Cracking the Star Wars Code -- Cornerstone 2000
HELLO -- Welcomes:
THIS IS THE FIRST OF 4 LECTURES -- Episodes 4 thru 1, if you will.
We're here to talk about the STAR WARS Saga:
It's Importance to our generation...
What it's saying to our culture...
ESPECIALLY ABOUT RELIGION, PHILOSOPHY, and MORALS
One of the most interesting things TODAY is that a movie talks about these things AT ALL.
Nevertheless, some Christians have been VERY SUSPICIOUS of STAR WARS:
The religious ideas present in it seem EXOTIC, foreign to Christianity... some of them sound EASTERN or NEW AGE.
NOW, I'm not here to deny that there are some legitimate concerns...
Neither am I here to do the embarrassing LUKE SKYWALKER IS JESUS thing...
BUT WHAT I DO WANT TO DO is to evaluate STAR WARS soberly, sharply, in love, but with DISCERNMENT.
I want to avoid the pitfalls of BOTH uncritical acceptance AND
knee-jerk Y2K-style panic.
Let me start by clearing two things up right off the bat:
1: I AM AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN.
2: GEORGE LUCAS IS NOT.
Let me clarify further:
Point 1: I am not a liberal or a modernist or a higher critic of any kind. In fact, I'm probably one of the stodgiest, most traditional people under this tent right now, theologically speaking...
I believe in:
An inspired, infallible Bible that is without error in all that it affirms.
I believe in a literal Virgin Birth, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Resurrection...
I believe in the blood atonement, in the literal return of Christ in glory... the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN.
In other words, the whole nine yards.
Furthermore, I firmly believe that the heresy of INDIFFERENTISM is among the worst of heresies... Indifferentism is the belief that all religions are equally true, equally valid, and equally effective in seeking union with God.
Why did I say all this? To avoid any misunderstanding...
I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a great FAN of STAR WARS and I think that its effect on the world has been almost entirely positive...
BUT my purpose in these speeches will be to evaluate George Lucas and his movies in the light of recognized Christian Orthodoxy... and no other standard. I think these movies CAN BE defended by these standards... and where they can, that's what I intend to do.
Where they CAN'T I will point that out also... though you may be surprised at how little of this is really necessary.
2: George Lucas IS NOT upholding these standards.
Though he was baptized as an infant in the Lutheran Church of Modesto, California, George states plainly that he IS NOT an orthodox Christian... and indeed, doesn't quite know WHAT he believes in.
He says that he puts religious ideas into his movies because he's interested in religion. PERIOD.
We cannot EXPECT that his movies will express the COMPLETE CHRISTIAN TRUTH as we know it.
Likewise, we can't fault Lucas for NOT PUTTING INTO HIS MOVIES RELIGIOUS IDEAS THAT HE DOESN'T SUBSCRIBE TO...
And third, we can't think of him -- just because he's white and an American -- as some kind of a TRAITOR to a faith that he has NEVER CLAIMED TO HOLD.
IN SHORT, it's not George Lucas' responsibility to preach the Christian gospel in films... IT'S OURS.
Now, it may be that he is, in fact, leading people astray with his films. I don't think so myself, but the concern is a legitimate one.
But even if he is, it won't be through treachery or malice... but simply because he himself hasn't found the true path yet.
And the proper Christian response to that situation... is prayer and fasting by US on his behalf.
So... with these red herrings out of the way, I think we can move on to a discussion of the films and their real origins.
WHERE DID "STAR WARS" COME FROM?
AUDIO: - RADIO SPOT: "There is nothing new under the sun... .Never before in the history of the movies has so much time and technology been spent... just for fun. STAR WARS. Rated PG. Parental Guidance suggested."
This commercial evokes that Summer of 1977 like nothing else.
MEMORIES of STAR WARS 1977:
Long lines outside waiting to get in... smiling faces coming out.
Inside: Hoots and hollers... cheers & hisses.
My Dad's Comment: "Return of White Hats & Black Hats"
George Lucas on why "Star Wars" clicked:
AUDIO: - "I think one of the key factors in the success is that it's a positive film, it has heroes and villains, and that, essentially, it's a fun movie to watch. It's been a long time since people have been able to go to the movies and see a straightforward, wholesome adventure."
