New age: sci-fi & fantasy movies


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Let me begin with an excerpt from CONFRONTING THE NEW AGE by Douglas Groothuis, InterVarsity Press, 1988, page 185. After speaking about New Age visualization and imagination techniques, he says:

A related point concerns the use of the imagination in fantasy literature, fantasy role-playing games, movies, cartoons or toys. Some Christians having detected the intrusion of the occult into these genres, have rejected them entirely. Undoubtedly, New Age ideas have poisoned many a book, game, movie and cartoon… The premier fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (not to mention spin-offs) is incorrigibly occult… Various movies such as the Star Wars trilogy, The Karate Kid I and II, and numerous other films either subtly or blatantly sound New Age themes. And even children’s cartoons and toys, such as the immensely popular He Man and the Masters of the Universe use occult symbolism and concepts to draw children into their world of error…

Far too many Christians are ignorant of the occult content of many cartoons, toys and movies. J.R.R. Tolkien, himself a noted fantasy author [Lord of the Rings], notes the dangers of fantasy: “Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came.”

If in case you have read my articles on FANTASY ROLE-PLAYING GAMES: Pokémon, Power Rangers, Yu-Gi-Oh! etc. and TOYS R NOT US [He Man and the Masters of the Universe, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.]***** you have understood that the toy industry realized that big bucks were to be made in designing and marketing toys to synchronise with the release of animated cartoon films which could be watched on the television or on the silver screen and thus influence much wider audiences to buy their products. Where did it all begin?

In 1977, George Lucas released the first film of his series, Star Wars. In the first 10 years, sales of Star Wars licensed products were estimated to be at least $3 billion. From the Star Wars trilogy, we got Droids- robots known as C-3PO and R2-D2, Ewoks- teddy bears that live in the forest, Yoda- an elf-like creature known as the Zen Master, Darth Vader- a semi-human villain, etc. The other movie mogul Stephen Spielberg introduced us to E.T.** [Extra-Terrestrial], and his Gremlins*

was about, well, gremlins or Mogwai. Though Ghostbusters, 1984, was not about aliens, it popularised ghosts. America led the world, or should we say the universe, in opening its wallets and homes to these creatures. *see below and page 28

Toy companies capitalized on the people’s love affair with them by selling licences to all key merchandise areas: apparel, food products, household accessories, stationery, gift items, publishing, and music, so that people could wake up to the alarm from an alien-shaped time piece and drink their milk at night looking at a ghost’s ‘image’ on the glass.**E.T. page 3

Star Wars remained fresh in kids’ minds also through the weekly Saturday morning telecast of the cartoon series, “The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour”. These were reinforced by the release of new action figure toys and accessories. And all this was backed by the mounting of massive promotional and advertising campaigns.

As with the toys that we discussed earlier, most Christian parents believe that such films about creatures from outer space, and ghosts, are science fiction and harmless fantasy. E.T. in fact is a cute and loveable character that any Christian might want to adopt. Everyone is excited about the international co-operation towards inter-galactic travel in the not too distant future and the possibility of the discovery of the existence of alien life forms. And ghosts? They don’t exist anyway.

Many parents censor the sex and violence programmes that their children may tend to watch, but what about these movies billed as “good family entertainment”? This is an age when ‘family’ has been legally accepted as two cohabiting ‘partners’ of the same sex with an adopted child or a child from a previous liaison, or a ‘single parent’ living in with a partner. So, have we ever slowed down to examine the world’s interpretation of what is ‘good’ and ‘entertainment’ for the ‘family’?
YOUR CHILD AND THE NEW AGE by Berit Kjos, Victor Books, 1990, page 90

Did you see Gremlins some years ago? Promoted as a children’s movie, it turned into a nightmare. Yet kids loved it. Typical of the New Age, the movie softened hearts with the bright, happy side of evil: a lovable and intelligent little Mugway called Gismo. But happiness turned to horror when Gismo’s evil offsprings became an army of ugly, lizardlike, demonic gremlins who destroyed everything in their path. A scene where the vicious gremlins pushed against a door- their horny claws and red, cruel eyes peeping out from the crack until Billy, the hero pushed the door shut…”

Let us consider a movie scene: a husband and wife are crushed to death by a snowplow, victims of a deliberate act of aggression. The scene would normally be considered too violent for children. Now transpose the scene into “Gremlins”.

