I few posts ago, I outted myself as a geek (The Crucible). So there’s no need to explain how exciting December 2015 was.
Christmas? Yeah, that happened.
But so did…
Before I get started… I believe I’ve waited enough time to publish this, but, just in case you haven’t seen the latest Star Wars movie… this post does contain spoilers… but more importantly – where have you BEEN?!
Sitting in the theater watching The Force Awakens, I noticed something about the Star Wars storyline connected with fitness. This is an exciting post for me – a perfect storm fusing my beloved Star Wars, my literary education, and fitness.
I was 6 when the first movie came out. It is called A New Hope, but as one friend put it, back then it was just Star Wars. I loved those movies (Chapters IV through VI), collected the figures, even went through a little denial period after The Empire Strikes Back regarding Vader being Luke’s dad.
I was a young adult when the “first” three chapters came out, and, well, let’s just say I appreciated what they contributed to the Star Wars canon, but, and maybe because I wasn’t a starry-eyed child anymore, I was underwhelmed. Explaining my reasoning here is irrelevant for a fitness blog, but this great article on back story helps explain things for me.
The Hero’s Journey
At Get Wholly Fit, we’ve often talked about the path to fitness as a journey. The journey, or quest, is a common element in many stories, myths, and religions. Star Wars is no exception.
Believe it or not, Star Wars has been a topic of academic discussion for decades. The famous mythology expert, Joseph Campbell, connected the story line with what he called the “monomyth” – a myth that runs through most mythologies and literature in our history.
The archetype of the Hero’s journey is the Fisher King myth. There are many versions, but the plot line runs like this:
- The King’s son is injured, usually as the result of his pride. Usually the injury is described as a thigh injury, but many interpret this as a groin injury (OOF!). This interpretation comes from a belief that the Fisher King story evolved from ancient fertility myths.
- The King dies making his son king. The new king still suffers from his injury and secludes himself. The injury is physical, but the myths obviously acknowledge the connection between physical, mental and spiritual health. Just as we do at Get Wholly Fit! Some versions have him spending his time fishing, thus the Fisher King. The kingdom suffers in his absence. It exists as a wasteland – crops don’t grow, and the people are depressed. The fitness of the people is suffering along with their king.
- In order to restore the kingdom, a hero is needed. Often this hero resists the quest, sometimes not knowing the nature of what he is being asked to do.
- The quest is initiated and there are many adventures along the way. Sometimes, the hero acquires objects he must bring to the king (such as a sword – or a light saber).
- The quest ultimately leads the hero to the king. The hero must figure out how to heal the king. This is usually done through either giving the object to the king, or asking a question. In my experience, it appears the question has to reflect concern for the king’s health.
- The king is healed, which begins the restoration of his kingdom. Fitness is restored.
The Fisher King Myth and Star Wars
At the beginning of A New Hope, the kingdom is suffering. A tyrannical Empire has taken control, and many creatures are just trying to survive. The knights that once maintained a peaceful order – the Jedi – are gone and believed dead. A hero must arise to save the galaxy.
Luke, of course, is that hero. But who’s the king? In A New Hope it seems to be Obi-Wan. He has a solitary existence. He seems to have failed in his life’s purpose. But then Vader kills him. In The Empire Strikes Back, the king appears to be Yoda. Yoda is the last Jedi. He lives a solitary existence. He wiles away his days waiting… He dies in Return of the Jedi; before the kingdom is restored.
These two seem to serve more as guides on Luke’s quest than as the Fisher King. So who’s the king?
This is just my opinion, but I believe it’s Vader – or more accurately, Anakin. Anakin, through his pride (he’s the one who will bring balance to the Force), falls into the dark side; sustaining some heavy injuries as he does. Now he is locked in to serving the evil emperor. His future looks bleak. Nothing really to look forward to – looks like the emperor isn’t going anywhere soon, so forget about career advancement.
Along comes our hero. He confronts the king in The Empire Strikes Back, but that doesn’t go well. He’s not ready. There are versions of the Fisher King story with a similar plot line – the hero fails his first attempt, or doesn’t recognize his opportunity.
