Star Wars Reticence

On this site, it is hard to miss the emphasis on God’s grace and our […]

David Browder / 12.9.14

On this site, it is hard to miss the emphasis on God’s grace and our passivity. Grace as God’s overriding disposition toward the human condition in Christ and passivity as suffering the work of an interested and loving God on His people. All of the grace, celebration, joy, redemption, and catharsis we receive rest on The Great Ending of One Finished Act of God we suffer… an act we observe and hear about instead of work to bring to pass. This Great Ending is the basis of all of our mining on Mockingbird.

So, count me as one who is deeply reticent about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Don’t get me wrong… I will go see it, and quite happily. Like you, I viewed the trailer over the Thanksgiving holiday and found myself captivated by the potential of a J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars film. His Star Trek films were terrific (if exhausting).

I will advise you, though… watch the original trilogy again… and again… and again… before the new movie is out. Why? Because after Episode VII is released, the cathartic and glorious end of Episode VI will forever be mitigated. The thrilling defeat of the Emperor and the triumph of the Light will go from satiating and final to temporary and parenthetical. The great ending will be reversed.

This is a sad thing. Why? It seems to me like an artistic rendering of our collective loss of faith. It mirrors the recession of hope in the Ultimate Victory that has been ingrained in the West since it became known as the West. As we all approach death, it seems we now have little more to hold onto than the pursuit of happiness and the elusive promise of the good life… pathetic consolation prizes.

nosferatuThis became clear to me after I saw the 1922 version of the film Nosferatu alongside Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of the same. In the 1922 version, the vampire, Count Orlok, moves into a modern town and brings pestilence, death, and dread with him. They trick the vampire to stay up until dawn and the sun eviscerates him. All is restored, sickness turns to health, and the bitten become human again. It all becomes new!

The ending of the 1979 version of Nosferatu is quite different. The vampire is tricked and dies but the bitten does not return to humanity. He escapes an intentional but futile attempt to trap him in a circle of consecrated Host (!) and gallops off into an uncertain future to the tune of a Requiem Mass, presumably to further spread evil. It is an ominous end and one that consciously shatters the Great Ending. Classic Herzog.

Think about your childhood in the 1980s… the constant diet of slasher films. Friday the 13th Part 10: Jason Goes to Space, Halloween Part 12: Michael Myers Goes the Nursing Home, etc. The slasher often assumes supernatural characteristics over the course of the series and continually comes back… as long as the producers see a lucrative promise. In its course the “Word” received by the young mind is that the Great Ending never comes and we are trapped in a prison of a horrific and malevolent chaos theory.

jediendingOne of the great contrasts to that collective and artistic loss of faith was Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The defeat of The Empire (Nazi uniforms and all), the permanent liberation of Anakin Skywalker from the horror of the Dark Side, and the permanent triumph of the Good.

No more.

Again, don’t get me wrong… I am looking forward to this movie and I will be first in line to see it. The trailer looks great and the possibilities are thrilling… and, after all, it is just a movie. There will be a mourning for me, though… for that 10 year-old boy who, with wonder and awe, cathartically connected with the Great Ending of the “Eucatastrophe” (as J.R.R. Tolkien put it) and recognized that Great Ending later in the promises of the Finished Act of God… the new hope that seems to be slipping away from us.

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9 responses to “Star Wars Reticence”

  1. Ian says:

    I hear you re: Episode VI glee being subverted by the existence of an Episode VII at all, much less one in which Luke is in danger of falling to the Dark Side and there’s still (how exactly?) Sith out there somewhere. It reminds me, though, of Elrond’s remark about fighting “the long defeat” in The Fellowship of the Ring: he’s seen too much and fought for too long to be overly optimistic about any victory save the eschaton. Episode VII could be a right use of pessimism (Scruton) to keep us realistic about evil’s defeatability, I suppose.

    And the Falcon looks amazing.

  2. Ian, I think there are two ways to look at these sequels (or, in my case, two ways to overanalyze :-))… one is the subjective way (which, I think, is the way you are looking at it… a fine way and one I thought about myself) and an objective way (that is, the story being done unto you as some form of analogy). I am looking at it in objective, eschatological way… as analogy to the Great Story we hear every Sunday.

    Either way works, I think, but I tend to connect more with the latter and I guess I see the latter way as more broadly descriptive of where we are as Christianity becomes a minority report. It seems to me that stories are taking on a minor key as we deal (we think… as a society) with the belief that the Great Story is untrue rather than as a description of a low anthropology.

    It would be much more hopeful to look at it the way you do, probably, but the 10 year-old in me just can’t.

