As the 2020 election approaches, we will be posting two conversations on culture, politics, and ethics. Part 1 is a conversation with Alan Noble and Part 2 is a conversation with Matthew Arbo.
This episode is a conversation with Dr. Alan Noble of Oklahoma Baptist University. We discuss basketball fandom (3:45), the weirdness of the Shawnee, OK mall (7:30), overrating Flannery O’Connor and C. S. Lewis (16:45), how the intersection of technology and secularism impacts our worldview (21:25), the importance of liturgy (34:00), the future of evangelicalism in America (40:00), and more. Buy Alan’s books.
This isn’t blind fandom; I was ambivalent toward the movie the first time I saw it. I hated it the second time. Yeah, the fight scene with Rey and Ben in Snoke’s throne room is awesome, but Leia Poppins, Bitter Luke, and the Casino are not. But the third time around a few things clicked, and the more I watch it and pay attention, the more I love it. In fact, I’m to the point where I (cheekily) tweeted the other day, “If you hate The Last Jedi then you hate Star Wars.” Obviously, everyone from hardcore fans to casual viewers can think what they want about the movie. But here I want to try to argue that the hate for TLJ is unfounded.
From best I can tell, there are four main objections (in no particular order):
1. Vice Admiral Holdo – This objection actually consists of at least three subsets. Some fans object to Holdo’s general demeanor. I definitely felt this the first time around. It was weird seeing Jurassic Park lady in Star Wars, and something felt off about her acting. Another objection to Holdo is part of a broader objection to the movie’s supposed “feminist” streak. It goes something like this: “the men in the movie are all stupid and need to be rescued by women.” And the third Holdo objection is the infamous Holdo maneuver, which somehow is problematic for science or whatever (see also: bomb drops in space). This one comes up most often from the hardcore Star Wars fans.
2. Leia Poppins – This objection is self-explanatory. What’s up with Leia floating through space holding an invisible nanny umbrella? Besides just the fact that some viewers think it looks dumb, many also ask, “What’s the point?”
3. The Casino Sequence – The same main objection to Leia Poppins – “What’s the point?” – also occurs here, but this part of the movie also receives criticism regarding pacing and leftist propaganda re: American war mongering.
4. Luke – Lots of fans hate what the movie does with Luke’s story. This is probably the most important objection, as it has to do with a broader objection to the movie’s supposed treatment of the previous films and the franchise’s fans. Many viewers believe that Luke throwing his lightsaber when Rey hands it to him, Yoda’s dialogue with Luke before calling down lightning to burn the Jedi Temple / Tree, Rey being “no one” and Snoke dying without revealing his origin, and, most famously, Ben’s mantra to Rey about the past (“Let the past die; kill it, if you have to”) is somehow a collective middle finger to the entirety of the Star Wars franchise and its fans. Nothing is more infamous in this regard than the film’s treatment of Luke, which many interpret as making him nothing more than a bitter old man who dies alone.
So, what do I say to these objections?
First, I think it’s important to understand the film’s themes in order to answer these objections.
1. Deceit – The first theme that helped me appreciate the movie more than I did the first two times is deceit. Nearly every person in the movie lies or attempts to deceive someone else. This starts with Poe fooling Hux to take out the cannons and initiate the bomb drop on the Star Destroyer. Then Hux deceives the rebels by tracking them, Luke and Ben both lie (or at least twist the truth) to Rey regarding their confrontation at Luke’s temple, the thief double crosses Fin and Rose, and, climatically, Luke tricks Ben in the film’s final fight sequence. There are also attempts to hide the truth, even if it’s not lying, like Leia and Holdo hiding intel from Poe regarding the abandoned rebel base (which is itself an attempt to deceive the First Order). Another example is Yoda’s conversation with Luke after he lights the Jedi Temple on fire; his words are a double entendre. Luke thinks the texts are gone, and the way Yoda phrases it could confirm that. But the texts are actually with Rey, which Yoda may even be gesturing toward: “everything in them is now with her.” Literally everyone in this movie is lying!
Which is why, in the apex of the film, we shouldn’t believe anything that’s said in the throne room. Snoke wasn’t bringing Ben and Rey’s minds together; he’s lying just like everyone else. I know this not only because of the deceit theme but also because their minds are brought together again at the end of the film, as Rey is boarding the Falcon, after Snoke is cut in half. There are therefore only two explanations as to how this keeps happening to Ben and Rey: either someone else (Palpatine, presumably) is doing it, or Ben and Rey are really related. The Palpatine theory is possible but no one (maybe not even Rian Johnson) knew EP was slated for Episode IX. The more likely explanation is already there in TLJ – Ben and Rey are blood, just like the other pairs that mind melds in the movie, Luke and Leia and Leia and Ben. All of these are supposed to remind us of the OT melds between Luke and Vader and Luke and Leia. It should be obvious from that list that only Skywalkers mind meld (at least in films!).
