May the Fourth be with you, always.

Today is Star Wars day and I’m terribly conflicted.

On one hand, I absolutely love Star Wars.  On the other, I really struggle to like Star Wars creator George Lucas.  This is because Lucas is the man responsible for both giving birth to Star Wars as a rebellion against tyranny and also crushing it in the iron fist of his imperial regime.

Star Wars was created by a twenty something nerd who had visions of what could happen when young people were given the freedom to unleash their creative powers in service to a greater vision.  Star Wars was also destroyed by a powerfully mythologized, middle aged billionaire who earned the right to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

This is the point where you might begin to question whether or not I’m an actual fan.

While I could tell you about the three decades I spent purchasing AND PLAYING WITH the action figures, or the summer of 1985 when I watched The Empire Strikes Back for 28 consecutive days, the most compelling piece of evidence is this:

20 minutes into my first viewing of Star Wars I was weeping.  A mournful french horn sounded the notes of John Williams’ epic score as Luke Skywalker stared into the twin suns of Tatooine from the edge of his desert homestead.  I was only 9 years old.  It would take me a decade to understand what the tears were about.

Like George Lucas I grew up in the central valleys of California, desperate to get away from the confines of trapped existence.  I knew in my heart that if I could just escape MY desert homeworld I would become successful beyond my wildest dreams… all it would take was a sweet ride and a big dog for a co-pilot.

Star Wars touched that same nerve in untold millions of people during the bleak years of the Carter administration.  It gave us hope that no matter how badly things looked for us, the humans would triumph over the machine.

What we didn’t know was that Star Wars almost never made it to the big screen.

The production was plagued by disasters financial, technical, and natural but the drive and the passion of Lucas and his creative team gave us something to remember in the summer of ’77.  Their victory over the bankers, billowing clouds, and the box office enabled the runaway success of Star Wars.  That success ensured that the only limiting factor on George Lucas’ abilities would be existential as opposed to external.

Success and its attendant resources mean that you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it… now you only have to battle yourself to get it.

Lucas has been mired in the existential battle ever since.

In a stroke of genius the exhausted Lucas turned over the helm of The Empire Strikes Back to director Irvin Kirshner.  Kirshner’s ability to find the human story in the midst of the lasers and droids gave us a fantasy masterpiece.  We didn’t care that it ended a three year high with a three year buzzkill.

Richard Marquand directed the culmination of the original trilogy and while debate rages over the efficacy of the Ewoks, we entered the year 1984 confident that The Return of the Jedi meant we were finally free of the “Evil Empire”.

Lucas divorced in 1983 and spent the rest of the decade delivering hot and cold.  His collaborations with more grounded professionals led to success, while  his more personal flights of fancy left us with bombs like Tucker and Howard the Duck.  He spent the 1990’s exploring Indiana Jones’ childhood.

This should have been the first warning sign of what was to come.

Lucas would spent his vast fortune digging into what makes us, us.  Gone was what we could become, it was replaced with the desire to discover where he had come from.  This would become the fatal flaw of the prequel trilogy.

Episodes I, II, and III are sharply focused on how the terrible things that are experienced by children come to define and shape them.  They are a world where the sadness and pain of the child give birth to the rage and uncontrollable urges of the adult.  In this truth, Lucas bulls-eyes the womp rat.  Where he hits the trench wall is in believing that a present spent mired in tinkering with the past truly benefits the future.

This tinkering with the past began with the 1978 re-release of Star Wars.  Lucas has spent so much resource re-working his films over the years that it’s now impossible to view them the way they were originally released… and loved.  I still own a Laserdisc player because LaserDisc offers the most unaltered version of the trilogy in the best quality available.

The exploration of childhood trauma combined with stilted dialogue, remarkably implausible/creepy romance, and more accidental heroic success by children than the entire Scooby Doo series has given us a new trilogy of “children’s films” involving lost limbs and charred flesh.

