First, I have an open confession. I have loved Star Wars since I was a child and watched George Lucas’ original trilogy of films at home on VHS. This was before they were “enhanced” and ‘special’ editioned. I was so excited when the original trilogy was re-released in theaters in 1997, which was twenty years after the first film was released back in 1977. We all soon learned that this was to set the world up for a new trilogy of films that began in 1999 with ‘The Phantom Menace’. And what a massive letdown those were! At least for fans of the originals. Compelling characters were replaced by bland and uninspiring persons speaking as if they were not in the same room as each other when the scenes were filmed. And for part of the film this appearance was also the reality as Lucas chose to throw CGI animation (that today already looks dated) at us for every other minute of film.
But, what truly ruined the prequels for most fans was not just these major problems of acting, story, and animation, but the de-mythologizing of the mythic galaxy that Lucas originally established. The character of Obi-Wan in the original trilogy seems to explain the Force in mysterious terms. Though, not really. The Force, may act in unexpected and mythical ways, but Obi-Wan speaks of it in a very scientific way. He says to Luke back in Episode IV: “it’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
But, do energy fields cause you to break the laws of nature, such as move objects or persons with your mind? Or allow you to see the past and future as Luke can in Episode V when he can see Han in pain? Even the way Yoda describes the Force in the second movie seems to move a little more away from a scientific explanation and into deeper mythology:
Yoda says something subtly different than Obi-Wan did in the first movie. In the first movie there is the idea that you can use the Force for good if you let the Force “flow through you”. The human being, in a sense, must become a passive subject if the Force is able to act through him or her. This is highlighted in the climactic scene of the first film when Luke is trying to destroy the Death Star. He hears the voice of Obi-Wan say two things: “Use the Force, Luke!” and “Let go Luke!” Luke responds by turning off his guidance computer that helps guide the X-Wing torpedoes into the ventilation shaft. He also then closes his eyes just before firing. The shot is a success and Luke saves the rebellion from annihilation.
Yoda says that the Force is his ally. But, this opens the question as to what the relationship with the Force is for those who align themselves with the Dark Side. Luke asks Yoda earlier in the second film: “Is the Dark Side stronger?” and Yoda quickly replies, “No, no. Only more seductive.” This causes things to get confusing. It sounds as if the Force is a neutral, impersonal energy field that persons with both good and bad intentions can tap into. But, if this were the case, both the Dark and Light persons can ally themselves to the Force and the only hindrance from your use of it is your capacity to wield its powers. So, the Dark Side could be stronger if someone with bad intentions was better at using the Force. For the power of the Force seems indifferent to who uses it. Han Solo makes a point when he says the following:
But, Han is not making the point you think he is making. The point is if Han is standing, with blaster in hand, in front of a Jedi or a Sith, both of them will use the Force to disarm him. One will do so with a good intent and the other will do so and then likely use the Force to go further and kill him. So, what does this say about the Force? It can be used by the good or the bad, as long as they are powerful in the ways of the Force.
When the prequel trilogy came out, it was clear Lucas tried to put a new layer on the Force by trying to ground it more in the natural and scientific. The Force in someone could be measured with a Jedi instrument, similar to a blood test. In these films the Force seemed to only work through ‘special’ people that were sensitive to it and had a high ‘midiclorian’ count. Fans of the original three films were outraged by the loss of mystery about the Force and how it worked. But, is it really so surprising?
A belief system built on ideas that derive from parts of other religions is bound to be weak in its foundation and will eventually not be able to hold up the edifice of human faith and reason. I stress both faith and reason. For, Star Wars asks us to have a faith in something and not a someone. The something we are asked to place our faith in does not hold up to the scrutiny of our reason.
There is a certain appeal, no doubt, to placing faith in an impersonal Force. This would explain why Star Wars has become such a worldwide phenomenon. But, after the movie ends, and people return home to their families and lie quietly in their beds, do they truly want their faith built on an impersonal Force? It does make life easier in a sense. For, the Force can never ask anything of you or seek to relate to you or, most importantly, love you.