This brings up the second big “non-reveal” in the throne room, what Ben manipulates Rey to say about her parents and then “confirm” with a bit of flourish. Again, there’s no reason to believe anything anyone says in this movie – especially not the guy who’s constantly trying to prove his commitment to the Dark Side and simultaneously convince Rey to join him. He’s already lied manipulatively once before in TLJ, when he tells Rey his version of what happened at Luke’s Jedi Temple. After I realized EVERYONE is lying, it took away what many consider the #1 reason they hate TLJ: Rian Johnson supposedly cutting all the threads JJ Abrams tried to set up in TFA, and especially through making Rey no one. It’s certainly still possible that Rey really *is* just a child of junk traders. One way to interpret Rey’s cave scene is that she doesn’t have parents who are important. That’s possible. But another way to interpret it is that Rey defines who she is, not anyone else. Who cares who her parents are? Her identity is rooted in her own actions, her own choices, not someone else’s. We should also note here that Rey, like Luke in ESB, may have left too early to try and turn her nemesis. And like Luke, that premature confrontation leads to a relational epiphany, but in reverse: whereas Vader tells the truth, Ben (in all likelihood) is lying. All of this took away most of my initial irritation and allowed me to watch the movie with fresh eyes. Doing so helped me see a number of other themes.
2. The Past – The second prominent theme I noticed is that TLJ is about how to relate to the past. This theme was brought to my attention by a post I read right after seeing the movie; unfortunately I can’t find it anymore. Here I’ll try to explain it in my own words. This theme intersects with all of the others, and so some of what I say here will have to be repeated elsewhere. How to relate to the past is primarily relayed through Ben’s and Luke’s storylines, and particularly their conception of what happened at Luke’s Jedi Temple. Both of them have a distorted view of reality at the beginning of the movie. On the one hand, Ben sees his uncle only in the worst light, refusing to acknowledge why Luke may have been scared of his growing inner darkness, an inner darkness which Ben only continues to confirm with every subsequent action (and especially his and the Knights’ massacre of the other padawans in the Temple; Vader, anyone?). Ben’s anger clearly has deep roots in this one event, as we see in his treatment of Luke’s hologram at the end of the movie. This anger toward his past is summed up in one of the most well known lines in the movie: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”
Luke, on the other hand, responds to this event with bitterness and isolation. Whereas Ben wants to destroy everyone and everything because of his shared past, Luke wants to isolate himself from everyone and everything – even the Force. All of what he says and does to Rey prior to her leaving, including throwing the light saber over his shoulder and the “lessons” he gives her, should be seen in this light. He’s speaking as someone who hasn’t yet confronted himself and his biggest mistake, and instead has chosen to isolate himself and drink his own bitterness for fuel. Luke swigging the blue milk is a visual of his heart – he’d rather remain alone and stew than confront the past truthfully and honestly.
One of the primary motifs of the movie is Ben vs. Luke, and in this case their juxtaposition is related not only to how they respond to the past but also how they respond to being confronted about the truth of the past. Neither Ben nor Luke sees the past appropriately at the beginning of the movie. Neither are willing to admit failure (more on this below). Rey confronts both of them with the truth. She is the only one among the trio to see clearly, at least prior to Luke coming to his senses. Ben responds by turning further into himself and to the Dark Side, giving in to his rage. This is no more clearly seen than when he fires “every gun” on Luke’s hologram in front of the abandoned rebel base. Luke, on the other hand, lays down the burdens of pride and bitterness and instead finally admits his mistake to Rey. He also is guided to see the truth about the past in his conversation with Yoda. Both of these confrontations, and really his confrontation of himself, free him from bitterness and allow him to become what he is at the end of the movie – The Last (and Greatest) Jedi. He is at “at peace” with himself and the world, free to do what’s right for the sake of others.
3. Failure – Ben and Luke’s relation to their past is predicated on avoiding and, only in Luke’s case, finally confronting their failures. Luke admits his failure to deal with Ben appropriately and finds freedom. Ben, on the other hand, refuses to admit that he was seduced by the Dark Side, by those who only wish to use him, by those who turned him against his family. And so he remains trapped in a prison of rage. But the seminal moment of failure for these two is not the only moment of failure in the film. Just like everyone lies in the movie, most everyone also fails. And to combine these two themes, sometimes those who fail try to spin it as success. Poe is the prime example of this at the beginning of the movie, failing to lead appropriately his mission. He still thinks it’s a success, but according to what measure? Hux also fails in the beginning, called out dramatically and forcefully in front of his crew by Snoke’s hologram. Snoke also throws Ben’s failure to capture or kill Rey at the end of TFA in Ben’s face at the beginning of TLJ. Poe fails again to understand the bigger picture in his confrontations with Holdo. Holdo probably should be charged with failure to lead well, since she simply dismisses Poe and doesn’t attempt to lead him to understanding, even if that doesn’t include passing on all the information she has. Poe fails again in his mutinous attempt to wrest command from Holdo. Rey fails to convince Luke to return with her. Snoke fails to understand his pupil’s motives and actions in the throne room. Ben fails to turn Rey in the throne room. Finn fails to destroy the battering ram. Hux fails to destroy the rebels and Ben fails to defeat Luke at the end of the movie.
