As I write this post, over 24 million people have watched Volkswagen’s Star Wars inspired commercial “The Force” on the company’s official YouTube page. Throw in the millions who likely saw the commercial during Super Bowl XLV on Sunday evening—the NFL is reporting that it was the most-watched television show in U.S. history—as well as all the viral action it has been getting on Twitter, Facebook and the like, and it’s unlikely that many people have missed out on it. The question I’ve been pondering is: why do we all love it so much?
I think, at its very core, the virtue of “The Force” is that it connects so deeply to our childhood, and our belief as children in magic. How many boys and girls, since 1977, have attempted to move an object using The Force? How many have believed that, if they concentrated hard enough, they could move a laundry hamper or a glass of milk? The effort, the belief, and even the utter despondency in failure…it’s all there in the commercial. And the wonderful thing is that you don’t even have to be a Star Wars fan to relate. No matter our age or gender, there was a time in our life when we all believed in magic. It might have been Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Or it might have been a trip down the rabbit hole and a journey to Neverland. But sometime, somewhere, there was magic in our hearts, and we believed.
Watching “The Force,” I am reminded of a scene in the movie Shadowlands, where a young Douglas Gresham first encounters a real wardrobe in the home of author C.S. Lewis (5:11 to 6:04 in this clip). Douglas tentatively opens the door to the wardrobe, and then slowly begins moving the jackets around in the hopes of finding a gateway into the land of Narnia. His pace becomes accelerated, even frantic, until Douglas realizes that the wardrobe is simply that, a wardrobe. Disappointment, despair, and even rage cross Douglas’ face, and when Lewis appears in the attic where the wardrobe is stored, Douglas goes so far as to tell him that he should get rid of it. He has been crushed that utterly. He wants any reminder of his disappointment to be destroyed. This has always been my favorite scene in Shadowlands. I remember my breath catching the very first time I saw it, and I felt in my soul the same anxiousness, excitement and despair that Douglas felt as his hands moved throughout the jackets. Even watching it now, I still hope beyond all hope that Douglas will find a way through. That he, with me at his side, will venture into the snow-covered lands of Narnia, guided by the light of a solitary lamppost. I know the devastating outcome, but I never stop believing.
It’s the same way with the boy dressed as Darth Vader in “The Force,” and it’s the same way with us watching him struggle. We want him to succeed as much as he does. When he is able to start the car, we are as happy as he is. Not just because he has succeeded, but because it has served as a reminder—maybe even a restoration—of the belief we had as children that there was magic in the world. As adults, we have let so much of that joy and wonder in the world disappear. We have abandoned it, even deprecated its existence in our fellow adults. But there is a distinction that we fail to recognize, what author Christopher Noxon describes as “the difference between childlike and childish.” One should still be able to see the wonder, the mystery, the magic in the world, without overly romanticizing what it was like to be a child. It’s strange that it should take a car commercial to help us figure that out.