certain christian point of view. (Part 2 of 9).
Opening words to the second part.
When George Lucas was 18 years old he was in a car crash. And not just a small one. A really big and serious car crash. In fact he was hurt so much that he was presumed dead by personal who first arrived at the site and the doctors only managed to get his heart to beat again back at the hospital. In many ways, George Lucas died and was brought back to life. From a certain point of view.
It is both fascinating and scary to think about how close that was. Not only for George Lucas to have died but also for every other person who has ever marveled over the adventures set in a galaxy far, far away….
We all where just a heart beat away from never experiencing the movies. Never to see the blue light of lightsaber humming. Never to hear the raspy breathing of Darth Vader. Never to feel the Force.
With Lucas near-death experience it is not difficult to understand why death and resurrection, or rather life beyond the grave, is such a pivotal to the Star Wars stories.
The Empire Strikes Back
The first person we meet in the Empire Strikes Back is Luke Skywalker and he immediately gets mauled by Wampa, a snow creature living on the ice planet of Hoth. The rumour is that this was written into the story to explain why Luke, or rather the actor Mark Hamill, has a slightly different face structure in the second movie. The reason for this is that Mark Hamill was, just before the premiere of the first Star Wars movie Hamill, also in a near-death car crash. His nose and right cheek bone was fractured and if you look closely you can see the difference in his face before and after. If this rumour is true I have not find a good source for it. Many blogs and books claims this to be the reason but I haven’t found any words from Lucas or other people involved if this is true. No matter the reason our hero gets attacked and pulled to the cave of a carnivorous creature that wants to feast on his flesh.
Meanwhile Han Solo tries to find his friend back at the Rebel base and when he is not found he sets out in the cold on a tauntaun. When a fellow rebel soldier comments that the riding creature will never survive the low temperature Solo responds with “Then I’ll see you in hell.” This is our second glimpse into the idea of an afterlife in the Star Wars universe. The first one being when Obi-Wan speaks to Luke from beyond the grave at the end of A New Hope. If Solo means this as some kind of a metaphor or just accepting a likely grim fate we do not know. Hell is never mentioned again the movies. It was however expanded upon in books and comics that now are Legends as an after-life called the Void or Chaos. But since we are not going beyond the movies we have to stop that trail here.
We then go back to Skywalker who is now hanging from the icy roof of the Wampas cave. He cannot grab his lightsaber, that is stuck in snow beyond his reach, so he uses the Force to pull weapon. He can then free himself and mortally wound the creature before escaping the cave. This is the second time psychokinesis is being seen onscreen, the first time being when Kenobi distracts stormtroopers in the Death Star. This is however much more clear as we see the lightsaber being summoned through the air to Luke’s hand.
He then rushes out of the cave only to soon collapse in the snow. The young Skywalker is then presented with a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi. “Luke.” “Luke.” The voice of his old mentor is heard through the blizzard. “Ben?” Luke asks out in the air. He seems to have a hard time accepting what he sees. And that might not be so strange. An apparition seen when you are on the edge of death might be taken as a trick of the mind. But the figure speaks again. “You will go to the Dagobah system. There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi master who instructed me.” Kenobis ghostly form then vanish and Luke collapses just as Han Solo rides in to save him.
Later the next day Solo says good bye to Luke in a scene resembling a shot from A New Hope. In the first movie Han Solo says good bye with “May the Force be with you” even if he does not believe in the Force. By this time it seems that he has opened up to the idea of the supernatural but in this scene he does not say anything more than a simple “Be careful”.
But let’s go back to the vision of Kenobi. In A New Hope Luke could hear is voice but this is the first time he both hears and sees the man who died by the hand of Vader.
In Christian theology there are many, many stories of people coming back from the dead. Jesus himself rose from dead in his own body. He was resurrected in his full. Both spirit and body. Most stories however are closer to how Kenobi shows himself. A spirit of a dead person (or an angel) can be seen one or many people. The most famous of these apparitions in the Catholic tradition is when Mary, the Mother of God, appeared to three young woman in what is often referred to the miracle of Lady of Fatima. I strongly encourage you to look further into that fascinating story.
