Do. Or do not. There is no try.

As you might imagine, living with three ‘boys’ has meant that I have had to work hard at broadening my knowledge of anything (and everything) pertaining to a certain galaxy ‘far, far away’. And as movies go, I have to admit that the Star Wars collection has made for an enjoyable (and considerably less demanding) alternative to studying for either a master’s, or a PhD.

Almost inevitably though, I have found myself pondering the phrases of certain on-screen characters and wondering why on earth their ‘pearls of wisdom’ don’t feature rather more extensively in the material of modern-day motivational speakers. After all, they certainly make some cogent points!

Having always secretly admired a baddie, Darth Vader’s warning: ‘Be careful not to choke on your aspirations’ (in response to Director Krennic’s self-seeking lust for glory) definitely makes my top 5! I guess that it’s simply a more sensational take on the proverb ‘Pride comes before a fall’, but delivered with such a generous helping of contempt, it certainly makes an impression!

Shmi Skywalker also has a valid point when she notes that ‘You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting’ (‘The Phantom Menace’). This is definitely something worth remembering, particularly if you are getting rather ‘long in the tooth’ like me, and more than a little weary of all that career related hoop jumping! However, the notion of ‘change for change’s sake’ is not one that I find easy to subscribe to, preferring first to understand the reasons behind implementing a host of (time guzzling) new procedures, before rushing to comply. I have a sneaking suspicion that Obi-Wan Kenobi might have had a similar view. After all, his question ‘Who’s the more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?’ resonates here.

Some of my fondest childhood memories stem from sitting around the kitchen table as a family and playing a variety of board games. Being the youngest of four (until the family increased in size again 7 years later!) I was frequently outperformed in any game that required either knowledge or strategy and yet I was genuinely grateful that no-one ever ‘let’ me win because it gave me something to strive for. It made me smile, therefore, when C-3PO, following a graphic description from Han Solo as to how Chewbacca’s strength and temperament might play out (rather unfavourably) in the event of being defeated at a game, sensibly suggests that R2-D2 should ‘Let the Wookie win’. I’m all for putting up a decent fight, but it pays to know when you are ‘outgunned’ too!

With Speech Day rapidly approaching, I found myself wondering which Star Wars character would have the greatest allure as guest speaker, particularly if the event were to clash with a certain quarter-final match in this year’s European Championships… And although we might need to make allowances (in order to give him the necessary height to surmount the lectern) and possibly provide a translator (in order to help with syntax) Yoda would appear to be the perfect choice. Notable for his enviable wisdom (and frank appraisal of a situation) what better parting advice to offer a student than: ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’

A brief encounter

Many years ago, I had the privilege of meeting someone truly remarkable. It was one of those chance encounters that renders you momentarily speechless, then acts as a powerful catalyst for change.

It was a dismal February evening and I had just left a rehearsal in central London. We’d been working on Michael Tippett’s five spirituals from ‘A Child of Our Time’ and it had been one of those rehearsals where you come away feeling as though your soul has been suitably nourished, and that something within the music has transcended human understanding.     

I had been experiencing some problems with anti-social behaviour in and around the housing development where I lived, and I was seriously considering handing in my notice at work and moving away from the area. However, having just been part of something so utterly inspiring, I was loath to concede defeat and allow the local ‘Youf’ to drive me out of my home and away from my Monday night refuge.

Having caught up on everyone’s weekly news over a quick drink, we all went our separate ways, as was the usual routine. I headed for Victoria station and, upon arrival, gave the departures board a cursory glance. My heart plummeted when I discovered that, not one, but two trains to Swanley had been cancelled and that I would have just over an hour to wait. There was nothing for it. I would just have to grab a coffee and a magazine and set up residence on platform 5.

When my train did eventually arrive, I was delighted to note that two cancellations had not rendered this three-carriage-wonder ludicrously full, and I settled thankfully into my window seat. Before long, the train pulled away and I felt reassured that home was now within reach.

The first part of the journey passed without incident and I became quickly engrossed in my magazine. There were additional stops to make, but there was something pleasantly mesmerising about the staccato rhythm of the wheels moving over the track and the sound of needles of rain bouncing off the windows at jaunty angles. And then I became aware of a different sound. The sound of raised voices and dull thuds.

I felt myself stiffen and the all too familiar feeling of fear and unease (associated with broken windscreens and trampled fences close to home) resurfaced. I looked around the carriage in an attempt to establish where the noise was coming from. And then I spotted the silhouettes of three men looming in the doorway of the adjacent carriage. It was not immediately clear what they were doing, but their presence was both threatening and unwelcome, reminiscent of an ITV drama, but sickeningly real. In a matter of minutes, the train slowed, and all three men came hurtling through our carriage, disappearing just as suddenly into the night.        

A little later, a young man staggered into view and gingerly lowered himself into an aisle seat. He had a cut on his face and looked badly shaken but there was a disarming aura of composure about him too. I didn’t know what to say. I mean, “Are you alright?” seemed painfully inadequate and yet I couldn’t just ignore his plight altogether. So, I made do with frequent glances in his direction, hoping against hope that he would somehow sense my feeble attempt at compassion. He must have done, because he looked straight at me before giving me the most tender of smiles. But rather than providing the comfort that was no doubt intended, the warmth of his gaze made me feel even more ashamed. How could he be so calm, after what he had just endured? Hadn’t he just been badly let down by his fellow passengers? By me?

As if he could read my thoughts, he said simply “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”. And as he left the train, I wept uncontrollably; not just for him, but for humankind.