*****NOTE: The reader is requested to please first read the “BRIEF SUMMARY” on page 35

The couple is murdered by the Gremlins in exactly the same way. But the audience laughs hilariously. Why? Because they were all sadists? No. Because the Gremlins behaviour is masked with humour. In fact, the movie is saturated with violence.

Evil influences become palatable when they are sugar-coated with humour, fantasy, and science fiction [sci-fi].

Christian parents must look beyond the cute-cuddliness and lovability of the characters to the meanings of the symbolisms that they advertise, and the subtle messages that they convey by their words, their deeds, and their philosophies of life.

It is impossible to categorize the hundreds of ‘family entertainment’ films released in the 30 years since Star Wars for their indices of sex, violence, pornography, the occult and New Age. But the few examples that we deal with in this article can serve as a sort of standard by which one can evaluate them. And, whatever, you do, do not blindly accept the ratings of any group of people, even those claiming to be Christian. These Christians are ‘film critics’ who review films for Christian periodicals. They may be lay persons, nuns, or priests. There is one such lay person, Ronita Torcato, writing for The Examiner, the Catholic Archdiocesan weekly of Bombay. She somehow finds good morals even in the worst of films that include mayhem, marital infidelity, murder, and the macabre. I have written several letters of protest to the editor who is a priest, to no effect. Other examples are the St. Paul’s sister Sr. Rose Pacatte FSP of the reputed St. Anthony’s Messenger, Fr. Mervyn Carapiet, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting Classification whom I mentioned in my report on RPGs [pages 19, 20]. Another example is Catechetics India, a Salesian magazine from Kolkata:

a former editor, a priest, admitted to me in a series of letters that he views everything as a journalist. [Which, to me, means that he does not look at things as a Catholic priest is expected to.] So, selection of articles is based on sensation value, not on moral or spiritual content. Thus, articles both for and against Harry Potter appear in the same issue! And he might carry a letter from me protesting against an article speaking positively about yoga in a particular issue not because he believes that yoga is a New Age meditation [he doesn’t], or because he would like to warn Catholic readers that yoga is indeed a no-no for Catholics, but because he wants to excite readers, invite responses, provoke a debate.

Yet another example of how much confidence readers can have in the views of Catholics holding positions of authority in the Catholic media is the lay editor of the Voice of Delhi, the Archdiocesan weekly of Delhi, Kurien Joseph. I had some correspondence with him recently. With his kind permission, I have reproduced it in my article SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR AND THE ‘ART OF LIVING’ [pages 35-40].
Most Catholic magazines carry a ‘disclaimer’ from the management stating that the views of contributors are not their own. Convenient, and hypocritical. You do the devil’s work for him, and try to distance yourself from it. Also, keep in mind that secularisation has entered the Church, even evangelical churches. So one may not implicitly trust their movie reviews, of which a couple of examples are included [see pages 4 ff]. I have yet to come across a Catholic magazine that reviews a movie from the perspective of Biblical revelation and Church teaching, the Da Vinci Code* excepted, and instructs Catholics firmly and categorically about its potential spiritual dangers. [*Even in the case of the Code, there were as many opinions as there were well-intentioned critics. But the Code is of a different genre than the one that we are currently engaged in analysing, where there is a greater possibility of matching certain criteria with what the Word of God says.]

And if one has reason to doubt the reviews and ratings of Church bodies and ministries, then how much more must a Christian beware of the ratings of Censor Boards and Motion Picture Associations.

During my visit to a toy store, I was perplexed about the pricing differential of some CD-ROMs of RPGs of the same games. There could be a difference of at least Rs. 500 in some cases. The salesman explained to me that the audio effects were greatly enhanced and so were the “graphics”. [The thought struck me that he probably should have said ‘graphic violence’.] Today’s computer games- and cartoons and movies- are not only about story-line, but also about sound and visual effects [remember the photo-induced epileptic seizures of the Pokémon cartoon show, "Electric Soldier Porygon" in the RPGs article, page 27?]. And pace.

People have objected that today’s movies are not much ‘darker’ than The Wizard of Oz or Snow White [scarecrows and tin-men, fairies and fairy god-mothers, elves, witches, enchantment, spells…]. True to a large extent. But the difference between those films and today’s genre is not in the content but in the way in which the story is told. The Disney films presented a world in which there was a moral order. Good was good, and bad was bad. The bad never looked good. ‘Good’ bads never fought ‘bad’ bads with bad ‘good’- as they do today. [This point has been touched upon in the RPG article.]

