Cracking the Star Wars Code -- Cornerstone 2000
HELLO -- Welcomes:
THIS IS THE SECOND OF 4 LECTURES -- Episodes 5 in the series.
We've started talking about the STAR WARS Saga:
We've discussed its origins -- which we traced to the interior conflicts of George Lucas' own generation...
... the 1950's kids who were "wised-up" by the 1960's but who sometimes regretted losing some of the purer, more primal emotions they'd left behind...
And I think IT'S ABSOLUTELY VITAL to see the whole STAR WARS phenomenon in this cultural context of where it came from...
ESPECIALLY WHEN WE COME TO DIRECTLY DISCUSS -- AS WE WILL TODAY -- IT'S PHILOSOPHICAL AND RELIGIOUS ASPECTS.
As was announced in some of our promotional literature, I'm here to GO TO BAT FOR STAR WARS against some of its Christian detractors...
But as I said yesterday, I'm UNWILLING to do this at the expense of Christian Orthodoxy.
I THINK STAR WARS CAN BE DEFENDED ON THIS BASIS.
I believe all of the various Christian attacks on it stem from two main causes:
The legitimate misunderstandings I think I can clear up pretty easily.
The Fear and Suspicion will take prayer and divine intervention.
As we said yesterday, Christians have been suspicious of STAR WARS from the beginning.
Young people seemed strangely compelled by this new pop culture phenomenon.
Like other evil influences -- Rock and Roll music, for example -- they were getting much more excited about STAR WARS than they were about Ping-Pong with the Church youth group or Wednesday night supper in the Fellowship Hall.
And you didn't have to be Einstein to notice that -- for a Hollywood movie -- this STAR WARS thing had an awful lot of religion in it... and religion of a markedly non-Western flavor...
It was a short step from here to the notion that STAR WARS was "the second coming of THE BEATLES AND THEIR MAHARISHI YOGA."
A conspiracy to lead our youngsters away from Christianity into Zen Buddhism... or worse.
WAS THERE SUCH A CONSPIRACY?
Well, a bit of scratching into George Lucas' own philosophical ponderings seemed to confirm their misgivings...
As we heard at the end of yesterday's session, Lucas does own up to a pretty grand ambition: TO CREATE A NEW MYTHOLOGY FOR A NEW GENERATION.
And Lucas has always frankly admitted to being strongly influenced by the writings of Carlos Casteneda, Hermann Hesse, and Joseph Campbell -- New Age icons all of them.
And the films themselves do UNQUESTIONABLY contain elements of Eastern religion...
Specifically, there is something called "The Force"... which in itself is a pretty bad name for God by our Western standards.
Let's listen to one or two descriptions of this "Force":
Luke: The Force?
Ben: "The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together."
Yoda: "Yes! A Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger. Fear. Aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow. Quick to join you in a fight. But once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will... as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice."
Luke: "Vader. Is the dark side stronger?"
Yoda: "No. Quicker. Easier. More seductive."
Luke: "But how will I know the good side from the bad?"
Yoda: "You will know... when you are calm. At peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense... never for attack."
Luke: "But tell me why... "
Yoda: "No, no. There is no why. Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions.
Yoda: "Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it. Makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us... and binds us. Luminous beings are we... not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here... between you and me, the tree, the rock. Everywhere. Yes... even between the land and the ship."
Here, we see the Force referred to as an IT...
we're told that it has two sides -- a good side and a dark side...
and that one approaches this Force by passivity and unreason.
The Force is an all pervasive energy field -- not the Creator of the universe, but created BY the universe.
All of these things are elements of Eastern religion... and singularly unsuited to any legitimate description of either the Christian, Jewish, or Islamic Gods.
SO WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE CONSPIRACY THEORY SO FAR?
Well, mainly, it overlooks two important things:
First, it overlooks the ROLE THAT "THE FORCE" ACTUALLY PLAYS IN THE DYNAMICS OF THE STORY.
"The Way of the Force" is NEVER ONCE contrasted with or presented as an attractive alternative to the Judeo-Christian tradition.
This is very much in contrast to most NEW AGE mysticism in films...
Example: POLTERGEIST 2 -- Noble Indian Shaman vs. Evil Fundamentalist Preacher.
Nothing could be further from the STAR WARS atmosphere.
What the religion of STAR WARS IS contrasted with... is secularism.