And, most famously of all (at least for the TLJ haters), Finn and Rose fail in every possible way in their Canto Bight mission. “What’s the point of that sequence?” the haters crow. The point is pretty simple: every attempt to escape, defeat, or otherwise thwart the First Order in TLJ fails, and typically fails miserably. The casino sequence is yet another, and perhaps the most desperate and therefore outlandish, attempt to give the rebels a fighting chance. All the little sparks that are supposed to light the fire that will fuel the Rebellion are snuffed out, one by one. The casino sequence isn’t the very last spark (remember the dialogue in the cave) but it is nearly that.
There’s more to say about snuffing out sparks, but for now it’s important to realize that this theme of failure serves to again juxtapose the First Order and the rebels, and especially Ben and Luke. The First Order’s response to failure is denial coupled with violence. The rebels’ response to failure – once they own up to it – is hope (or belief?) and resilience.
We’ve already seen how Ben and Luke, when confronted with the truth about their failure, exhibit this juxtaposed set of responses. But others in the film do the same. Hux retreats further into fear and its symptom, projected strength, whereas Poe admits his mistake, gives up his hubris, and grows into the commander he should have been from the beginning. But in addition to these individual juxtapositions, this theme of failure serves to tell us something about goodness and hope and faith. Despite failure after failure, despite the fact that no one ever comes to their aid, the rebels literally never give up. In spite of overwhelming odds against them, and in spite of the literal and proverbial darkness that surrounds them, they refuse to let their spark be snuffed out.
4. Surprise – This brings us to the fourth theme, what I’ll call surprise. You might even call it eucatastrophe. Every time the rebels are between a rock and a hard place (again, think of the final sequence), something completely unexpected happens that saves them. Luke showing up to the abandoned rebel base is the obvious one here, but there are other surprises. Aside from the fact that many viewers hated them conceptually, I think this is one of the main reasons for both “Leia Poppins” and the Holdo Maneuver. Both are surprising saves in the midst of what seem like impossible circumstances. Leia’s use of the Force also adds an element of mysticism to it, while the Holdo Maneuver saves both the transports and Finn and Rose and, in some ways (psychologically), Rey as well.
5. Love – What distinguishes the rebels from the First Order, ultimately, is love. The rebels can confront the past and their failures and respond with repentance and faith and hope because they love each other. The First Order, on the other hand, only feels hate, for the rebels, for their fellow First Order members, for themselves. This theme of love v. hate is seen in reunions between characters (BB8 and Poe, Poe and Finn, Finn and Rey, Luke and Leia, etc.), relationships that develop (the infamous – but again, important once you recognize what it’s doing – relationship between Finn and Rose), and sacrifice (the Holdo Maneuver, Roses’s sister, Luke). Whereas the rebels exhibit abiding joy in reuniting with one another, deepen relationships with one another, and sacrifice themselves for one another, Hux, Ben, and Snoke turn on each other in hatred and violence. Once again this juxtaposition is seen in one rebel and one member of the First Order, this time Rey and Ben. Their mind meld connection is an opportunity to respond relationally to one another. Ben responds with attempts to manipulate Rey, whereas Rey responds with compassion and attempts to save Ben.
6. Balance – All of these play into, in one way or another, what I think is the major theme of the movie: balance. Themes of understanding the past, confronting our failures, hope, and love all serve to juxtapose the First Order and the rebels, and ultimately they serve to juxtapose those who are internally conflicted and those who are at peace with themselves and with others. Conflict leads to splits, while peace leads to balance. This is portrayed visually a number of ways, perhaps most memorably in the split lightsaber between Rey and Ben in the throne room. But Ben’s facial scar also reminds us every time we look at him that he’s internally conflicted (as Snoke loves to remind him). Snoke’s body is split in half. The Holdo Maneuver splits the First Order, who is already internally conflicted both as a group and as individuals. Ben tries to split Luke’s hologram in half. Rey and Luke, on the other hand, are at peace. Rey visually demonstrates this through balancing the rocks blocking the cave entrance at the end. But it is again Luke who is the focal point of this theme. He is so at peace with himself, so in tune with the Force, that he literally balances in midair over a rock at the end of the film. His assumption into the Force afterward is supposed to remind us of his first Master, Obi-Wan. Like Obi-Wan, Luke warns his wayward to disciple that to strike him down in anger will only make him stronger. And like both Obi-Wan and Yoda, Luke is so at peace that he is caught up into the Force. Luke at the end of the film is the Last and Greatest Jedi.
