3 STARS - THOUGHT-PROVOKING
It is hard to estimate the impact the that Star Wars myth has had upon our culture. For those of us who love science fiction and whose imaginations have been captivated by this mythology created by George Lucas, his current film provides the final pieces of a puzzle that has been incomplete in the playrooms of our psyches since 1977. This third episode is the lynchpin for the series of six episodes which began with the filming of the fourth episode followed by two more films telling how the story ends before going back decades later and revealing the first three episodes of how the story begins. The genius of such story-telling is obvious: we know the tale has a happy ending and "The Force" is balanced with the redemption of the universe.
But this method also has inherent problems. Since everyone knows how the story ends, the suspense of the battles within this middle chapter comes not from wondering who lives and who dies, but how and why. The answers that are given feel anticlimactic as we realize that we all had intuitively, and perhaps even with more imagination than the filmmaker, formed the shape of this final piece years ago. But like all puzzles, as we put into place the final piece and step back to view its obvious fit, the picture which is now complete provides us with a generous amount of both pleasure and sadness at its completion.
The Star Wars myth tells of a war taking place within the stars of a galaxy far away and long ago. Though it is filled with battleships and deathstars, cloned fighters and phasors, it is not primarily a physical war but a spiritual one. It is a war between the "good" Jedi Knights and the "evil" Sith Lords.
Most world religions agree with this belief: there is a struggle of galactic dimensions on the spiritual plane. However, Lucas does not make his war an allegory of any specific religious system. Instead he weaves together a patchwork of spiritual beliefs.
For example, the Christian teaching of personal sacrifice is found in the life of a Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) who willingly "gave his life" for his friends in Episode IV. In this Episode III, the Buddhist teaching of the fourth Noble Truth is found in the words of a Jedi named Yoda (voice by Frank Oz). When the young Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) has a dream that his pregnant wife, Padme (Natalie Portman) will die in childbirth, Yoda counsels him to let go of his desire for her. In addition he counsels Anakin to see death as the natural part of life that releases her to be absorbed into "The Force."
This immersion into "The Force" is similar to the Hindu concept of a person being set free from repeated reincarnations and reaching Nirvana, which is the name for the Hindu intangible energy that created the universe.
Within the universe created by Lucas, there is no "God" in the Christian sense that intervenes in the spiritual battle. The Force itself is a power which can be used for good or for evil. Both the Jedi and the Sith use the power of "The Force" for the purposes they believe to be most beneficial for them. The Jedi believe it is most beneficial to assure the democratic freedom of the republic, and so they use "The Force" to fight the Sith who threaten democracy. The Sith believe it is most beneficial to establish an empire of imposed peace by military and dark power and so they fight to destroy the Jedi. Both believe in the complete destruction of the other. It is a spiritual battle without a God or a savior.
There is, however, prophecy: a prophecy of one who will come and "balance the force" so that the killing will stop. It is a prophecy that is unexpectedly fulfilled by the redemption of a villain of universal proportions in the final moments of the myth.
The political, social and spiritual symbols within the myth are so many and varied that Star Wars is a tale that resonates with all of us and yet ultimately does not answer the questions its battles raise in us..
- How old were you when you saw your first episode of Star Wars? Which episode was it? How did you respond to it?
- In this third episode as the lynchpin is put into place, we discover the "fall" of Anakin Skywalker and the "birth" of the Sith Lord, Darth Vader. What do you believe were the factors that caused him to embrace the "dark side of The Force"?
- The power to use "The Force" to kill by both the Jedi Knights and the Sith Lords is disconcerting. Do you believe in an "impersonal Force" or a "personal God" who gets involved in your life? Why or why not?
- The use of the words "justice" and "peace" by Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) to convince Anakin to become his apprentice betrayed their misuse. Have you ever been deceived by people who use such words to get you to do something evil?
- The promise of Palpatine to give Anakin power over death is a universal longing. Do you believe such power is within our control? When Anakin is near death and Palpatine resuscitates him by implementing him within an artificial life-suit, do you believe this is what he had meant by his promise to give him eternal life?