Culture Films

Star Wars – The Force Awakens – Is it the New Lord of the Rings?

So after all the hype it has finally arrived.  The reviews have been excellent, the toys have been prepared, its Christmas and its time for the renewed Star Wars, The Force Awakens.   I was genuinely quite excited about going to see this – especially since it was on at our favourite cinema, the DCA, and was delighted that Mrs R. agreed to go and see it with me, although I was sure it would not be her kind of film.  Ever since Lord of the Rings becoming a Christmas tradition I have been looking for a replacement….did The Force Awakens justify my expectations?
In several ways it is a good film.  I loved the cinematography, the music, the action sequences and the return of some of the old characters.  It was a reasonable nights entertainment.  However, (and here I feel as though to Star War devotees I am committing blasphemy), it was not a great film.  I won’t be rushing to see it again, or buying it on video.  Sorry if this goes against the general hype but I was somewhat disappointed.
CleanThe Force Awakens is clean.  There is no mess.  Every thing is neat and tidy – including the plot.  It is clean also in the sense that there is no swearing, no sex and the violence is largely cartoonish.   But for me the whole thing was sanitised.
Childish – Disney are brilliant at making films for children that also appeal to adults.  The Force Awakens is more like a film for adults that appeals to children.  It is simple.  The good guys win, the bad guys lose.   There is little character development, the plot is totally predictable (I have not put any spoilers in here – but suffice it to say if you know the Star Wars films I doubt anything will take you by surprise), and everything is seen through the eyes of  a disneyfied gnosticism.   The worst thing for me is that I found it quite boring….it could have easily been 30 minutes shorter and lost nothing.
Commercialised –   Someone in Disney described Star Wars as the biggest licence to print money in toy industry history.   That is why this film is so safe.  And boring.  The advertising and trailer teasers have been superb.  The marketing wonderful and the film itself does not disappoint those who are looking for a rerun of the first three Star Wars films.  But the commercialism of the whole thing leaves me with an uneasy feeling.
To be fair, most of the other reviews I have read have praised The Force Awakens. And much to my surprise, Mrs R loved it! (perhaps because the previous week we had sat through the depression of Sunset Song).  Maybe I’m getting old…or maybe its just a world weariness.  I prefer things with a bit more depth.     I know that many Christians will be able to get ‘spiritual’ lessons and analogies out of it (mainly because almost all good human stories reflect the great biblical themes of darkness vs light, good vs evil), but I will stick to the greater depth and beauty of Lord of the Rings.  This is certainly not LOTR – the storyline is shallow and predictable, the characters pretty much the same.  Perhaps the Force just was not with me.

13 comments

  1. Thanks for the review. I won’t be bothering with it for now. I love Tolkien but reading the books not the films.

  2. Is it the new Lord of the Rings?

    I would suggest, perhaps there is not like for like between the two. Yes Star Wars has become something formulaic with little surprises (however *spoiler alert * with what happened to Hans solo how could they?!). But then the same could be said for James Bond so why was it for me that The Force Awakens was OK and I got thrilled with Spectre?

    Both have the fight between good and evil where who is good and who is evil is prescribed, and our heros/heroinies facing life threatening challenges involving winning light sabre fights and throwing baddies out or moving trains while the forces of evil are defeated.

    So what is it about it for me that is the difference? The only thing I can think about is that in one Aston Martins are involved and a 47 yeah old hero gets to be with a 30 year old heroine. For this single 51 year old guy it gives hope.

    Having said that, perhaps a comparison between the recent offering of Sar Wars to it’s 70’s original counterpart is also not a like for like comparison. Yes the special effects have moved on from then and one might say the acting has improved but it is impossible to recapture that first moment of encounter with the Millennial Falcon and the love interest between an intergalactic smuggler turned good and a princess.

    So a replacement for Lord of the Rings as a Christmas tradition with depth, beauty that is not boring and with character development in it? Maybe one could do worse than going for one of the classics – It’s a Wonderful Life perhaps?

  3. I have just been reading a number of fascinating – and sometimes disturbing – quotes from George Lucas that give some insights into his beliefs:

    SCHELL. What do you mean “the primary word is romantic”?

    LUCAS. In terms of stories, I think the word suggests a humanist perspective on things — an emotional point of view. That’s really the primary focus of everything I do.

    ****

    SCHELL. So where did all the strange characters and ideas come from?