In light of these themes, here are some theses about TLJ and about the sequel trilogy (ST).
1. Luke Skywalker – This movie/trilogy is, in large part, about Luke. In The Force Awakens, the question is “Where is Luke?” The Last Jedi is clearly about Luke, and he’s the hero of the film. At the end, though, the question is “Where did he go?” In The Rise of Skywalker, I imagine one of the questions will be, “Where is he now?” This is still the Skywalker saga, and not just because Ben is a Skywalker.
2. The Future – FA pushes us past ANH/ESB/ROTJ recapitulation to expect something new (see my post on this from a few years ago). Of course, parts of TLJ recapitulate ESB, too (Hoth à abandoned rebel moon base). At least parts of TLJ recapitulate ROTJ (e.g. Ben killing Snoke to save Rey). If this is what’s going on, the PT is about how the context of the OT came about (the past), while the ST is about what how to understand the past in order to see what happens next (the future).
3. Balance – The fact that Snoke, Ben, and now Palpatine are still around after ROTJ means that Luke’s role to bring balance to the Force wasn’t actually complete at the end of ROTJ. Maybe Luke didn’t balance out the force because he didn’t kill Palpatine. The same thing happened in TLJ; Luke or Rey didn’t kill Snoke, Snoke’s disciple did. This just continues the cycle of violence endemic to the Dark Side. Even though Darth Vader turns back to the light at the end of ROTJ, maybe there’s something lacking in how he dealt with Palpatine, how Luke wasn’t involved, and what that means for bringing balance to the Force.
4. Continuity – I think TLJ is in continuity with the ST and with the entirety of the SW franchise. I mean, first of all, do we really think Disney would let Rian Johnson just wing it? Second, regarding killing off characters suddenly and the like, have y’all ever watched The Force Awakens? Han Solo, maybe the most beloved character in all of Star Wars besides Chewie, gets treated as a plot device. Luke Skywalker, hero of all Star Wars heroes, isn’t even in The Force Awakens.
5. Preaching – The last issue I want to deal with is the accusation that TLJ is just a progressive sermonic diatribe. Some of the crowing about TLJ and its preachiness isn’t reality. For instance, some people think Johnson took the opportunity to preach some kind of anti-male ideology via the film’s treatment of its male protagonists and their relation to women. Rey is better than Luke for most of the film, Finn is a bumbling idiot, and Poe is bossed around by Holdo and Leia. Well, for one thing, we’ve already seen that Luke’s, Finn’s, and Poe’s failures are all foils for their character development. Each of them respond heroically, not by might but by repentance. But there’s also the fact that at the end of the movie Leia turns to the rebel remnant and says “Follow him!” She literally turns over command to Poe. The issue at the beginning of the movie wasn’t that he is a man, it was that he hadn’t learned how to be a leader.
So, I think TLJ is a good movie. I think you can argue whether or not the particular ways Johnson executed some of these themes and theses isn’t the best (e.g. couldn’t Leia have used the Force to save herself in some other unexpected way?) But this movie isn’t dumping on Star Wars. It doesn’t mistreat Luke. And it doesn’t cut itself off from what TFA was doing. It’s a good movie.
In their recently released Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), Cornelis van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink offer a view of biological sex and sexuality grounded in theological anthropology. They focus particularly on the connection between sex and the relational aspect of the imago dei, and do so in order to argue that our sexual nature (that is, that we are made as “male and female,” with a biological sex) is not limited to or only realized in marriage and procreation. While the family unit may be the “primary and prototypical manner in which this basic desire for bonding and solidarity is expressed” (285-86), it is nevertheless not the only way in which this fundamentally relational aspect of our humanity can be realized. van der Kooi and van den Brink differentiate, for the most part, between “sexual” and “sexuality,” the former denoting our human nature as “male and female,” the latter referring to sexual activities. A few choice quotes in this regard:
Sexuality is not everything, and those who are hardly, or not at all, involved in sexual activities can be excellent and complete human beings (281).
Our sexuality [here they mean sexual nature] is not a kind of secondary embellishment of what is at root asexual. An asexual human being is an abstraction. We do not have a genderless or bisexual core that relativizes our male or female state, but from the very first God created as thoroughly physical, sexual beings: male and female God created us (282).
Admittedly, there are intrinsic differences between men and women, and neither persons nor societies will function optimally when they are ignored. But…much of what we consider to be typically male or female is undoubtedly culturally determined (283).
…it is not correct to regard procreation as the only purpose of our sexuality. If that were the case, a major part of humanity (including Jesus of Nazareth) would not be fully fledged humans (284).
