So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…
Genesis 3:6a (RSV)
Again the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
Matthew 4:8-9 (RSV)
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust upon the scales;
Behold, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and see: who created these?
He who brings out their hosts by number, calling them all by name;
By the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power
Not one is missing.
Isaiah 40:13, 15,25
As the end credits of the film began to roll, the audience cheered. Not so unusual perhaps, you might be thinking. Movie audiences have been moved to do this before, despite the irrationality of the act, there being no cast or director to come out and take a bow. But this particular audience consisted mainly of critics, gathered from a wide area of the Midwest for a press screening of George Lucas’ last film of the Star Wars series. They even did the unheard of thing of standing around and talking, rather, than, as usual, leaving the theater immediately. So, it was not just my companion and I who were caught up in the magic of the film. Virtually all agreed that Lucas, or his Muse, was back. His letting us down with his lackluster first two films of the prequals could be forgiven.
There are still plenty of special effects and quick-paced action, George Lucas hallmarks, to dazzle the eye—I am looking forward to seeing the film again just to appreciate more fully some of the background activities in the city scenes—but the emphasis this time is more upon character, and less upon effects and fighting. Lucas that for 28 years we have been familiar with the broad outline of the plot, that Anakin Skywalker became the dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader. What we did not know was how: how did a good man fighting for truth and justice change into the perpetrator of evil? Or, in term s of the film, how was Anakin seduced by the dark side of the Force? Lucas has commented that Darth Vader was not born a monster; otherwise there would be no story
As with the first film, Episode III begins “in the middle of things.” Those familiar yellow words rolling slant-angled upward into infinity tell us that the Chancellor of the Republic has been kidnapped by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a high ranking officer of the Separatist Alliance army that is revolting against the Republic. The Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and his star pupil Anakin Skywalker are in hot pursuit. Catching up with his ship, they enter and engage in a duel, with Obi-Wan soon knocked unconscious. As Anakin continues to engage the Count with light sabers, he says that his powers have doubled since they last met. “Good,” Dooku answers, “Twice the pride, double the fall!” When at last Anakin defeats Dooku, the imprisoned Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) tells Anakin, “Kill him!” Anakin, aware that this would be a violation of the Jedi code, remarks, “I shouldn’t do it.” But he does.
Anxious to get off his enemy’s ship, the Chancellor gives another order, referring to the unconscious Obi-Wan, “Leave him!” This order, however, the young Jedi does not obey, bending down instead to pick up the body of his mentor. Anakin carries Obi-Wan on his shoulder, managing to get back to their own ship. Though damaged, Anakin and crew manage a crash landing back on the ground of the city-planet Coruscant, seat of the threatened Republic.
Like that of the Roman Republic on earth in another era, the galactic Republic has been crumbling, buffeted by the powerful droid armies of what has come to be known as the Separatist Alliance, a confederation of traders long chaffing under the restraints of the more civilized Republic. Palpatine has been able to persuade the Senate to grant him extraordinary powers because of the danger of the Clone Wars—he is now called Supreme Chancellor. Meanwhile, Anakin has been leading a double life—as a noble Jedi Knight and secretly as a husband to Senator Padme’ Amidala (Natalie Portman). It is against the Jedi code for a warrior to marry, so Anakin is understandably troubled, especially when, upon re-uniting with his beloved, she tells him that she is pregnant. Anakin has a bad dream in which Padme’ dies in childbirth.
Outwardly, Anakin’s career is progressing, though not as he and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi had expected. The Supreme Chancellor appoints Anakin as his personal representative to the Council of the Jedi. Yoda (Frank Oz), long uneasy about Skywalker, leads the Council in refusing to grant the new appointee the title of Master, which would have included full voting powers. Anakin, of course, is upset by this, but does not fully share all of his misgivings with his mentor Obi-Wan. In a talk with Yoda about some bad premonitions he has, Anakin receives the advice that attachment leads to jealousy. Given his love for Padme’, he cannot follow the admonition, “Train yourself to let go of everything.” This may be possible for an unmarried Jedi, but not for a husband soon to become a father.
The Chancellor, seeing in the powerful young Jedi an asset to his own schemes, continues to take advantage of Anakin’s confusion and fears. He skillfully plants the seeds of doubt in regard to the Jedi Council itself, inferring that they might be seeking sole power for themselves, when he says, “All who gain power are reluctant to lose it.” In this remark he is commenting upon their reluctance to go along with the Senate in conferring greater wartime authority to the Supreme Chancellor.
Two things become the final means to win over Anakin to the Supreme Chancellor’s cause: Anakin’s love for Padme’ and resentment at being passed over by the Jedi Council to lead an attack upon General Grievous. As Padme’ grows weaker as a result of her pregnancy, Anakin fears for her life. Palatine has already introduced to Anakin the notion that the dark side of the Force can be exploited. Now he urgently says to the young Jedi, “Only through me can you come to know the dark side of the Force and save your wife.” It turns out that the Chancellor is not the benevolent person he has presented himself as, but actually—well, see the film itself.
