Spirit Calls to Spirit

By Leonard Freeman

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …. OK, it was 1977. Star Wars: A New Hope awakened a new force in the public consciousness: a breath of fresh air over against the brooding, dark, violent, anti-hero films that had populated so many movie screens throughout the 1970s.

There was the incipient spirituality of the Force, and an intentional visual throwback to the naive yet satisfying heroism of the old movie serials and cowboy films of the 1930s-50s.

Thirty-eight years later, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, breathes new life into this core mythology that even some fans felt had gone astray in a sea of prequels that never quite worked.

Most of the core team is back: Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). But with them comes a whole new generation of players.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios
Directed by J.J. Abrams

Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) all clearly have the stuff to hold their own in the sequels that are sure to follow. The robot BB-8, created for the film, is destined to become a stocking stuffer for the ages.

The move to Walt Disney Studios and director J.J. Abrams marks a good direction.

The story begins 30 years after Return of the Jedi. Maz Kanata, a new character in the Mos Eisley cantina, observes that it’s the same old enemy, evil, rising again in another guise. Something called the First Order has taken over the storm troopers with a vision of overthrowing both the Republic and the Resistance. The First Order accuses the Republic of being too soft on the Resistance: shades of our morning newspapers.

Using many recognizable plot devices and images from the original, The Force Awakens celebrates and innovates. It introduces us to young Rey, scavenging on the desert planet Jakku (reminiscent of our first glimpse of young Luke), and a disillusioned storm trooper, FN-2187, who refuses to shoot innocent children and flees, taking up the new name Finn for his identity.

The aged Luke Skywalker (shades of Obi Wan Kenobi) has gone into monkish isolation after a young pupil went over to the dark side and wiped out the other Jedi trainees. Both sides want to find Luke, for different ends.

What makes the film so satisfying may well be what made the original and the Harry Potter films so successful. Somewhere within us there is a connection and call to something more than just us. There is, as the Christian faith proclaims, a call from spirit to spirit.

Philosophy professor, author, and fan Charles Taliaferro of St. Olaf College articulates it as the difference between science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction bases itself on secular explanation as the operative force in the story, even if it has to make up the supposed science; in fantasy, magic is the operative force.

The problem with the prequels, says Taliaferro, is that they were more sci-fi. Chapter 7 returns us to the more soul-satisfying magic.

“You know all that stuff about the dark side and the light side, and a Force which controls and shapes it all?” says Han Solo incredulously to the new young heroes. “It’s true. It’s all true.”

Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Leonard Freeman writes at the weblog poemsperday.com.

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