“I fear nothing,” says Chirrut Imwe, Donnie Yen’s character in Rogue One, “all is as the Force wills it.” The blind warrior heads towards danger calmly and at peace. He then proceeds to kick some serious stormtrooper ass. It is a moment that elicits excitement and anticipation, and I cannot wait to see it play out in the full movie. At the same time, though, it got me to thinking. It is kind of a troubling concept. His coolness and his confidence come from a place of indifference. The Force has already figured this out, so screw it. Cozy, but not comforting. He has confidence but has surrendered the moment. Is everything preordained in the Star Wars universe?
The theme of destiny plays a big role throughout the Star Wars saga. Characters are heightened by it and challenged by it. Destiny shapes plot and serves as motivation. Personally, I have always been leery of this concept. “He was destined for greatness” is a common thing we say about those that achieve. But I think that it minimizes the hard work, talent and choices of those who do extraordinary things. Similarly, one could use it to explain away evil. The human spirit is more complex than that. In Star Wars, destiny is a fascinating concept and central to two figures in particular in the six saga films. These characters’ path is set for them. First, there is Anakin. Clearly he was destined for greatness. Qui-Gon, as he lays dying, tells Obi-Wan, “He is the chosen one. He will bring balance.” Wow, the chosen one, central to ancient prophecy. It doesn’t get more “destiny” than that. A slave boy on a backwater planet is discovered by a Jedi. That’s pretty random. But Qui-Gon assures us it was the will of the force. And Anakin has the midi-chlorian count to back that stuff up. His destiny is all but assured. Should have been all good right?
Also, there is his son, Luke. Guess destiny runs in the family. So what is Luke’s destiny? To save the galaxy? Not according to the Emperor: “Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side!” I have to digress for a moment to ask: how awesome is the RotJ Emperor? I would pay for Ian McDiarmid read audio books of children’s stories, like A Very Hungry Caterpillar. Imagine: “On Friday, he ate through five oranges, but he was still hungry.” Anyway, Vader had challenged Luke and baited him with potential harm to his sister, and Luke struck back and out Vadered Vader. That sealed his destiny. He will become evil. Even Yoda said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” Surely Luke will become what the Emperor had foreseen.
And if that was it, Star Wars would not be around today. I would not be writing this and you would be reading a Star Wars blog or doing something productive with your time. We would have been bored. Thankfully, destiny does not rule the day. Anakin forsook the prophecy, mostly due to his passions and became the evil he was suppose to destroy. Anakin chose to save Padme (from what he saw as her destiny). He chose to see the Jedi order as corrupt. He chose to battle those things with the power of the dark side. He escaped his destiny and created his own path, even if it was an evil one. His son, too, escaped his path. Luke recognized his destiny. He stared at his prosthetic hand and considered what he had just done to his father. Luke saw his fate in front of him, with the Emperor cackling in the background, “Good! Your hate…,” and he rejected it. That is why I write a Star Wars blog. Not out of destiny, but out of choice. In Julius Caesar, Cassius tells Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Characters faced with choices are far more interesting than those who blindly go from task to task on route to fulfilling a destiny. The hero’s journey has a refusal to the call for a reason. They have a say in the matter. They have free will. And to me that is more powerful than destiny.
Or not. Ancient myth is littered with examples of characters who tried to escape fate only to create a situation that results in the predicted outcome. As an educator, I am aware of the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The idea that our perceptions can lead to actions that make the perceptions a reality. Perhaps we don’t have a say in life. When you follow the story to its conclusion, I suppose Anakan abandoned Vader and brought balance to the Force when he threw the Emperor down that shaft. He fulfilled his destiny, but with a few missteps along the way. And Luke’s story is still unfolding. I can’t help but imagine the upcoming episode VIII and IX. Will Yoda be right? Is Luke’s destiny controlled by the dark side, despite his actions to prevent it? Perhaps the magic of Star Wars is not in destiny and prophecy, nor is it rooted in choice and free will. Perhaps the magic comes from the conflict of the two opposing ideologies, and the imaginative storytelling that explores it.
For further exploration of the theme of choices in Star Wars, check out my Aftermath: Life Debt review, “A (Life) Debt of Gratitude.“