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December 27, 2009

The Star Wars saga and The Matrix trilogy are both Knight and Gardener epics that conclude when the main characters—who have been pursuing a Great Showdown—realize that their wars cannot end without a Great Breakthrough of insight, wisdom or compassion.

Both series’ plots were drawn from the lessons and stories of the great religious traditions. George Lucas (Star Wars) and the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) are serious students of world religions.

The Star Wars saga is the story of the corrupting of a Republic, and the rise of an Empire engineered by a power-hungry politician (Senator-turned-Emperor Palpatine) and his chief military enforcer (the corrupted Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker—Darth Vader).

The collapse of the Republic and subsequent “star wars” were caused by the repeated spiritual and human failings of the major characters. Palpatine’s and Vader’s pursuit of unlimited spiritual and political power was not countered for two reasons. First, Palpatine’s opponents in the Republic’s Senate failed to show political courage and check his power. And second, the Order of Jedi Knights, which had gained worldly power and become a political institution—a kind of state Church—had become arrogant and forgotten its intended role in the cosmos as nonpartisan peacemakers. (The Jedi are a combination of Parzival and Galahad. They follow the Parzival model, but wear monk’s robes and live in a monastic order, spiritually separated from the world.) The result was a galaxy-spanning war between the Empire and Rebellion that lasted a generation.

During the Great Showdown with the Emperor and Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker realizes the nature of his father’s spiritual failings. He realizes that Vader’s originally well-intentioned pursuit of power in the name of establishing order, justice and peace in the name of a “good” over an “evil” led him down the path of the Dark Side of the Force. At the trilogy’s climax, Luke defeats his father in single combat and stands over him, ready to administer the coup de gras with his lightsaber. In that moment he realizes he is about to repeat his father’s spiritual failing and continue the war forever. Luke stands tall, throws away his lightsaber and tells the Emperor that he will not fight; that he is a Jedi—a nonpartisan peacemaker; a spiritual sage—like his father before him. Luke shows mercy to his father—the dark Knight—and then places himself at the mercy of the Emperor—the  dark king—the most powerful, deadliest man in the galaxy. As the Emperor begins killing Luke slowly, Vader experiences the Great Spiritual Breakthrough he’d missed his entire life—that compassion rather than the pursuit of virtue is what transforms worlds, including the world of his own heart—and saves his son’s life. Only then do the “star wars” truly end.

Similarly, at the end of The Matrix trilogy, Neo experiences a Great Spiritual Breakthrough and saves both the world of the Matrix and the real world—a Gardener resolution—rather than eradicating the Matrix, to the disappointment of fans and critics who expected a Knight resolution.

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