Wednesday, July 22, 2015
StarWars Contra Gentiles: Episode IV
If any of you are not regular readers of the Catholic Movie Nerd blog, you should be. His reviews are unlike mine in that they are concise and to the point whereas I tend to ramble on. He also mixes up old and new movie reviews and reflections, which is nice.
But he fired a shot across the bow when he wrote this: Star Wars, later subtitled Episode IV – A New Hope, may be a definitive childhood favorite along with its successors, but watching it as a critical thinker, it’s little more than bland, silly, rainy day-type entertainment. …Not that writer/director George Lucas meant for this first entry to be much more than a way to relive the family-friendly Saturday matinee thrills of his own childhood, and perhaps its place in pop culture is too high – the characters are generic, and the plot features gaping holes. Plus, it introduces the concept of the Force: a magical energy field that sounds more like a pagan, New Age deity the more it’s explained throughout the movies. Yet, I’ll take the charms of its authentic production values, joyous spirit of heroism and adventure, tongue-in-cheek wit, and immortal musical score over most of the popcorny nonsense that spawned from here. Nostalgia is the best thing that this series can offer me at this point, so if its upcoming revival touches my inner child, I’ll be satisfied.
This of course cannot stand!
So allow me this response in the style of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles
QUESTION: IS STAR WARS LITTLE MORE THAN BLAND, SILLY, RAINY DAY-TYPE ENTERTAINMENT?
Obj. 1 - It would seem that it would be bland because the characters are too generic. A thing is considered excellent in that is distinct and better than others in its own genus. If the characters are too much alike of their genus then they cannot be distinct and better.
Obj. 2 - It would seem that it would be silly because the gaping plot holes in the story. An intelligent story would have few logical inconsistencies. But seeing as how Star Wars has many, it fails to be intelligent and therefore silly.
Obj. 3 - It would seem that it cannot be more than bland and silly because it is less than bland and silly in that it is pagan. The concept of the Force is strongly connected to New Age and pagan ideas and is therefore potentially harmful to the Catholic soul.
ON THE CONTRARY - Scripture says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Phil 4:8
I ANSWER THAT to limit a thing's excellence because of its simplicity is an error.
God is one. Therefore truth is one. God and Truth form a oneness that with other excellencies such as Beauty, Love, etc. They are, at its highest, the same thing. Oneness is simplicity itself. The deepest truths are sometimes the simplest (e.g. Love your neighbor as yourself).
Simplicity also does not contradict depth. This is nowhere better seen than in the Gospel of John. The Evangelist writes many simple stories that can be understood and comprehended correctly and helpfully on a simple read. But there are layers underneath that simplicity that can be mined for rich material. Take for example, the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana. The story is very straightforward and can be read so as to apprehend the point: Christ can do great miracles. The story works and is simple. The setting and the characters are simple (only Christ is named in the story).
It is perfectly acceptable to read the story as simple.
But it is incorrect to read the story as lacking depth.
Should you wish to plumb the depths, you can look to the parallels to Genesis and how both that book and John have a wedding on the 6th day. You can see how in Exodus the first plague (the sign of God's power) was to turn water into blood "even in the… stone jars." And we can see Christ show the first sign of his power by turning water into "the blood of grapes" even in the stone jars.
More could be said, but this is used to demonstrate that a thing's simplicity is no impediment to its depth and greatness. If a story is too complex to be enjoyed at a basic level, it is not a good story. A child can enjoy the Star Wars Episode IV immensely and an adult can enjoy it at the basic level and the deeper levels.
A thing's silliness should also not be an impediment to its greatness, if we understand silliness to mean humorous. Jokes can be profound. In fact, the best jokes are funny because they touch on some deep truth. In fact, the last profound statement of Socrates, the father of philosophy, was a joke.
Reply Obj 1. The Universal Myth - Star Wars is cinematic mythology. There have been other literary mythologies created, most notably JRR Tolkein's Middle Earth. But Star Wars is purely cinematic. George Lucas created endure characters because he tapped in to our collective unconscious and produced a myth that taps into the universal mind of humanity. There is a right and there is a wrong. Therefore the Force has a light side and a dark side. We need mentors to show us the path, hence Obi-wan Kenobi. We face overwhelmingly scary odds, represented by Darth Vader and the Death Star. It is primal and universal. One should not conflate generic and universal. To be generic is to be universal but lacking any strong distinction in the species. We can see the similarities between the characters in Star Wars with other characters in literature. It is not because Star Wars is a copy of the others. It is because Star Wars taps more powerfully into the mythology than other stories.
Reply Obj 2. Nearly all stories have plot holes. But if the plot holes do not take away from the overall excellence of the piece then their presence should not constitute a major deficiency. Without specifics to be addressed, a more detail response cannot be given.
Reply Obj 3. Tolkien responded to the lack of religion in his books and he said, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. " In the same way, Star Wars is not meant as an evangelical tool. But it is meant to tap into the universal experience of all humans and their innate religious sense. Unlike Tolkien's work which was Catholic in nature, Star Wars is about religion and spirituality per se. If it was meant to be Catholic, it could be argued to have failed. But it it is not meant to be Catholic, but to be catholic.