Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dying and Rising to New Life in Star Wars

I know that many of your are disappointed in me right now... I did not post anything last week that reflected on the lectionary readings... but frankly, if you want a really awesome commentary, I refer you to the Rev. Janet MacNally's sermon for June 22. I do this 1) because she's my mentor, and 2) the lectionary seemed really inaccessible, but Janet just knocked it out of the park.

Meanwhile, last week I went to a Star Wars marathon that was also hosted at my church (my geek went into overdrive). We watched them in the Machete order, which begins with Episodes IV and V, then goes back to Episodes II and III (please note that it ignores the episode which shall not be named), and finally ends with Episode VI. It was glorious. By the time we finished Episode VI: the Return of the Jedi, I was in awe of the story arc that is Star Wars.

Now, the English teacher in me was still looking for something intelligent to say, and so was the deacon, and together they latched onto the theme of redemption that runs through the arc. So how does that play out? It starts with IV and V as this story of how a guy (Luke Skywalker) discovers that the most terrifying strong arm man and Dark-Side-of-the-Force practitioner is actually his dad. Then we find out how the young Anakin Skywalker fell from the straight and narrow to become the sinister Darth Vader. But the crowning achievement is in Episode VI, when Luke refuses to renounce or destroy his father and ultimately is able to bring out the last bit of good in him. And, of course, this is all set against the backdrop of the Star Wars universe that so many people know and love.

However, I, along with my inner deacon and English teacher, inwardly screamed at the travesty that happened at the end of Episode VI:


For those of you who are not aware, this is how that picture is supposed to look:

After Episodes I through III were made, a digitally remastered version of the original trilogy was released, with all sorts of "deleted material" "reinserted" into the movie... I think George Lucas was just being a jerk and trying to get more money out of the movies. But moreover, replacing Sebastian Shaw's head with Hayden Christensen's ignores the cycle of death and redemption.

I should explain what I mean by that, shouldn't I?

Okay, when the original Episode VI was released, nobody knew what the young Anakin Skywalker looked like because Episodes I-III had not yet been made. So they had the guy whose face we had seen under the helmet in the Death Star put on some Jedi robes, made him all semi-see-through, and called it good. Thus, in a very pragmatic way, we had an image of Luke's father that was not the ominous Vader mask. But I grew up with that image. And so I, as a very small and eager Star Wars fan, decided that it was also the image of the elder Skywalker after his son had redeemed him, that is, helped him to regain his humanity that the life support machine/suit had kept Anakin from living.

Then, along comes Hayden Christensen in Episodes II and III (with such astounding lines like "Sand. I hate sand! It gets into everything!") and we find out how the man went under the mask. And I liked it. I knew how the plot arc would end in Episode III, and yet I was still moved by the way that the movie showed it.

But then then went and put Haden Christensen's head into Episode VI. And people said it was so good because it showed Anakin before he went over to the Dark side; showed him before his innocence was stained.

No. Pardon my language, but F*** NO!

There is no redemption without casting off the previous form. An innocent does not need to be redeemed but neither can a vicious, violent man be accepted into Enlightenment, or a higher plane of existence, or whatever you want to call it without first forsaking his previously vicious, violent ways. In church-speak, all things must be made new before the Kingdom of Heaven can reign... let me connect the dots.

In the Star Wars Universe, the Jedi, in addition to protecting peace and justice, would commune with the Force in order to feel its movements and follow its lead (not unlike discernment in a church context). The Sith, however, would use the Force to serve their own ambition. The Force would be a source of power to allow a Sith to dominate and control whatever or whomever was around them.  This is also part of the reason why I did not particularly like the war aspect in Episodes I-III; the Jedi were using the Force as a tool to fight a war and that has always seemed to me like a Sith trait. But I digress...

After his death in Episode IV, Ben Kenobi was able to communicate with Luke from the other side of the veil. However, he could only do this after he had died. After a lifetime of communing with the Force, he was able to become one with it, communicate with Luke and then appear to him in Episode V. Yoda, too, had to die in Episode VI and become one with the Force before he was able to be visible to Luke in anyplace other than Dagobah (I apologize if that was an unannounced spoiler for anyone). And both of these men appeared to Luke as he had seen them last, just before they died. Which, in some way, meant that their ethereal existence was a continuation of their corporeal life. Woah. Sorry to go existential on you there.

Okay, so what about Anakin/Vader? Like I already said, the justification that I have heard for Hayden Christensen's head in Episode VI was that it was the image of Anakin while he still had his innocence. But I disagree. I think that if that were that the case, we should go back to Jake Llyod's face, which was Anakin's face on Tattooine, before he was separated from his mother; when he was simply communing with the Force and when he felt no tension in himself for good or evil; light or dark; altruism or self-service.

So the innocence thing doesn't work for me. But what else did Old Ben Kenobi and Yoda have in common? The Jedi were an order which served something that was larger than themselves. Anakin's fall and transformation into Vader came about when he decided that he wanted power for himself; when he decided that he was less interested in the greater good and more interested in increasing his own power. Although I will admit that in Episode III, Anakin wanted more power so that he could keep those he loved safe. But that didn't work out so well for him. When he ultimately lost everyone he loved, he was left alone with his power and he turned into Darth Vader.

So later in the saga, along comes the Son of Skywalker. The presence of this son meant that Skywalker/Vader did indeed have someone to love (which, of course, was problematic, since Vader had been told that his son never survived childbirth). Since Vader didn't have much practice as a father, he tried to turn his son to his own ways. And thankfully, that did not work. Luke was responsible for saving his father and finding the good and altruism in him, because Anakin/Vader could not stand by and watch as someone (the Emperor) tried to kill Luke slowly and sadisticly.  Anakin/Vader ultimately sacrificed himself for his son. And thus good prevailed. Anakin was redeemed and was able to become one with the Force as he died, and thus he was also able to appear to his son one last time, not as the terrifying machine, Darth Vader, but as the man, Anakin Skywalker. Old, scarred, not-the-Hayden-Christensen Anakin Skywalker.

This is my last churchy statement for this post: I have heard it said that you can't make it into the Promised Land unless you're limping. In a Biblical sense, this is true. Every patriarch I can think of in Scripture had some kind of physical ailment. Jacob walked with a limp, Moses spoke with a stutter, Paul was blind for a while... the Savior himself had to die before he was taken into heaven. I choose to believe the stories that tell of someone whose previous life passes away, and then they are transformed into something new so that they may truly live. And so I prefer the original image of Anakin Skywalker in Episode VI. Because he (metaphorically) walks with a limp.