    LUCAS. I took off from the folk side of things and tried to stay with universal themes apart from violence and sex, which are the only other two universal themes that seem to work around the world. My films aren’t that violent or that sexy. Instead, I’m dealing with the need for humans to have friendships, to be compassionate, to band together to help each other and to join together against what is negative.

    SCHELL. You sound awfully Buddhist to me.

    LUCAS. My daughter was asked at school, “What are you?” And she said we’re Buddhist Methodists. I said, well, I guess that’s one way to describe it [laughs].

    ****
    LUCAS: But there’s probably no better form of government than a good despot.

    SCHELL. And, in a sense, is that what you’re trying to be here at Lucasfilm?

    LUCAS. Possibly. Yeah, at least in my little kingdom. But I rule at the will of the people who work for me.

    SCHELL. But let’s say you have a leader who’s only pretty good and does some shady things. Do you think that the media should be more discreet about investigating and looking into what he is doing? Basically, do you think certain things should be off limits in order to maintain the heroism of a leader?

    LUCAS. Yeah, I do. I think that the media should look at the situation in the larger sense — at what is necessary for the culture as a whole rather than exposing and tearing everything down all the time. That will not bode well for people’s confidence in the institution. After all, a society only works on faith. If you lose that faith, then your society will crumble and it will be hard to get a consensus on anything.

    SCHELL. But isn’t that a slippery slope, one that quickly leads to what we have seen in countries like the Soviet Union and China, where in the name of positive role models it becomes unacceptable to criticize the leaders or the country?

    LUCAS. That’s sort of why I say a benevolent despot is the ideal ruler. He can actually get things done. The idea that power corrupts is very true and it’s a big human who can get past that.

    SOURCE: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/film/032199lucas-wars-excerpts.html

    *****

    In a letter to the makers of “Lost”:

    Congratulations on pulling off an amazing show. Don’t tell anyone …but when ‘Star Wars’ first came out, I didn’t know where it was going either. The trick is to pretend you’ve planned the whole thing out in advance. Throw in some father issues and references to other stories — let’s call them homages — and you’ve got a series.

    SOURCE: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/live-feed/george-lucas-sends-letter-lost-53645

    *****

    What George Lucas’ version of “Apocalypse Now” would have been like if he had stayed on the project:

    “The film would take a pro-war, action-oriented approach while at the same time while at the same time supporting and clarifying the “unconventional warfare methods” of the U. S. Army Special Forces… What Milius and Lucas was thinking about is suggested by the first scene… The idea is that American troops will have fun and win the war by adopting, Green Beret-style, guerilla methods. Milius later noted that he and Lucas were “great connoisseurs of the Vietnam War”; one imagines young boys with an enthusiasm for all things military.”

    SOURCE: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=UmPdEg5fVkQC&pg=PT117&lpg=PT117&dq=“george lucas” pro-war “star wars”&source=bl&ots=9gOp8926QM&sig=GKA6_35GJ-ELeuyN3zHsc7W77WY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=mwsrVY7eNovgao7fgcgL&ved=0CEkQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=”george lucas” pro-war “star wars”&f=false

    ****
    Lucas mentions his anti-pacifist ideology when discussing the Episode 1 soundtrack:

    “… His [John Williams’] music had to help tell the story of a pacifist Queen who confronts the need to fight for the survival of her people, a mother who must give up her son so that he might achieve his true potential, and noble Jedi faced with the rise of an unimaginable evil. Once again, John has exceeded my expectations and produced a lavish, rich, moving and thrilling score. Every fan of Star Wars – and of great music – is in his debt.

    George Lucas, Director”

    SOURCE: http://www.jw-collection.de/scores/episode1.htm

    ******
    Very disturbing discussion with film-maker James Cameron, particularly in light of all those people who put “Jedi” as their religion on census forms. I am sure 95% of them are doing it tongue-in-cheek but here Lucas really seems to be actively encouraging this kind of thing. Starting to believe in his own publicity/delusions of grandeur?

    Lucas: Everyone hated it when we started talking about midichlorians in The Phantom Menace. A whole aspect of this film is about symbiotic relationships. It’s about recognizing that we’re not the boss. There is a whole ecosystem there.

    Cameron: There’s a whole ecosystem called microbiome inside that we’ve just started getting to know.