“There was a sweetness in the way they told their stories that is several levels removed from the vivid realism of [the movie] Indiana Jones,” says Neil Postman, an expert on the effect of the media on children, and author of “The Disappearance of Childhood”. “The new movies, like the Star Wars films, are authoritarian,” says child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, referring to “the breakneck pace and emphatic editing that can be overpowering for young children.” [Both references from “The Dark Side of Films for Kids”, USA Today, by Hal Hinson.]

The top money-spinning movies of the new genre, that set the trend for what is being scripted today, were films that glorified extreme violence and those that awakened an interest in the occult. Exactly 20 years ago, in 1986, one of every four tickets sold was for Sylvester [Sly] Stallone’s two movies, Rambo in particular, and Spielberg’s two movies.

The films mentioned above had been preceded by the darkest of movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Omen, and Poltergeist. The films that followed desensitized people to discerning real evil, and their popularity soon encouraged the introduction of television shows such as Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows, Batman, Wonderwoman. TV cartoons were not far behind, targeting the kids’ prime time Saturday morning slots.

We will analyse two of the early films [one briefly, the other in detail] that promoted toys, accessories, and games- the Harry Potters, Pokémons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers of yesteryear: E.T., and Star Wars, as well as Close Encounters… [below] and the Star Trek series [see pages 17-19]. While various aspects – like their exposing kids to violence etc. - of these Sci-Fi [science fiction] and fantasy movies will be examined, this article will focus more on the spiritual or New Age characteristics of this genre of ‘family entertainment’ cinema.

When released in 1982, E.T. grossed $313 million. The movie begins with three boys playing Dungeons and Dragons [D&D], the occult violence-breeding fantasy role-playing board game that we heard so much about in the article on RPGs.

Later that night, Elliott, the young star of the movie, calls his brother “penis breath” during an argument. Does their mother get mad with them? No, she just laughs. Later we find Elliott and E.T. linked by telepathy, and the both of them levitating.

Throughout the story, E.T. uses supernatural powers. It is also projected as a gentle creature, an emotionally and morally superior being to humans [in every sci-fi movie, TV show, cartoon or game, aliens are portrayed as superior beings to humankind], and has to be protected from them. It falls deathly ill, and virtually heals itself, much as is taught in New Age alternative medicine. It then returns to its ‘planet’, a better place than earth with all its violence and unlove.

Much like the hero of Close Encounters of the Third Kind* [1977] who is so obsessed with the Earth-visiting gentle aliens that he lets his marriage break up [no moral judgements on that] and elects to leave his wife and family- and planet Earth- to go back with them for God knows what, to God knows where. It is most unlikely that he would have even believed in what he ‘saw’ had he already believed in the existence of God.

Talking about Close Encounters brings us to the matter of UFOs or Unidentified Flying Objects, a New Age phenomenon that will be the subject of another article. Suffice it is so say for now, that despite all the “testimonies” and government conspiracy theories, there has been not one, I repeat- not one, documented UFO sighting or “close encounter”.

*After so-called ‘Distant Sightings’ which “involve observations of anomalous lights in the sky, nocturnal disks, etc., visually or on radar,” there are six categories of ‘close encounters’. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind comprise the sightings of UFOs with occupants, at very close range, including landed craft with occupants in or about the craft”. [Explanations are quoted from The Facts on UFOs and Other Supernatural Phenomena, by John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Harvest House Publishers, 1992, page 7.

The first three films of the Star Wars saga- Star Wars [1977], The Empire Strikes Back [1980] and Return of the Jedi [1983] are together known as the Star Wars trilogy. The three movies of the original trilogy are actually now the “sequels”.

They are classified as Episodes IV, V, and VI respectively.

They were followed by the “prequels”- The Phantom Menace [1999], Attack of the Clones [2002] and Revenge of the Sith [2005], Episodes I, II, and III respectively, dating the back story to the original trilogy. This means that the Star Wars saga starts at the fourth movie in the series [Episode I], and continues through Episodes II and III to lead into the story of the first film which is now Episode IV. Lucas gave the original film the subtitle Episode IV — A New Hope.

For the sake of our study, we will consider Star Wars as one unit. The cartoon sequels- The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour- may also be included. Although the story lines are different in each, the basics are the same.
The cartoon series, the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour is full of magic, fairies and witches, spells and telepathy and other stuff from paganism.