NOW, from the sound of all this, we might think STAR WARS was REACTIONARY -- Some kind of conservative counter-attack aimed at the wised-up hippie culture of the 1960's & early 70's. "Return of wholesome family entertainment."
And there is an element of this:
STAR WARS undoubtedly became the enormous hit that it was because of the ATMOSPHERE INTO WHICH IT WAS INTRODUCED...
REMEMBER, in the early 1970's -- pre-STAR WARS -- going to the movies was a SERIOUS BUSINESS...
BONNIE & CLYDE
Even the comedies were serious: M*A*S*H
As far as SCI-FI movies were concerned, we had:
PLANET OF THE APES
And of course, all of this happened as a result of that worldwide psychic event we call THE SIXTIES...
This national "coming of age" that led us to QUESTION EVERYTHING WE HAD BEEN TAUGHT AS KIDS:
PATRIOTISM & "The AMERICAN WAY"
ORDINARY 50's IDEAS of "GOOD & EVIL"
Legitimacy of this... the ABUSE of these virtues...
GKC -- "I have formed a very clear conception of patriotism. I have generally found it thrust into the foreground by some fellow who has something to hide in the background. I have seen a great deal of patriotism; and I have generally found it the last refuge of the scoundrel."
SO... Lucas' comments about "wholesome entertainment" might lead us to believe that STAR WARS is a film like THE GREEN BERETS: a WWII movie with John Wayne set in Vietnam.
But HERE's THE DIFFERENCE:
GREEN BERETS was made by OLDSTERS... people over 30... who had rejected the sixties experience wholesale right from the start.
STAR WARS, on the other hand, was made BY THE SIXTIES GENERATION...
IN FACT, I contend that STAR WARS made the splash it did because it was the first major questioning OF the Sixties BY THE SIXTIES.
George Lucas grew up in the 1950's totally devoted to Roy Rogers movies, Republic serials, reading Captain Marvel comic books, etc. etc... .
In 1967 he went to USC and graduated in 1970.
While he was there he somehow evolved, like all the rest of us during those years, from a kid who loved John Wayne WWII movies into a college student who was co-writing the script for something that was going to be called APOCALYPSE NOW.
George Lucas LIVED the Sixties.
His first movie was THX-1138... and a blacker, more "wised-up" Sixties film would be hard to imagine.
It BOMBED... and his next Science Fiction film was STAR WARS.
Now, does this mean STAR WARS is a repudiation of THX?
No... because in between came AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
I hope you've all seen this one...
AUDIO: Lucas -- "So... after I finished THX I didn't quite know what to do. Like most kids that grew up in the valley, I had a strong interest in cruising. When I got to college and began to study anthropology, I realized that this was really a uniquely American mating ritual involving automobiles. I came up with the idea of doing the movie... it was in the 60's, it was the hippie culture... you know, drugs... cruising was gone. So I felt compelled to sort of document the whole experience of cruising and what my generation used as a way of meeting girls and what we did in our spare time. I wanted to document the end of an era... how things change, the life passages, how you go from being a student out into the real world And you leave your hometown, your family, and you leave everything behind and go off on your own. And then to parallel that with what was going on in the United States at that time, in terms of the loss of innocence; getting in the Vietnam War, the advent of British Rock... and generally issues that center around the idea of change."
This AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL movie WAS nostalgic in a certain sense... but not morbidly nostalgic like THE GREEN BERETS.
Basically, it represents a thoroughly wised-up child of the SIXTIES standing from the vantage point of 1973 (when GRAFFITI was made) and looking back at where he's just been.
And then trying to figure out what it is that has just happened.
In GRAFFITI there's a longing for wholeness... a sense that even though a man can't go back from wisdom to innocence... nevertheless something of value was lost in the process.
And though Lucas still intends to make APOCALYPSE NOW some day... he can't quite bring himself to say that his time spent with Roy Rogers was just a DEAD LOSS.
And, as many of you may remember, there WAS real pressure on his generation to say JUST THAT.
SO... I believe STAR WARS was the next step in this re-evaluation process for George Lucas.