    Lucas: The next three Star Wars films] were going to get into a microbiotic world. But there’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force.

    Cameron: You were creating a religion, George.

    Lucas: Back then, I used to say it means we’re just the cars, the vehicles of the Whills they’re traveling around with. We are the vessels of Whills. And the connection is via the midi-chlorians. The midi-chlorians are the ones who communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in the general sense, are the Force.

    Cameron: But in fact you’re just drawing a surface, a facade of science around an idea that is timeless, namely, the mind, the soul, the sky, the cause of all being. In your world, you’re accessing the basic archetype, the mind, a deity, and all that.

    Lucas: I worked this whole concept with the Force, the Jedi, and everything from beginning to end. I just never had the chance to finish it and tell people about it.

    Cameron: It’s a creation myth, and without a creation myth you can not build a world. Every religion, every mythology is based on it.

    Lucas: If I’d held on to the company, I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course a lot of fans would have hated it, just like they did Phantom Menace and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would have been told.

    SOURCE:
    https://www.millenniumfalcon.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=2024&t=10134

    ****

    There are many more interesting quotes on this three-page thread, including more on George Lucas pro-war/anti-pacifist views/glorification of the military and his politics, including the fascist overtones of the films (the final medal ceremony of the original 1977 Star Wars film was inspired by Leni Riefenstahl’s techniques).

    https://boards.theforce.net/threads/george-lucas-quotations-regarding-the-sequel-trilogy-no-discussion.50018339/

  4. For whatever it’s worth, here are some more interesting quotes from George Lucas about his religious views:

    ***

    MOYERS: Is one religion as good as another?

    LUCAS: I would say so. Religion is basically a container for faith. And faith in our culture, our world and on a larger issue, the mystical level–which is God, what one might describe as a supernatural, or the things that we can’t explain–is a very important part of what allows us to remain stable, remain balanced.

    MOYERS: One explanation for the popularity of Star Wars when it appeared is that by the end of the 1970s, the hunger for spiritual experience was no longer being satisfied sufficiently by the traditional vessels of faith.

    LUCAS: I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people–more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery. Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the question, “Is there a God or is there not a God?”–that is for me the worst thing that can happen. I think you should have an opinion about that. Or you should be saying, “I’m looking. I’m very curious about this, and I am going to continue to look until I can find an answer, and if I can’t find an answer, then I’ll die trying.” I think it’s important to have a belief system and to have faith.

    MOYERS: Do you have an opinion, or are you looking?

    LUCAS: I think there is a God. No question. What that God is or what we know about that God, I’m not sure. The one thing I know about life and about the human race is that we’ve always tried to construct some kind of context for the unknown. Even the cavemen thought they had it figured out. I would say that cavemen understood on a scale of about 1. Now we’ve made it up to about 5. The only thing that most people don’t realize is the scale goes to 1 million.

    MOYERS: The central ethic of our culture has been the Bible. Like your stories, it’s about the fall, wandering, redemption, return. But the Bible no longer occupies that central place in our culture today. Young people in particular are turning to movies for their inspiration, not to organized religion.

    LUCAS: Well, I hope that doesn’t end up being the course this whole thing takes, because I think there’s definitely a place for organized religion. I would hate to find ourselves in a completely secular world where entertainment was passing for some kind of religious experience.

    MOYERS: You said you put the Force into Star Wars because you wanted us to think on these things. Some people have traced the notion of the Force to Eastern views of God–particularly Buddhist–as a vast reservoir of energy that is the ground of all of our being. Was that conscious?

    LUCAS: I guess it’s more specific in Buddhism, but it is a notion that’s been around before that. When I wrote the first Star Wars, I had to come up with a whole cosmology: What do people believe in? I had to do something that was relevant, something that imitated a belief system that has been around for thousands of years, and that most people on the planet, one way or another, have some kind of connection to.I didn’t want to invent a religion. I wanted to try to explain in a different way the religions that have already existed. I wanted to express it all.

    MOYERS: You’re creating a new myth?

    LUCAS: I’m telling an old myth in a new way. Each society takes that myth and retells it in a different way, which relates to the particular environment they live in. The motif is the same. It’s just that it gets localized. As it turns out, I’m localizing it for the planet. I guess I’m localizing it for the end of the millennium more than I am for any particular place.

    MOYERS: What lessons do you think people around the world are taking away from Star Wars?

