The Tao of Star Wars

A look at the Taoist concept of wu wei through the lens of the Star Wars series.

Adapted from The Tao of Star Wars with permission of the author.

Wu wei

may be the most misunderstood of all the precepts of Taoism. It's most commonly translated "nonaction or inaction," and appears in verses of the Tao Te Ching like:

Act without doing;
Work without effort.
--Chapter 63 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

Nonaction or inaction is almost a heretical thought in Western society. However, true

wu wei

is the most efficient action possible, the most spontaneous and often the most creative action. It is not a life of a sloth or laziness, but one in which the least possible effort yields the most effective and productive outcome. Actions come from a more intuitive area of the mind.

The closest analogy would be when an athlete is "in the zone." The actions are not coming from the thinking or calculating area of the mind, but they are being done. Obviously, this is not the same as doing nothing.

The master does nothing,
Yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
Yet many things are left to be done...
--Chapter 38


wu wei

is not non-action but effortless action. It is action without meddlesome, contentious, or egotistical exertion. It's the effortless action that results from combining your inner nature (P'u and Te) with the natural laws operating around you. In short, it is being in harmony with the Tao.


The prerequisite for this is to feel the Tao. You cannot harmonize with the Tao if you don't feel it or are not aware of its presence.

Throughout the Star Wars series, those strong in the Force are constantly talking about feeling the Force. In Star Wars, when Luke is learning how to use the lightsaber against the remote, Obi Wan counsels him:

Obi-Wan: Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.
Luke: You mean it controls your actions?
Obi-Wan: Partially.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda admonishes Luke to feel the Force during his training on Dagobah, saying "A Jedi's strength flows from the Force." In one scene, he tells Luke to focus in order to feel the Force:

Yoda: Feel it. (Luke becomes distracted by Artoo's frantic beeping and loses his balance.)
Yoda: Concentrate!

Later, Luke is standing upside down, but his face shows less strain and more concentration than before. Yoda stands beside him.

Yoda: Concentrate. (Equipment slowly rises into the air.)
Yoda: Feel the Force flow. Yes.
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