  3. And the Falcon does look amazing. Interested to see the Sith and how he came about.

    • Ian says:

      I find it interesting you read my comment in a hopeful light, but perhaps it was due to the word “Eschaton” being tethered to Elrond’s comment about “the long defeat”- though I only added that as a Christian gloss on his heroic, Norse despair.

      Seriously, though, where the flip are these other Sith coming from???

  4. Em7srv says:

    Love this…I was thinking about this the other day in regards to my own short sightedness in temporary things vs eternal…Tolkien, to me, is a sad story about sad things that were still sad even when good was victorious. (Makes me think of something I read on here recently about how a good book/movie is never long enough and a bad one is always too long)… But it touches on the futility of solving what is the deepest of problems within the temporary framework of life (vs an eternal solution outside the scope of this life) So when I read this post my mind goes to the same thread of recurring sadness as in Tolkien that is that current ‘futility’ and the unknown of how all of this will be redeemed ultimately even the suffering – Samwise “are all sad thing going to come untrue?” – that probably made no sense but I am fascinated as to the use of the original actors in apparently a pretty major way I have heard.

  5. JT says:

    Good post. One of the things I find interesting about the original trilogy or even the entire six-part saga is that you have this entire space opera/hero’s quest/Arthurian legend rife with eastern/buddhist themes and new age/occult tendencies… and yet the very crux or apex of the entire story hinges on a message or at least the (albeit unintentional) imagery of redemption and substitutionary atonement. Most fans know SW for “the force” (again, buddhist in its undertone), and yet the very pinnacle and point of the entire series consists of a five minute scene at the end of Jedi where the external suffering of the son provides and produces the redemption of Anakin Skywalker (Lucas has said in previous interviews that that’s what SW is all about: AS’s redemption). If you look closely, Luke never really realizes strength by the end of his maturity cycle. He never overcomes his inner weakness… and yet in a moment of ultimate weakness for our hero, the sight of his taking the punishment (at the hands of Palpatine) in a sense “for” Vader releases Vader. This is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but IMO the imagery suggests a picture of Christ’s suffering as the external and objective outside-of-us rescue that saves us from the dark side and brings us into the light. So, in the end, even Christian theology supersedes the inward-looking nature of the force (reach out with your feelings… feel the energy b/t you, the rocks, the trees…).
    Also, I would agree that the very final scene of ROTJ (esp the special edition) clearly implies that all around the SW universe, the toppling of the empire and the end of its oppressive terror was complete. So, I’m not sure how they will explain enough resistance w/in the Empire to constitute a formidable foe for the new republic. Also, don’t forget that the prequels clearly stated that Anakin would restore balance to the force. So, that means (in my mind at least) one of the two things: the jedis’ insight is not as comprehensive or clear as we believed all these years and throughout all these films. And/or we have not seen the last of Anakin… could there be yet another phase of his redemptive work that even the closure we thought we saw in ROTJ did not explain… don’t know.
    And Yes, it WILL be fun to watch these films again… even if they abound with plot holes and inconsistent continuity with the previous 6 films. I think the resurgence of evil and the need for yet more battles in ep 7 and the consequent sequels to follow in later years does speak to the reality that in this life, we restless souls are not satisfied with hearing the story “one time”. In other words, as joyous and comforting as it is to hear The Story and to be reminded of a good conclusion and consummation, we yet crave the reassurance we can only find in hearing it again and again and again and again. So, the directors have given us yet another story of the rise, the zenith, and the ultimate overthrow of evil. We continue to want to hear more and more and more Story b/c our hearts need that sustenance of The Gospel daily and repeatedly all throughout our pilgrimage until we reach the true ending to the true Story in which we all live.
    Sorry, I can’t respond to all the convo’s that have gone forth in this thread on Hobbit/LOTR… not as familiar with the series…

  6. From what’s been stated this week, it’s pretty clear that episode 7 suffers in the same way reinvented Trek and other franchise giants do at the moment. Here’s a really good analysis of the problems – Please note: this refers to some of the plot arc in the new movie, so see it first if you intend to, and then read:

    • Ian says:

      I couldn’t disagree more: where many contrarians note formal similarities and equate them with 100% repetitions of content, I can only say, “Bollocks!” Episode 7 moves alongnthe same trajectories as each of the prior trilogies and recapitulates inter-trilogy movements but typically honors them by harmonic variation. Episode 7 is pretty outstanding if we can jettison our cynicism post-Episodes 1, 2, and 3.

  7. Bryan J. says:

    Man, was this article prescient!

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