Luke retreats and gets more training. When he returns in The Return of the Jedi, we see a more confident hero. He knows now what his quest is and how he can succeed. In the end he heals the king (as much as Vader can be), turning him back to the light side. Vader dies, but The Return of the Jedi ends with things in this galaxy looking promising.
The Force Awakens as a Re-telling of the Fisher King Myth
When we visit the galaxy decades later, though, it turns out the Empire isn’t done. Luke has tried to restart the Jedi order with disastrous results. He has disappeared. But the rebellion needs him, so a quest has started.
Luke has become the Fisher King, and The Force Awakens shows us almost the entire Fisher King cycle in one movie. When the movie opens, the characters still believe Luke is the hero needed, and so the quest seems to be one to find the hero.
But the hero turns out to be Rey. Interesting side note: Rey (Daisy Ridley) deadlifts! Check it out:
Rey resists the call to adventure, but in the end she must go on this quest – fate won’t have it any other way. One element directly from the Fisher King cycle is the light saber that summons Rey. The saber that belonged to Anakin, then Luke, and now…
Ultimately she finds Luke on an island (secluded, near water – a Fisher King allusion fer sure). Luke has changed from the hero we knew. He is no longer in saber dueling shape. He’s spending his time waiting on this island in his bathrobe (I know it’s a Jedi robe – I need to make the fitness connection).
In the end, we see Rey giving Luke his saber. And here’s my favorite twist on the Fisher King cycle – is the quest over? Is the saber what he needed? Or is it the hero (Rey)? I guess we have to stay tuned…
The Fisher King, Star Wars, and Fitness
I pointed out the impact of the Fisher King’s health on that of his kingdom. His wound is physical, but there is an obvious connection between his physical health and his mental and spiritual health as well. In turn, his kingdom suffers; physically, mentally and spiritually. We see the same theme in Star Wars’s galaxy far, far away.
And… I’m going to bring the room down a little bit… we see it in our galaxy as well. Everywhere we look we can see signs of this suffering. In general, we are not healthy – physically, mentally, or spiritually.
Can we learn anything that will help us from a myth and a science fiction story? Sure!
1. It’s all connected
If we are in great shape, but we’ve alienated ourselves, or we hate ourselves, what’s the point? Or, what if we get that great education, but we can’t climb a flight of stairs? You see where I’m going.
The point is, just as the Fisher King’s physical injury is a metaphor for a spiritual problem in his kingdom and himself, we cannot have fitness without paying attention to the outside, the inside, and all around us.
2. It’s never too late
Maybe this was just me, but I felt this tremendous sense of hope as Rey handed the light saber to Luke at the end of The Force Awakens. Sure, Luke’s older and appears to have let himself go, and we know he has suffered on a mental and spiritual level, but you can feel that it is not too late. They can fix this.
We can fix this.
And it’s this hope alone that can assure it gets fixed.
But the Fisher King and Star Wars simplify the plight of the world to healing one character to heal the world. How does that apply to us?
3. We’re all the Fisher King
I’ve always characterized the fitness journey as endless. We all have something to work on, and we’re never done. Remember to enjoy the journey and not get hung up on the destination.
And if you think you are done, that’s your alarm bell telling you there’s work to do, oh Fisher King.
OK… if we’re all Fisher Kings, that leaves no heroes. Who’s going on the quest to bring us the solution for this suffering?
4. We’re all heroes
Back in the late 70’s, boys began picking up sticks, brooms, or anything that resembled a saber and began swinging them around, dreaming that they were the hero.
And they were right. Except the quest is different than we expected, and some of us are reluctant to join, or don’t realize the quest has to be started. Or they don’t realize that we are all heroes.
The quest can be tough, but there is a lot of fun to be had along the way.
As you watch The Force Awakens for the bajillionth time, realize that the reason you want to shout “wahoo!” at the top of your lungs as Luke turns around at the end is because you know this story.