On the loss and recovery of faith

21bFor some of us of a certain age, it is difficult to overstate the effect the Star Wars legendarium had on us. Years later, these events and experiences are still vivid to me:

1981 (aged 5): My first outing to the cinema with my big sister. We watched a re-run of Empire. Images I remember: Luke’s sandy Bespin outfit, an ice planet, Vader’s big head against the stars (which I thought was disembodied).

1982 (aged 6): Playtime at Matthew’s house. I brought my two figures: 2-1B and Bespin Luke. He had more, including an AT-AT. Having a Star Wars figure in my hand and playing with it on Matthew’s living room carpet brings me a new experience of happiness.

1982, Christmas (aged 6): AT-AT. My joy is full.

1983 (aged 7): Return of the Jedi at the cinema.

1984-1986 (aged 8-10): My Star Wars collection continues to grow. Most days after school are spent with the neighbour boys setting up our figures. We enjoy Star Wars cosplay (not that we called it that). I am very proud of my Han Solo blaster and worship Harrison Ford. Parties are Star Wars parties (when they are not Indiana Jones parties). A New Hope on videotape is watched at least a hundred times. As we have the only VCR in the neighbourhood, I am very popular.

1987 (aged 11): I play with my figures for the last time.

1989 (aged 13): I rent Jedi and cry at the end, realising that Star Wars is over.

. . .

1992 (aged 16): WAIT! A new book appears, Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. Then there are comics (like Dark Empire). Star Wars  . . . whisper it . . . is alive again.

1994 (aged 18): Start playing the Star Wars RPG. I create a character whose name I will not utter here (too sacred). The joy of pure geekery overfloweth. (N.B. I also have a girlfriend at this time.) There are even rumours of new films.

1996 (aged 20): On my mission I see a Time magazine article about the Star Wars Special Editions. The X-wing/swamp scene makes an appearance in Zone Conference. John Williams is constantly playing in our apartments. Elder Olsen and I act out the Vader/Luke scene from Empire in ward FHE. As the great secular myth of our time, Star Wars is a constant peg on which to hang many of our beliefs.

1997 (aged 21): The day after I get back I watch A New Hope: SE  at the cinema. Great timing!

1999 (aged 23): I spend six hours downloading the P****** M*****[1] trailer on dial-up.

. . .

I will stop there as you know what is coming next. The truth is, the awfulness of the prequels did not dawn on me straight away, so dazzled was I by the fact of new Star Wars. It was probably during Attack of the Clones — when arthritic Yoda became a ninja while fighting D****[1] — that my heart finally sank as the horror of it all smashed through the cognitive dissonance.

For those of us who have lost our faith in Lucas, how are we to prepare for the Fourth Coming of Star Wars? [2] I feel an impulse to convene a Canonical Council, to decide which iterations of Star Wars to include, and which to reject as heresy.  And so, Star Wars friends, please help me out. Having thus established the best of Star Wars, we can then watch the forthcoming Rebels show, and then the Abrams movies with hearts and minds prepared to discern good from evil, truth from error.

I would start with the Tales of the Jedi comics from Dark Horse, which provide a sense of the age and scope of the Old Republic. What other pre-Prequel EU stories should be included?

It is hard to know what to do about the Clone Wars. I actually liked the (2008-) animated series but it ultimately fails because no-one cares. (The 2003 Cartoon Network series is better in this respect, simply offering short stories from the conflict.) Do we just keep the Clone Wars a mystery and utterly ignore the rise of Palpatine? Anything with J**** L***** or H*****C**********[1] in it is obviously to be condemned.

Having arrived at the rebellion, our next dilemma is what to do about the Special Editions (Han shot first!). I like the digital clean-up but otherwise cannot bear Lucas’s lame additions. The originals on Blu-ray, please, Disney! Between Empire and Jedi, the possibilities of the EU can be enjoyed by reading Shadows of the Empire.

And then we wait to see what JJ can do.

You are a latter-day Council of Jamnia: What stays and what goes?

___

1. As anyone or anything only found in the prequels is obviously non-canonical, I will not name them here. H*****C**********’s appearance as a Force ghost at the end of the latest edition of Jedi really is an abomination of desolation.

2. First: The Original Trilogy; Second: The Expanded Universe; Third: The “Prequels” and Prequel spinoffs; Fourth: Disney.

Comments

  1. cookie queen says:

    FHE @ our place featuring Star Wars.
    Memorable. Very. Daughter now has Star Wars tattoo. Bussi. xxx

  2. It amuses me that I had a Star Wars shirt auf Mish that I gave to you which you then gave back to me years later!

  3. OK. I liked the prequels and I say that with the blessed opportunity to see all of the movies at the theater starting at age 5 in 1977 with Episode IV. Like you, though, I loved the prequels for a while when they first came out and defended them tooth and nail against the more critical viewers of the prequels but came to see their point and share with some of their disappointment after the “excitement” of a new Star Wars trilogy set in.