This seems to me to be a very balanced section on sexuality and sexual identity. On the one hand, the authors acknowledge the “fact of nature” (284) of our sexual nature as human beings, and therefore that God made us male and female. In doing so, they also acknowledge that heterosexual marriage leading to procreation is the “prototypical manner” (286) in which this sexual nature is expressed. They also importantly, though, leaven the lump, so to speak, and say with Jesus that marriage is relativized in the eschaton, with Paul that singleness is a gift from God, and with modern studies in theological anthropology that we cannot reduce “male and female” to unbiblical cultural norms. They are also careful to speak about ways in which our sexual nature can remain relational, since it is part of the imago dei, without requiring sexual activity.
Unfortunately, though, the authors punt at the end of the section on the issue of same-sex marriage. This is not uncommon for this book; on most of the major issues in theology, one is left asking for more of the authors’ own perspectives and arguments. Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that it is intended to be an introductory textbook, but there are places where taking a stance seems to be required. In my mind this is one of them. I wish they had.
Second, for those who don’t know me, I teach Bible and Hermeneutics at Oklahoma Baptist University. One of my overarching emphases in all my classes is reading the Bible canonically. This means paying attention to the order and shape of the material, textual links between books, and following the arc of the story. As I watched and have continued to think about TFA, these principles seem to help understand exactly what Abrams is doing with Episode VII. (Which is not, contra Ross Douthat, just an homage piece with no originality.)
I’ll start with the similarities between TFA and the original trilogy, and these are (almost) legion.
TFA starts almost identically to A New Hope. The movie opens over a desert planet, Jakku, and the leader of the First Order is searching for Republic plans. Instead of plans to the rebel base, it’s a map to Luke Skywalker, but still, same. These plans are hidden in a droid, which is found by an inhabitant of said desert planet. It’s Rey, not Luke, but she’s a great pilot and skilled mechanically. She escapes the planet with the plans with Han and Chewie and heads to the Republic to hand them over. Once there, a super weapon destroys the planet on which the Republic government is settled. The first half of the movie, then, is definitely ANH rehashed, although I don’t think that’s a negative.
The reason I think this is intentional and not just lazy homage is because of what Abrams does next. Instead of continuing an ANH reboot with new characters, he jumps into Episode V in the next part of the film. While Rey’s character was portrayed as a new Luke in the first half, both Rey and Ren are portrayed as new Lukes in the second half. Rey reenacts Dagobah’s cave in Maz’ basement, while Ren reenacts the climax of Empire on the bridge with his father. But it’s Empire reversed. In V, Luke is confronted by his father on a long bridge, with no chance of escape, and given an ultimatum to turn to the dark side or die. Luke refuses, sealing his fate as a Jedi, not a Sith. Ren is the exact opposite. He is confronted by his father on a long bridge, with every reason and ability to walk away, and asked by his father to turn back to the light. Ren refuses, kills his father, sealing his fate as a Sith, not a Jedi. This is the climax of VII, and a reverse of V.
But there’s more. Abrams doesn’t stop with IV and a reverse V; he ends with VI recapitulated instead of returning to IV rehashed. As in Return of the Jedi, Han and Chewie plant charges in order to destroy base defenses so that the Republic can destroy the super weapon. And the scene where the weapon is destroyed is almost identical to the same scene in VI – the Millennium Falcon is the first out, followed by X-wings, and then the blast comes right behind. Go watch VI and then VII again and you’ll see.
In other words, Abrams has recapitulated the original trilogy in one film.
(Incidentally, I think this mitigates against the criticism that some of the film, especially character development, is rushed – yes it is, but for a reason.)
When you read the Bible and you see stories repeated over and over, you notice not only the similarities but also the differences. And I think this is where we really start to see where this new trilogy is going.
This film doesn’t end like VI. There is no celebration, and Rey finds Skywalker. This latter bit is unprecedented, really. This should tell us quite a bit about what is going to happen in the next two films.
Rey and Ren take up Luke’s mantle. Rey is light recapitulated, Ren dark. (This is why I think they’re twins, not cousins.) Before you say Luke has always been with the light, go back and watch VI again. Luke doesn’t go to the dark side, but he’s certainly not unambiguously light throughout, especially in his climactic battle with the Emperor and Darth Vader. Luke gives in to his anger and aggression but always ultimately pulls back from the brink each time. It’s still there, though. I think this is why Ren goes bad – Luke tries to train it out of him, but he’s not pure enough himself to do it. And whatever Ren subsequently did, it was bad enough that Luke never wanted to be seen again. (I think Joe Rigney’s comment on my earlier post are largely correct; go check it out.)
Finn is Force adept. He awakens during the battle on Jakku, but doesn’t yet realize it. That’s why he’s the only non-compliant Storm Trooper, EVER, and why he can wield a light saber long enough to at least not get killed. I’d imagine we will see more people wake up to the Force as the series continues, and go to Luke (or Leia?) for training.
