Star Wars: The Oriental Connection

Star Wars: The Oriental Connection

Disclaimer: I do not consider myself as a religious or even spiritual person, and I do not subscribe to the idea that any one nation is better than others due to its culture or history. The views expressed in this article stem from observation of a worldwide phenomenon that is Star Wars and drawing parallel to my studies of religion, theology, culture, and literature. They are not politically motivated in any way.


It is a very strange experience for me when I see my students carrying a mobile phone or discussing Game of Thrones. When I was growing up, we did not have cable television at home. It was partly because the old Onida television could only show 8 channels and had to be operated manually without a remote, but mostly because my parents sincerely believed that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my studies if I watched cartoons. We occasionally rented CDs of Hollywood movies, but they had a very limited collection, with a strange fixation on creature horror. We got a new TV and a cable line after I passed school, and so, unlike the majority of Star Wars fans, I watched the Star Wars movies for the first time when I was already in college.

Revan and Malak

Revan and Malak

The movies were not my introduction to Star Wars, though. That would be Knights of the Old Republic, which I had played shortly before watching the movies on STAR Movies. Knights was one of the first RPGs I ever played, and it blew me away. I knew the game was based on the lore of the movies, and it made me want to watch them. I played the sequel Sith Lords shortly afterwards, and against all my expectations, I loved it even more than the original (except the ending, which was later fixed by the cut content patch). I still prefer Sith Lords more, because (among other reasons) it is not your typical Star Wars story, but it deals with the underlying concepts- especially the Force and morality- in a much deeper way.

Both of the games made me very curious to know about the concept of the Force. It was perhaps mostly due to studying in what can be described as a Hindu missionary school, where we had to study a lot of religious texts and Indian myths, but I found something very familiar in how the Force was handled in Star Wars lore.

The Force has been described as an all-encompassing field of energy that connects every living thing to each other. When I first came across the description, I immediately thought of the concept of what we studied about Brahman. Brahman (not to be confused with Brahmin or Brahma) is a Vedic concept of the ultimate reality or truth, which has been adopted by Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and other religions. It is also said to be an ever-present energy or entity or concept that connects all life. The concept of Qi is also somewhat similar.

SW 01

Brahman is called the highest truth because whoever wields it, or in other words realizes what it is, becomes much more powerful and knowledgeable than the common man. Both the Force and the Brahman are omnipresent and both promise to be the ultimate truth or realization of the mysteries of life, and both can only be wielded only through great dedication and training.

Come to think of that, there are a lot of similarities between the Jedi ways and the east Asian monks as well, for example the Hindu concept of sannyasa. Both ways of life demand that you leave your family and seclude yourself, both forbids love and marriage, and both the Jedi and the sannyasi hermits meditate a lot, as well as wear funny robes. Such similarities may be found among the Buddhist and Jain monks as well, who dedicate their life to find Nirvana.

Phra_Ajan_Jerapunyo-Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao.

The Jedi code- “There is no emotion; there is peace. There is no ignorance; there is knowledge. There is no passion; there is serenity. There is no chaos; there is harmony. There is no death; there is the Force.”- mirrors the teachings of these religions, which instruct the followers to empty themselves of attachments, emotion, passion, greed, lust, jealousy and anything else that might distract you from your pursuit of the truth. The Hindu texts, for example, say that these base instincts take you towards Maya (that which exists in a materialistic world, but is ultimately an illusion), and the Jedi say that they take you towards the Dark Side.

Of course, one might call all these coincidental, but the fact remains that George Lucas had studied eastern Asian religions and mythology, and he identifies as a Buddhist Methodist himself, though some aspects of the Star Wars lore resemble Hinduism much more than Buddhism. For example, the concept of soul or Atman, which is disregarded by Buddhists as Maya. Most sects of Hinduism, on the other hand, believe in the immortality of souls. Obi-Wan and Anakin remaining as souls would be congruent to the Hindu philosophy of the souls of the enlightened not needing a reincarnation.

SW 02

Ahsoka Tano

Then there is the matter of the characters whose names were heavily inspired by Sanskrit words. Anakin’s mother was Shmi Skywalker, whose name is the last half of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi; Padme Amidala‘s name originates from the Sanskrit word for lotus flower; Jedi Master Shaak Ti was named after the Sanskrit word Shakti, which means power; Ahsoka Tano was named after the famous Indian king, and there are other such examples as well. There is some debate regarding the origin of Yoda‘s name, but many believe it to be the Sanskrit word Yodhya (which still exists in many languages, including Hindi and Bengali) which means ‘warrior’.

As I said in the beginning, I was introduced to Star Wars when I was already a grown up. So it may be argued that this is my way of interpreting the epic according to my own knowledge, but the incredible resemblance of Star Wars lore with east Asian and especially Indian religious myths, George Lucas’ own religious affiliations, and the origins of names of some of the characters point to it being more than just a coincidence. The intention of me writing this article was not to boast that I come from a culture that inspired such an incredible epic, but to show that maybe Lucas got some of it right. Whether it is the Brahman, Qi, Force, history, culture, religion, or something else, we are all connected to each other.

4 comments

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  • Rahul Sehgal

    It’s an interesting comparison, and yes now that you mention it-those names do seem derived from Indian mythology and lore. Most epic hero-stories are in part based on the Monomyth or the Hero’s Journey, and Star Wars is no different. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of this movie franchise. It’s not that I actively dislike it, but the frenzy never really caught on. Perhaps it was the early age at which I first saw them; I have always been a little irritated by the awe in which Star Wars fans hold this movie franchise-it closely resembles religious zeal. If you don’t believe me, try to diss Star Wars publicly and see how many people unfriend you.

    You draw interesting parallels between The Force and Qi. In Yoga theory, the Prana or Life Force always surrounds us and can be harnessed by particular meditative breathing techniques. It is a perpetual source of energy that we interact with at an intimate level. The comparisons of Obi-Wan and Anakin being liberated souls are pretty interesting too, I might just have to reconsider my indifference to the Star Wars universe and get into it!

    Thanks for a well-researched and illuminating writeup!

    • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

      Thanks.

      One of the reasons I fell in love with Star Wars was how different it was from usual science fiction. I found it very familiar, and it felt almost like a retelling of our familiar ancient epics in a futuristic setting (not just Indian ones). It has a strange element of spirituality that I can appreciate even without being spiritual. I am not as zealous, though. And I always love the games and comics more than the movies. Haven’t read the novels yet.

      I think you may like it. If you do give it a try, please let us know.

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