April 2000: The Top Ten Things I Learned from Watching Star Wars

It's worth pondering why Star Wars is so popular. After all, it's not as if the same story hasn't been told before-many previous renditions are included among George Lucas' source material-and often better. And it does remain to be seen whether the popularity of Star Wars will outlast the generation that first saw it in theaters. But, superficial as it often is, Star Wars contains some pretty powerful and practical lessons for living. These help account for its pop-culture status. Here are my ten. What are yours?

10. A little money never hurts. Whether you need to get off the planet in a hurry, or have a debt catching you up, having some spare cash around is always a good idea. This can be difficult if you haven't, say, inherited a fortune or won the dot-com lottery, but it's usually possible to put a little by, whether it's invested in a 401(k) or socked away in an account you never touch. That way, when you dump a cargo of illicit substance because the Imperial police are on your tail, you can pay back your boss before the bounty hunters catch up with you.

9. Stay in shape. You never know when you're going to have to battle the forces of darkness, or go running through the jungle with a small green wizard on your back. Besides, it's good for your health, not to mention your general mood.

8. Size matters not. There are a number of ways you could interpret this, of course, from the sublime to the . . . well, not so sublime. I'm more interested in the less physical view here; this ain't Savage Love, after all. Anyway, what I'm getting at here is that it's not so much what you have-money, fame, a nice bod, a great job, fancy toys, love-as what you do with it. All the advantages in the world aren't worth much if you don't use them, or use them foolishly; remember all those stories about lottery winners who wind up bankrupt a year later? Conversely, as little as you may have, if you're reading this-if you have access to a computer and an Internet connection-you have more than most. What you do with it is your own affair.

7. Myth is a guide, not a law. How many times over the course of the Star Wars trilogy is Luke informed that something is his destiny? (How much more present is this theme in The Phantom Menace?) How many times does he circumvent or redirect fate, turning events to his own ends? And yet, without the signposts provided by both mentors and enemies, Luke would have no path to follow at all. It's usually a good idea to listen to advice, wherever it comes from; so long as you remember that whether or not you actually follow it is your own choice. That goes for your religion, your therapist, your advice columnist, your scripture, your mother, and your friends.

6. Pay attention to vision. I believe in visions. Have 'em all the time. No, I haven't seen St. Catherine recently, telling me to go free France from the English, but I do believe we can see what's ahead, and often do. There's nothing mystical or supernatural about it; we're merely predicting the probability of events on an intuitive level. As Gavin de Becker writes in The Gift of Fear, each of us is an expert on human nature. Visions inform us of our hopes and fears at the gut-deep level that forces us to pay attention. More prosaically, we often notice things without realizing it, until later, when something that we've noticed comes into play in our conscious thoughts. These little hunches, insights, and notions aren't as dramatic as Luke seeing his friends tortured in the not-too-distant future, but they're often much more useful.

5. Good guys wear black. Mmm, is that a yummy outfit Luke wears in Return of the Jedi, or what? Besides, black goes with anything. Seriously, though, it's worth remembering that you often can't tell who the good guys are by what they wear. Or by what they say, or sometimes even what they believe. Use your judgment, but be smart about it. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs . . .

4. Accept apologies. Preferably without killing the parties offering them; but then, if we were all as bad-tempered as Darth Vader, we wouldn't have this pressing population problem. Okay, it's true that people often say "Sorry" without really meaning it, out of some lingering sense of etiquette, or perhaps sarcasm. Still, seeing as how I'm a fan of both-it's good manners to accept an apology. And if it's sarcastically meant, well, accepting it as if it were serious does a lot to deflate the irony. Either way, you win.

3. Know your limitations . . .and exceed them. It's never a good idea to pick a fight with someone who can kick your ass, but if you do, you can learn how to beat him next time. A loss is always a lesson; a mistake always teaches. It's rarely pleasant, but education generally isn't. If you're lucky, and if you're smart, you'll come out of the experience with your limitations broadened. Being able to do more is always nice.

2. Scoundrels make the best lovers. Not every man's a rogue with a heart of gold-some are just rogues-but if you find one, keep him. I can't go into too much detail without embarrassing mine-scoundrels have a lot of pride, and tend to be a prickly bunch-but he says I'm stuck with him, and I'm utterly thrilled. (The same holds for those of you who like women, by the way. Forget the whole virgin-whore thing-what you really want is someone who meets Saffire's definition of bitch.)

1. When life gives you lemons . . . duh. So far this year, I've lost my job, wrecked my car, and fought with two close friends. On the other hand, the car can be replaced-at least no one was hurt-the friendships remained intact and were probably strengthened, and there are other jobs. I've come to view it as a blessing; now I can devote my time to becoming a rock star. There is no more effective way to get out of a rut than to be shaken out of it. If you can turn the situation to your advantage, win the battle, get the girl, and end your adventure with feasting and fireworks, so much the better.