Revenge of the Sith and Faith Formation

Revenge of the SithThe Sith are evil. Just down right evil. They draw on the dark side of the Force–all that is bad, on anger, on fear, on strength over the weak. And they revel in it. And so, in Revenge of the Sith (Episode III of the Star Wars saga) we see Anakin’s fall into the dark side of the Force. We see him accept evil in the most innocent selfless way. My dad used to say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Anakin wanted to control his world around him, to protect those he loved. Of course he had some abandonment issues (but that’s for another blog post). But still, he wanted to do what was right and in the process he fell into the dark side of the Force and became the scourge of the galaxy.

I just spent 4 days at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) beginning their Doctor of Ministry program. I studied cognitive and faith development and how the church may teach others. I thought a lot about my son and his own cognitive and faith development. On my way home from TEDS I started reflecting on what I had learned. Being the geek that I am, I started thinking about Star Wars as well.

As I thought about the Star Wars saga I mulled over the fact that my son and daughter have not seen Revenge of the Sith. That episode is dark. Very dark. The Empire Strikes Back was dark. It ended with the enemy winning and the Rebel Alliance on the run. But there was hope. It ended with hope. It ended with the knowledge that there was something better coming around the bend. Not so with Revenge of the Sith.

If you know anything about Star Wars you know that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker. You know that George Lucas started the Saga in 1977 with Episode IV–A New Hope. So when he introduced Anakin as a little boy in 1999’s The Phantom Menace (Episode I), you knew this young boy who wasn’t old enough to shave would one day be Darth Vader. You knew that it would eventually end badly.

And when Revenge of the Sith ended, it ended with the Jedi decimated and the remaining Jedis pushed into hiding. Evil had won the day. And it was dark. Very dark.

My son is slowly developing cognitively. He is developing in his faith as well. Two years ago I introduced him and my daughter to Star Wars. I started with A New Hope, like I should. I was hesitant to show them The Empire Strikes Back, but I knew that they would eventually see Return of the Jedi (Episode VI). When I showed Episodes I and II they enjoyed them. They even enjoy Cartoon Networks The Clone Wars (My daughter loves Asohka). But I don’t want them to watch Revenge of the Sith.

I find it too dark for children. It deals with issues that I don’t know if they are ready to really grapple with. It takes someone who they see as the hero fall. It takes someone my son dressed up as for Halloween and makes him into the enemy who cuts off Luke’s hand in The Empire Strikes Back. Do I want to introduce them to this?

As I was mulling over my children’s cognitive and faith formation, I started wondering if I was taking something away from them. Star Wars is story. There is something powerful about storyl One of the things that story does is to give them a safe place to truly grapple and struggle with things. You start off children with story by reading them books like Good Night Moon and Green Eggs and Ham. But now my son is reading The Box Car Children series. This grapples with ideas of trust, of family relationships, with homelessness and other issues. Is he ready to deal with the disequiliberation (where two things come head to head of differing ideas and creates a state of conflict in understanding) of a hero being able to fall into evil, one who was good becoming bad?

I wonder if Revenge of the Sith is a safe place for him to have two different things come head to head with each other force him to think about these issues and grow in his understanding of the world around him.  Can he handle it?

Revenge of the Sith 2I wonder about this as he grows in his faith as well. Where is he at in his faith? Does he fully understand what he believes. Is he cognitively able to grapple with the fact that there is a good loving God he’s been taught about that also demands justice? Is he able to deal with the fact that evil in this world can be dressed up as something beautiful? Can he hold in conflict these two?

I still don’t think he’s ready to see Revenge of the Sith. I’m starting to wonder about The Clone Wars in Season 4 (we’ve been watching the seasons since I bought the whole series on DVD) because it will start to get dark. I want to protect him from the evils of this world, but I also want him to learn to grapple with them as well. Story gives him a safe place to do that.

Maybe in a year or so he’ll watch Revenge of the Sith, but until then, I’ll work with him in understanding life and see how I can help him develop his own faith in a way that he can own it and deal with the fact that Anikan will become Darth Vader. And in doing so, he can work through the problem of evil and the fact that there is a loving God.

Or am I just thinking way too much about this?

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5 Responses to Revenge of the Sith and Faith Formation

  1. I think it’s well worth thinking about, since pop culture “forms” us just as much as catechism and liturgy, and kids listen more intently to the former. (See James K.A. Smith’s work). As a pastor, theologian, and dad, I wish it were the latter, but then again, I’m a Star Wars geek myself; I waited in line for hours in 1977 to see the first movie (which turned out to be episode 4). However, this whole saga does not “end badly.” It is only episode 3, and even that dark episode ends with the birth of the ones who will not only lead the rebellion against evil, but in fact effect the REDEMPTION of Anakin Skywalker. The entire series of movies is about redemption. George Lucas was deeply influenced by religious and spiritual themes when we wrote these movies (except for the part about Jar-Jar…that was obviously the result of something very bad in his life, maybe his divorce from Marcia Lucas). But seriously, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces was quite influential on Lucas. Obviously these are not Christian movies; Lucas, following Campbell, has a basically Jungian view of religion in that they all basically boil down to the same thing, and there is a strong Manichaean theme running through the series (light side / dark side); but there are many biblical parallels that one can trace in the Star Wars movies. One of the most notable ones is when Obi-Wan, in A New Hope, sees that Luke and company are blocked from getting to the Millennium Falcon by a pile of Imperial Stormtroopers (not that they can hit anything anyway with their blasters), and he deliberately lowers his lightsaber, sacrificing his life to ensure their escape. And then, even death is not the end for Obi-Wan. In the Clone Wars series (my children and I are catching up with it on Netflix) there are lessons in leadership, though one also sees foreshadowings of Anakin’s fall. Episode 3 is definitely too dark for young children, however; my youngest has not seen it and probably won’t for a few years yet. It is amazing that this story has so much staying power, despite Jar-Jar, and the silly midichlorians, and Obi-Wan’s lie that he justifies by calling it true “from a certain point of view” (in the theological tradition this is called the mendacium officiosum, the dutiful lie, but I’m pretty sure this like wouldn’t qualify). Let’s not even mention Luke kissing his sister, ok? But I think this staying power, almost nine years after the last movie came out, has to do with the deep spiritual themes that Lucas intentionally built into it. Plus all the really cool Lego Star Wars sets that keep coming out, against which I am utterly and hopeless defenseless. Lucas was a great storyteller (especially in the beginning), which he learned from Campbell, and those of us who preach and teach the gospel could learn something about how we tell THE story, the greatest saga ever told.
    …And Han shot first.
    Dr. Raymond A. (Randy) Blacketer
    Pastor, First Cutlerville CRC, Byron Center, MI
    And occasional professor of historical theology

  2. Sorry for the typos: “this like wouldn’t qualify” should be “this lie wouldn’t qualify.” and “hopeless” should be “hopelessly” But it is still correct, from a certain point of view. It’s Monday.

  3. Pingback: Pressure? | Spiritual Musclehead

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