George Lucas is Darth Vader is Your Father

For children of the 70s and 80s, the phrase “cautiously optimistic” perfectly fits our feelings […]

Nick Lannon / 12.4.14

For children of the 70s and 80s, the phrase “cautiously optimistic” perfectly fits our feelings about the first teaser trailer for J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. We love “the original trilogy” (Episodes IV through VI) almost as much as we regret having ever heard of the prequels (Episodes I through III). Most of us, though I can’t speak for the true die-hard Star Trek fans, like what Abrams did with his Star Trek reboot and are hopeful that he can bring back some of this series’ luster—a shine that was lost in Jar Jar Binks’s infuriating Gungan speech patterns and wave after wave of computer-generated robotic soldiers.

Lucas himself has become the villain of the piece (see The People vs George Lucas if you don’t believe me), as terrifying to true fans as his iconic creation, Darth Vader. In fact, one of our best reasons for hope about this new movie is that George Lucas didn’t have anything to do with it! Also, that shot of the Millennium Falcon is really sweet. Perhaps, we pray, a new director can leave the mistakes of the prequels behind.

In consuming every possible thing I can about this current iteration of Star Wars, I came across an article by The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias entitled “Who Owns Star Wars?” In the piece, he wonders if the franchise belongs more to the fans than it does to the studio (now Disney, which bought LucasFilm from founder Lucas for $4 billion) that legally owns the rights to the property. Finally, though, he comes to the inescapable conclusion that it is Lucas—no longer connected to Star Wars in any legal way—who still owns the space opera.

From the piece:

George Lucas…is the correct answer. He still owns Star Wars, despite the successful movement to wrest it away from him, both as a franchise and as a creative enterprise. Just [the trailer’s] first shot of John Boyega, a black stormtrooper, appearing in the desert is an implicit criticism of Lucas’ largely whitewashed prequels, the marginal presence of Mace Windu aside. Star Wars has its own long list of influences, from Joseph Campbell to Akira Kurosawa, but even ideas that exist in defiance of Lucas’ vision are engaged in conversation with it, and doing so on Lucas’ terms. Abrams and company can mimic the things they loved about the original movies or reject them fervently, but they can’t escape Lucas’ grasp.

This is an incredible paragraph, and very true. Lucas, even in his absence and without his effort, is exerting an incredible amount of control over this new movie. Do you see how? Even when the producers of the new film seek to reject Lucas’s perceived mistakes, they are being directed by him. Negatively, to be sure…but his controlling influence is still felt. The analog is a child who pledges not to “make the same mistakes” as his parents, and is therefore always referring to their behavior as he raises his own children. He is still controlled by his parents, even if he vows to make every decision in defiance of the decisions that they made.

Theologically speaking, this is how we interact with the law. People basically respond to law (or, more generally, demand) in one of two ways: either they set about following the rules set before them or they set about rebelling (ahem…in a galaxy close, close to home) against them. That’s overly simplistic, but not overwhelmingly so. Either way, we are bound to the law! This simple truth is what lies at the core of Martin Luther’s contention that human beings have a “bound”  will, rather than a “free” one: we can do “whatever we want,” but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that we’re not always in reaction—whether positive or negative—to the demands of life.

J.J. Abrams finds himself in a similar situation to the one George Lucas was in on the eve of the release of The Phantom Menace. The expectations were so sky-high, all he could hope to do was meet them. The best reaction Lucas could have gotten to his movie was relief. Instead, he got anger. Abrams is in a better spot—remember, we’re cautiously optimistic—but the internet fervor about the broadsword lightsaber reveals that there is some unsated demand out there yet. There are still laws to be obeyed or rebelled against. There is, in fact, no end to this demand. It will never be satisfied. Tobias notes that anyone who signs up to make a Star Wars film “cannot depart from the text, despite the order that they must depart from the text.”

So what can J.J. Abrams do? More pressingly, what can we do? How can we get out of this bear trap—this bondage of the will? Well, we can’t. We cannot depart from the text, despite the order that we must depart from the text. Whether we strive to follow the law or do everything we can to break it, we are crushed by its iron grip. There’s nothing we can do to avoid the fact that Darth Vader is our father. We must be rescued.

We have, praise God, a savior who doesn’t shout from the sidelines, who doesn’t ask us to extricate ourselves from this mess. He wades into the muck (of Dagobah? Too far?) and pulls us out. He throws us over his shoulder (again, to our dismay, we find ourselves powerless…but this time, powerless before a loving master) and carries us to safety. Christ, by perfectly fulfilling it in our place, breaks the demand of the law forever. We are free.