Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers for Star Wars episodes 1-8. If you are interested in it you have probably already seen those films but in the off-chance you have not, please be aware.
What can star wars teach us about emotional resilience
If you are like me, you are excitedly anticipating the upcoming release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. In preparation, I watched Episode VIII: The Last Jedi to remind myself of the details that I may have forgotten since I watched it in theaters. While there are several notable quotes in the movie, one thing stuck out to me this viewing when it had not really caught my attention the first times I watched it in the theater. It’s not a quote from Luke Skywalker or Yoda, but something that Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern in surprisingly flattering purple hair, said:
“Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”
She attributed the saying to Leia Organa, princess or general depending on how you choose to remember her. Hope is something that we see throughout the Star Wars universe, the first theatrical release episode IV is titled “A New Hope.” I started thinking about what we can learn about resilience and more specifically emotional resilience from the Star Wars films.
What is emotional resilience?
Positive Psychology describes emotional resilience as: “…bouncing back from a stressful encounter and not letting it affect our internal motivation” Emotional resilience is how we get through the hard times and get back to ourselves, maybe not to who we were before but to the true self who resides within us.
Resilience is also described as: “…the capacity to maintain competent functioning in the face of major life “stressors” according to Kaplan, Turner, Norman, & Stillson, 1996. I highly recommend reading the article at Positive Psychology if you are interested in a deeper dive into what emotional resiliency is. We know that there will be difficulties in life and that everyone will go through hard times. Some people may experience complex psychological traumas while others may tackle more common life stressors but either way emotional resilience will determine how easily these difficulties can be moved on from.
Luckily for us all, emotional resilience is a tool that we can use, not an inborn emotion or character trait, so it is a skill that we can learn, practice, and strengthen. Time Magazine shares 10 ways to boost your emotional resilience in this article.
Using resilience to overcome trauma
The main themes throughout Star Wars are universal themes we see throughout art and literature: good vs evil, love vs hate, the struggle to define who we are in the context of both our families and our experiences. The settings that the characters make their way through are what require resilience. In all three of the trilogies, the galaxy is at war. War and fighting in war can cause post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD as it is more commonly known. While there are well defined “good guys” and “bad guys” in these wars, it became more complex in the most recent trilogy, as Finn realizes he is one of the “bad guys” and changes sides in Episode VII The Force Awakens.
All of the characters experience a loss of physical security, loss of loved ones, fighting in combat situations, and witnessing many deaths. Yet all of the characters, even perhaps the most infamous villain of our time Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader never give up hope. Even when he has turned to the dark side and become evil, we see that Darth Vader still protects the son that he never knew and attempts to make amends prior to his death. We see that no matter how many people die, the other characters refuse to give up the fight. Some characters retreat from the world after an incident that is too difficult to withstand; both Obi-Wan and Luke in later years seek solitude and live as hermits but each chooses to rejoin the fight once their help is asked for.
How star wars characters use resilience to overcome adversity
The Time magazine article referenced above gives ten ways to boost emotional resilience and here are a few ways that Star Wars characters practiced them.
- Face your fears – The article points out that resilient people face their fears and that we can boost our resiliency by doing so.
One of Luke’s biggest fears is giving in to the dark side and essentially becoming Darth Vader, which is illustrated in the Dagobah Cave in Episode V the Empire Strikes Back. Luke fights Darth Vader in his vision but when he cuts off Vader’s helmet he reveals his own face. This does not stop him from facing the Emperor and Vader in battle.
- Have a strong sense of right and wrong – the article mentions that we must think about others not just ourselves.
While Star Wars is essentially a franchise about good fighting evil, there are many instances of people thinking of others. Darth Vader saves his son Luke rather than allowing his master the Emperor to torture and eventually kill him.
In The Last Jedi, Rose Tico saves Finn rather than allowing him to sacrifice himself and delivers one of the other iconic lines of the film “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” Rose similarly shows empathy earlier in the film when she releases the fathiers, horse-like creatures who are being abused by their jockeys in order to race them for profit.
- Don’t go it alone – Relying on social support can help during difficult times.
All of the Jedi throughout the films must rely on those around them in order to accomplish their mission. Team-work is emphasized throughout the films and isolation is often what leads to vulnerability to the dark side.
- Be aware of your emotions – Another article on Emotional Resilience from VeryWell offers more tips and practicing emotional awareness is another way to build resilience.
As Master Yoda famously said: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” If we are aware of what we are feeling, we are more aware of what we need to do with or about those feelings.
- Have a sense of humor – Laughter stimulates your organs, relieves stress, and can boost your immune system according to the Mayo Clinic.
Before he was frozen by bounty hunter Boba Fett and taken to Jaba the Hutt, Han Solo responds “I know” to Leia after she says “I love you” perfectly displaying his playful sense of humor.
Improving Emotional Resilience can get us through life’s challenges
These are just a few examples of the ways that characters in the Star Wars franchise display emotional resilience. I hope you have enjoyed this post! I’ve tried to fact check myself where necessary but my perception of the characters may not be exactly the same as your perception of the characters. I love Star Wars and I am sure you do too, so let’s not argue any fine points of my opinion please.
More information on emotional resilience
What is Emotional Resilience and How to Build It? (+Training Exercises)
10 Ways to Boost Your Emotional Resilience, Backed by Research
Why Emotional Resilience Is a Trait You Can Develop
The Road to Resilience – American Psychological Association
Book – Emotional Resilience: Simple Truths for Dealing with the Unfinished Business of Your Past
13 Things You Can Do to Build Emotional Resilience
Building Resilience Part 1: How to Thrive Through Stress