    I liked Yoda’s duel in Episode 2. Maybe because I can see when overcome by the Force (priesthood/Spirit?) Yoda can do more than what Yoda’s capable of normally doing, arthritis and all. Or maybe I’m still building the shelf and not wanting to face the cog dis? Ha!

    Lastly, I hate that the reboots showed the prequel Anakin (He who shall not be named) as opposed to the true Anakin in the original Episode 6. Anakin repented and was redeemed at the age of his death, not at the age of his fall.

    Here’s an analogy: Could you see Anakin’s initial life on Tatooine as sort of an Edenic state and that Edenic state be almost like a slavery? Anakin had some glimmer of his talents and potential but he had to step out of that Edenic state to be mentored through the good and the bad to reach his full potential and restore balance in doing so. Kind of like us.

    I know it’s a stretch but hey…I’m a Star Wars nerd.

    P.S. Ever wonder if your stake is being run by a Sith Lord? :)

  4. Wait until you have to consider the implications of introducing your offspring to the faith. What do you do when everyone around you actually claims that Jar Jar Binks was a valuable character and that midichlorians explain everything?

    Or worse, when you realize that membership in your local Star Wars club requires you to profess your loyalty to Lucas (not to mention paying your membership dues), despite your feeling that he’s just a nice older gentleman who happens to make movies, not the infallible visionary you once thought he was. And now you’re just the guy in the corner who’s trying to ruin the experience for everyone.

    Almost makes you wish you never discovered Star Wars and instead got hooked on Star Trek.

    Well, almost.

  5. Oh, I have to disagree with you on the prequels! I think they epitomize what the Jedi are – Obi Wan and Qui Gon are the quintessential Jedi. Have you read the actual novelization of those three? Or Karen Miller’s ‘Wild Space’? The prequels have made me a die hard fan. Sure enjoyed your post!

  6. I am relieved to learn that I am not the only person who liked the prequels initially. I have come to see the error of my ways since, but it did take a couple of years. I loved having more Star Wars in my life, and even made a shirt, which I wore to every prequel viewing I attended that read, “Sith happens.”

    I demand a Blu-ray release of the originals (they really need to take out H***** C********** and that god-awful singing creature from Jabba’s lair), upon which point I think any Star Wars nerd can agree. The expanded universe is well and good, but I think there is too much to call it head-canon. It’s more like a side canon available to those willing to take the time to get involved in it. As for the prequel mess… let’s at least abandon whiny Anakin, Jar Jar, and midichlorians.

  7. There is no Council convened. What stays and what goes is decided in a lonely, personal struggle. We still come together, compelled to love each other, even if we disagree on issues like whether Chewbacca is owed an apology for not having been given a medal (like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker), even though he played a crucial role in the fight against the Death Star.

  8. Louis G,
    Yoda’s arthritis overcome by the Force? No way, man. That’s pure Lucasian apologetics. Better to just admit that Lucas screwed up.

    Jay,
    My children liked the Prequels but have come to understand the Truth. “When I was a child . . .” &c.

    Lisa,
    I am intrigued by the possibility that the Prequels can be salvaged by substituting the films with the books. I shall need to think about that.

    Hunter,
    I will grant you Chewie’s injustice. However, in the fan release, Star Wars Revisited, we see Chewbacca with a medal.

  9. Brooke,
    We’re going to have to find the courage to wrest decisions regarding canon away from Lucasfilm.

  10. For those whose faith is faltering, I recommend a pilgrimage to Tatooine. Many of the original Star Wars sets remain in all their unspoiled glory in the deserts of Tunisia. We did an unforgettable family trip there a couple of years ago, and had a great time soaking up the Star Wars atmosphere. Here’s our travelogue: http://familiafamily.com/116_travelogues_tunisia_1.html

  11. I think I was most happy when the originals were released to video in widescreen. Whole 1/3 of the movie magic you missed seeing it so often in regular television format!

    The extended versions and prequels just gave me a better outlook on Lucas. Great storyteller, horrible director and editor. So many parts that were “just for fun” that belabored the story or interrupted the flow. Contorting things to try and “fix” parts that didn’t quite make sense.

    Wierd to see someone else with the same experiences at the same ages (though sadly lacking in toys of mine own or a girlfriend, sigh).

  12. I don’t really believe the “Lucas — great storyteller” line. I think that was true up until about 1982.

    Fully intend to visit Tunisia’s SW sights one day.

  13. The prequels are a problem for me, in the sense that I’m in love with certain scenes, but not the mythos. Things with H*****C******** on screen are verboten however.

  14. The root of Anakin’s fall being his forced separation from his mother as a child is properly mythological. It could have been so much better.

  15. The prequels are not only non-canonical, they are heretical — false doctrine. We’ve been able to protect our children from them so far while introducing them to the original trilogy.