The next series of events, including Anakin’s duel with Obi-Wan amidst the dangerous molten lava fields of the planet Mustafar (which is intercut with scenes of an equally ferocious light saber duel between Yoda and the Supreme Chancellor), should satisfy any action addict, as well as satisfy curiosity as to how the handsome Anakin came to be the dark armored Darth Vader, dependent upon a respirator for breathing—and how the twins were born and then separated.
I should also mention that two other fine actors appear as members of the Jedi Council— Jimmy Smits as Senator Bail Organa, and Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. And, of course, there are the favorite characters of young viewers, appearing in all six films, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, as fastidious and complaining as ever), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), the latter always faithful and cheerful.
I am sure I do not need to urge you to see the film—if for no other reason than to stay abreast of the interests of the younger members of your church. However, do note that the rating is now PG-13, due to the gory fight scene upon Mustafar. Parents should go to the film first before allowing a young child to see it. Indeed, this is a film adults should see with their children so that it can become a topic for family discussion—of values, and even of the nature of God. When I reviewed the first film 28 years ago (I was then writing for a Catholic family magazine), I remarked how Star Wars differed from the majority of science fiction stories in that Lucas posited that the universe was basically spiritual, and not mechanistic. Although the theology of the Jedi Knights is but briefly explained by Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke in what we now know as Episode IV, enough information is given for viewers to see that humanity is not alone in the universe: at the climactic moment when Luke has just one opportunity to destroy the Death Star before it obliterates the Rebel forces, he hears the voice of his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, speaking from beyond the boundary of death, urging him, “Trust the Force.” Luke does lay aside his bomb guidance system, becoming like the Psalmist who declared, “Some trust in princes and horse, but I will trust in the Lord.”
The religion of the Jedi is pre-Christian (despite the misguided attempt of some Christian writers to make the original film into an allegory and equate the Force with the God of the Scriptures), but a good step toward the faith of Abraham and Moses. Again, in the final film of the Star Wars series, George Lucas presents the church with a wonderful opportunity to move beyond the dazzling special effects and action and explore with its people the equally marvelous tenants of “the faith which was once delivered for all the saints.”
1) If a theater is not showing all six of the Star Wars films in your area, plan a Star Wars retreat during which the group watches the other five films and discusses the theological and ethical themes. To help in this we will print a discussion guide for the original three Star Wars films in the Summer issue of VP, and then in the Fall issue, questions for Episodes I, II, and III (though numerous ones for the latter follow below). Another format you could adopt would be to announce a series of six sessions and ask that participants watch the films on their own, and then come prepared to explore their Biblical implications. This could be a special series on a Sunday morning or during an evening.
2) The current film is an intriguing study in temptation and fall, and thus would lend itself to preachers and teachers to explore during Lent, when Christ’s and Adam and Eve’s temptation are the subject of Common Lectionary texts.
3) How does the Force in the films compare to the God of the Scriptures? Any notion that the Force has a personality? (Isn’t it revealing that the pronoun “it” is used when discussing the Force?) Look for much more on this in the questions for the 1977 film: for now, compare the above Isaiah passage with the concept of the Force.
4) What do you make of the dark side of the Force? How is this similar, and different, from the Biblical concept of Satan? How is evil presented by Palpatine as “good”? Compare this to the Temptation Story in Genesis. How has this worked in your life, when you have been tempted to do something that you knew to be wrong? Do you think most persons ever start out by saying, “I’m going to do the wrong thing”?
5) At what points in the film do you see the Supreme Chancellor manipulating Anakin’s feelings and leading him away from the right path?
6) How does what happens to the Chancellor’s and Anakin’s faces reflect what has happened to their moral and spiritual natures? Note how in Disney’s The Lion King this same idea is reflected in what happens to the land when the murderous Scar usurps the rightful power of the king.
7) Compare the inner struggle faced by Anakin with Paul’s description of the “war” being waged in himself (Romans 7:13-24).
8) How is Palpatine’s career similar to that of Julius Caesar’s rise in the waning days of the Roman Republic? What often happens to politicians who gain power? How is the Chancellor’s observation, “All who gain power are reluctant to lose it” more applicable to himself than to the Jedi?
9) How is Yoda’s advice to Anakin during their talk closer to Buddhism than Christianity? And yet how is it similar to what Christ taught in Matthew 6:19-34? What truth do you see in Yoda’s counsel, “The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side”? How can fear lead us to do things we once would have refused to do? Using a concordance, check out what the Scriptures say about “fear.” (Note: you will need to eliminate those passages where “fear” means a deep or awesome respect for the Lord—we, and Yoda, are dealing with human fears.)
10) Where do you see God at work in the film? At what points is there strong opposition to God?