    LUCAS: Star Wars is made up of many themes. It’s not just one little simple parable. One is our relationship to machines, which are fearful, but also benign. Then there is the lesson of friendship and symbiotic relationships, of your obligations to your fellow- man, to other people that are around you. This is a world where evil has run amuck. But you have control over your destiny, you have many paths to walk down, and you can choose which destiny is going to be yours.

    Source: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,23298-2,00.html

    ***

    TB: Here’s an oddball question: This exhibit plays off the science of “Star Wars” and its physical underpinnings, but what’s your stand on “intelligent design”? After all, you’re the god of this particular universe.

    GL: (laughs) It’s obviously a very hot-button issue. I find that it’s a matter of definition. The way I define “intelligent design” is that when people started out we wanted to make sense of the world we lived in, so we created stories about how things worked. The end result, obviously, was to create spirits or gods of one form or another that functioned beyond our knowledge — that would explain why the sun went down at night, why babies were born, and that sort of thing. You didn’t have to explain it yourself. You just had to say, “Well, there’s something there that explains all that, and if you just have faith in that, you’ll be fine.”

    That’s always the way it’s been. But I think that God gave us a brain, and that it’s the only thing we have to survive. All life forms have some advantage, some trick, some claw, some camouflage, some poison, some speed, something to help them survive. We’ve got a brain. Therefore it’s our duty to use our brain. Because we have an intellect, part of what we do is try to understand the “intelligent design.” Everything we don’t know is “intelligent design.” Everything we do know is science.

    In other words, evolution is a product of “intelligent design.” There’s absolutely no conflict between Darwinism and God’s design for the universe — if you believe that it’s God’s design. The problem for me is that I see a very big difference between the Bible and God. And the problem they’re getting into now is that they’re trying to understand intelligent design through the Bible, not through God. Our job is to find all the “intelligent design,” and figure out how He did everything, and I think that’s consistent with science.

    All we’re doing in our own fumbly, bumbly, human way with our inadequate little brains is trying to figure out what He did. And once we figure it out, we say “Ooh, that’s great!” And then we just continue on. Will we ever figure out everything? I don’t know. There’ll always be that faith there that there’s something more to figure out.

    TB: When you’re in there creating the nitty-gritty of the “Star Wars” universe, figuring out how an inhabitant of a given planet might evolve a given way, do you feel like you’re playing god?

    GL: Well, I started out in anthropology, so to me how society works, how people put themselves together and make things work, has always been a big interest. Which is where mythology comes from, where religion comes from, where social structure comes from. Why are these things created? Now we’re getting into more of the social sciences side of the things, but the biological side is starting to float into that. I’m looking forward to the evolution of neuro-anthropology, because I want to see our genes affect how we build our social systems, how we develop our belief systems in terms of our social beliefs and cultural beliefs. We’re at an exciting time.

    Source: http://archive.boston.com/ae/movies/lucas_interview/

    ***

    When George Lucas was 8, he asked his mom, “If there’s only one God, why are there so many religions?” He’s been fascinated by that question ever since, and has come to the realization that when you strip all religions and mythologies down to their very basic level, it’s really all about compassion.

    And that, Lucas says, is what “Star Wars” is really all about. Sure, there are also larger themes like what makes someone a hero, what is friendship, and what makes people sacrifice themselves for something larger, but really, it’s about compassion, and loving people.

    “It’s still…you know…basically [just] don’t kill people, and be compassionate,” Lucas said in an interview with Charlie Rose at the Chicago Ideas Festival earlier this month. “Love people. That’s basically all ‘Star Wars’ is.”

    Source: https://www.cnet.com/news/whats-star-wars-about-in-a-word-george-lucas-explains/

  5. I should add that I have been trying to find a good Christian-themed science fiction television show or film for a while, without much success.

    Star Trek had some Christian themes, most notably and overtly in the episode “Bread and Circuses” and some of the episodes written by Gene Coon had strong pacifist themes but the whole series and its various subsequent spin-offs were overshadowed by Gene Roddenberry’s secular humanism.

    Space: 1999 was more overtly spiritual than Star Trek but a lot of its episodes seem to trend more towards erotericism/the occult/New Age mumbo-jumbo.

