Review: Star Wars and Philosophy

Philosophy begins with wonder but leads to thinking.”

Kevin S. Decker and Jason T. Eberl

star_wars_philosophyMe: “I want to borrow Star Wars and Philosophy, please.”

The Circumlocutor: “But you don’t like philosophy.”

Me: “But Star Wars.”

As it turns out, the Circumlocutor was right. I don’t like philosophy, and Star Wars does not make it significantly more interesting.

If I’m being scrupulously fair, there were good things about Star Wars and Philosophy. The book, a series of essays on philosophy as it relates to George Lucas’ film sextet, is best when it sheds light on Star Wars rather than using it as a source of dubious examples to illustrate philosophical conundrums: Richard Dees’ reading of Lando Calrissian as a utilitarian doing his best for the people of Bespin is genuinely interesting, and while I don’t agree with Jerome Donnelly’s argument about the dehumanizing effects of technology in the Star Wars universe his essay is more or less exactly the kind of thing I wanted to read in this book, alive to the films’ nuance and imagery as it is. Also, kudos to Jerold J. Abrams and James Lawler for coherently explaining Heidegger and Hegel, which a whole three years of English Literature has failed to do.

But by and large the essays fall into the kind of hair-splitting that always annoys me in philosophical arguments. Jan-Erik Jones’ essay on causation literally comes to no useful conclusion, and furthermore is not about Star Wars; Richard Hanley’s discussion of the ethics of cloning seems to leap several logical steps; Elizabeth F. Cooke’s piece on environmental ethics feels tone-deaf to the metaphors the Star Wars films use, observing that in the Senate “different species intermingle as if they’re merely different cultures or ethnic groups” without apparently realising that that’s exactly what they’re meant to represent.

Most of these complaints are probably more about me than the actual book: I’m not sympathetic to the kinds of assumptions and arguments philosophy typically makes, and really Star Wars is here only a peg to hang philosophy on. And I also think this is the kind of book best dipped into, as opposed to reading it right through. It needs an open-minded reader, this one, as well as a patient one. I have a very definite feeling that the Circumlocutor would like it.

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