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Star Wars & Philosophy edited by Kevin S. Decker and Jason T. Eberl

Star Wars & Philosophy edited by Kevin S. Decker and Jason T. Eberl is a collection of philosophical essays that draw on the Star Wars movies for examples and the philosophies of St. Augustine, Sartre, and others.  The collection is moderately well done in some parts and blatantly falls short in others, with one particular essay not using secondary sources to back up its arguments at all and leaving readers to beg the question whether Trekkies can write about Star Wars at all.  The essays draw on ancient philosophers as far back as Plato and Aristotle as well as one essay about Eastern philosophies and mythologies.  There are also essays that point to the theories of Kant, Heidegger, and Hegel.

Broken up into four sections — May the Force Be With You: The Philosophical Messages of Star Wars; Try Not — Do or Do Not: Ethics in a Galaxy Far, Far Away; Don’t Call Me a Mindless Philosopher: Alien Technologies and the Metaphysics of the Force; and There’s Always a Bigger Fish: Truth, Faith and a Galactic Society — the collection tackles the hidden philosophies and ethics inherent in the story behind Star Wars and its characters, plus the ethics of future wars and whether droids can be considered people (not humans).  There also are questions about whether everything is preordained or if we have the free will to choose our own paths.  Moreover, religion and moral ambiguity are discussed as well, especially in terms of prophecy and whether one can choose to be moral even if a destiny signifies an opposite action.

In terms of Yoda, when watching the movies, there is a clear Eastern philosophical influence in his manner, his behavior and his teachings, but in the essay “Stoicism in the Stars” by William O. Stephens, the author also makes the case that Yoda is a Stoic and takes on the role of the Sage who never rises to anger and never gives into the desires or seeks out adventure or excitement.  Additionally, Stephens comments on how Stoics often live in agreement with Nature as Yoda does in his hut on Dagobah, and Yoda praises equanimity and peace of mind, which also is characteristic of Buddhists and others who meditate to find peace and separate themselves from ego.  In a way, several essays — even though they focus on Western philosophy — often draw out elements of those philosophies that are found in Eastern philosophy, such as the fluidity of the Force in Star Wars or the fluidity of the future despite prophecies and destinies referred to with regard to the Skywalker family, which is somewhat like the soul or the energy shared by all living things in Eastern philosophy that is reused and recycled in nature (i.e. reincarnation, etc.).

What does this collection offer that is new to someone who was a philosophy major or minor, probably very little, but what was intriguing was some of the history lessons, such as the parallels between the Jedi in Star Wars and the Hwa Rang as leaders of the “military.”  It does provide a great number of secondary resources for readers to check out should they need further explanation of a philosophy without the Star Wars references.  None of the references used were overly surprising in the well done essays, but there were times when references to the movies were inappropriate to the argument being made.  Such was the case in the essay “Send in the Clones:  The Ethics of Future Wars” by Richard Hanley (which cited no secondary sources other than a previous essay in the book) in which Hanley talks about Just War Theory — that is only satisfied by having the right intention, competent authority, just cause, reasonable prospect of success, discrimination, and proportionality — but does not use an example of actual war from the movie.  Rather, Hanley relies on the slaughter of the Sand people by Anakin Skywalker, which he engages in to revenge the killing of his mother by specific Sand people.  Clearly, the vengeful act of Anakin is not warfare and should not be used to demonstrate unjust war.

Star Wars & Philosophy edited by Kevin S. Decker and Jason T. Eberl offers little in the way of new theories about the movies, but does provide fodder for book club discussions and additional contemplation about our world and our selves.

***March Book Club Selection***

We all arrived early it seemed to Novel Places for our March meeting, which could have been a sign we were eager to discuss the book.

This selection was made by one of the males in the group and it did generate a great deal of discussion, even though he was likely the only one who finished the entire collection.  Most of the group picked a few essays to read, while some of us attempted to read more than half.  The essay about whether droids could be considered people generated a great deal of discussion as some of us could see the difference the author was trying to draw between being a “person” and likely being “human.”  Others thought that the argument was not well done, though the example in the essay of a blind woman believing C3P0 was a “man” and not a “droid” just from listening to the movie was telling about how well George Lucas had drawn the character to be human-like.

Another essay generating a great deal of discussion was the one regarding the gray areas of war and of course the use of clones in warfare, though the essay had fallen apart as the arguments were not backed by secondary sources and the author failed to sustain the foundation of his arguments.

