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UTR #52: Gospel Themes in STAR WARS with Timothy Paul Jones (January 3, 2016)

Well, this is the radio reflection you’ve all been waiting for! More on Star Wars! But wait. Did you hear correctly that Jennifer is only a nominal fan? She’s just in it for the nostalgia? For the Han Solo-sightings?

I’m afraid you heard that right.

Still, I went to see it on January 1, 2016—so give me a little credit here.

Moving on . . .

Timothy Paul Jones is the guest, and the author of Finding God in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Vocab and Vermon were more enthusiastic than Bob, who might make me look like a super-fan. Nonetheless, I think anyone can benefit from the takeaways from this episode—especially those of us who love film, stories, and pop culture.

I think it’s true that most of us have encountered people who, well, like froth at the mouth the moment someone brings up Star Wars. I mean, I could identify thirty to fifty people who are experts on Siths and Stormtroopers (which, I hate to tell you, I just discovered—for the first time—are humans underneath and not some other soft-skinned/reptilian/Jabba-esque/brain-stemmy creature): ranging from the science teacher at my kids’ school to my friend’s world-traveling business bigwig husband, from pastors to, um, Rick Springfield (it’s true). Star Wars is fully enmeshed in our cultural experience. (Interesting—to me, at least—both my husband and eldest daughter have professed a dislike of “space movies.” I don’t fully get it, though I sense something profound going on. As my daughter put it, she hates that plunging into space. The darkness, the falling, untethered, endless. Tell me she’s not intuitively making some kind of existentialist statement!?!) People see these films over and over. (Jones said he’d see it three times if it were bad, and five times if it were good: they taped this episode prior to its release.) It warrants our attention, then.

Jones brought out some basics, focusing on the “metanarrative.” While the films do offer up an Eastern view of God with the Force, which is in all things and binds all things, there is a very strong metanarrative—which focuses its attention on redemption through sacrifice, following a fall. How do we interpret this?

Some things to consider:

1. The world created by George Lucas is not self-consistent. This is so important to know! Who, apart from God, offers up anything self-consistent? Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised if there is this Eastern philosophy admixture with Judeo-Christian themes. Christians, sometimes plagued with their own affection for worldly stuff—like Star Wars—are often eager to slap on Christian interpretations that just don’t work. (I’ll talk more about this in a second.) The lack of internal consistency in a work of art shouldn’t be surprising to us.

2. It might’ve been Vermon who really stressed the point that Star War-love speaks of people’s sense of transcendence. The widespread adoration suggests that these films speak to something in the hearts of men and women. Might it be that humans are powerfully drawn to the magic beyond the ordinary? Something here taps into a need, a desire—an intrinsic part of what makes us human.

3. Well, then, if we’ve got this Eastern Force and this Judeo-Christian Luke Skywalker, what do we do with it? Jones, hitting on the Judeo-Christian metanarrative says—and I’m still thinking about this—that one cannot tell a compelling story without borrowing from the Judeo-Christian worldview. Wow! Is it true? I think it is! For me, personally, this was the most amazing revelation of the show. A good story requires the Judeo-Christian metanarrative! And this accounts, I bet, for much of the failure one will see in stories. But consider all the great stories. (There’s ton to say on this from a literary standpoint, and I won’t bore you—but I would say that this is complicated, and it doesn’t mean that only happy stories are compelling. It does suggest that, at the heart of every story, there is a need for redemption.)

4. Jones spoke of a thin- vs. thick-viewing of any film, and this is another great takeaway. A thin-viewing involves superficiality. Christians often do this! We force connections that really don’t work. For instance, we might say that Luke is Jesus, and Darth is the Devil—which works until we find out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. That won’t work. But that’s where one lands with a thin-viewing, which is what we often tend to do rather than think deeply about a work. It’s easy; it’s dismissive. Rather, Jones pushes for a thick-viewing of Star Wars and other stuff. With a thick-viewing, one must consider metanarratives—how creation, fall, and redemption are revealed in, yes, inconsistent stories. Jones spoke of how he asks his children some provocative questions about a film—and I thought these were awesome. He might ask, What is the good and beautiful of this movie? What is the dream of this movie? Do you see evidence of a fall? What makes things right in this world? Just imagine where a conversation with one’s kids might go from here!

Well, then, these are points that I think are relevant for the Star Wars aficionados out there, and the voyeurs like me.

Did I like the film? Do you really want to know? I thought it was pretty good. Will I see it again? I doubt it. Will I see the next one? Of course! Han Solo Forever!

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