Star Wars is a classic story of heroes and villains. In the original trilogy, the heroic rebels fight to save the galaxy from the Empire. The Empire crushes innocent people beneath its boot, coercing, destroying, and killing on a galactic scale. It’s a simple but compellingly clear story of good and evil.
Unfortunately, that clarity doesn’t extend to Star Wars creator George Lucas’s deeper thinking about morality and the essential nature of the story’s heroes and villains. At various events over recent years, Lucas has explained what he regards as the fundamental moral dichotomy of Star Wars:
The bottom line of Star Wars . . . is that there are two kinds of people in the world: compassionate people and selfish people.
The selfish people live on the dark side. The compassionate people live on the light side. And if you get to the side of the light, you will be happy because compassion, helping other people, not thinking about yourself, thinking about others—that gives you a joy that you can’t get any other way.
Being selfish, following your pleasures, always entertaining yourself with pleasure and buying things and doing stuff—you’re always going to be unhappy . . . you’ll get this little instant shot of pleasure, but it goes away and then you’re stuck where you were before, and the more you do it, the worse it gets.
You finally get everything you want and you’re miserable, because . . . there’s nothing at the end of that road. But if you’re compassionate and you get to the end of the road, you’ve helped so many people.1
It’s interesting that Lucas’s argument for selfless compassion is that it will make you happy. His argument effectively boils down to “You should be selfless for a self-interested purpose.” But if there’s nothing but misery at the end of the road for people who “selfishly” pursue their own pleasures, where is the self-interest in that? And if the ultimate goal of being selflessly “compassionate” is happiness and “joy that you can’t get any other way,” how is that “selfless”?
Is Lucas advocating a world in which no one ever enjoys himself, or entertains himself, or does anything for his own sake? Despite the logical implications of his claims, it would be absurd if he were. Among other reasons, it would mean that a producer of blockbuster movies is telling a story whose moral is that it is wrong to entertain yourself. . . .
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1. George Lucas, Goalcast, January 6, 2017, https://www.goalcast.com/georges-lucas-choose-your-path.
2. Dictionary definitions may have changed since the time Rand was writing, but this remains the legitimate concept to which the term “selfishness” refers.
3. Ayn Rand, “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), vii.