25 August 2007

Star Wars and Skepticism

The other night, Ben and I watched Star Wars: A New Hope. It was the original theatrical release (Ben has it on VHS), a cool balm after years of increasingly sacrilegious prequels and "special" editions.

And of course, with a movie like this, there are certain things an atheist blogger must address.
Han Solo: "Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've
seen a lot of strange stuff. But I've never seen anything to make me
believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything.
There's no mystical energy field that controls MY destiny."
Why do skeptics in the movies always end up being wrong about this sort of thing? Because it's a movie, doy! Han might not have seen anything to make him believe in the Force, but by this time in the movie we've already seen Darth Vader choke a dude and Obi-Wan Kenobi mindfuck some stormtroopers. The medium is ill-suited for skeptics; thanks to movie magic, we can visualize things that we want to believe but can't see evidence for in real life.

That said, there's a lot more room for skepticism in the first Star Wars film than I had ever realized.

In A New Hope, the Force is completely psychological, and therefore could very well have a natural explanation. It's all about knowing things you shouldn't be able to know (like "oh snap a planet just blew up") or convincing people to do things they don't want to do (like "stop breathing"). It isn't until the later movies that stuff starts levitating and whatnot. Then we can see Obi-Wan's ghost (to go with the voices in Luke's head), Yoda can lift an X-wing, and Emperor Palpatine can shoot lighting out of his goddamn hands! ("I've got blisters on my fingers!")

Who are you more likely to believe has ties to the supernatural: a dude who tells you he hears voices, or a dude who can actually electrocute you with his mind?

So good on Han for being a skeptic at this point in the game. For all we know, Obi-Wan is senile, Luke is lucky and/or schizophrenic, and Vader is just plain scary.

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