Star Wars, in the first trilogy, follows the tales of a band of rebels fighting against the evil Galactic Empire: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and the sentient robots R2-D2 and C-3PO. The Empire’s oppression is personified in Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith, a figure in black armor, mask and cape. The second trilogy travels back in time to the period before the Empire, when Darth Vader was a young man, then known as Anakin Skywalker, tracing his fall from grace to evil. Ultimately, the films are about the cosmic Force, which guides the destinies of the main characters, with the effect of leading Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker to redemption after his fall.

Yoda, the Zen Master, introduces Luke Skywalker, the young hero, and all movie-goers, to this Force. The wise old man Obi-Wan Kenobi describes it as a powerful energy field created by all living things who both take from it and give to it. This energy can be tapped by those who are trained to do so. The Force requires faith (not everyone believes it exists), but it does not have a personality. It ‘runs strong’ in certain people, but it does not have a will of its own- it acts when a person’s will is exerted upon it.

The above quotation is taken from “The Gospel of Lucas”, by John Styll, Contemporary Christian Magazine, August 1983.

The Force will be discussed at great length later. It is after all, the pivotal point of the Star Wars saga as it is of New Age alternative medicine, New Age meditations and the martial arts. [Please read this writer’s articles on those subjects.]
Though the new prequels have been widely contrasted unfavorably with the original trilogy, the Star Wars universe remains a cultural institution of immense proportions. Its impact on Hollywood alone has been incalculable.

Says Steven D. Greydanus, “It’s impossible to imagine Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., The Matrix*, or The Lord of the Rings without Star Wars. *see pages 33, 42

In fact, Lucas’ bitterest critics charge Star Wars with nothing less than ‘ruining’ Hollywood by turning it from the gritty, ‘relevant’ sophistication of films like The Godfather and Taxi Driver toward juvenile fantasy, spectacle, and romanticism. Here’s a typical complaint from Peter Biskind’s gossipy manifesto Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock’n’Roll Generation Saved Hollywood: ‘When all was said and done, Lucas and Spielberg returned the 1970s audience, grown sophisticated on a diet of European and New Hollywood films, to the simplicities of the pre-1960s Golden Age of movies… They marched backward through the looking-glass’. Those with different values, obviously, might care to see it the other way round: It was Lucas and Spielberg who "saved Hollywood" from the decadence of the "sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll generation" and brought old-fashioned good-versus-evil storytelling back to theaters. That’s not to say that Lucas’ critics don’t have a point. Artistically, the flaws and limitations of the Star Wars films- and of its many less distinguished heirs, from Independence Day to Tomb Raider - are inescapable. They are silly, indifferently acted, poorly thought out in some respects, and not infrequently inconsistent verging on self- contradiction. As Lucas’s saga progressed, moreover, the flaws have become more pronounced…”

As with Role-Playing Games [RPGs], and the movies, cartoons and toys associated with them, Christians are divided on the Star Wars issue. Christian books and sites are dedicated to defending the culture, some of them making out laborious comparisons with events in the Bible and with the life and message of Jesus Christ himself. As with RPGs, Catholics are not to be outdone in this. Both sides of the picture will be presented in this report, starting with the pro-Star Wars lobby.

For internet readers, headlines and important points related to the pro faction [which includes those who, taking a ‘neutral’ stance, do not elaborate], will be highlighted in red colour, and the Christian arguments in blue, as far as is possible.

1. Alec Guinness' Journey ROME, JUNE 23, 2005 [] by columnist Elizabeth Lev ZE05062322

[ZENIT [] is a highly reputed Catholic news agency which otherwise I have never faulted.]

This year, Italy's first taste of the summer film frenzy was the last installment of the Star Wars saga, "The Revenge of the Sith." The die-hard Star Wars fans of Rome dutifully went and came away with the same dissatisfaction produced by the other two new films. While certainly better than the last two, even this final episode seems to lack something.

Discussing the movie with colleagues later, we agreed that one of the key elements missing was Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi*. Speculating further, the question arose of whether Guinness' firm Catholic faith played a part in the moral authority and the gravitas of Obi Wan.