But the tradition of Saints being able to communicate to us an old Christian belief. It might not be so strong in protestant churches but in both the Orthodox and Catholic Church the teaching of Saints and how they pray for us still alive on earth is a central part of the theology. In one way or another those who are ‘dead in Christ’ (in Heaven) seems to be aware of what is happening on earth. We can see this in the Book of Revelation chapter 6 and verse 9. The souls of martyrs cries out to God and ask him to act on what is happening among the people still alive. So this is not an afterthought cooked up by priests and theologians centuries after the times of the Apostles. The theology of Saints and souls praying for us and interacting with the living is as old as the christian faith itself.
Above the planet Hoth the Empire has arrived with a massive fleet and we see the first execution of high ranking military by the hand of Darth Vader. Admiral Ozzel is choked to death. In the last movie Vader choked a council member, but not to death as he was stopped by Grand Moff Tarkin. This time there is no pardon. Ozzel gasps for air and soon falls to the floor as Captain Piett is promoted to Admiral.
Vader’s use of psychokinesis is in stark contrast to Luke’s. While Luke used the Force to summon a weapon so he could defend himself Vader is it for destruction. He kills a man with his powers. And this is not the last time we will see him do this.
The next mayor encounter with the Force happens a little later in the story. The Rebels have escaped Hoth. Luke has taken off by himself and R2 while Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and C3-PO are hiding from the Empire inside a large astroid.
Luke crashes on the planet of Dagobah. What is interesting to notice is that he crashes very close to the Jedi Master he was supposed to seek out. Kenobi never gave him directions beyond to go to Dagobah. It is a large planet and Luke is forced to take down his X-Wing into a swamp. That he managed to come so close to Yoda must be thanks to the guiding of the Force. He had no idea where he was going and his instruments went all black as he entered the atmosphere. Most viewers won’t notice this but even if it is never stated ut must have been the Force that made him crash at that exact point. If not…. what are the odds of him coming down just next to the home of Yoda? Astronomical. So yes. This must have been the Force.
Also in our lives we have moments that seem to be very unlikely but still happens. Is this just pure chance that happens to strike now and then? Maybe. It is very likely that very unlikely things will happen many times during a life time. That is just the power of chance. But sometimes one must wonder if there isn’t a grander plan and that from time to time we are guided by an external force of some kind. Is this the invisible hand of God guiding us? Who knows…?
After setting camp Luke has a strange feeling. Like he is being watched. And there he is. The little, green Jedi Master we know as Yoda. But Luke does not know who he just met. Neither does the audience (at least not back in 1980 when the movie premiered).
Yoda is being very goofy a little aloof. How much of this is an act or if he has gone a little weird with old age is up the viewer to decide. The point is that this has a strong parallel to fairy tales when a person walks down the road and encounters a toad who claims to be able to help or give some kind of treasure in exchange for a boon. The most classic example is the princess that meets a toad and when she gives him a kiss he transforms into a prince. The lesson given is that even someone who seems insignificant can be very useful. The Bible teaches us that the last will be first and in the Sermon on the Mount he flips all social settings on their heads when saying that those are consider to be poor and not waging war are the ones who will inherit Gods kingdom. And here we have Yoda. A small statured person who is a master of the Force. He tells Luke that wars does make a person great. He is poor dressed in a simple piece of clothing and a cane with him.
And just as the frog in the tales of old he wants a gift in exchange for his services. He can help he says. But he wants something in return…. a flashlight.
