#StarWars #TheForceAwakens in Canonical Perspective

First, **SPOILER ALERT**

 

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Some Thoughts on #StarWars #TheForceAwakens

  1.  **SPOILER ALERT** – If you haven’t seen it, don’t read any further.
  2. 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.
  3. The major criticism I keep hearing is that TFA is just a rehash of Episode IV. A few things there:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
  4. Some other criticisms addressed:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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).
    4. 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.
  5. 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.

Thank you, JJ.

Is God Going to Go All Death Star on the Earth When Jesus Returns?

Via Google Images

A common view I often encounter is that God is going to completely obliterate the entire physical universe at Christ’s return and basically just start over. It always reminds me of Darth Vader destroying Alderaan in Episode IV.

Alderaan Destroyed

The text most often used in these encounters is 2 Peter 3:1-13, which says this:

3 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,[a] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies[b] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.[c]

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

The common assumption is that the language in this text about “burning” and “dissolving” and “passing away” means that the physical world will be completely annihilated. There are a number of reasons, though, why I doubt this is the meaning of the passage.

  1.  The meaning of the word “pass away” – In the New Testament, the verb used for the phrase “pass away” in 2 Peter 3 takes on a number of different meanings.
    1. Concerning Heaven and Earth
      1. Matt. 5:18 – “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”
      2. Matt. 24: 34, 35; Mark 13:30, 31; Luke 21:32, 33 – “this generation will not pass away before these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”
      3. Luke 16:17 – “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void”
    2. Generic sense of walking, going, or coming – Matt. 8:28; 14:15; Mark 6:48; 14:35;  Luke 12:37; 17:7; 18:37; Acts 16:8
    3. Generic sense of time passing – Acts 27:9; 1 Peter 4:3
    4. Neglect or disobedience of a command – Luke 11:42; 15:29
    5. Jesus prior to arrest, “let this cup pass from me”  – 26:39, 42
    6. Mortality of human beings  – James 1:10
    7. Referring to our salvation – 2 Cor. 5:17
  2. Notice that Matt. 24:34, 35 and parallels and 2 Cor. 5:17 seem to indicate that at least part of the “passing away” has already taken place. In other words, this “passing away” in at least those verses is not obliteration but simply the removal of the old and replacement of it with the new.
  3. Use of “melt” and “burn up” metaphor elsewhere in the NT – In at least two places in the NT, fire is used not as an agent of annihilation but as an agent of refining, sifting, and perfecting (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 Peter 1:3-9; cf. also James 1, esp. 2-4, for similar language about testing but without explicit use of the fire metaphor).
    Additionally, I cannot think of a place in the NT where fire is explicitly used for annihilation or obliteration.
  4. In the context of 2 Peter 3, perhaps the most important point is that Peter compares this coming judgment by fire with the historical judgment by water in Noah’s flood. The earth was not obliterated during that judgment, but was purged of sin. Peter’s parallel with Noah’s flood points to the fact that they are similar in effect although not in means. The difference noted by Peter is between the different means of water and fire, not between the ultimate effects of either judgment.
  5. Corroborating Evidence
    1. A view of God’s creation as “good” – God creates the world as good, and connects his image-bearers to it by giving them the task of caring for it in the Garden. He does curse it because of Adam’s sin, but it is also clear that the Abrahamic covenant is a reversal of not only the spiritual effects of Adam’s sin but the physical effects of it on the land as well (Gen. 12:1-3; cf. James Hamilton, “The Skull Crushing Seed of Woman and the Promises to Abraham”; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15). In other words, God cares about his creation – all of it. The obliteration of it would be contrary to his creational and redemptive purposes.
    2. Revelation 21 – The word “new” in Rev. 21:1 is kainos, and denotes restoration, renewal, and freshness, not total “otherness” or distinctness from what came previously. Additionally, the imagery of Revelation 21 and 22 is full of images from the physical creation – a city, streets, gates, walls, rivers, trees, leaves, fruit, etc.

The metaphor of fire, combined with the historical parallel of the purging Noahic flood, a sacramental worldview, and an understanding of John’s use of “new” and creation imagery in Revelation 21-22 points to this coming judgment of fire as a purging judgment, not an annihilating one. It’s purpose is to purge the physical world of the effects of the curse so that God can dwell with his people on it, not to obliterate it completely and start over.

So, God isn’t going to go all Death Star on the Universe. At least not in my opinion.