THE INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE ATHEISTIC MATERIALISM OF THE GALACTIC EMPIRE.
It's not a coincidence that "the Empire" of STAR WARS looks and sounds like that distinctively 20th century nightmare:
the modern, all-powerful secular state.
Listen to this good example:
In this scene, Darth Vader, though fallen from grace, is still set clearly apart from the run of the mill atheist of the Imperial bureaucracy:
General Tagge: "Any attack made by the rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe... I suggest we use it."
Vader: "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force."
Tagge: "Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels hidden fortress... "
Vader: "I find your lack of faith disturbing."
Tarkin: "Vader! Release him."
Vader: "As you wish."
LEAVE TAPE RUNNING:
A bit later, the cynical materialist Han Solo is rebuked in a similar way:
Ben: "Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him."
Luke: "You mean it controls your actions?"
Ben: "Partially. But it also obeys your commands."
Han: "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid."
Luke: "You don't believe in the Force, do you?"
Han: "Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other and I've seen a lot of strange stuff. But I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense."
Ben: "I suggest you try it again, Luke. This time, let go your conscious self... and act on instinct."
Luke: "With the blast shield down I can't even see. How am I supposed to fight?"
Ben: "Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them. Stretch out with your feelings. You see? You can do it."
Han: "I call it luck."
Ben: "In my experience there's no such thing as luck."
This plot device runs throughout the STAR WARS films...
... .devotees of the Force inhabit a largely vanished world of knights and princesses and desert mystics...
... a world patterned mainly after King Arthur and Christendom... the Christian civilization of Europe during the Ages of Faith.
And these knights and hermits stand in pointed contrast to a lamentable "new order" of scientism and unbelief.
So it seems to me that the Force stands less as a symbol for any particular religion and more as a reverent evocation of vanishing Religious Man...
... of a lost world-view of human significance and dignity which most of the world's major religions share.
... contrasted with modern meaninglessness, absurdity, and state manipulation.
ANOTHER ASPECT OF THE STAR WARS STORY which isn't usually taken into account by the CONSPIRACY THEORISTS is this:
STAR WARS takes place "A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY... "
This isn't OUR future.
STAR WARS takes place a thousand light years from here, completely cut off from everything we know on earth, and probably long before Jesus Christ ever came to the earth anyway...
Lucas' writers have said that the so-called "religion of STAR WARS" is nothing but their own made-up speculations about the FORM THAT RELIGION MIGHT TAKE in some remote corner of the universe.
Here's EMPIRE screenwriter Lawrence KASDAN on that subject:
"One of the longest conversations that... George... and I had in our first story conference was on the philosophical background of the Empire story and on the meaning of the Force. Basically, George is for good and against evil, but everyone has his own interpretation of what that means. In my opinion, what emerges about the Force are its similarities to Zen and to basic Christian thought. But in our meeting we didn't talk about specific religions. Instead, George explained to us what he felt the Force was all about. Once that was established, it was easier for me to construct Yoda's dialogue and action around the philosophical structure of the Force as we had discussed it."
We see here that Lucas FIRST DECIDED TO SET HIS STORY IN A "RELIGIOUS UNIVERSE" -- which is, by the way, in itself, a mighty contrast to STAR TREK, for example -- and then MADE UP THE CONTENT OF THAT RELIGION at a later date, in a series of "BULL SESSIONS."
I think this is significant.
BUT ON THE OTHER HAND...
ISN'T IT EVEN MORE SIGNIFICANT that in creating this fantasy faith to do battle with secularism
Lucas and his compadres looked chiefly to the East for inspiration instead of to the civilization that actually created the concepts of knighthood and chivalry?
YES IT IS... BUT I THINK THE REAL WHYS BEHIND THAT ARE MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN JUST ANOTHER "NEW AGE PLOT."
In fact, the WHYS behind that are really THE SAME WHYS that created Jesus People USA and the whole Jesus Movement of the 1960's...
WHAT DO I MEAN? Well, just this.
Those of you who lived through the 1960's will know what I'm talking about when I say that
for George Lucas' generation much of the glory of Western belief had departed.
The tame, standardized Protestantism of Fifties Suburbia
that George grew up with just wasn't suited to the electrifying realities of the turbulent Sixties.
In fact, the FAILURE of that type of Christianity largely CREATED the Sixties.
