Starwars, Castaneda, and the Force
FORTUITOUS MEETINGS IN THE STAR WARS SAGA
A predominant theme in the Star Wars saga is that of the heroes encounter with someone who at first appears either bedraggled or foolish – who turns out to be anything but that, and becomes in fact an important character. In this, there are clear parallels to Castaneda’s initial encounter with Don Juan (more on that in a bit). This idea is not specific to Castaneda or Lucas of course (as the quote from Lucas, below, demonstrates), but the parallel is worth comparing:
"I wanted Yoda to be the traditional kind of character you find in fairy tales and mythology. And that character is usually a frog or a wizened old man on the side of the road. The hero is going down the road and meets this poor insignificant person. The goal or the lesson is for the hero to learn to respect everybody and to pay attention to the poorest person because that’s where the key to his success will be. I wanted Yoda to be perceived at first as a funny critter, not as the most powerful of all the Jedi. I wanted him to be the exact opposite of what you might expect, since the Jedi is based on a philosophical idea rather than a physical idea>" (Annotated Screenplays, page 167).
In addition to Yoda, this idea also applies to our original introduction to Obi-Wan in A New Hope, and to Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace (more on Jar Jar later). One interesting parallel between Castaneda & Lucas on this subject is to be found in the Annotated Screenplays, and although it doesn’t show up in the film, it demonstrates that Lucas was influenced by Castaneda’s description of his initial encounter with Don Juan.
Luke & Ben’s encounter (as originally conceived) reads very differently from the one which we were to see on screen. Luke is not aware when meeting Ben that he is, in fact, the man he is looking for. He tries to give himself an air of credibility by announcing that he is "Officer Luke Starkiller." When Ben eventually lets on who he is, Luke admits to his real status, adding that he is the son of Annakin Starkiller, to which Ben responds that he knew all along who Luke was. A key line pops up here when Luke says, "You saw through me?" to which Ben replies, "You could put it that way" (see the Annotated Screenplays for the exact content of the above paragraph, page 33). An interesting footnote to this is that we are also told of an early Lucas concept of having Jedi warriors let out a shrieking scream each time they attack – this idea can be found all over the place in Castaneda (minus the attacking part) – a sorcerers ability to mimic is a great tool, and shrieks and screams are commonplace in their arsenal.
To clarify the comparison of these initial encounters we need look no further than Castaneda’s The Teachings Of Don Juan. At the outset, Castaneda recounts for us the circumstances leading up to his fortuitous encounter with Don Juan. He was on one of many fact-finding excursions in the South-West of America, collecting information on medicinal plants (this being relevant to his anthropological studies), when his friend and guide on this particular excursion pointed out a seemingly old grey-haired man, whom he said was very knowledgeable about plants (and especially peyote).(see) Castaneda was introduced to the old man and subsequently left alone with him. The comparisons between this meeting and those in the Star Wars saga become self-evident when we learn of Castaneda’s efforts in engaging the man’s assistance. Just as Luke originally misrepresents himself to Ben, so Castaneda tries to sell Don Juan on the lie that he himself is already knowledgeable about plants, and that it would be advantageous for Don Juan to talk with him. Unlike the Luke/Ben or the Luke/Yoda scenario, in Castaneda’s story there is no immediate clarification or admission of deception. Instead, Don Juan gives Castaneda a strange look, which he feels compelled to avoid, before saying goodbye and leaving. In that strange look resides what has really happened – Don Juan has used a sorcerer’s trick to hook Castaneda. In Castaneda’s own words:
"I was annoyed at talking nonsense to him, and at being seen through by those remarkable eyes."
The parallel is clear – in the Castaneda/Don Juan meeting, he is aware of "being seen through" while in the early Luke/Ben meeting Luke exclaims, "you saw through me?" Noteworthy, also is that both Obi-Wan & Don Juan betray a little of their strange powers in this initial encounter.
The following is possible explanation for Jedi disappearance upon death as gleaned from Castaneda’s books. The explanation is, not itself exhaustive or all encompassing of what I believe Lucas ideas’ for Jedi disappearance are - rather, simply one avenue of exploration.
