Extroverted Introspection

Me looking at new things

StoryMOOC and Star Wars

This weeks post has to do with the course “The Future of Storytelling” which recently started on the new platform Iversity.

I have been interested in this subject for some time now, especially in collaborative storytelling in role-playing games, so when this course came along, I knew I couldn’t miss it.

What makes this course a bit different from the other courses I took in the past, is that it seems to involve actual writing and storytelling. At the end of each week (a “chapter”) the students are given a task which to accomplish.

The task for this week, to be executed in this very blog post for your reading pleasure:

Please think about which story you have read, seen, listened to, played or experienced has impressed you most in your life. … Which story can you still very well remember? Write down both, the summary of this story (what you remember of the story, not what Wikipedia says.. :) and – on the other hand: – what made it so special to you that you can still remember it.

So here is the story how Star Wars changed my life:

The Hero’s Journey

A regular summary of the Star Wars story is probably quite uninteresting for everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock the last 30 years. From a storytelling point of view, it is quite unremarkable, even: a science-fiction-themed fairytale describing the classical “hero’s journey” as described by Joseph Campbell in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. I use the term “fairytale” because it has many resemblances to traditional folk tales: from the way it starts off with the sentence “A long time ago…” to the distinctive way that characters are painted good or evil and employing easily- recognizable archetypes.

Yodas wisdom

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I watched the first Star Wars movies, but I guess I must have been around 10 years. The scene that would have such a lasting effect on my life is from the beginning of “The Empire Strikes Back”, the second movie of the Star Wars trilogy. The alien Yoda, portraied to possess unassailable wisdom, is mentoring Luke, the protagonist and training him to use the Force. When Luke struggles with a particular mental excercise, Yoda utters this quote:

“Fear is the path to the dark side: Fear leads to anger, Anger leads to hate, Hate leads to Suffering”.

I could not help but ponder this quote, comparing it to my own observations and found much merit in it. My 9th birthday, 17th January 1991 had coincided with the starting date of Operation Desert Storm. My parents television was running and I still remember the pictures of war, slowly coming to a first understanding of the situation in the world and wondering how it could have come this. Why people were building were expending all this energy to build high-tech jets and other weaponry just to kill each other.

Becoming a Jedi Zen Master

The Star Wars movie awakened in me the notion that people are driven to this behaviour via these emotions, fear and anger, followed by hate. The story also told how engaging in evil acts - those associated with the Dark Side - would have a poisonous effect on someones character, leading them down a road towards more and more evil. And since it was clear to my young and impressionable mind that I didn’t want to be evil, I concluded that I would ever need to be wary of these emotions, fear, anger and hate and where they could lead me. In this aspect, Star Wars fulfilled another aspect rooted in the origins of storytelling: providing examples for socially desirable behaviour, worthy of imitation.

Understand that I didn’t want to become a Jedi Knight or somesuch thing: I fully realized the fictional aspect of what I had seen. Nonetheless, “Don’t fall to the Dark Side” became some kind of a motto for me. And I can say that I have successfully managed to adhere to my old tenets until today. So much even, that a few years back a friend of mine jokingly called me “Zen Master Marcus”. It was just a stray remark but I still find it hilarious.

And surely enough: to this day I have read enough books and listened to enough Psychology lectures to have garnered a much more differentiated understanding of emotions and the way to the “Dark Side”. But I also have experienced people acting cruel and callous. Both in reaction to being hurt and out of desire for power and control over others when they themselves seemed to lack control of their own lifes. This makes me think that the simple Yoda version works well enough as an approximation to the truths behind the self-perpetuating suffering. And it’s certainly easier than trying to explain social psychology studies to a ten-year-old.

Bonus part

So much for the #StoryMOOC task. But funnily enough there is a second aspect on how Star Wars influenced my life. It probably could have been any other movie, too, so this is kind of a bonus scene in this blog post.

At the age of 13 or 14 years I started having occasional nightmares. Therein I was chased by evil characters who wanted to shoot me. After a few repetitions - each one some time apart: this is not that kind of story where the young boy is haunted by nightmares every night - the pursuers turned from gangsters shooting at me into the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 from the Star Wars movie. Ok, now I should probably give you some time to stop laughing. Awake, I found the notion quite ridiculous myself: the meanest thing C-3PO would have been able to do was to call you a buffoon in 6 million forms of communication. Sure, R2-D2 could probably use his 1337 hacking skillz to crack your social media profiles and post “My mother can’t cook.” to your wall, but back then there wasn’t even an internet.

Nonetheless, these two robots were in my dreams, chasing me through the village and into my room upstairs. How R2-D2 managed to climb the stairs in my parents’ house, I’ll never know. But the same dream continued to occur. And since it was always the same dream, after a few months I started to recognize it as such. And once I figured out I was in a dream, I decided that I should just jump out of the window: to die and thus wake from the dream. The first time I did this I was more scared of trying this than from the actual nightmare. But it worked and I could wake, turn around in my bed and fall peacefully asleep again. The second time - or maybe third, I don’t exactly remember - I grew more adventurous. Since it was a dream, I decided, I didn’t need to die but I could as well fly away from the two figures who, even though relentless as robots, were quite slow and could never catch me. And once again it worked. Unbeknown to my younger self, I had taken my first steps - or flight - in Lucid dreaming. All combined, I can say without doubt that Star Wars spiked both my desire in mastering my emotions and realizing that, with some training, I could master my consciousness enough to even control my dreams.