    Battlestar Galactica (original version with Lorne Greene – I haven’t seen the remake) was slightly closer to Christianity as its creator, Glen A. Larson was a Mormon and imbued the show with Mormon themes so insofar as there is some overlap between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity we can maybe relate to it.

    The Prisoner, created by Patrick McGoohan, seems to be the closest match as McGoohan was a devout Roman Catholic although those who knew him said his beliefs were closer to Calvinism to the extent that his nickname was Puritan Pat. His beliefs are reflected in the show.

    Other than those, I cannot think of any other options. Blake’s Seven was more nihilistic. Some Dr Who slightly touches on religion in a positive way, mainly in the earliest days under Hartnell and, in the new show, Tennant’s Doctor was sometimes symbolically Christ-like.

    Tarkovsky’s version of Solaris is probably the most Christian big screen science fiction film. Tarkovsky managed to slip in a huge amount of Christian (specifically Eastern Orthodox) symbolism into his film, under the noses of the Soviet censors. He ended up creating one of the best films – of any genre – in the history of cinema thus far.

    I really wish someone would one day make movie versions of C. S. Lewis’ trilogy of space novels though (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength). It would be fascinating to see them adapted for tge big screen.

  6. Bad typo: for Space: 1999, I meant “esotericism”, not erotecerism!

    Another honourable mention is the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is strongly pacifist and alludes to a creator deity with power over death. Other than those examples, screen science fiction isn’t really notable as a genre in which overtly Christian themes have been explored to any great degree.

  7. Sigh… This is only a rumour at this stage but a gent named Jason Ward who runs a website called MakingStarWars.com which has a good track record for reporting accurately on upcoming Star Wars films is claiming today that Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker (due out in December) will feature a lesbian kiss between two female Rebel soldiers.

    “The kiss that Jason knows about in this film is between two unnamed female Resistance fighters. “It’s not a big deal. It happens, and it’s just there.””

    Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/StarWarsLeaks/comments/dirdgf/leaks_updateclarification/

    I know there was some controversy about the recent Han Solo film too with hints that Lando was “pansexual” so it seems that, if the allegation true about the latest film, Disney is really pushing this agenda to be trendy.

    As you can imagine, I am personally opposed to this on multiple levels: I am strongly pacifist in general but I generally turn a blind eye to the warfare in things like Star Wars and LoTR because they are so entrenched in fantasy and removed from the realities of war, the human suffering it entails such as refugee crises and the true nature of soldiering.

    However, I am especially opposed to females in the military and I am obviously opposed to glamourization of homosexual activity, especially from a company like Disney that has reputation for being a trusted brand for children.

    The Star Wars fanbase is apparently traditionally quite conservative, too, so I wonder if this move will backfire on Disney and alienate a large chunk of the series’ core following?

  8. Sigh. The lesbian kiss in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” has now been confirmed by people who have seen the film’s red carpet opening in Los Angeles tonight. 🙁 🙁 🙁

  9. I just came across this YouTube video warning about the “Satanic” side of Star Wars.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xsoBd5toY-s

    In my humble opinion, a lot of the claims are hysterical nonsense:

    1. Luke is nothing to do with Lucifer but is a play on Lucas’ name (“Luke S”). Besides a Luke wrote one of the Gospels.

    2. Stormtroopers do not have white armour to represent a twisting of light and evil. Rather it was to symbolise the fact that the military, blindly obeying orders, saw the world in black and white terms. I do grant though that it is interesting that the Christ figure, Anakin Skywalker, who is even prophesied and has a virgin birth, is the character who is “resurrected” as the epitome of evil. I wondered about that a long time ago, before I even saw this video. I do wonder exactly what George Lucas is trying to say there. It seems distasteful, at best.

    3. Rebelling against empire is not always evil. Christians should not follow commands that go against Christ’s teachings. Surely the churches learned that lesson the hard way from the mistakes made in Nazi Germany. Maybe this guy thinks the story of Robin Hood is Satanic, too, on that basis.

    4. I cringed when Joseph Campbell mixed up the Tower of Babel and Flood stories.

    That said, there are some really interesting things in there that make the video worth watching: the Jewish symbols on the original Vader costume, the comments on Gnosticism and more insights into Lucas’ own worldview. He really does seem to believe in the “Force”.

    Anyway, I hope some readers find the chap’s video interesting and thought-provoking, even if you have to take large chunks of it with a grain of salt.

Leave a Reply to Adam Julians Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: