Thirty-eight years ago, on Memorial Day, George Lucas changed the course of history with the release of a little film called Star Wars.
Everything old is new again.
Once you’ve created the wheel, why invent a new one? That’s what big and small screen producers seem to be thinking. Those of us who remember the ’70s and ’80s have been feeling a sense of déjà vu. Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and even The Muppets are back on the scene.
Often remakes of popular films and television shows pale in comparison to the originals. This is often true of sequels (and prequels), too. Some filmmakers know they can make money by merely appealing to nostalgia. But even the more scrupulous often find it impossible to recapture the nuances which made the original movie great.
When George Lucas released Star Wars, thirty-eight years ago this Memorial Day, I am sure he believed it was a good film. I doubt he thought it would become the icon it would soon become and the influence it still is today. You never quite know what will strike a chord with an audience. By mid-August of 1977, it was clear just how strongly the chord was resonating.
Star Wars was a breath of fresh air in that cynical era. Religion of any kind seemed to be giving way to dry secularism in the culture at large. Many movies of the day were nihilistic, and Obi Wan talking about becoming part of “a larger world” was different.
Luke Skywalker was part of that larger world, and had a close connection to it. However, he had been raised by a cynical uncle who was afraid of the past, fearful Luke would become like his father. It would take mentors outside his family to teach him “the force is strong” in his family. As Yoda would tell him in The Empire Strikes Back, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Life is (or should be) about relearning. We are all in a very real sense a product of our history. But we don’t have to be trapped inside the falsehoods we have been told. The problem is we often continue to believe the lies even when the truth is right in front of us. And, as the scripture teaches early in Genesis, knowledge does not necessarily keep us from the dark side.
Luke needed intervention in his life, and the implication is something bigger than him was moving him toward those who could help him. But he had to trust his mentors and cooperate with what he was being taught.
When Star Wars was hitting its biggest box office numbers in August of 1977, I was beginning a significant relearning phase of my life. I had enrolled at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I would only be there one year, but the classes, the classmates, and the whole atmosphere in general made a big imprint on my life. I was unlearning and relearning things about myself and my God, while picking up some ideas that I would later, for better or worse, abandon. And the mandatory English class was honing my writing skills enough that I would later be able to write posts on the internet which are somewhat intelligible.
I am from a very conservative background. I was raised in churches which were part of an Association with the word “Fundamental” in its name. Attending a movie in a theater was generally frowned upon, although many of the older generation had no problem attending G-rated films, and most of my peers were getting more adventurous. Moody had a policy that students were not allowed to attend theaters, although we were allowed to watch television in the student lounge. (It was there I viewed the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit for the first time.) But I was getting some reports from back home about how great this new science fiction film was.
I was able to see Star Wars for the first time in the summer of 1978. I remember rather vividly coming in late to the discount theater where it was playing. The droids were already making their way through the Tatooine desert. It was obvious the copy being shown had seen better days, with the familiar white dots on the screen from the projector shining through holes in the cellulose. But the quality of the film did not deter me. I was hooked.
Unfortunately, by the end of the decade, many evangelical “fundamentalists” were speaking out against the Star Wars movies. They were too blind to see how God was using the films to cause people to think about spiritual things. There was even a backlash against Tolkien, who was seen by some as occultic.
Obviously I disagree with the extremists who see Star Wars as a back door to Satan. I have abandoned some of the more extreme views of those I grew up under. But I have not abandoned my belief that there is Something bigger than myself, and that belief should make a difference in how I live my life. The films by George Lucas are definitely not a religious rock I stand upon, but I am thankful for those who have considered the “larger world” because the movies exist.
In the coming months I hope to post reviews of the six Star Wars movies in anticipation of the upcoming Episode VII: The Force Awakens. There are most definitely themes which run through the movies which relate to my faith. And, I dare say, there are still some redeemable elements in the “prequels” despite the often poor dialogue and storylines.