Lucas has already specified that a Jedi’s ability to disappear upon death (and to then retain their identity) is a learned discipline, and presumably therefore, not governed by how deserving the individual is of an afterlife. While it would appear that one’s connection/strength with the Force is a factor, what seems most likely is that Lucas is confirming a break in the lineage of the Jedi – the old order being unaware of this technique – the new order, most likely beginning with Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, developing a new awareness and from that, the ability to avoid death.
If this is correct, Qui-Gon’s non-disappearance (one of the hot topics of discussion following the release of The Phantom Menace) demonstrates nothing other than his place in the lineage – squarely in the dying days of the old order. His rebellious nature and focus on the living force (over the unifying force) would therefore not appear to be a decisive factor in his non-disappearance upon death.
So what does Lucas himself have to say on this aspect of the Star Wars mythology?:
"One of the things that we will never get explained in the films is how Ben was able to retain his identity, because it happened somewhere in between the third and fourth movies. I set it up as a discipline he learned from Yoda. Yoda told him how to do that. We don’t ever get to see how he does it, but the idea of retaining your identity after you’ve passed on is something that Ben learned as a Jedi." (Annotated Screenplays, page 269).
While the first part of this quote would at one time seemed to have negated any need for examination of this subject, it would now appear to be once again up for debate, as Lucas has promised an answer over the course of the next two movies. So, with the cards back on the table, where could Castaneda’s books be seen to have had an influence?
I would suggest that Castaneda’s The Fire From Within gives the most insight into the disappearance technique. Don Juan explains that the old lineage of seers succumbed to death as ordinary mortals. Here, my mind is drawn back to the Skywalker’s abode in The Phantom Menace, where Anakin confidently says, "no one can kill a Jedi Knight." Qui-Gon, as you’ll remember, responds, "I wish that were so." We can surmise then, that death to a Jedi at this point in the Star Wars timeline does, evidently, mean actual death. Somewhere along the line this changes, both in Castaneda and Star Wars. The following may shed some light on the subject (and perhaps even provide a partial reason for the inclusion of midichlorians in the SW saga).
In The Fire From Within, we can find something of a correlative to the omnipotent Force of Star Wars in the shape of the Eagle. The Eagle is the way in which Don Juan chooses to explain to Castaneda that which is beyond description. It is in no way suggested in a literal sense – it actually reads as Don Juan’s method of giving Castaneda a frame of reference (something which is a constant aspect in Castaneda’s books, as he always seeks to understand Don Juan’s lessons based on his own cultural background).
We are told that, from this Eagle come the powerful Eagle’s emanations (a Star Wars translation of which would have to be the midichlorians), which in basic terms allow us life and sentience. From The Phantom Menace we have Qui-Gon’s dialogue – "Without the midichlorians, life could not exist and we would have no knowledge of the Force"). A comparison between the Eagle’s emanations and the midichlorians seems worth considering, given that both act as conduits between an omnipotent force and sentient life.
It is further described that, through the course of life, sentient beings become enriched by their life-experiences, until death arrives, at which point there is a return to the Eagle who feeds on the enriched awareness. Don Juan himself clarifies it terms it in the following way – "there is a force that attracts our consciousness, much as a magnet attracts iron shavings." This would appear to be a fair approximation of a symbiotic relationship, would it not? The Eagle has no continuation without sentient life; sentient life does not come into play without the Eagle.
So, moving onward, as Don Juan recites his history lesson to Castaneda, we are told that the new lineage of seers, namely Don Juan, his contemporaries and apprentices etc, practice a newly discovered technique of repelling the emanations at the point of death. It is this repulsion of the Eagle’s bombardments, which allow the seer to cheat death, and retain corporeal identity. The best visualization I can come up with is that of having a car coming at you at full speed, but being able to step out of the way of it’s deadly approach.
Castaneda makes further allusion to this technique in The Power Of Silence (page 14):
"The aim of sorcerers is to reach a state of total awareness in order to experience all the possibilities of perception available to man. This state of awareness even implies an alternative way of dying."
If any of this was to pan out in the way I am suggesting, it would suggest that, rather than becoming one with the force, Yoda, Obi-Wan & Anakin are actually thwarting it. How would this play cinematically, and how much exposition (in the way of dialogue) would be required to put it across – well, your guess is as good as mine. However, it’s fairly clear that Lucas likes to be quite spare by way of description of the philosophies in Star Wars, so I wouldn’t expect expansive dialogue and explanation.
