Sunday, May 23, 2010

Star Wars, Complexity and Judgment

For the first Generation X people who saw Star Wars in theatres as a kid in 1977 (like myself), our minds were simple - the bad guy was bad, the good guy was good, and "story" was basically about how the good guy would eventually beat the bad guy. In Star Wars, Darth Vader was the bad guy and wore black, pretty simple. At the end, his TIE fighter spiraled out of control and the theatres erupted with cheers - the bad guy was vanquished, victory won.

Enter The Empire Strikes Back and - hold the phone - the bad guy ain't so he? When he said those words "I am your father!", although we in the theatres gasped in unison with Luke "Noooo!", by the end of the movie - Luke outfitted with a new mechanical hand, Han Solo frozen in carbonite - it was clear there must needs be at least one more installment to complete the story even though we had indeed "searched our feelings, and knew it to be true."

The hottest ticket in town in 1983 was the highly anticipated third installment, Return of the Jedi. It nicely book-ended the movie in jedi returns - Luke at the beginning to rescue Han and Leia, and Anakin at the end, back to the light side of the force.

Luke arrives at a sense of peace that Darth Vader, his father, still had good in him, and could be returned to the light side of the force. Very neatly, RotJ did not get overly involved in explaining how or why Darth Vader turned to the dark side (that back story would be butchered in the prequel trilogy). However, in RotJ, it was made very clear that Luke was willing to risk his own life on the chance that he might be right.

From a literary standpoint, 1980 was a coming-of-age year, as Generation X's young minds were introduced to complexity, to character development, to a new dimension in conflict - not between characters ("one vs another"), but within a character ("one vs oneself"). And when we get through RotJ, we actually see, through Vader's mask no less, the conflict within himself when he says "It's too late for me, son." Luke replies "Then my father truly is dead" and as he's lead to meet the Emperor, Vader stands aside and again, mask notwithstanding, we see his struggle and can confirm that there's good still in there...but will it be enough?

The great Hollywood theme of redemption is very firmly illustrated in the manner by which Luke wedges himself between the Emperor and Vader. Luke is nearly killed by the Emperor, waiting for Vader to take action to reject the dark side and save him. Luke was willing to die, to prove that his father still had good within him. There's a price to pay to redeem someone else, and that redemptive offer happens before the intended beneficiary declares whether they'll accept it - redemption is offered at risk. Romans 5:6,8 says "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly...But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

One more key thought from this sequence - judgment is more complex than simply judging someone from the outside. Whereas we were introduced to Darth Vader as "the bad guy," we would follow the story to discover that there was yet someone even more evil - the Emperor - who was actually calling the shots and that, in fact, Anakin's descent into the dark side could not only be explained but also undone. This is not unlike the comments in Revelation about the beast getting its power from the dragon. Before I digress too far in that direction, let me summarize this point with Psalm 87:6, "The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there."

Judgment is complex, and the back story is factored into how God sees us. Had we been in charge of Vader's judgment at the end of Star Wars, we'd have cast him off as the bad guy. By the end of Return of the Jedi, we see he's still got good in him. Through the prequel trilogy, we see how the Emperor rose to power through deceit and clandestine manipulations and beguiled Anakin, so that it's arguable that Anakin was not the "father of lies", the source of evil - rather, he was but a pawn who would have been discarded and replaced by Luke as easily as Anakin himself replaced Count Dooku - the common evil through it all was the Emperor, not Vader.


  1. Hmm, I guess in a certian way this could be inturpited as 1. Not every person you meet that seems bad, IS bad, and 2. Those that seem geninely good, may not actually be so.

  2. Yep. John 5:22 says "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:" We are simply not in a position to know the entire story of a person's life, all of which is taken into account, Ecc. 12:14.


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