The Force Awakens (2015) & The Return of the Jedi (1980)
J. J. Abrams (2015) Richard Marquand (1980)
Fruit of the Spirit
The Force Awakens (2015). Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt. Directed by J. J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Adam Driver. 136 mins. Rated PG-13.
The Return of the Jedi (1980). Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas. Directed by Richard Marquand. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. 131 mins. Rated PG.
It’s all there, still, at dead center, just as it was in the first series some forty years ago– a fetching metaphysical vision in a much-loved pop cultural icon. It replays now, remarkably, at the heart of a new installment; indeed, it is in the very title, The Force Awakens (2015). And none too late, for the evil Empire, in fierce love of its own destructive power, again seeks to obliterate every shred of what decent folks call “kindness.”
To the rescue, and just in time, comes the old Republic, guided, sustained, and protected by the Force, or at least the good side of the Force. By now though, its reality has become the fluff of rumor and legend, seeming tall tales of cosmic hocus-pocus. It takes the original skeptic, vagabond rogue/hero Han Solo, to assert its reality. To the clueless youth Solo attests, full of wonder still, and maybe still incredulous, “It’s all true.”
Solo has cred, though, for he was there, both witness and warrior. In any case, the many dead-serious invocations of the Force gave the film a sort of numinous sheen of Presence that contributed a lot to its enormous (and unexpected) success.
A full exposition of the Force and Jedihood, both theological and dramatic, came in The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to the first Star Wars in 1977, a film often described as the best sci-fi film ever. In Empire, a brash young outback bush pilot, Luke Skywalker, goes off to an obscure distant planet to learn about the mysteries of the Force from a “great warrior,” and what he finds proves a great shock. Heretofore, like a lot of converts to whatever, he had come to trust the powers of the Force without knowing much–anything at all, in fact– about the mysterious power that came to his aid in dire straits. Only thing Skywalker knew for sure was he was extraordinarily susceptible to its influence and, well, whatever it was, it worked. School time, indeed.
Surprise and mystery, in spades, for nothing about the Force is quite as young Skywalker expected. The planet is a bog, and, stranger still, the supposedly mighty “Jedi master” is a child-size green frog-like something with big ears who lives in solitude in mud hut, a far cry from John Wayne or a Pentagon (it makes perfect sense that Jedi masters dress not in armor but a monk’s robes). Maybe the last will be first,
the weak strong. Strangest of all is this “gospel” that Yoda labors to show Skywalker, an impetuous, testy, and altogether childish young man. And lo, Skywalker’s veneration for power and flash, for adventure and excitement, well, that runs directly counter to the ethos of the Force, a power that “surrounds and binds us” (think Ephesians 3) and opposes the hatred at the heart of Darth Vader and the dark side. Instead, the Force urges “calm” and “patience” and love, though the writers avoid that word lest things get soupy (think fruits of the Spirit). Moreover, Jedi deploy the Force only for defense and protection, especially of the vulnerable. On the other hand, with the dark side, rank power in love with only itself thrives on instilling fear, coercion, domination, and enmity.
In such a world, the Force is indeed a scandal. There is emphatic moral and spiritual content to the Force, which quite redeems it from hocus pocus of, let us say, the health and wealth Gospel school. And here again, the one who shows the way is Maz Kenata (Lupita Nyong’o), another diminutive, strange looking ancient who knows well the power of the Force, though she herself is not a Jedi. “It moves through
and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes, feel it, the light. It’s always been there; it will guide you.” To young Rey (Daisy Ridley) she imparts Luke Skywalker’s long-missing light saber, for the Force is strong in her as well, and again the Force has indeed awakened. Parables happen still.