That form of Christianity had been so degraded by ALIEN ELEMENTS that it just wasn't acting as salt & light anymore.
It had more of Adam Smith in it than the Second Adam...
And its preachers were always finding ways to justify every life draining evil that was dragging America down in those days... from segregation to the emerging culture of consumerism to the doctrine of MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction.
And so as a result, many Sixties young people fled into Eastern religion because it was the only religion left for them.
The prim and proper observances they had been raised with were so completely
IN BED with the status quo...
..that just about the only religious option LEFT was Eastern Religion.
NOW, it's true that a small contingent of these young people did manage to find their way back to an earlier, more vital set of Christian paradigms...
... To the traditions of people like St. Francis of Assisi -- that 13th century Flower Child
... And the energetic 18th century enthusiasms of sold out people like John Wesley.
And some of these young people did manage to combine all that was good in hippie-ism with a dash or two of turn-of-the-century Revivalism to create something new that was really something old: the Jesus Movement.
BUT THE JESUS MOVEMENT IS THE EXCEPTION THAT PROVES THE RULE...
Many of you guys have unhappy personal experience with the way Jesus People were treated by the establishment churches of that time...
SO... what became of the rest of that generation... spiritually speaking?
So many of them felt that Christianity had been discredited by its fruit in America that the famous 1967 trip to India by the BEATLES was carefully watched as a SIGN OF HOPE...
"We might not HAVE TO BE ATHEISTS AFTER ALL."
Yes, we Christians can legitimately regret today that the spiritual void felt by Lucas' generation was filled by such a very imperfect version of truth...
BUT the fact IS that much of that IS OUR OWN FAULT.
We had no right to leave the Church in such a dilapidated state for so long in the first place.
IT'S THE CHURCH'S RESPONSIBILITY TO HAVE HER LAMPS TRIMMED AND BURNING WHEN THESE SPONTANEOUS YOUTH REVIVALS BREAK OUT -- AS THEY WILL PERIODICALLY, BY THE ACTION OF THE HOLY GHOST.
AND IT'S SIMPLY HYPOCRITICAL TO COMPLAIN THAT YOUNG PEOPLE TURNED OFF BY OUR OWN SINS WENT LOOKING ELSEWHERE...
AT ANY RATE, let's listen to some of George Lucas' own words about his spiritual questings:
"When I was 10 years old I asked my mother 'If there's only one God why are there so many religions?" And, over the years, I've been pondering that question ever since. The conclusion I've come to is that all of the religions are true, they all just see a different part of the elephant. Religion is basically a container for faith. Faith is the glue that holds our society together; faith in our... culture, in our world... whatever it is that we're trying to hang onto. Faith is a very important part of our attempt to remain stable... to remain balanced."
George doesn't tell us here what his mother said when he asked about the other religions... but apparently it wasn't terribly satisfying, whatever it was.
NOW, there IS a genuinely Christian answer to this problem... but it wasn't available to George... or to many of the people his age at that time.
It's interesting that George understood instinctively that one of the marks of the true Faith HAS to be CATHOLICITY...
... that is, the idea that Christianity is universal, not tribal... not for one chosen people or race, but a single worldwide faith made by God to save all men, everywhere.
And while IT IS TRUE THAT JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONE CHOSEN MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND MAN -- AND THAT NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH HIM --
Nevertheless, all that really is TRUTH -- no matter where it's found -- is GOD'S TRUTH.
And it isn't necessary to say that while CHRISTIANITY IS 100% TRUE... everything else is 100% FALSE.
Or the words of the Apostle John when he said that Jesus is the light that came into the darkness and that that light "enlightens every man who comes into the world." (John 1:9).
The Christian answer to young George's question is that all of the pre-Christian religions --
AND ALL THE VARIOUS PAGANISMS...
... represent MAN'S SEARCH FOR GOD... by the light of general revelation only.
... AND THEY ARE THEREFORE IMPERFECT.
AND we might also add that they sometimes leave their adherents open to evil influences from which they would have been protected by a TRUER FAITH...
BUT CHRISTIANITY REPRESENTS GOD'S SEARCH FOR MAN... a special revelation of things we would not have known without it...
which has to be spread by human communication.
So we can say that while pre-Christian religion contains SOME TRUTHS...
Unfocused... Confused... self-contradictory...
CHRISTIANITY, in its purest form, is FULLNESS OF TRUTH
... the missing piece to man's heretofore insoluble religious puzzle.