Snoke, as many have pointed out, is probably Darth Pelagius, finally come back from the dead. He has to be destroyed, along with Ren, to balance the Force.
So again, Episode VII is fantastic. What makes Star Wars great is its simplicity. At its heart it explores the themes of good v. evil, redemption, temptation, and zero-to-hero through the lens of one family, the Skywalkers. This trilogy is going to give us the end of that story. Finally. And I can’t wait to see how it does it.
**SPOILER ALERT** – If you haven’t seen it, don’t read any further.
I loved it. As many have mentioned, JJ brought the magic back through set design, realistic (non-CGI) aliens and fight sequences, and taking this story where it needs to go.
The major criticism I keep hearing is that TFA is just a rehash of Episode IV. A few things there:
This makes sense, since both previous trilogies are interlocking ring sets. (See starwarsringtheory.com.) In other words, they all repeat one another, and the trilogies are structured similarly, and there are inclusios everywhere. And further, therefore, this isn’t actually a criticism. It’s how Star Wars works.
Again, it makes sense because what made the original trilogy great was its simplicity. Farm boy to hero. Love story. Good v. evil. A chance at redemption. Temptation. Father and Son. These elements were overshadowed in the prequels. They’re back, front and center, in Ep VII.
More particularly, I want to mention a few things about this being a repeat of Episode IV (and therefore also of Ep I). Certainly in many, many ways this is true. Particularly in its beginning and end – desert outpost, Millennium Falcon escape, learning about the Force on MF, finding one spot of weakness on the enemy’s apocalyptic weapon, new force adept hero traveling to find lone Jedi to train them – TFA is definitely framed by Episode IV. But if you stop there you’ve missed the most important way that Episode VII is connected to both the prequels and the original trilogy.
Episode VII is also in perhaps the most important ways drawing off of Ep V (and therefore also of Ep II). The penultimate climactic scene of Ep VII is a reverse of the same sequence in Ep V. Whereas Luke resists his father in Ep V, and in virtually the same visual manner (THE BRIDGE) as in TFA, Ren does not. Luke seems to seal his fate to the light (although temptation is still to come) in that climactic scene by resisting but losing to his father; Ren seems to seal his fate to the dark side in Ep VII by resisting and defeating his father. Notice also that Rey experiences the same type of Force training as Luke does in Ep IV and V, but especially V as typified in the hallucinogenic cave scene on Dagobah. The same occurs for Rey in the basement of Maz’ bar.
In other words, TFA isn’t just a 30 years later reboot of ANH; it’s TESB reversed and ensconced within an ANH reboot. The main point is Kylo Ren’s continued march down the path of the Dark Side, in contradistinction to Luke’s continued march towards the light in TESB.
I think Abrams structured this movie this way for a reason. This movie is Ep V in reverse via Kylo/his dad because *this trilogy won’t be the same as the first two.* It’s going to end with the Force actually being balanced, something that apparently didn’t happen even at the end of VI, presumably because Snoke was out there somewhere unbeknownst to Luke etc. So this movie starts by rehashing V, VIII will rehash III/VI, and IX will be something we’ve never seen before. I think.
Some other criticisms addressed:
Finn’s character shifts in personality so quickly after his defection because he’s awakened to the Force, too, just not as quickly as Rey. Kylo doesn’t just notice he’s not shooting anyone in the skirmish on Jakku; he notices that Finn’s awakened to the Force in that opening sequence. That explains his truncated abilities with the light saber twice later in the movie. We’ll see him become more fully and consciously Force adept in the next film, I’m guessing.
Rey is not another Luke. She’s more powerful than him and anyone else so far, apparently. Which I think is awesome. Also, it explains her almost immediate success throughout.
Again, therefore, this is not just a rehash. Kylo *isn’t* Darth Vader. He hasn’t finished his training, he’s erratic, he’s overcome with emotion and not just using it in battle. He clearly has different, and maybe better, abilities than DV. He’s not DV. Rey isn’t Luke (see #4.2); Finn isn’t just a new Han (see #4.1).
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I think 4.2 and 4.3 explain who Rey is. She’s Ren’s sister (twin?). These two will balance the Force through being polar opposites. Again, think about it. Rey follows Luke’s path in IV and V, while Ren does exactly the opposite of Luke in V.
One final thought – it occurred to me as the credits were rolling that this is the first Star Wars film I’ve seen in theaters where I didn’t know what was going to happen. RotJ came out when I was a newborn, and we always knew where the prequels were headed, even if it we didn’t know exactly how they’d take us there. I’m in brand new territory here.
So, I think TFA is brilliant. I want to see it as many times as possible in theaters.