And STAR WARS took off with the public because it represents the counter-culture's nostalgia for what they left behind when they "dropped out"...
BUT -- AND THIS IS VITAL -- IT EXPRESSED THAT NOSTALGIA IN A WAY THAT ALLOWED THEM TO KEEP WHAT THEY'D LEARNED FROM THE COUNTER-CULTURE AS WELL...
SO... I believe the fans coming out of STAR WARS were smiling because they had been HEALED a little. The GENERATION GAP... which had been so painful to both Parents AND Kids in those days... had been NARROWED a bit.
The Mouseketeers who had turned into Hippies could now admit that they still loved SKY KING and THE LONE RANGER and George Reeves as SUPERMAN WITHOUT BETRAYING THE REVOLUTION.
Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan said this in 1980:
"There was a great need out there for this kind of grand, funny, fun adventure movie. I don't think George understood, when he started this thing, how great that need was. He may have known it was there because he felt it himself, but I think everyone was surprised at how hungry people were for this kind of a movie."
AND I THINK ALL OF THIS IS ABSOLUTELY VITAL TO UNDERSTANDING WHAT STAR WARS MEANS IN ITS TOTALITY... AND ESPECIALLY IN ITS RELIGIOUS IMPLICATIONS.
This being the case, let's take A CLOSE LOOK at THE ORIGINS of STAR WARS:
Origins of Star Wars - L. Kasdan 1980
READ ALOUD: "The Star Wars Saga came out of George's history, out of the things he liked and felt when he was a kid. It sprang from fairy tales, comic books, myths, films. The result is an emotional landscape for people of all ages to travel over."
LUCAS HIMSELF SAID THIS:
AUDIO - "What happens is that no matter how you do it, when you sit down to write something all of the influences in your life come into play. The things that you like, the things that you've seen, the observations that you've made... these are ultimately what you're working with when you're writing. You're influenced by the things that you like, the designs that you like, characters you like, moments you remember, that you were moved by. It's like trying to compose a symphony."
Star Wars Sources -- Mark Hamill 1980
READ ALOUD: "I think it's a little bit of everything George Lucas liked about Saturday Matinees. Everything from Ivanhoe and Captain Blood to Forbidden Planet and The Wizard of Oz. Another source of reference is the King Arthur legends and the handling of the light sabers is almost like Excalibur... "
People who criticize STAR WARS have often attacked this dependence on other sources... calling it plagiarism at worst, PASTICHE at best.
They forget that our word PASTICHE comes from cookery... and that a pastiche is a very tasty dish when done properly.
And STAR WARS is an extremely artful blend of all of Lucas' influences -- both from the 1950's AND from the SIXTIES...
FLASH GORDON serials
The WIZARD of OZ shown on TV
HOT ROD CULTURE
LORD OF THE RINGS -- by Tolkien
DUNE - by Frank Herbert
2001; a space odyssey
AKIRA KUROSAWA Movies
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING - by T.H. WHITE
THE BEATLES & EASTERN RELIGION
CARLOS CASTENEDA & JOSEPH CAMPBELL
Put these things in your Cuisinard and you've pretty much got STAR WARS.
One at a time:
FLASH GORDON provides:
The setting for STAR WARS: "knights, emperors, princesses, wizards, etc. in outer space."
Also: the planet-hopping structure -- "Cloud City, Underwater City, Forest Moon, Emperor's Throne Room, etc."
The Han Solo element of the story: the gunfighter/loner figure
"the tension of individualism vs. community"
Tom Donophan in Liberty Valance. The gunfighter who knows he is empty... must find community to live... yet surrenders individualism only painfully.
WIZARD of OZ provides:
The Mythic Structure of the Quest -- as a symbol of the search for spiritual completeness...
Motley band of fairytale characters picked up one by one on the Yellow Brick Road:
Luke = Dorothy... who leaves Kansas/Tatooine for "over the rainbow"
Chewie = The Cowardly Lion
Threepio = The Tin Man
The Witches Castle = The Death Star
WWII MOVIES provide:
The Empire's design aesthetic -- Nazi Chic
The Rebellion -- French Resistance
The Final Air Battle was literally adapted from real footage taken from "Flying Leathernecks" etc.
