also suggests the existence of a heaven. I’m not a religious scholar but it seems like you can’t have the stick of eternal damnation without the carrot of eternal relaxation. (Maybe—we’ll come back to this.)
I don’t remember a single reference to a heaven, in either the films or the various TV shows. I’ve read a slew of the expanded universe stuff too, but that was mostly long ago. A bit of googling uncovered a star system called Heaven that was introduced by a Chinese web-novel. Which is to say, definitely not canon.
(When dealing with Star Wars, one must decide what constitutes canon and what falls into the realm of sanctioned fan-fic. Personally, I only treat live action as official canon. That’s not a knock against the animated shows, some of which are actually better than the live action shows. Rebels and The Clone Wars are better than Obi-Wan and The Book of Boba Fett. But the very nature of something being live action elevates the show in my esteem. There’s a quantity component, too. The Clone Wars consists of 133 episodes. Some are exceptional. Many are fine but forgettable. Which is why I enjoy the animated shows but don’t treat them as seriously as the live action stuff. Again, my opinion, which I’m sure some people will vehemently disagree with.)
So Star Wars doesn’t have an analogue of our heaven. Does everyone go straight to hell after they die? That’s a terrible thought, but Han seems awfully confident he’ll see that unnamed Rebel technician again some day. Then again, maybe Han is just projecting. He’s also been known to talk out of his ass, so there’s that.
The films actually provide a few clues about what an afterlife might look like.
Obi-Wan tells Luke that, “[The Force] is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us; it penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” And sometime later, Obi-Wan confirms this binding when he senses the destruction of Alderaan. “I felt a great disturbance in the Force...as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”
So every living thing is plugged into TheForce.net, and can be unplugged at any given time. The silencing of the voices suggests that once people die, they are gone. Logged out eternally. But Star Wars is too hopeful to be built upon such a nihilistic worldview. Yoda provides a more complete answer when he instructs Luke, and by extension, us. “Life creates [the Force], makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”
Luminous beings are we. Souls confirmed.
If there is no heaven, where do these souls go? The only logical explanation is they return to the Force. Whether this joining is a kumbaya sort of gathering amid the clouds or a complete annihilation of the ego remains unanswered (at least in any form that I would consider a credible source). But given the tone and tenor of the discussion regarding the Force and life, I think its more the latter.
Which is why it’s such a big freaking deal that a few dead Jedi become Force ghosts, incorporeal beings that cross the veil and converse with mortals and mostly act like they’re still normal people. Heck, Obi-Wan even pulls up a stump at one point, which frankly is kind of funny when you think about it.
This reluctance to release the self and return to the Mother Force seems to go against all that is natural. And also the Jedi’s whole “form no attachments” mantra. Maybe they’re only lingering in the physical realm until they’re sure Luke can clean-up their mess. Sort of a self-imposed community service. But if that’s the case, why is Yoda still chilling in limbo 20 years later? It certainly wasn’t to explain how Palpatine returned, somehow. Was it just to bust Luke’s balls again?
Or do they know what happens when they go to the light, and would rather flit around the galaxy in a glowy-body than be consumed and reconstituted for the next generation?
There are no answers here. Just questions and observations. Though I think the Force ghosts’ persistent lingering in the mortal realm is an answer in itself.
All this begs one final question: What in Bespin are these ghosts doing when they aren’t dropping truth bombs on Luke? Playing shuffleboard? Is there a Force ghost retirement community? How does one spend eternal retirement?
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