Friday, January 1, 2010
Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope -- using the force
Director: George Lucas, 1977.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . ." As the title card crawls upwards, the glorious strains of the unforgettable John Williams score transport us to a distant galaxy, where alien creatures and Jedi knights co-exist. This is the film that transformed science fiction and catapulted Harrison Ford into stardom in his first defining role as Han Solo, the charming smuggler with the twinkling eyes and crooked smile.
I remember seeing this on the big screen in Oxford when it first came out. It was so good, I had to see it again at the theater. It was everything a classic should be, with a terrific "good-vs-evil" story, fabulous action sequences, excellent special effects (for its time), and a diabolical villain. Indeed, in 2003 Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) was voted the third best (worst?) villain of the last 100 years, in the American Film Institute's poll (behind Hannibal Lecter of The Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho's Norman Bates). Seeing it again on the small screen, it still brings a thrill, and is (in my opinion) the best film in the Star Wars series.
As the film opens, we see the Death Star, the fearsome weapon created by the evil empire to control its galactic subjects with fear. But the plans for the weapon have been stolen by rebels. As Darth Vader talks of the mysterious Force, Admiral Motti says, "Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fortress." Not a good thing to say to the dark Sith Lord. Indeed, the worst rank to be in the imperial starfleet navy is admiral, since almost all the admirals in the original trilogy die at the "forceful" hands of Darth Vader. Better to be a midshipman than an admiral. Vader, choking the admiral without touching him by using the dark side of the force, replies, "I find your lack of faith disturbing."
This initial dialog makes it clear that Star Wars involves religious themes, themes that we will explore over the course of this and subsequent reviews. Faith is central to the film, as it is to life. Admiral Motta has no faith and pays the price. Many people today have no faith and will find themselves paying the price someday. To experience life and not death, we must place our faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:9-10; Jn. 10:10). Everyone has faith, though they may not admit it. If they disbelieve the biblical accounts of Christ, then their faith is simply placed elsewhere. Even atheists believe in something, just not in God.
When Vader boards a rebel ship and captures Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) she sets the story moving by secreting the stolen plans in the databank memory of R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). This little mechanic droid and his compadre, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), a protocol droid with the voice of a British butler, escape to the desert planet of Tatooine where they are bought by Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) family.
One of the pleasures of this first Star Wars film are the characters. And these two droids are true characters. They are the Laurel and Hardy duo that brings comic relief to the action. While R2-D2 is a practical and pragmatic, get-it-done, voice-less (but not silent) droid, C-3PO is a pessimistic,"sky-is-falling" whiner: "We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life" and "We're doomed." Luke is a boy-next-door hero, with emphasis on boy rather than man. He is clean-cut and gung-ho. Leia provides the obvious female attraction, but even that is combined with inner and outer strength. She can stand on her own. But it is Solo who takes the cake. He is a cynic, a self-centered opportunist who slowly and inevitably becomes selfless. His chemistry with Leia begins here and continues through two sequels. This is a team we care about and will root for, regardless of their arguing; indeed, especially because of their squabbling.
It is only when R2-D2 leaves to find the mysterious Ben Kenobi (Alec Guiness), and Luke goes in pursuit, that we are introduced to the Jedi Knights. Ben was a Jedi, known as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and knew Luke's father, Anakin. Luke has the genetic makeup to be a Jedi himself. Indeed, he is a Christ figure in this trilogy, the eventual savior of the universe.
When his uncle and aunt are murdered by imperial stormtroopers, Luke gets a chance to live his dreams: leaving Tatooine and being a fighter pilot. With the aid of mercenary smuggler Han Solo and Chewbacca, his Wookie co-pilot, they charter the Millenium Falcon to escape and find the rebels. It is on the ship that Obi-Wan begins to teach Luke about the Force: "The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together."
Coming out in the mid-70s, this idea of the omni-present force was definitely spouting new age thinking. It is pantheistic, in which everything is a part of the all-encompassing immanent god. Here, in Star Wars, this force is an impersonal thing. But in real life pantheism is replaced by theism, even monotheism. There is an immanent God who is omnipresent. He is Christ, the creator and sustainer of the universe (Jn. 1:1). "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17). Not impersonal, but very personal, Jesus is the true force in the universe.
When Luke, Han, Chewy, and the two droids are pulled into the Death Star, they find themselves in an adventure rescuing the princess, while Obi-wan faces off with Darth, his former apprentice. Light-sabers flashing, the duel of the Jedis is one of the highlights of the film, even if evil overcomes good. In sacrifice, that happens. But evil's victory is not always sweet or permanent. When Jesus sacrificed himself, laying down his life in apparent defeat on the cross (Mk. 15:33-37), the enemy, the dark one, savored the moment. But the moment was short, as Jesus rose in true victory three days later (Mk. 16:9).
At the climax of the film, the rebel star-fighters need to destroy the Death Star with a single proton torpedo shot into its only weakness. (Why is it that when the evil empire builds this superlative weapon they fail to allow for this one weakness? Isn't that so typical of the evil designers in all these films?) Sent on their mission with the famous blessing, "May the force be with you," hero Luke remembers the words of his mentor, "Use the Force, Luke." Only by letting go, by releasing his reliance on his own skills and allowing the force to guide him, can he make the impossible shot.
It can be like that in our spiritual lives, too. We can become skilled and self-dependent. As we trust our instincts and rely on our own abilities, we can sometimes becomes too cock-sure. When this happens, God gets no credit or glory. We succeed in our own strength and that is not God's intention. He would rather we, like Luke, use the spiritual force, the ever-present person of the Holy Spirit. As we allow him to work through us, instead of pushing him aside, Jesus gets the glory (1 Cor. 10:31) and the "shot" hits the target. Like Luke's impossible shot, "nothing is impossible with God!" (Lk. 1:37)
All this, in what was to be the first of six episodes.
Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs
at 12:01 AM