This is by far the most out-there proposition of the Castaneda/Star Wars connections, but one that may have a little bearing on the creation of the character of Jar Jar Binks.
In Castaneda’s earlier books (see The Teachings Of Don Juan in particular), much is made of the importance of the vegetation spirit Mescalito with regard to the apprentices’ quest for knowledge. He is described as both a protector (more on that in a bit) and teacher. Don Juan believed that Mescalito taught simplification of behaviour (this simplicity of behaviour seems applicable to Jar Jar somehow). He appears as something of a mischievous and jocular entity in the first instance; a dancing fool, which belies his true importance and nature – this of course is revealed as events transpire, and harks back to the earlier comparison of the Luke/Yoda and Castaneda/Don Juan meetings, and the certainty that the character, as first encountered, is not what it would necessarily appear to be.
Robert Anton Wilson recounts his own experiences of Mescalito in Cosmic Trigger I. He describes seeing "a man with warty green skin and pointy ears, dancing in a cornfield. He then tells of reading Castaneda’s The Teachings Of Don Juan five years on from his experience, in turn realizing Castaneda’s description of Mescalito as being exact with the figure he saw. He suggests that Mescalito may simply be an archetype of the collective unconscious, placing him in the same archetypal group as the Irish leprechaun or of Mr Spock from Star Trek (I believe that some writers tie extra-terrestrial experiences into this grouping also). Incidentally, the description of the dancing and the warty green skin are a commonality of those who tell of seeing this man. (As a side note, Wilson also posits that Mescalito may indeed be a spirit of the vegetation, citing the research Marcel Vogel and Dr Wilhelm Reich – it’s a most interesting subject in it’s own right, and I would urge anyone interested to read Cosmic Trigger as a starting point).
Admittedly, the comparison between Jar Jar Binks and Mescalito is a very slim one – Jar Jar doesn’t conform exactly to the descriptions of Mescalito as we see him in Castaneda and Wilson. He is not a vegetation spirit, per se – he is all too real (and in attendance far too much, for some). The points of confluence are worth looking at though – the character discovered in vegetation (or in the midst of nature), whose initial appearance tells but only a small part of the story – a deceptive character at the outset. Jar Jar’s introduction to us does conform in this aspect of course. In addition, if he is not the dancing fool of Star Wars, then who is? He is also the totally honest character of The Phantom Menace, relative to his discourse with friends – a tie-in with Mescalito, one of whose powers is of giving honest guidance to the one who seeks knowledge.
One final aspect of this Jar Jar/vegetation spirits correlation may possibly come from a figure known as the Green Man. In Colin Wilson & Rand Flem Ath’s The Atlantis Blueprint, there is a passage on this man :
"...The pagan figure known as the Green Man seemed to be everywhere. In mythology he represents the rebirth of vegetation every spring..."
Bearing in mind then, Lucas’ undeniable penchant for having his Star Wars characters broadly conform to mythic and archetypal figures, and his knowledge of such characters from the world’s mythologies, would it be unreasonable to ascribe a purpose other than merely comic-relief to Jar Jar Binks’ character? While not denying the comic nature of the character, might not his other traits betray the characters eventual purpose.
Two words, I think, might denote that purpose – protector & rebirth.
One suggestion, which seems to permeate Star Wars discussion boards is that Jar Jar Binks may be the individual who protects the twin Skywalker children from peril in the early and very dangerous days of the burgeoning Empire. Might it be that elements of the Green Man & Mescalito have been combined (admittedly along with many other ideas) to bring into being a character that has been specifically designed as the figure that delivers the new hopes into the Original Trilogy? That instead of a cyclic rebirth of the vegetatation, we are dealing with the cyclic rebirth of powerful beings, and by extension, the possible rebirth of peace against tyranny? Only time will tell, I suppose, but it seems at least possible that Jar Jar has more going on than immediately meets the eye.
Hopefully, the preceding morass will have put some extra flesh on the bones of some of the more esoteric aspects of the Star Wars films.
Some of the comparisons I have made may seem as though they are stretching credulity a bit, and in some instances they may well be. However, it’s a near-impossible task to accurately capture the essence of Castaneda’s books over the course of little over a dozen pages (for me anyway). I have only really scratched the surface here – we are dealing in a rich vein. It is a near certainty, also, that I will have omitted avenues of comparison, and perhaps not dealt fully enough with others.
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