Yesterday Christianity Today published an article by Tish Warren, an InterVarsity employee whose experience at Vanderbilt University may be a proleptic look at where our current culture is headed unless someone puts on the brakes. Warren relates how her college ministry was forced to either allow anyone, regardless of faith commitment, to run for office in their InterVarsity chapter or face expulsion from campus by Vanderbilt. Warren and InterVarsity ultimately chose to leave instead of abiding by the administration’s policy.
One chilling quote comes from Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor:
Creedal discrimination is still discrimination.
In other words, religious groups cannot have requirements for leadership or membership that include any sort of faith commitments. My hunch is that these administrators are attempting to beat down the big bad wolf of American Christianity, but I wonder if they realize the implications of their actions for other religious groups. A Muslim group must allow a Jewish member to run for office, and a Jewish group must allow a Hindu member to stump for the presidency. A Sikh student organization cannot require members to abide by Sikh practices, nor can they bar a Bahai person from trying to get elected as treasurer or secretary.
Let’s move beyond student groups to organizations. Religious universities, whatever their faith, could not require faculty or staff to abide by their tradition’s or religion’s faith statement in order to teach or work there if discrimination is broadened to include “creedal discrimination.” Now we are talking not just about student groups but educational institutions, begun explicitly to train students through the lens of a particular faith, being required to hire anyone regardless of belief. Now it is not just a Catholic student group, but a Catholic university who theoretically must hire a Muslim educator if s/he is the most qualified. A Jewish seminary must hire a Bahai religious studies Ph.D. if they are the most qualified. Etc. etc. etc.
Do lawmakers in D.C. and administrators in secular educational institutions realize the implications of their disdain for Christianity? Do they understand the point of faith based institutions, no matter the faith? Do they understand the first amendment? There’s not much evidence these days that the answer to any of these questions is yes.
Chad Chambers and I decided to celebrate the National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn University (of which we are fans respectively) by answering a few questions about the game itself and the connections between football and theology. You can find my answers to his questions on his blog – Cataclysmic.
1. Given FSU’s recent success coupled with starting an unknown redshirt freshman at quarterback, what were you expectations for FSU coming into this season?
My expectations for FSU this season were they would have a good, not great, season. I thought a 10-2 record was most likely, with us losing to either Clemson or Florida and one game we shouldn’t.
Although 11 players were drafted from last year’s team, my optimism came from the simple fact we have better players than just about every team we face (Clemson and Florida being the possible exceptions). I thought even if Winston struggled at times, like most first year starters, the talent surrounding him would be enough to win most games.
2. At what point during the season did you begin to think, “This team could be really good?” And then, “This team could play for a National Championship?” Why?
I will highlight four things:
A. Winston’s performance in the 1st game of the season against Pittsburgh was extraordinary (25-27, 356 yards, 4 TDs/0 Ints). After the game, many FSU fans, myself included, thought if this a true picture of what kind of QB he would be then this team would be really, really good.
B. After the Boston College game the defense made several changes, most importantly moving Christian Jones from LB to DE. Up to that point, the defense had been good but not great especially against the run. After the personnel changes, the defense became dominant. The one concern was meeting a big, physical power running team because the defense is built to stop spread offenses. That concern was highly diminished as Florida’s season crumbled (and perhaps after Auburn beat Alabama see prediction below).
C. In the first quarter of the Clemson game, it became obvious this team should finish the regular season undefeated. It was no guarantee, but it was assumed FSU would be a double-digit favorite in the rest of their games (and some have them as double-digit favorites against Auburn).
D. It has been the cumulative effect of winning big every week. This team never let down, never played down to competition or had an off week. Basically, it had one off quarter all year against Boston College and trailed by 14 points, but it responded with a 35-3 run in 2nd and 3rd quarters. The ability to focus on every game and not just win but win big reminded me off the great FSU teams of the 80’s and 90’s.
3. As a Southerner, I am very familiar with the way sports, especially football, and religion are intertwined. As Christians and football fans, how should we respond to those who integrate religion with sports? Does this mindset open doors for honest discussion or make discussion more difficult?
The saying “Football is religion” is burnt into my head from my upbringing. I can remember playing games on Friday nights and even as an arrogant and stupid teenager thinking this is crazy! Don’t get me wrong I lived for Friday nights and reveled in the attention but I still knew something was wrong.
To fully answer this question the way football and religion are intertwined would take way too much space (this is a blog post not a book!) because there are so many different layers to it. I want to discuss only one side, the sense of belonging or participating that comes from following football or sports in general. Being a fan involves a collective emotion as you witness your team’s fortunes rise and fall during a game or season. It sparks conversations, relationships as you share in ecstatic moments of joy and despair but more than that it involves a loss of one’s self in a ‘higher’ purpose. The me becomes we, and it is not just us fans banding together in support of a team; we as fans we feel like we become part of the team.
