“Fear shrinks our world instead of opening it up to new possibilities.”
So writes Stephen Kent, the political commentator, Star Wars enthusiast and author of How the
Force Can Fix The World: Lessons on Life, Liberty and Happiness from a Galaxy Far, Far, Away.
The book, which seeks to apply lessons from the Star Wars universe to the political and cultural
landscape we see around us today, explores themes from the franchise such as humility, hope,
empathy, and balance. In them, it uncovers parables that could bind us, surround us, and guide us as
a society as we find our way back to the light.
Those familiar with Star Wars will know the mantra that fear is a path to the dark side: in the
enduring words of Yoda, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” In real
world terms, Kent notes, becoming plagued by fear might not necessarily lead us to galactic
subjugation, but it blinds us to the liberties being chipped away right under our noses. From the
Patriot Act to the pandemic response to jailing parents for letting their kids roam free, liberty could
just as easily die with thunderous applause or with nervous curtain-twitching. When people become
gripped with anxieties about a perceived chaos or lack of control in the world around them, they will
grasp blindly at a means of securing that sense of stability without any real thought to the cost.
Self-preservation is ingrained in us as a species, and existential threats do exist, but a certain balance
and composure is essential in navigating how we deal with them. As Kent writes, “we make trade-
offs, like between our freedoms and our safety. The trouble is recognizing when our fear is clouding
our ability to see and act reasonably.”
Early on in How the Force Can Fix the World, Kent draws on the story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth
Vader’s fall to the dark side to explore the fateful effects of giving in to fear. Despite the hostility
that the prequel trilogy received from older fans, this origin story – which casts one of cinema’s most
iconic villains as a romantic anti-hero – is one of the most fascinating plotlines in the saga. It is also
arguably as deep-seated in the wider public consciousness as any classical Greek tragedy, giving it an
almost universal appeal as a tragic parable.
One criticism of Kent’s approach is that he is perhaps too classical in his admonishment of Anakin’s
passions. Archetypal parables throughout history have long punished characters – from Adam and
Eve to Icarus to Romeo and Juliet – for their hubris, their ambition, their ego, or the intensity of their
feelings. It’s refreshing to imagine art pushing back on this (I’m reminded of the fictional opera in
Atlas Shrugged in which the Greek hero Phaëthon triumphs instead of perishing). From a radical
individualist perspective, there’s something irksome about the asceticism and moralising of the Jedi,
and that’s what makes the character of Anakin so enthralling: he is the same type of Byronic literary
archetype once described by Thomas Macaulay as “proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow,
and misery in his heart… implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.” There’s
certainly a share of darkness in that description – as there is in Anakin – but we shouldn’t be so quick
to dismiss pride, defiance, and deep affection, which all have their own value in the world.
Kent does make concessions here – after all, only a Sith deals in absolutes. “Should we embrace (the
Jedi’s) dispassionate zen as parents, as husbands and wives, and as citizens?” he asks his readers.
“Probably not. We aren’t a society of monks. We should live big, but perhaps we should be willing to
hold the reigns more loosely.” This theme of balance, which itself looms large in the Star Wars story,
is a major takeaway from Kent’s book: “too much of one thing, or excess, is a road to ruin.”
There is a Christian morality that drifts beneath the surface of the book, occasionally rearing its head
at key moments. While this might be off-putting for certain readers who came to the book purely for
Star Wars and politics, these spiritual asides never turn into a full-blown sermon – rather, when they
reach their full fruition (in the excellent chapter on redemption) the topic of Christianity becomes
both welcome and relevant.
By far the best chapter in the book, this section sees Kent ponder the redemption arcs of both Darth
Vader and Kylo Ren – two characters who, having fallen to the dark side and committed countless
atrocities, ultimately return to the light. Whether you view the story of Christ as a divine truth or a
Campbell-esque monomyth, it has a universal significance within these same themes of falling from
grace and redemption through sacrifice.
Having earlier compared Emperor Palpatine to the serpent in the Garden of Eden (tempting his
impressionable apprentices to the dark side with promises of power and knowledge), Kent cleverly
entwines the stories of Christ, the young fallen Jedi – and America – as he explores themes of
redemption, rebirth, and grappling with one’s past mistakes.
In one fruitful observation, Kent observes a shifted disturbance in redemption discourse between
the releases of Return of the Jedi in 1983 and The Rise of Skywalker in 2019. Fans weren’t calling for
Vader’s head back in 1983, but by Episode 9, released in an age of cancel culture and social media
toxicity, many fans were infuriated at the idea of a Ben Solo redemption arc.
For Kent, there is a parallel here to be made with America itself – America the progressive,
multicultural, democratic experiment, based on enlightenment liberal values, which nonetheless has
its own original sin to grapple with: slavery and the structural racism that persists in many ways. Just
as with Ben Solo’s would-be jurors, there are many people who focus on America’s darkness while
ignoring its redemption arc and the marks and strides that the society has made together. Similarly,
many on the other end of the political spectrum applaud the best of America’s attributes while
ignoring its dark past.
Once again, balance is key: as Kent points out, both Vader and Ren “achieve peace through a
reckoning with their inner darkness that results in balance and harmony.” Likewise, when it comes to
America, “the battle isn’t about eradicating the past. It’s about accepting it, coming to terms with
who we are, and moving forward with our chaotic side in check.”
How the Force Can Fix the World isn’t an empty name. The book is a practical self-help guide that
complements its analysis with useful tips on building humility, cultivating empathy, creating balance,
and other constructive insights. Kent draws from one of pop culture’s most enduring epic fables to
explain how a distant galaxy’s most challenging moments can be used as a source of growth. The
challenge now is for readers to recognise their own power in order to use it for good.