Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Star Wars Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi -- fulfilling destiny, redeeming Darth

Director: Richard Marquand, 1983.

The final chapter of the Star Wars saga has a new director but the same set of characters. The first trilogy comes full circle with the evil empire building a new Death Star, indestructible more powerful than the first. It is time for the fight to the death.

With Han Solo (Harrison Ford) hanging as wall decor for the giant sluglike gangster Jabba the Hutt, Leia (Carrie Fisher) and then Luke (Mark Hamill) put on abortive rescue attempts to no avail. With the now familiar team of humans, droids and wookie captured and sentenced to a slow painful death in the Tatooine desert (where this all started), all appears lost. But that is to ignore their ingenuity and quick-thinking. With a nod to Errol Flyn, Luke transforms from prisoner to swash-buckling pirate as his escape plan unfolds. What a start to this ultimate story ender.

But this story is most certainly destined to end: destiny being one of its key themes. Luke, the Christ figure, is at its center, and he is told so in no uncertain terms. In a vision, Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) tells him, "You cannot escape your destiny." Later the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who is also the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, says, "It is your destiny." Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) gets into the act: "You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny."

Destiny in Star Wars is akin to the biblical concept of predestination. As Luke could not escape his destiny, we cannot escape that which is foreknown by God (Psa. 139:16; 1 Pet. 1:2). Though election, foreknowledge and predestination form a trio of doctrines that have seen contentious explication in Christian circles, they are nonetheless biblical. It is inarguable that God has predestined all who choose to follow Jesus to become like him (Rom. 8:29), through the life-long process which will culiminate in us being glorified after death in heaven (Rom 8:30). In Jesus we will have life (Jn. 10:10), both now and then (Lk. 18:30; Rev. 20:4-6). Apart from Jesus, we are dead now (Eph. 2:1) and eternally dead later (Rev. 20:14-15). We cannot escape our destiny.

In his interaction with the vision of Obi-wan, Luke hears him explain why he told him earlier (in episode 4) that Darth Vader was not his father: "Your father . . . was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true . . . from a certain point of view." Luke is unconvinced: "A certain point of view?" But Obi-wan goes on, "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."

So, is Obi-wan right? Is truth perspectivally relative? Certainly there are aspects of truth in this truth-statement. We call the brick wall solid, yet we know scientifically that the molecules comprising the wall are mostly empty space. Solid indeed! Or the idea of sunrise and sunset. These are figures of speech, since we know the truth: it is the earth rotating around the sun, not the sun setting or rising. But, there is also the truth that some truth, perhaps the more important truths, are absolute. Jesus is Lord (Ac. 2:36). He is the truth (Jn. 14:6). He has risen from the dead (Jn. 21:14). He, and his truth, will set us free (Jn. 8:32) and will give us new life if we choose to accept it and follow him (Jn. 1:12). These are not relative. We cannot change them if we take a different perspective. Some will disagree, and from their point of view will see these as untruths. Yet, there will come a day when the truth shines forth, blazing brighter than the noon-time sun. Then all will know these truths (Phil. 2:11).

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Limited Edition) Publicity StillAs the movie moves to its conclusion, the battle lines get drawn on the planet of Endor. Here we meet the curious teddy bear-like creatures known as Ewoks, who errantly worshipped C-3PO as a god, just as Paul and Luke were worshipped incorrectly by the men of Lystra as gods (Ac. 14:11-13). While Han and Leia seek to destroy the transmitter that is preventing the rebel force from destroying the Death Star, Luke goes to his inevitable confrontation with his father and the emperor.

As Luke stands before Darth Sidious, the evil Sith urges him to kill, first the emperor then the father. Luke almost gives in to his rising anger, especially in the climactic light saber duel with Darth Vader. Just like in The Empire Strikes Back, these two, father and son, face off: good versus evil. But now Luke is stronger in the force. More than this, he believes there is still a flicker of good left in what was once Anakin. And when he willingly lays down his saber, trusting in this ember of goodness, Darth Vader transforms moments before death once more into Anakin Skywalker. The redemption of the prodigal father is achieved. Just as it took the voluntary surrender of Christ's life to win redemption for the world (Tit. 2:14), so the Christ-figure in Star Wars wins redemption for his father and salvation for the galaxy.

It was the hope of the son that ultimately saved the father. And hope remained throughout the saga, in one person or another. In episode 4, Leia looked to a Jedi, "Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." This was well-placed hope. In episode 5, Obi-Wan tells Yoda, "The boy is our last hope." Here Luke himself tells Leia, "If I don't make it back, you're the only hope for the Alliance." Hope is a narrow river that runs through the rebel forces until it arrives at the ocean of fulfillment. In life, hope can carry us through times of struggle and suffering. But hope will prove true only if it is placed in the right person. Just as hope was consummated in the Christ-figure of Luke in Star Wars, so our hope can be realized in the true Christ-figure of Jesus (1 Tim. 1:1; Tit. 2:13) alone.

The Return of the Jedi brings Lucas' original trilogy and story to a satisfying close. Not as good as the original Star Wars, still the story arc is accomplished with few loose ends. For years this was all we had, and it was enough. At least till the turn of the millenium.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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