It is this experience of becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves that in part drives us to talk about sports like they are religion. Religion is meant to offer meaning and hope to the whole of life, but all to often Christianity has become me and Jesus and it loses the communal, the me becoming we. So sports are often used to fill the void. They are used as a way to find a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, a purpose, and a hope. All religious language. All longings that cannot be filled by sports, even if your team wins the National Championship.
Therefore, how should we respond as Christians? More of our churches need to move out of the simple come to Jesus and go to heaven mentality. We need to become places that reach the whole of life by being places of belonging, meaning, purpose and hope centered around the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Our places of worship must mold us in a community of living witnesses to the transformative power of the gospel. And we should foster active communities who seek to understand scripture more fully and witness to it more clearly.
4. What do you think about the current move to pay college athletes? Is this a case of systematic injustice or is the system fair? Is this a moral issue the church should be discussing?
As someone who was ‘paid to play’ baseball in college, I have thought about the question a lot because I get asked about it quite often. But to be honest, I do not have an answer. The world of college athletics is different now and the money is so much more, I can’t relate to the experience of today’s athletes. Furthermore, the difference between being a player at a big-time football (even some basketball) program is a world away from playing in a non-revenue sport. I will say, if it becomes a situation where universities are required to pay every athlete in every sport it may very well be the end of college athletics as we know them.
As to the last part of the question, yes the church should be involved in discussing these issues because it should be interested in discussing all moral issues.
5. There has been an intensifying discussion recently concerning the physicality of football and the relationship to Christian ethics. Do you consider football inherently “violent”? What is your definition of violence? Does the Bible address this issue, and, if so, can a Christian faithfully participate in football as a player or fan?
Answered by Mike Skinner (contributor at Cataclysmic who writes a lot about violence. And as you can see also a football fan).
I confess I would have to answer this question with an asterisk: I am a football fan. So upfront, I fully own up to a bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to my nonviolent christological commitment and my love of football. My ad-hoc definition of violence would be: “an intentional action against another in which permanent (or lethal) physical, spiritual, and psychological damage is a real possibility.” I do, however, think there is a tension between the physicality (/violence) of football and the call to Christian living embodied by Jesus and encouraged by the Scriptures.
I think the tension is found in three places: 1) football has the tendency to glorify violence (who doesn’t get a little satisfaction out of a BIG hit), 2) it has a tendency to promote a hyper-violent/angry/competitive vision of masculinity, and 3) it is a sport that often dehumanizes the athletes at the expense of entertainment (long-term damage to bodies/minds, etc). [I think there is a spectrum here – with sports like UFC being on one end and sports like basketball being on the other end – in terms of violence]. I think questions of intentionality (are the players really “trying” to hurt each other? are we really “attempting” glorify violence, etc?) and inherency (does it have to do these things? Is it inherent to the sport itself or simply inherent to individual/corporate nature of humans?) are legitimate responses to my above analysis, however.
Ultimately, I think the Bible does call us to an awareness of how our lives are shaping our own moral character and affecting those around us. The things that we watch, pay money to attend, cheer for, and spend time doing are always forming us as virtuous creatures (whether we want it to or not). Indeed, out of all the popular sports in America, football has a very distinct liturgical shape to it. Thus, it shapes our own character, our society, and has long-term effects for certain men who are “sacrificed” for our entertainment. All of that might seem a tad “much” for the average Christian – and I again want to acknowledge that I enjoy being a fan of football. There are many good things that football does as well (particularly in shaping discipline, teamwork, critical thinking, community among fans, etc). And on a list of what is wrong with the world, I would consider it towards the bottom (if indeed it is a problem). As a nonviolent Christian, I’ll worry about the violence of football when we can stop things like unjust drone strikes. Until then, I’ll be praying that the Texans draft Johnny Manziel.
6. What are the keys for FSU to be successful against Auburn in the National Championship game? What is your prediction for the game (winner and score)?
The key for FSU is slowing the run. I know this is obvious, but that does not make it less true. Auburn’s game plan seems to be simply to outscore the other team and it has worked because Auburn’s running game, especially in the last half of the season, has been unstoppable. I am still not sure whether to call it a power running game since it relies more on zone blocking schemes rather than power blocking, but regardless it works. Yet, I do not think FSU has to stop Auburn because they should be able to score on Auburn’s defense, but they do need to slow them down.
I can see the game going three ways:
A. FSU slows Auburn early and jumps out to double-digit lead. From there the two teams trade scores with the FSU winning something like 42-28.
B. Neither team is able to consistently slow the other and we get a good-ole Western (Pac-10 football since in California) shootout. In this case, I think FSU has the better defense and will make the one stop needed to make a difference. Prediction in this scenario, FSU wins 45-42.
C. Very similar to the last version except both teams come out tight, rusty after 30 days off and so the score ends up being in the 20’s rather than the 40’s.
Since you asked for my prediction not predictions, I think the first option is more likely, so I will go with FSU 42 and Auburn 28.