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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Faith and Film

Faith and Film: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Being a dad with young kids, my wife and I rarely get out to the theatre to see movies anymore. The planning needed and cost of babysitters has just made it easier to wait for the movies we want to see to come out on DVD or Blu-ray. But, for the last couple years, we have made a point of seeing the new Star Wars films in theatre because we believe that is how those films are meant to be enjoyed.

Last night, we were invited to Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. I have been excited about this film since the first trailers showed up, and my excitement has only grown. This film franchise played a big part of my childhood (like many nerdy folks who have grown up since the 70’s). I was young enough when Episode I came out that Jar Jar Binks didn’t bother me. I played with the toys, watched the movies, played through the video games. I built LEGO starships and rocked a lightsaber like no one else. So, when the first brass blast played and the yellow STAR WARS started to scroll up the screen, I was instantly a child again. It was magnificent.

Now, as an adult, I think my appreciation for the movies has deepened. While they are, at their heart, stories of good vs evil, I can now see the deeper wrestling that goes on in many of the main characters. While the Light/Dark side battle plays out on a grand scale in the battle between the Rebels/Resistance and the Empire/First Order, we also see that same battle happen in the hearts of Luke, Anakin, Ben, and Rey. And it’s THIS battle, the internal, that I find so fascinating.

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I understand that there are a lot of people who are upset about the new direction that Rian Johnson took the Star Wars saga in, but I, for one, loved it. The Last Jedi, in contrast to many of its predecessors (especially the prequel trilogy), is very light on plot. The Resistance spends most of the movie running away in a straight line from the bafflingly large First Order Mega-Class Star Dreadnaught. The entire story takes only a few days. Instead, we get to dig deep into our characters and find out what they are really made of.

And this, my friends, is compelling. I’m sorry to break this to you, but we are all flawed. Though made in the image of God, we are fallen people with a disposition towards selfishness. And when others challenge that self-obsession, we can turn quite nasty. Inside, we have both the Light and the Dark. Each of us is capable of turning to good or evil.

But what The Last Jedi asks is this: can we really turn from our current situation? If we are stuck deep in things we shouldn’t be (addictions, harmful habits, crime, etc), can we actually turn to a different life and find redemption? If we are dedicated to helping others and serving God, are we able to fall into temptation and allow our “goodness” to become self-righteousness?

The answer to both is a resounding YES. 

No one is beyond redemption. Just as Darth Vader turns against the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, so too can we turn from our old ways of life to follow God’s intended plan for our lives. I’ve seen this in my own life. I was not in a good place when God found me again. But through His grace, I’ve been able to change who I am and become closer to the man I would like to be.

In the same vein, I also know that I am not totally free from the siren call of the Dark Side. Selfishness rears its head. Apathy sets in. I begin to care more about my own wants and desires than those of others. Compassion and altruism become just too hard. I fall.

But I get up again. 

It’s not an easy life. We are training for eternity. We have to run around with a metaphorical little green Jedi master on our backs through the swamps of life if we are going to grow. We need discipline and compassion. We need to know what God wants of us and how to rebel against the evils that threaten to take hold of our world.

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There are Christians who don’t like the idea of the rebels being the good guys because Adam and Eve were the first rebels and they rebelled against God. But I look at things differently. I see a world that is increasingly sympathetic to evil. A world that ignores horrific working conditions or class divides. A world that closes its eyes to sexual exploitation and dirty business practices. A world that encourages us to shut ourselves off from the mess that is other people and instead turn inward to our own happiness, propagating the idea that we can find happiness on our own.

This is what I rebel against. I rebel against hate, against injustice, and against apathy. It’s hard. It sometimes feels like I’m part of a tiny group who actually care. It feels like there is a giant dreadnought of consumerism that threatens everything I hold dear.

But I hold on to one idea, one theme that Star Wars hits over and over: Hope. 

Ultimately, God is bigger than the Empire or the First Order. He is bigger than hyper-individualism or rampant consumerism. And in the end, He wins. 

The Light wins.

This is one place where my beliefs contrast with that of the Star Wars universe. Balance between Light and Dark is not ideal. At the end of the day, Darkness will be defeated, not balanced. There will be a time where death and suffering and purposeless and conflict will be no more.

Until then, we keep up the fight.

Blessings

Faith and Film: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

More than six months after it’s release, I finally got to watch Ridley Scott’s newest big-budget film. I had been excited to see Exodus, but this past semester had proven too busy to fit in a trip to the movies. So, last week, I sat down with my wife and a good friend to see what it was all about. As always, if you haven’t seen the film and plan to do so, this discussion will probably involve some spoilers. You’ve been warned.

To begin, I had high hopes. Gladiator, also directed by Ridley Scott, is my favourite film of all time. I was hoping his return to the classical era would be another hit. I blatantly ignored the criticism from both sides of the secular/Christian divide and wanted to see the film for myself.

And, for a film created by a self-described agnostic, I was pleased. Not overwhelmed, not blown away, but pleased. Scott took an epic story from the Bible and made it accessible for a secular audience while not exorcising God out of the picture. Sure, the child playing God seems to toe the line of blasphemy all along the way, but He is in it. And He is shown to be involved in the story.

I was really expecting a far more “naturalist” approach to the acts of God in Exodus. Yet, when Moses proves incapable of rescuing the people on his own, God steps in to force the Egyptians into freeing His people. Even with a cause-and-effect take on the plagues (blood in the Nile sends the frogs out, which attract flies after they die, which cause boils, etc), it is clear that God is the initiator of the events.

However, this seems to be in opposition to a running question throughout the film: did Moses actually speak with God, or was he delusional? A question that is to be expected, (especially with Christian Bale referring to Moses as schizophrenic and barbaric), but the plagues came from somewhere, and Moses did not seem to be having any other signs of insanity. An interesting question, but it seems the film answered it fairly early on.

Perhaps my favourite theme throughout is the need for humility. Bale’s Moses begins as a proud, confident warrior and leader (not the shy, speech-impeded Biblical figure) whose journey leads him up against insurmountable obstacles. It is only when he humbles himself before God that he is finally able to complete his task and lead the Israelite people to safety.

I have to admit that the film was not the powerhouse that I wanted it to be. There is some solid acting and incredible visual effects, but the movie overall seems to be lacking that magical quality of a classic film. Yet, even in this adequate movie made by a secular filmmaker, we can draw themes of humility and God’s sovereignty out into the open for discussion. As you all know, any time we can get people to talk about God, faith, and humanity, I’m happy.

So, if you haven’t seen the film, go check it out. If you have, what did you think? Chime in!

Blessings,

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