The Force is the perfect expression of a culture who has developed a deistic view of what God is like. A God you can look to for hope and strength and pray to when you are in need. But, not a God that wants to have an active presence in our daily lives and who wants to lead us away from life’s dead ends. It seems more appealing to believe in an impersonal God that doesn’t really care what we do and who we are.
In the lead up to the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, the director J.J. Abrams was asked by Stephen Colbert about how he viewed the Force when making the new movie. He had this to say:
“Here’s what I loved about it: A) It makes perfect sense. B) The idea that we are all connected in some way is such a powerful idea,” he said. “I do feel like the idea of it being a religion without a God — we are all connected by an energy force — that, as an 11-year-old, made sense.” He said he loved leaving the theater and feeling that the Force was something you could harness, too. “It was a non-denominational, powerful idea that was really important to us in this film”
Two things really stand out from what he said. The two ideas of it being a “religion without a God” and “non-denominational”. That sums up where most people in the U.S. culture have moved. They have either left the faith of their childhood or have moved to some non-denominational form of Christianity that has continually watered down Christianity to the point of it no longer being a faith of Revelation but one of personal preferences. This is sadly why most Evangelical churches are removing any hint of denomination from their names. Baptist, Reformed, Lutheran; all of these cannot stand for something specific without leading to further division. That’s not the Force. The Force is something, but something unspecific that you can mold to your own preferences. That is where non-denominational Christianity has been heading for the past twenty years.
As for the Catholic Church, what we get right away is specific. There is a rejection of the Church often for one of two reasons. The first is someone has encountered a distortion of the Catholic faith that has attempted to mimic the non-denominational approaches found in evangelical Protestantism. The other rejection comes because someone encounters a Catholic that is not living the Catholic faith in their lives.
But, there is also the result of joyful encounter and acceptance. For the encounter with Jesus is deeply personal and deeply communal when you both experience and live the fullness of the Catholic faith.
The Catholic Church stands, not first and foremost for some things, but for Someone. The one Lord Jesus Christ who gives Himself to us personally at every Mass. Personally, but not just individually. The Catholic faith is the bond that links both the personal encounter with God and the communal encounter with each other. This Church is guided and guarded not by an impersonal force but by the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Mass is where the bonds of love between the members of Christ’s body are renewed and deepened in the sharing of the Eucharist. (1 Cor. 10:17)
Because of the fracturing and splintering within Evangelicalism, one thing you notice is that the culmination of their worship experience is usually not the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, but the message of the pastor. Or for some, it has become an emotionally charged worship song and passionate prayer. This has been a gradual shift over the last century, but since this shift has occurred, the bond that holds everyone together is often just a sharing of common conviction around certain biblical beliefs or worship preferences and traditions. Not the bond of love forged in the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ that is culminated in the Catholic Mass.
The Force is something anyone can use, for good or ill. The Force doesn’t love and doesn’t care. The God who made us and rescues us from our sin-swirling death spiral is useless in the best sense of the word. We don’t use God and God does not manipulate or use us. God is a person and all human persons are a reflection of the nature of God as a person. We are never to use persons. We use things and have relationship with persons. This is how God acts with us. God is love and love has no use. Love leads to deeper relationships. How does God show us His love? By giving us His Son. (1 John 4:10) The Father did not send his Son into the world to be used by people or to use people. He came to be with us. To draw us back into communion with His Father who he remained in constant loving relationship with. (John 12:32)
Obi-Wan, in order to get out of a jam with Storm Troopers uses an old Jedi mind trick and says to them the famous words: “These aren’t the droids you are looking for.”
There is something better than the Force and we know it. There is something more personal and more real and we know it. We can move beyond the skepticism of Han and the gullibility of Luke. For deep down we know, (to put a new spin on Obi-Wan’s famous line), that the Force is not the god we are looking for.
“For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” -Deuteronomy 4:7
For the beautiful Truth of the Catholic Christian faith is that we have a God that comes looking for us. The Father sent His Son Jesus to gather back all those who find themselves far from God. For all those who yearn to be known and to be found, that’s a desire that God, and not an impersonal force, has given you.
“So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy.” Luke 15:3-5
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
Stay tuned for Part II when I connect these reflections with my thoughts on the new Star Wars episode that just came out: The Force Awakens…