The Dharma of #StarWars by @MatthewBortolin

We were happy to see that a second version of ‘The Dharma of Star Wars’ by @MatthewBortolin was released in 2015. Recently we finally got around to reading the second version. This article provides a brief book review.

Book Versions vs. Star Wars Episodes

The first version was published in 2005 around the time that ‘Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith’ was released and so it did not imbue all elements from the Episodes I-III. Happily, the second version has been revised and expanded to include the Episodes I-III as well as the animated ‘Star Wars – The Clone Wars’ released in 2008.

We should point out that at @happy_ops we have been somewhat puritanical in our view of Star Wars, mainly watching the original Episodes IV-VI, occasionally watching Episodes I-III, and never having watched ‘Star Wars – The Clone Wars’. So we had to take some of @MatthewBortolin‘s references at face value.

The second version does not include the new Episodes VII-IX or the new anthology films. Perhaps there could be a third version or a second volume to ‘The Dharma of Star Wars’ in the future?

Book Contents

Like the first version, the second version takes statements made by Star Wars characters and takes them out of the Star Wars galaxy and puts them into a Buddhist context. In this way the book covers key Buddhist concepts from Karma to the 2 Truths. This might sound like a bit of a stretch, but we found that in the second version it works really well. The second version seems more polished and the comparisons work cleanly.

The book focuses on Zen Buddhism which is different from our typical Tibetan Buddhism. Both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism developed in the later history of Buddhism and both are forms of Mahayana Buddhism where practitioners seek enlightenment to benefit all beings. But the approach of Zen Buddhism is noticeably different.

For example, p.58 starts the discussion of three types of desire that cause suffering.

The three types are desire for things that are pleasant to experience, desire for something to not be the way it is, and the desire to have more or to be more.

The example used for the second type of desire is how Luke Skywalker’s could not accept living on Tatooine in Episode IV – A New Hope. Luke is bored and trapped for a whole other year before he can fulfil his wish to join the Academy. This example clearly explains the type of desire and how ineffective it was for Luke Skywalker.

In other parts of the book we found that many scenes in Star Wars were given a new poignancy from the Buddhist perspective that @MatthewBortolin presents. For example, this confusing scene is explained in-terms of the expectations and concepts that we keep on-hand in our minds. @MatthewBortolin encourages us to be born anew in each present moment.

Yoda: That place … is strong with the  dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
Luke: What’s in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.

In conclusion, while we found ‘The Dharma of Star Wars’ to be very entertaining, we found that many scenes in Star Wars were given a new poignancy from the Buddhist perspective and we had a new way of exploring Buddhist concepts. We warmly recommend the book to anybody who knows what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

May the Force be with you, always.


‘The Dharma of Star Wars’ by @MatthewBortolin

ISBN13: 9781614292869