Let me pause to restate my opposition to INDIFFERENTISM...
SO: What am I saying about Lucas' undeniable Eastern bent?
First, that it has the character of a SEARCH... not a PLOT.
Lucas seems to be telling the truth when he says that he put religion into STAR WARS because he's interested in religion.
Second, that this element represents a PRO-RELIGION viewpoint in a medium which is now ANTI-RELIGION...
That is, STAR WARS represents a hunger to ask the questions... not necessarily a hunger to provide any particular answer...
I'll flesh this out in tomorrow's session, but as Eastern propaganda goes STAR WARS would be pretty useless: because...
THERE'S AS MUCH OR MORE WESTERN RELIGION IN IT AS EASTERN...
This is a fact that has been overlooked by the conspiracy theorists in their zeal to find fault...
But as I said, we'll go on to that tomorrow...
FOR NOW, let's listen to some more of Lucas' own words about his motivations...
In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, he said this:
"I put the Force into the movies to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people. More belief in God than in any particular religious system. I mean, the real issue is to start asking the questions. Having enough interest in the mysteries of life to start asking the questions... "Is there a God or is there not a God?" The worst part for me is when you ask a young person "Is there a God?" and they just say "I dunno." I mean, I think you should have an opinion about that. Moyers -- 'Do you have an opinion about that?' "Well, I think there is a God. No question. As to what that God is, or what we know about that God... I'm not sure. The one thing I know about life and about the nature of the human race, is that human race has always believed that it knows everything. Even the cave men thought they had it all figured out. That's where mythology came from... constructing some kind of context for the unknown."
On this point of mythology, Lucas certainly shows his indebtedness to Joseph Campbell... "THE POWER OF MYTH"...
"I guess my last mentor was Joe Campbell. He asked a lot of the interesting question, and exposed me to some of the cosmic questions... the mystery... I guess I'd been interested in those things all my life, but I hadn't focused it until I became good friends with Joe."
The conspiracy theorists have made a lot of this connection... but many of them haven't actually read Campbell...
If you do read him, one of the things that jumps out at you is HOW MUCH LUCAS DEPARTS FROM CAMPBELL.
Campbell, for example, is aggressively ATHEIST...
In his "HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES" everything is interpreted in the light of FREUD and PSYCHOANALYSIS.
But as we've just heard, Lucas IS NOT an atheist.
He may not know what content to fill the word GOD with... but he IS willing to make a personal affirmation FOR THEISM and against MATERIALISM.
"There's more of me in Star Wars than I care to admit. A lot of the stuff in there is very personal. I was trying to say, in a very simple way, knowing that the film was made for a young audience, that there is a God and there is both a good side and a bad side. You have a choice between them, but the world works better if you're on the good side. It's just that simple."
NOW... does this mean I think George Lucas is ON OUR SIDE?... in the sense that he is an ally in preaching the true faith as we know it?
Of course not. But this is because I DON'T THINK HE'S PREACHING ANYTHING AT ALL.
I THINK HE'S ASKING THE QUESTIONS...
And with a good deal of ARTISTRY.
I think he's responding as a VIRTUOUS PAGAN.
He's on the side of good and against evil...
He has even reached the point -- as Socrates and some others did -- of being willing to affirm a PERSONALITY behind at all...
BUT HE HAS YET TO FIND THE COMPLETE ANSWER HE'S LOOKING FOR...
And here, I think Lucas speaks ONCE AGAIN for a good portion of his own generation...
That generation which was INNOCULATED AGAINST Christianity by the laxity, compromise, and hypocrisy of the Church as they found it.
A good example of this is in another quote from the Moyers interview. Lucas was told that a reviewer called the Star Wars saga "profoundly religious"... he was asked if this is how he would describe it:
"I don't see Star Wars as profoundly religious. I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down to a more modern, more easily accessible construct that people can grab onto to accept the fact that there is a greater mystery out there"
He doesn't seem to see that something which "takes all the issues of religion and distills them for modern people" IS DEALING WITH RELIGION IN A PROFOUND WAY...
But once again Lucas displays his generation's disaffection for religion by hesitating to use the WORD itself...
HE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT RELIGION... BUT CAN'T DO IT WITHOUT COMPLETELY DIVORCING HIMSELF FROM THE BAD CONNOTATIONS THAT HIS GENERATION STILL ATTACHES TO THE SUBJECT...