After a small fight with R2 Yoda is gifted the glowing stick and immediately he learns that Luke is searching for Yoda. “Oh. Jedi Master. Yoda. You seek Yoda.” he exclaims after Luke tells him he is searching for a Jedi. He will take him to Yoda he promises. But first they must eat. This is not only a lesson in patience for Luke. It is also highly symbolic. After Jesus resurrection he walks the road to Emmaus and meets two disciples. One named Cleopas and one unnamed. This directly parallels Luke and R2 meeting Yoda. For when to two disciples sit down and eat with Jesus, whom they did not first recognise, they see who he is. And so it is with Luke while Yoda gives him root leaf soup. First he is annoyed and frustrated, questioning how the little man can know about his father after telling Luke that he (Anakin) was a powerful Jedi. Luke does not put two and two together and becomes agitated, slamming his head into the roof when trying to stand up. But when the old Jedi sighs and says “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience.” The ethereal voice of Obi-Wan is heard “He will learn patience.” Yoda still questions this. “Hmmm… Much anger in him, like his father.” “Was I any different when you taught me?” Kenobi answers. And it is then when the old force wielder “No. He is not ready.” that Luke
understands who is before him. His eyes are opened just as the disciples eyers where opened when Jesus broke bread with them. Luke again becomes agitated and says that he is ready. Yoda responds with a calm voice. Yoda tells the young human that he has trained Jedi for 800 years and that Luke is far too impatient. Luke always look to the horizon and what lies ahead. Not to the present and what he is doing now.
After a short debate between Obi-Wan and Yoda he gives in and asks “Will he finish what he begins?”. Luke bravely says “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.”
Yoda answers with a raspy voice that he will be afraid. He will be.
Around the same time Lord Vader is hunting the Millennium Falcon through an astroid field with his fleet. He himself is on the command ship The Executor. He is then informed that the Emperor himself wants to talk to him. Communication is through a hologram transmission of sort and Vader orders the ship to be moved out of the astroid field so the transmission can be clearer. This might pass as he only wants it to be easier to speak to his master without interruption but it also part of the polished fasad of the Empire. The Emperor wants glamour and style. Everything must look pristine.
As christians this is not something we should seek. A polished fasad but a dark and empty inner is what Jesus talks about in Matthew 23:27. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of impurity.”
This is very much what both Vader and his Master Palpatine is. Darth Vader has an impressive armour and a flowing black cloak and the Emperor, although scarred and frail, seeks to build an Empire that looks pure and clean that in reality is a tyrannical fascist state.
While kneeling Vader talks to his Master. Palpatine tells him that there is a disturbance in the Force. He fear that Luke might destroy them. Vader answers that Obi-Wan can no longer help the boy. For the dark side there is only this life. He does not know, or care, about Kenobi’s ability to speak to Luke and a plan to turn Luke to the dark side is set in motion.
Evil must put their trust in the material and what is here and now. As Christians we can put our trust on higher things. We know that not only does the dead pray for us and can help us, very much like Obi-Wan can help Luke, but also that their is a stronger force that we call God who I beyond the material and even time itself. Evil has no such hope or ally. The emperor was born and will die. He wants to live for a long time (even forever as we learn in Episode III) and rule all the galaxy in this life. The devil is a created spirit. He is not the Creator. Evil might seem to be in control and even have a lot of power. But all things come to an end, even the Empire will fall. And so will the evil one’s grip over our world. We can put our trust in higher things and know that the eternal life and the coming world will conquer in the end.
Back on Dagobah Luke has begun his training. Jumping over roots, climbing trees and practicing all kinds of physical hardship.
To train once body is a great thing. The body, soul and spirit are all part of being human. One is not above the other.
Luke asks about the dark side and wonders if it is stronger. Yoda answers that it is not. Only quicker, easier and more seductive. That can be said about temptations in our own world. There are so many things that wants our attention. Everything must happen quick. When we order something from the internet we want it in our mailbox as quick as possible. We want to have a strong and thin body as quickly as possible and most people don’t want do the necessary steps to achieve it. Strange diets and even surgery are not uncommon. While a good diet is very important there are no quick fixes for a strong body. We must commit to exercise and healthy food if we want to have a strong body. Strong does not only mean muscular. A strong body is just a healthy body.
Yoda tells Luke that he will know what is good and what is bad when he is calm.
In a world where everything must go fast we must take it slow and be patient. When everyone is rushing to buy the next cool thing we can be contempt with what we have. To sit down and just be is a great thing to practice. Take a short time to pray a few times every day. Maybe you can just sigh a “Thank you” while having breakfast or take time to pray the Rosary efter school or work. The Rosary is, at least for me, a great way to calm both body and soul. It takes about 25 minutes to pray it from beginning to end and it has such a calming effect on me. Try it.
Yoda continues to teach Luke about the Force. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never attack.
