Star Wars I:
The Phantom Menace (just released in 3-D)
Yes, you have to remember that the
original three (1977-1983) are now called IV,V, & VI, and what is now
called I (1999) actually serves as a prequel, with II and III completing the
backstory leading up to the originals. So
“The Phantom Menace” was made after George Lucas had taken a break for oh,
about 16 years, and the rust shows. There’s
a kind of awkwardness, especially in the decisions to make the main character
a small child and one of the side characters a clumsy, annoying,
computer-enhanced buffoon with barely-discernible speech patterns.
But there’s a lot to like, too, with the Oscar-nominated special
effects, and the imagination-catching world-view of a democratic
interplanetary federation struggling not to descend into its “dark side,”
a fascism of absolute power corrupting absolutely.
But for the Christian, there are some strong faith echoes here, as
The whole concept of The Dark Side
resonates with the temptation to succumb to evil and sin, as well as being in
concert with the idea that evil itself is a kind of force in the universe:
“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the
rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present
darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”
The apparent virgin birth of “the
Chosen One,” the one predicted by the prophecy, who would bring balance to
the Force, certainly sounds like a Messianic expectation.
But Anakin Skywalker, whose mother says has no father, was born a slave
and works for a shyster merchant, and though certainly talented, may already
be too old to train in the ways of the Jedi: knights
who maintain order, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (to its own
council), and continually practice discipline, self-control, and the ancient
art of swordfighting (with a light saber). The
taciturn elders in the Council are understandably nervous about trying to
train this boy, who seems to have been spontaneously generated by the
midochlorian “Force”, because he’s already too worldly, and already
governed by fear, which leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to
the dark side. Interesting that this
monastic-kind of order strives to suppress emotion.
The Jedi knight (Liam Neeson) explains
to the boy (Jake Lloyd) that the Force governs the whole universe and is part
of every living thing, which sounds like Deism without a prayer life.
The Sith apprentice, Darth Maul, looks like a medieval devil, with
horns no less, and he’s only there to disrupt anybody working for peace or
order: evil as chaos and violence.
The Emperor, of course, is continually deceitful :
“When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a
liar and the father of lies” (John
The Queen of the Naboo (Natalie Portman)
kneels before the king of the Gungans to plead for his help with the clone
war, and, sure enough, the one who humbles herself will be exalted (Matthew
23:12). Her clever disguise to preserve
herself is reminiscent of David among the Philistines (I Samuel 21-31).
Yes, it’s supposed to be “a long
time ago, in a galaxy far away,” but “Star Wars” continues to resonate
because of the way the cosmic and the personal are intertwined, and in the
end, it is all about which Way we shall choose, isn’t it? (Deuteronomy
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,