Lucas insists that the Original films were children’s films made in the style of the original hollywood serials.  While this may have been his intention, it reveals that Lucas didn’t, and still doesn’t, understand parents.  Imagine parents taking children to a movie that features the hero cutting off the villains head only to discover that the villains head is really his own!

Without any real studio accountability, Lucas’ hard earned freedom forged the worst performances of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman’s careers.  By going deep inside his own experience, Lucas abandoned frontiers filled with New Hope and left us holding a bag of someone else’s sadness and regret.   He got into his spaceship, defeated the empire, and then recreated it in his own image.

Which is always what happens when we believe that the answer lies within us as opposed to above, then around us.

Everything I’ve ever done on my own has reflected the importance of “me” and “my own beliefs.”  While I call it creative freedom, it’s merely individualism.  Over the years I’ve learned that what lives inside of me isn’t pretty, it’s truly the leftover rubbish of what I’ve experienced.  It’s only redeemed when I look beyond myself to the ONE who created me and called me into community with those around me.

To do this I have to believe that the “force” surrounding me doesn’t exist impersonally waiting to act at my beckoning.  It existed before me and offers to change my nature so that no matter what happened to me, I’m not a slave to the anger or urges that are produced as a result.  Through HIM, I don’t just access the force, The Force remakes me.  It’s only then that I have the power to live the hero’s journey.

I’m able to escape my desolate homestead for the purpose of redeeming it… not rebuilding it in my own image.

Thank the Maker.


5 Responses to “May the Fourth be with you, always.”

  1. Milo Curtis May 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Here’s my 1st take-a-way
    You’ve got Star Wars on Laserdisc! LU-CKY!

    2nd Take-a-way
    I completely agree, Lucas got away from what made Star Wars, Star Wars. What endeared us to the franchise wasn’t the style of film making or the dramatic settings (star ships, bizare aliens, and strange planets). What endeared us was the beats of the hero narrative. Those beats are felt at the deep end of the human soul. We all want to be caught up in a story of hope, courage, and redemption.

    A few years ago I taught a series on the “DNA of a Superhero.” We explored the beats that are common in the hero narrative (as laid out by Joseph Campbell) and how those beats can be found in our own journey towards Christ. There are only a handful of films that have given adequate margin to exploring these themes. Star Wars is one of those.

    • Jon May 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      I’m feeling you here. I love Joseph Campbell’s work on Myth and the hero’s journey. Star wars really gave us an opportunity to see the hero’s journey from the perspective of so many heroes.

      In my opinion, the story of the Bible has so much mythic power and an intrinsic, inspired accuracy that it’s really impossible to resist. The fact that God is the hero who make heroes out of villains makes it so compelling to read and live.

      I just wish that Lucas hadn’t given up the hero’s journey as a motif… also would have helped to have someone else direct Episodes II and III like he did V and VI.

      Thanks for dropping knowledge Milo!

  2. Casey Dugan May 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Milo any other films you might recommend as exploring those themes? My daughters and I have enjoyed the original trilogy, though they are curiously more enamored of the prequels trilogy. I have unsuccessfully attempted to get them to consider the differences in the stories and how things played out in the original three – becoming vs been. I do think that both identities are relevant in looking at our evolving relationship with Christ but that who we once were has an increasingly irrelevant aspect as we realize who we are and become in that relationship. I think that Lewis explores this in “Till We HAve Faces.”

    • Jon May 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

      The Lord of the Rings films touch on so much of what is right about Tolkien’s work that they can be forgiven for the places they miss. If they are old enough for Star Wars, the Rings should be Ok.

      Spider man 1 and 2 are also pretty good illustrations of the burden of responsibility that a maturing hero wears.

    • Milo Curtis May 10, 2011 at 7:19 am #

      @ Casey. I echo Jon’s recommendations. The only one other movie that comes to mind is the Mission. As a stand-a-lone film it captures the major beats of the hero narrative and offers a good quandary to the topic of justice at the end. It’s a bit heavy though. If you haven’t seen it you should screen it before you show the kiddos.

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