While it is well known that the mighty "Force" of Star Wars is more Buddhism Lite than anything remotely Christian, Guinness infused his character with something not found in the later Jedi Knight renditions.
Unlike Jedi master Windoo who knows much but never expresses faith in the Force or super-ninja Yoda and his Force-driven martial skills, Guinness' Obi Wan offered an example of spiritual peace and, most indelibly in the mind of the children who saw it, an example of self-sacrifice.
Timely enough, the subject of Guinness' conversion was back on bookshelves last year with Piers Paul Reid's biography "Alec Guinness: An Authorized Biography." Together with Guinness' own description of his conversion to the Catholic faith in "Blessings in Disguise," it appears that life does imitate art.
Both the spiritual and material origins of Sir Alec Guinness were inauspicious. An illegitimate son of a woman who barely provided for him, he was confirmed in the Anglican church at 16 when he, in his own words, "arose from under the hands of the Bishop of Lewes a confirmed atheist." As he trained for a stage career he also started searching for a religion. His myriad of early characters - Osric in "Hamlet," Herbert Pocket in "Great Expectations" and the astounding eight parts in "Kind Hearts and Coronets" - reflected the numerous stops on his quest for faith, from Buddhism to Tarot cards.

While Guinness himself asserted that the catalyst to his conversion was his son's recovery from polio, there was a long, slow preparation to what would be greatest part. As Guinness started to find himself drawn to the Catholic Church looking for inner peace, he started taking priest roles in film. In 1954, he accepted the part of Father Brown in the screen adaptation of stories of G.K. Chesterton's beloved clerical sleuth. Then in 1955, he played the heroic cardinal in the controversial film "The Prisoner," a film banned by both the Venice and Cannes film festivals for its negative depiction of Eastern European Communism. Adapted from a stage play, it is an intense psychological duel between an interrogator representing the totalitarian regime and a prelate charged with being overly political. While the story is loosely based on the story of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, the character of the cardinal has startling parallels with the actor's own life. The shame of a poor background and an unpresentable parent, and the desire for glory to cleanse himself of the past, are all used against the cardinal in his psychological torture. This must have resonated very deeply in Guinness.

In 1956 Guinness converted. He lived out his life as a very prominent Catholic in England, becoming vice president of the Catholic Actors Guild but also a lector in his home parish of St. Lawrence in Hampshire.
Guinness was not proud of his association with Star Wars. He apparently refused to read fan mail connected with it and never uttered the phrase, "May the Force be with you."
Nonetheless, he gave the generation that got to know him through these movies a new kind of hero. Who could forget the old man against the towering machine, weaker and out of practice in combat, who smiled as he lifted his saber to be cut down by his enemy? Guinness gave young people a last gift, albeit reluctantly, of an example of love and courage in popular culture and in life as well.
*In the Star Wars saga we first learn about the Force from Obi Wan Kenobi in the first movie of the trilogy, Episode IV. In Episodes I-III Ewan McGregor plays this role; it's played by Alec Guinness in the first three movies, Episodes IV-VI.

MY COMMENT: Elizabeth Lev actually misses the presence of Alec Guinness in Episodes I through III.
2. The following is a ZENIT interview with Father Jonathan Morris, Fox News Analyst

The Catholic priest hosts a regular editorial column, a blog, for giving his perspective on top news stories.

Hollywood's Big Disconnect ROME, MARCH 17, 2006 ZE06031720 EXTRACT:

Hollywood still doesn't get it - judging by the recent Academy Awards. So says Legionary Father Jonathan Morris. He offers the U.S.-based television station ethical perspectives on current events. The Ohio-born priest, stationed in Rome, shared with ZENIT his views on what the recent Oscars say about the state of the U.S. film industry.

On the movies that did well in the box office, Father Morris: The top four movies for gross ticket sales, in this order, were: "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith," which grossed $380 million, but received only one Oscar nomination; "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," which collected $288 million but only one nomination; "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," collected $288 million, but only three Oscar nominations… People want to see movies which will help them relax, escape momentarily from the hardship of life. I think it's a legitimate desire. That's why science fiction movies like "Star Wars" have always been so big.

Q: What could you suggest to parents who are raising their children in an anti-Christian media environment?
Father Morris: Our mission is to be in the world without being of the world. We love to complain about the media. It's an easy target. But there is a danger in spending our limited energy on criticizing and tearing down, without ever daring to build up. We need to shield our children from evil, but first and foremost we need to teach them the beauty of God and their faith. Children can't love what they don't know. In the past, parents relied heavily on healthy environments to teach their children what is good and what is bad. The advent of the Internet age has changed all of that. The new challenge represents a new opportunity: Be with your kids, teach them with your own example that the truth of the Gospel is the source of real joy.