HOT ROD CULTURE provides:
The other part of the Han Solo element: the hip, contemporary edge, the "teen-age" quality to the dialogue & humor.
This is the "comic relief" that keeps things from getting too serious and self-important.
Interesting that Han Solo is Harrison Ford... Bob Falfa from AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
ON TO THE SIXTIES INFLUENCES:
The visual look of STAR WARS -- The lavish amounts of time and attention spent on something that was, up till now, kiddie matinee stuff...
The perfect setting for Obi-Wan's Exile:
The Desert Planet with Two Suns
Those peculiar "STAR WARSY" names:
Duncan Idaho & Luke Skywalker
Also: Alien Messiahs & the frank religious elements
KUROSAWA Movies provide:
The "Eastern Spin" in the design -- Vader's costume, etc.
Also: "Western Plots in Eastern Dress"
"Qui-Gon" & "Obi-Wan"
Cuts both ways:
Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven
Macbeth/Throne of Blood
Also: The Death Star rescue plotline is from "Hidden Fortress"
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING:
This book was tremendously influential on the Sixties in general.
Basis of the play & film CAMELOT
Source of the JFK/CAMELOT analogy
Part One of this Book is the most direct source of the PLOTLINE of Episode IV...
(If you've seen the Disney movie "Sword in the Stone" you already know it... )
A young orphan named Arthur is a miserable floor scrubber in a backwater castle who has been nicknamed "Wart" by his cruel, thoughtless relatives -- relatives who are deliberately hiding his true identity from him...
But Wart dreams of adventure and of rescuing damsels in distress.
One day young Arthur encounters a mysterious Old Man -- a crazy old wizard, in fact -- named Merlin who informs him that he is, in reality, the long lost son of Uther Pendragon, a once glorious knight and former king of the realm.
Merlin takes the boy under his wing, and gradually trains him in the ways of magic and heroism. Under his training Arthur is able to claim his father's magic sword Excalibur... the ownership of which proves his title to the throne.
Arthur himself then becomes a great knight and begins to take back his father's lost kingdom...
Now, you may have noticed here that any resemblance to Luke Skywalker... a moisture farmer in the backwater home of his thoughtless Uncle Owen... is somewhat less than coincidental.
Especially in the scene we're about to listen to: where Luke (who, according to an earlier draft of the script was nicknamed "Wormy" by his friends on Tatooine) meets "that crazy old wizard" Ben Kenobi...
Luke: "No, my father didn't fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter."
Ben: "That's what your uncle told you. He didn't hold with your father's ideals -- thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved."
Luke: "You fought in the Clone Wars?"
Ben: "Yes. I was once a Jedi Knight, the same as your father."
Luke: "I wish I'd known him."
Ben: "He was the best star pilot in the galaxy... and a cunning warrior. I understand you've become quite a good pilot yourself. And he was a good friend. Which reminds me. I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did."
C-3PO: "Sir, if you'll not be needing me, I'll close down for a while."
Luke: "Sure, go ahead... what is it?"
Ben: "This is your father's lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon... of a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times... before the Empire."
MUCH MORE ON THIS IN LATER LECTURES...
BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR OUR PURPOSES:
BEATLES -- EASTERN RELIGION -- JOS. CAMPBELL
... Which we'll dwell on in-depth in tomorrow's lecture.
Was Lucas just being derivative in drawing from so many sources?
No, I think he knew just what he was doing... and the following quotes on that subject are a perfect way to finish up for today... and lead into tomorrow's subject:
AUDIO: Lucas - "Well, when I did Star Wars, I did consciously set about to recreate myths and the classic mythological motifs. And I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that exist today... I knew that I was going to attempt to do something that hadn't been done before. I was very interested in creating a modern myth to replace what I'd seen had been occupied by the Western. The Western was sort of a modern American mythology that helped to explain the mores and values and the way things work in our society. And so I started working on this and realized that it had to take place 'somewhere over the hill'..somewhere outside people's known realm of awareness. And the only area like that that we have now is outer space... "
Thanks for coming. See you tomorrow.
END CREDITS MUSIC
On to Episode V...
Rod Bennett, Editor
Jim Henry, Webmaster