A recent post over at ChurchPOP about the conversion to Catholicism of famed actor Alec Guinness (a.k.a Obi-Wan “Ben” Kanobi) got me thinking about the monastic dimension of the whole Star Wars saga. The picture at the top of the post shows the enrobed Kanobi with the desert planet of Tatooine behind him. This congers up images of the Christian monks retreating to and living in the desert in the early centuries of Christianity. Another phrase for this is fuga mundi, or literally “flight from the world,” and it is a fundamental Christian and monastic concept I’ve been writing about recently in a series of blog posts.
In the first Star Wars movie, Episode IV: A New Hope, Kanobi has retreated to the desert to escape some dark aspect of his past. The hindsight of the five following movies, as they were released, reveals to us that Kanobi feels like he failed in training training the young Anikin Skywalker, who, as we all know, became Star Wars Evil Incarnate, Darth Vader. Now this retreat, this fuga mundi, seems to be simply an escape from a troubled past. But, as is always with the Force, there is something deeper going on. Kanobi, it seems, needed to be lost so he could be found. And that’s exactly what happened. The young Luke Skywalker, desiring so much more out of life, encounters Kanobi in the desert. Luke becomes interested in Kanobi’s past–and his aquaintence with his father. Kanobi also introduces Skywalker to the Force.
Here we see a classic example of how the desert monastic relationships worked: a Spiritual Father offers hospitality and words of wisdom to a young person seeking “more” out of life. Not only is this how Star Wars begins–but it is also how the whole of the monastic tradition begins. The fuga mundi dynamic is a paradoxical move where one retreats from the world in order to be fully present to it. Jesus called us to be “in” the world but not “of” it. The fuga mundi of the monastic tradition shows us, through its history and stories, how to do just that.
As many are by now aware, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, presents many familiar themes from the previous Star Wars movies, but especially from Episode IV. The new movie begins on a desert planet with a main character, Rey, who has also been orphaned. She is capable and resourceful, but struggling to get by while waiting for her family to return for her. While Rey is certainly the young seeker in much the same way Luke was in Episode IV, it takes Rey time to discover her vocation over the course of the film, just as it did for Luke in the video clip above.
As the film comes to an end, we find the young seeker connecting with the Spiritual Father. In the final scenes of the movie, Rey embarks on the journey to find Luke Skywalker, who has been in hiding for years due to an apparent failure to train more Jedi (not only is Luke the echo of Obi Wan, but Luke now seems to be the new Yoda too). We also find out that the movie’s new Darth Vader, Kylo Renn, is Han and Leia’s son and he turned to the Dark Side some time after leaving said Jedi camp. In the final minutes of the movie, we find Rey landing on a remote island and trekking up a large hill with seemingly ancient ruins all around. As she comes to the top of the hill, we see a figure wearing what looks to be a rough-hewn, dark, monastic-habit-like cloak and hood. Rey approaches the figure with Luke’s lightsaber in hand and we realize this figure is Luke Skywalker.
The young seeker is comes into contact with the Spiritual Father once again in Star Wars–and just like in the deserts of Egypt and Syria with the likes of St. Antony the Great, St. Pachomius, and St. Benedict. All of them fled the world–fuga mundi–in order to find a deeper sense of reality. It was how God called those great saints–and so many others–to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world.
In a recent post at aleteia.org titled Star Wars and the Isle Named for St. Michael the Archangel, Phillip Kosloski provides a
insight into the fascinating history behind the site J.J. Abrams chose for that final scene. Turns out, that island and those ancient ruins are a real island and ruins off the coast of Ireland called Skellig Michael. That is pretty cool in and of itself, and kudos to Abrams and team for choosing such a historic site. But that’s not all–those ruins are from an early medieval monastery! Kosloski offers some of the history and purpose of the monastery and the island:
“The monastery on the island was founded by one of Ireland’s greatest saints, St. Finnian of Clonard, during the sixth century. St. Finnian was taught by disciples of St. Patrick and became an influential teacher inspiring many Irish saints over the years. St. Finnian and the monks who lived on Skellig Michael for centuries were imitating the examples of the Desert Fathers, who retreated from the world to dedicate their lives to prayer, fasting and asceticism. They sought to hold back the tide of Evil in the world by following Jesus’ words to his disciples, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).”
What a perfect statement of monastic fuga mundi–and it is baked right into the final, culminating scene of The Force Awakens!
You can also take a more in-depth visual tour of the island and the monastery, thanks to a post from ChurchPOP.
The next and final installment of the Fuga Mundi Series will feature Thomas Merton and his fuga mundi. Stay tuned….