MY COMMENT: A lot of nice words. But – considering that he is PRIMARILY a Catholic priest and only secondarily a journalist - Father Morris does not pass ANY moral judgement on either Star Wars or Harry Potter. Many Catholics who hold positions of authority have fine-tuned the art of doublespeak. He certainly cannot be accused of having said nothing ‘Christian’, but neither can he be held accountable for resorting to his Bible in the secular media. His job with Fox is safe.

3. The Catholic Insider is a podcast by Father Roderick Vonhögen, Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, The Netherlands.

In the Star Wars Chronicles, Fr. Roderick takes you to a galaxy far, far away to explore the mythology, the philosophy and the religious themes underneath the surface of the Star Wars movies. Messianic hope, vocation and celibate, fall and redemption, betrayal and fidelity are some of the many themes that George Lucas has woven into the tapestry of his epic saga, and this podcast explores them all.

Fr. Roderick takes you on a journey of discovery through J.K. Rowling's magical world of wizards and muggles in a quest to uncover the secrets behind the mythological, biblical and christian symbols and themes used in the Harry Potter series
4. Prognosis Negative: Star Wars- A Christian Perspective

That's a toughie... Star Wars or my eternal soul.. I realize this site is a parody of all those christian websites out there that vehemently lambast pop-culture icons, but what the hell, I had to comment.. Apparently, Christ is about to hug the ever-loving shit out of the giant battle station, and the TIE fighters know it, they're hauling ass!

MY COMMENT: Maybe this is a good example of the opinion of some who reject the genuine Christian position.
5. Star Wars and Spirituality by Jason Chandler 2005

Campus Crusade for Christ International

Most people associate New Age and Eastern mysticism with the Star Wars franchise, but could there also be nuggets of Christian teachings tucked away in the sci-fi epic that can encourage healthy dialogue about spirituality and the Christian life? Dick Staub, author, adjunct professor and director of the Center for Faith and Culture in Seattle, makes a compelling case in his newly published book, Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters.

MY COMMENT: Campus Crusade for Christ, too?!!!? “New Age and Eastern mysticism” but still potentially healthy for Christian life! What next? If you want to know Dick Staub’s views, read on, especially Berit Kjos’ article, page 8.
6. Dick Staub on the Star Wars Myth [Staub is the author of “Too Christian, Too Pagan”] EXTRACT: Lucas's stories
may have more in common with Hinduism than Christianity, but it's still True Myth, says the author of Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters.

In it, I show how Luke's development is analogous to a serious Christian's progression as a follower of Jesus.

Q. How do you explain America's enduring fascination with all things Star Wars?

A. George Lucas created an epic tale that taps into the universal themes of good versus evil, and did it in what was at the time a next-edge use of technology and special effects.

7. Star Culture Wars by Terry Mattingly June 2005

[Terry Mattingly [] writes the nationally syndicated On Religion column for the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C., and is associate professor of media & religion at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He also is a senior fellow for journalism at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.]

While tweaking the original Star Wars movie for re-release, director George Lucas decided that he needed to clarify the status of pilot Han Solo's soul. In the old version, Solo shot first in his cantina showdown with a bounty hunter. But in the new one, Lucas addressed this moral dilemma with a slick edit that showed Greedo firing first. Thus, Solo was not a murderer, but a mere scoundrel on the way to redemption.

"Lucas wanted to make sure that people knew that Han didn't shoot someone in cold blood," said broadcaster Dick Staub. "That would raise serious questions about his character, because we all know that murder is absolutely wrong."

The Star Wars films do, at times, have a strong sense of good and evil.

Yet in the climactic scene of the new "Revenge of the Sith," the evil Darth Vader warns his former master: "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." Obi-Wan Kenobi replies, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."

Say what? If that is true, how did Lucas decide it was wrong for Solo to gun down a bounty hunter? Isn't that a moral absolute? If so, why are absolutes absolutely wrong in the saga's latest film? Good questions, according to Staub.

While we're at it, the Jedi knights keep saying they must resist the "dark side" of the mysterious, deistic Force. But they also yearn for a "chosen one" who will "bring balance" to the Force, a balance between good and evil.

"There is this amazing internal inconsistency in Lucas that shows how much conflict there is between the Eastern religious beliefs that he wants to embrace and all those Judeo-Christian beliefs that he grew up with," said Staub, author of a book for young people entitled "Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters."

"I mean, you're supposed balance the light and the dark? How does that work?"