But notice that he still doesn't set himself in OPPOSITION to religion.
Listen to George's reaction as Bill Moyers compares STAR WARS with the Bible...
"Moyers -- The central epoch of our culture has been the Bible... But the Bible no longer occupies that central place in our society today. More and more people today are turning to the movies for their inspiration, not to organized religion. Lucas - Well, I hope that doesn't end up being the course that this whole thing takes. Because I think there's definitely a place for organized religion. I think it's a very important part of our social fabric. I would hate for us to wake up and find ourselves in a completely secular world, where entertainment was passing for some kind of religious experience. Moyers -- Isn't Star Wars a thin base for theology? Lucas - Well, it is a thin base for theology. That's why I would hesitate to call the Force God. When the film came out just about every religion took Star Wars and used it as an example of their religion. And they were able to relate it to young people and relate the stories to the Bible and the Koran and the Torah. So if it's a tool that can make old stories become new, and relate to younger people... well, that's what the whole point was."
AGAIN -- THE EMPHASIS IS ALWAYS ON ASKING THE QUESTIONS... NOT NECESSARILY ON GETTING LUCAS' ANSWERS...
SO, TO REVIEW:
In dealing with the various Christian concerns about STAR WARS I promised to address two areas:
MISUNDERSTANDINGS and FEAR & SUSPICION
As to the misunderstandings, I feel that Lucas' has been acquitted of being:
Some of these things were just red herrings in the first place:
Because Christians have gotten SO BAD at speaking in the language of story & myth, the exotic setting of STAR WARS makes many of us unduly suspicious...
For example: "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try"
"Well, the philosophy of 'put your all into something -- don't just try, but actually envision yourself doing and accomplishing it' is a philosophy that's gone through all of my movies. It's something I encountered first in college. A lot of the students would give up on things before they'd really have a chance to explore them. They'd convince themselves that it was NOT possible. For me it was the whole issue of getting to make movies. It was a completely impossible idea. There wasn't even the remote possibility that it would happen. But... I put my mind to it and never even considered any other possibility. And it was through that that I did eventually manage to do the impossible. It's only by considering the impossible that you can get to it. You can't get to it by just saying, 'Well, I'll try.' You've got to say, 'I'm going to get to it.' "
Here we see that something that sounded so suspicious and EASTERN was nothing more than a simple platitude about "Believing in yourself" and positive thinking... something Norman Vincent Peale might have said in Guideposts magazine.
There's an analogy to Christian Rock Music: It sounded so exotic and "worldly" to establishment Christianity that they wouldn't bother to actually examine the content.
And as to FEAR AND SUSPICION... I can only say this:
Jesus promised that for everyone who knocks the door will be opened.
I think George Lucas is knocking.
He's an artist... and an artist's job is to do his thinking out loud, where all the rest of us can listen in and learn.
There's been a good deal of JUDGMENT passed on what he's doing...
... And I think it IS appropriate for us to EVALUATE what he's been doing.
It's a mistake to think that when Jesus said "Judge not... " that He meant we shouldn't show discernment in evaluating what we watch and listen to...
BUT... Jesus has a right to judge BECAUSE HE LOVES THE PEOPLE THAT HE JUDGES.
And even if he has to condemn them ultimately, it won't be because he never cared about them anyway and was cursing their every step all along.
So, I say that no one has a right to judge anyone or anything
unless their first response to that person and his works is the response of LOVE.
And in many cases the people who are searching and making mistakes in our culture HAVE NOT received the LOVE first from Christians, but the judgment.
I believe I can say that I love George Lucas... I love his generation and I love the questions they were asking...
Specifically, I LOVE STAR WARS.
And so, as we take the rest of our questions into tomorrow's session... I propose that we should turn now to look at THE REST OF LUCAS' MESSAGE.
The overlooked part... the part that, I think, IS SPEAKING A SURPRISING AMOUNT OF THE CHRISTIAN TRUTH...
I think GOD HAS ANSWERED THE KNOCK to a surprising degree ALREADY.
And Lucas is sharing part of that answer to millions of people today... using the language of Myth and the logic of metaphor.
QUESTION & ANSWER -- If time permits
END CREDITS MUSIC
On to Episode VI...
Rod Bennett, Editor
Jim Henry, Webmaster