Overall, the club would probably say it was a tepid read, but it did generate a great deal of discussion about the world around us, war, and morality.  For that reason, I’d recommend it alone.  I generally think this book would have worked better with two contrasting essays on a given point, such as whether clone armies should be used and whether clone armies should not be used and the reasons for each, because it would have provided a more rounded discussion.  I also think that even though there were Star Wars references illustrating the authors’ points, some essays could have benefited from a little more background and use of secondary sources.

For April, we’re reading A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear.

The Giveaway:

1. Leave a comment about why you’d want to read this book in the comments.

2.  Extra entries for those that Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline is March 31, 2012. Open Internationally.

 

This is my 18th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

  • Miles Andrews
  • Miles Andrews

    I’m interested in this book because I’m a Star Wars fan, a philosophy student, and have also met with Jason Eberl and seen him speak on my campus just recently.

  • Pearl

    I know that this book would be perfect for my husband. he is enthralled with this philosophy and is a Star Wars captive.

  • I’m glad that you were still able to have a lively conversation about the book. I so could not see myself reading this one.

  • This book wouldn’t appeal to me personally but I think that my boyfriend would love it. He is a Star Wars fan and he loves all kinds of these philosophy type things. What an interesting read for a Star Wars fan.

    I would love to be entered in this giveaway.

    dolleygurl[at]hotmail[dot]com.

    I tweeted – https://twitter.com/#!/dolleygurl/status/182256285650137088

  • No need to enter me but I bet you knew that lol. Sounds like with your philosophy minor and grasp of Star Wars you “got” this book more than I did. It was a great discussion though. I will be finishing the Maisie Dobbs book tonight for my review tomorrow and am loving it.

  • I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised. I looked at one of his crime novels once when I met with his office mate (my go-to lady for philosophy). It looked pretty interesting. We had a short discussion about James Ellroy. Wish I’d asked more questions…
    His book The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers came out while I was a student at MMC. It really is a small world.

    • I may check out another of these kinds of books at a later date.

  • The man who basically started the “pop culture + philosophy” trend is a professor at my old college. He’s an interesting guy (also writes crime novels). I’m excited to see this book reviewed here!

    • How interesting…what a small world, Emma. Crime novels too…what a combination..is there philosophy in those crime novels?!

  • Kudos to you and your book club for reading a book like this. I can see where it would generate a great discussion, but I don’t think it’s for me. No need to enter me.

    • I was glad that there was discussion even though few of us finished the entire book. I liked the discussion, and we talked about you and your cook book book club and how we should do a cook book just so we could eat the food.

  • Gordon

    I did manage to finish the book, though I fully understand why nobody else in the group was able; I originally wanted to read each essay twice, so that I could lead the discussion better, but could not bring myself to do so. The essay on the use of a cloned army was, I believe, the most frustrating in this particular collection. I didn’t notice that he hadn’t used references, though it may have been because I was reading the book on a digital device. I did notice that his arguments were extremely flawed. The worst part about it was that the premise of that essay was particularly engaging, and I believe all of us were fairly excited to delve into the morality of using clones in warfare…but the actual essay fell so far flat that it was unforgivable.

    The book did do well as a tool for discussions, though, so I was pleased with how our group discussed the various ideas brought up in the book. It was unfortunate that it wasn’t written as well as some of the others in the ‘Pop Culture and Philosophy’ series that I have read. I am currently reading “Philip K. Dick & Philosophy,” which is, thus far, much more satisfying. This could simply be because the works of Dick are a treasure trove of philosophical ideas, or maybe because I’ve read quite a bit of his work.

    I do think that it was probably a good idea that we didn’t choose “A Tale of Two Cities,” as having two back-to-back classics may have been overwhelming. I am enjoying “A Lesson in Secrets” thus far, and look forward to discussing it next month.

    • Thanks for commenting, Gordon. I agree that the book was great for discussion. I also noticed that some of the philosophies talked about in the essays were a bit obvious to those of us who have watched the movies many times.

      Tale of Two Cities would not have been read again by or attempted again…I cannot read it and refuse to do so ever again 🙂

  • I’m pretty sure that I would have been less than thrilled with this pick. My husband, on the other hand, might love it as he is a huge Star Wars fan and loves to read philosophy books. Go figure! So it’s not really that I’d love to read it, but I would love to share it with him!

    It does sound like your book club managed to have a pretty good discussion despite not everyone embracing the book.

    I love the Maisie series so I hope you enjoy next month’s pick.

    • I really enjoy philosophy, but having a minor in the discipline made me a more critical reader of the book given at least one essay did not offer secondary sources to support its arguments, but merely referred to another essay in the volume…which made me feel like the author lost some credibility there.

      I like that this was selected by the majority because the person nominating this also nominated Tale of Two Cities, which I abhor.