The key is that Lucas—who calls himself a "Buddhist Methodist"—believes all kinds of things, even when the beliefs clash. This approach allows the digital visionary to take chunks of the world's major religions and swirl them in the blender of his imagination. Thus, the Force contains elements of Judaism, Christianity, Animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and even Islam. None of this is surprising. Lucas merely echoes the beliefs of many artists in his generation and those who have followed. But the czar of Star Wars also has helped shape the imaginations of millions of spiritual consumers. His fun, non-judgmental faith was a big hit at the mall.

It is impossible, said Staub, to calculate the cultural impact of this franchise since the 1977 release of the first film—episode IV, "A New Hope." The films have influenced almost all moviegoers, but especially Americans 40 and under.

"I don't think there is anything coherent that you could call the Gospel According to Star Wars," stressed Staub. "But I do think there are things we can learn from Star Wars. ...I think what we have here is a teachable moment, a point at which millions of people are talking about what it means to choose the dark side or the light side.

"Who wants to dark side to win? Most Americans want to see good triumph over evil, but they have no solid reasons for why they do. They have no idea what any of this has to do with their lives."

Staub is especially concerned about young Star Wars fans. He believes that many yearn for some kind of mystical religious experience, taught by masters who hand down ancient traditions and parables that lead to truths that have stood the test of time, age after age. These young people "want to find their Yoda, but they don't think real Yodas exist anymore," especially not in the world of organized religion, he said. In the end, it's easier to go to the movies.

Meanwhile, many traditional religious leaders bemoan the fact that they cannot reach the young. So they try to modernize the faith instead of digging back to ancient mysteries and disciplines, said Staub. "So many churches are choosing to go shallow, when many young people want to go deep," he said. "There are people who just want to be entertained. But there are others who want to be Jedis, for real."
8. 'Star Wars' has strong presence in religion May 13, 2005

Series inspires reflection as the story lines are compared to those in the Bible, some say. Films such as "Return of the Jedi" are becoming a more popular part of discussion on religion's relationship with culture

by Karen Vance / Cincinnati Enquirer EXTRACT:

Russell Smith, Presbyterian pastor of a Cincinnati church hosted a Bible study entitled "The Gospel According to Star Wars."

"Star Wars" is hardly alone as a film looked to for spiritual enlightenment. "We are now movie watchers as never before," says Bill Blizek, founding editor of the Journal of Religion and Film. "And movies are filled with religion - sometimes it is done well, and sometimes it is not done well." The most written-about mainstream film in terms of hidden religious meaning in recent years, he says, is "The Matrix*." But people connecting faith to film have also found such films as "Mystic River," "Twelve Monkeys," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Fargo," among others, can be discussed in terms of a religious message. For church member Jeffrey Perkins, the overall arc of the six-movie "Star Wars" series is inherently Christian. "The whole story is the redemption of Darth Vader. He falls to temptation and is redeemed by the son in Episode VI," Perkins says. A recent study was a discussion of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo's decision to try to rescue Princess Leia from the detention area of the Death Star in Episode IV and how that relates to the obstacles Christians face and are willing to overcome to follow Jesus and put values into action. *see pages 33, 42

The class discussed how every action R2-D2 takes in the first 30 minutes is motivated by his need to share his message from Princess Leia to Obi-Wan Kenobi, including going into the desert on his own. Adams likens that to Matthew 28:19: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

"This is a Bible study that's simply using 'Star Wars' as a vehicle," Adams says. That's not a new way to teach Christianity, says John Brolley, director of the legacy program in religious studies at the University of Cincinnati. "It's the modern-day version of something that is described over and over in the (New Testament's) Acts of Apostles as what (St.) Paul did. He provided a blueprint for evangelization," Brolley says. "(Paul) accessed the concepts and the images from the dominant culture to teach the Gospel. If 'Star Wars' was in those days, (St.) Paul would have invoked C-3PO and R2-D2."

Brolley says Paul would visit communities in the ancient world, and begin by talking about themes they were comfortable with. Then he would segue into talking about Christ. Incorporating pop culture as a way to teach a faith is a skill urban churches have become especially good at because they often deal with people exposed to the arts and culture, he says.

"The Gospel According to Star Wars" isn't the first connection Covenant-First has made between the secular and the sacred. In the past, the church has done "The Gospel According to Shakespeare" and "The Gospel According to the Simpsons" Bible study sessions.

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