They arrive at a place that feels like cold and death. It is a place where the dark side of Force is strong Yoda explains. Luke must go there he says. There he will encounter ‘what he takes with him’. Yoda tells him that he will not need his weapons. Attack is not the Jedi way. As Luke enters this cave of evil he encounters Darth Vader. Despite the warning Luke ignites his lightsaber. The observant viewer will notice that Vader does not have his red lightsaber out but only responds to Luke’s actions. After a short fight Luke seems to kill the dark lord with a strike to his head only to reveal his own face behind Vader’s mask. He fell for the temptation to attack and therefor he died himself. Lucky for us it was only a vision.
The catechesis teaches us that we are allowed to defend our selfs. But a Christian should never be the attacking force. It is also allowed, even preferable, to sacrifice one self for others in case of attack. Just as Obi-Wan did in A New Hope a Christian can willingly die to save others without using weapons. This is the red martyrdom.
The training continues for Luke but his exercise is interrupted when his X-Wing starts to sink in the swamp. Luke attempts to lift the ship with the Force and the beginning but he soon fails and it sinks back into the bog.
His next lesson to Luke is however not very accurate from a Christian perspective. It starts out well with him describing the Force as something that is everywhere, creating life and connecting all things. It is the same with God. He is everywhere, he is the origin of all life and binds all things together. But Yoda then tells his new apprentice that we are luminous beings and not crude matter. This is a gnostic world view. As I said before our body is just as much a part of us as our spirit and soul. Even if God is spirit and does not have a body (except from the Son who took on human form) the material body of ours is not something less than our spiritual, or luminous, being. They form a whole.
Otherwise he is correct. The Force (or God) is everywhere.
Yoda then teaches him a great lesson and lifts the ship with little effort. His ally is the Force he explains. And a powerful ally it is.
No matter our physical size or state we have a strong faith. Jesus tells us that someone with small faith can lift a mountain and throw it in the sea. While this might be a little bit of hyperbolic speech and a parable for that everything is possible with God on our side it is fun to notice the similarities between Jesus and Yodas teachings and actions here.
Luke cannot believe it! And that is why he fails Yoda tells him. If we only believe we can accomplish great things with God as our ally. For a powerful ally He is. The teaching continues and next we see Luke meditating of sort. He stands and his hands while levitating different objects around him. Again he is reminded of being calm but soon fails once again when he has a vision of the future. He sees Han and Leia suffering. He asks his teacher if they will die but Yoda answers that it is difficult to see and that future is always in motion.
Here we must face something that seems to be a contradiction. If God knows the future, he is all knowing after all, how can we have a will of our own? Many theologians have tried to explain this and I will not try to explain something that is almost impossible to explain. But if I may try an easy way I’d like to think that even if God knows what will happen he has not decided that exact future. Our actions is our own but God, who is outside of time, knows what we will do before we do it. Therefor the future is always in motion but also already known.
Luke decides to leave and help his friends despite the warning that he will sacrifice his training. Both Yoda and the force ghost of Obi-Wan warns him about going before he has completed his training. They acknowledge that Vader and the emperor must be stoped but explains that only a fully trained Jedi can do this.
Before leaving Luke gets a last advice from Obi-Wan. Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the dark side.
The mission to save his friends does not go well for Luke. Han did not make it but is frozen in carbonite and taken by the bounty hunter Boba Fett. He does manage to escape with Leia in the Falcon but he has paid a price. Not only did he loos his lightsaber but also his hand in a duel with Vader. But he also learned a terrible truth. The dark knight did not kill his father. He is his father. With this knowledge he is also tempted to join the dark lord. But rather than choosing he sacrifices himself by falling into a chasm. The choice to die before doing evil is a great choice. And he is rewarded for that because he does survive the fall by pure luck. Or rather…. thanks to the Force guiding his fall.
Was it the right decision to leave Dagobah? What would have happened if he had decided to stay? We can only wonder. This is the nature of free will. Our choices matter and cannot be undone. But we can learn from our mistakes. Luke must now continue his training, try to rescue Han and once again face Vader in a last attempt to defeat evil.
Until next time. Remember…. the Force will be with you. Always.