    The X-wing/swamp scene makes an appearance in Zone Conference. John Williams is constantly playing in our apartments. Elder Olsen and I act out the Vader/Luke scene from Empire in ward FHE. As the great secular myth of our time, Star Wars is a constant peg on which to hang many of our beliefs.

    This was my experience too — that many themes from the original trilogy functioned as a “great secular myth of our time” that provided “a constant peg on which to hang many of our beliefs.” But the prequels (and to some extent the EU more generally) have inhibited this as well — and perhaps that is the greater tragedy wrought by the prequels. Their lameness and meaninglessness — their stupidity — has diluted the potential of the originals for supporting deeper meanings.

    Remember nearly four years ago when I tried to drive home a point in a lesson to the young men at Church by showing them the Dagobah Cave scene from Empire? (Yoda responds “only what you take with you” to Luke’s question of what is in the mysterious cave and though Yoda warns him that “your weapons, you will not need them,” Luke enters the cave armed and encounters an apparition of Darth Vader, whom he easily beheads only to see his own face behind Vader’s mask.)

    To my shock and dismay, none of them had seen Empire (though they were up on the prequels and some aspects of the EU, as accessed primarily through video games). Even the missionary who had joined us in class could barely remember Empire, having seen it once when he was a tween. (By the way, the EU has sullied even the holy time on Degobah and particularly the teaching moment in the Cave by trying to reverse engineer it to comply with lame prequel lore. Seriously, this “backstory” to the Dagobah Cave Scene has some similarities to the effect of Correlation in the Church — the impetus behind the new backstory seems to be a perceived need to explain how “evil” energy could exist in a Cave on Dagobah, the need to create an ad hoc explanation for something that actually doesn’t need to be explained, at least not in a way that forces things to fit into a preconceived notion of what is possible, “right,” and/or consistent with other information or occurrences in the universe.)

    Also, I should confess that the prequels blinded me in the first viewing as well, simply because it seemed so cool that there were finally new Star Wars movies. In fact, I recall that when we saw Episode II together at the cinema in Oxford when it had first been released, I embarrassingly defended it against some of your criticisms at the time. That impulse to defend it lasted until just after I had said the words to you, and then I realized how right you were and how dumb the movie had been, in every way. Lucas truly betrayed his fan base and for no good reason. The product was mind-numbingly dumb.

  16. I’m a Cafeteria Star Wars-ite. I pick what I like and pretend the rest doesn’t exist.

  17. John, you get it, you so get it.

    You’re right about the cave. It’s just a cave and doesn’t need some Wookiepedia-friendly back story. The best EU is the stuff that is far removed from the OT, like Tales of the Jedi.

    Jay mentioned Star Trek. There was a time when Star Wars was the clear superior to Trek. The grimy locations, battle-scarred spaceships, and earthy characters were so much better than Rodenberry’s clean and cheerful universe. That isn’t true anymore. Once we had the Force, a mysterious energy field. Now we have the M************.

  18. This post brought so much joy to my soul today. I had a number of thoughts regarding the litany of Star Wars canon.

    1) Has anyone here played either of the Knights of the Old Republic video games? The stories of both games take place a few thousand years before the movies. The storyline of the first game is, IMO, equal to the original movies in depth and scope. It introduces a some very mind bending ethical dilemas that you, as the lead character, have to work though. The second game has some cursory thought provoking moments, though its main storyline falls flat at the end.

    2) The prequel movies contain some great material that unfortunately wasn’t enough to overcome the movies’ pervasive problems and weaknesses. Qui-Gon Jinn and his history with the Jedi Council should have been more thoroughly fleshed out. It was clear that he and the council had previously had some major disagreements which resulted in their overlooking him for a council seat. What were they? Why was it that Jinn was the one who found and recognized Anakin as the potential fulfillment of a prophesy and the council was blind to it? (The council’s rigid initial insistence on following crystallized protocol/policy, or the fact that Anakin did not come by way of “official channels”, perhaps.)

    I have other thoughts but I’ll leave end it here before this post gets too long and unwieldly

  19. I have KOTOR but I am terrified of it taking over my life. I am sad that such a thing did not exist when I was 9. Can you imagine?

  20. Star Wars was such a profound influence on those of us of that era. I’m about the same age as RJH, and his timeline synchs up to my own.

    I debated how i would share Star Wars with my kids. I ended up deciding to ignore the prequels as much as possible. My kids each watched the digitally enhanced VHS of the original trilogy at a young age. The only thing that ever bugged me was the Han shooting 2nd seen. By the way it isn’t “Han shot first” its “Han shot.” There was no first, Greedo never got a shot off at all.

    As an amusing aside regarding the singer in Jabba’s palace. In the car my son kept asking for “the Star Wars song” to be played. We had no idea what he was talking about until the song showed up randomly in the playlist. The song was Mercy, by Duffy. It actually works pretty well for the scene. We now always call it “The Star Wars Song” when it comes on.

    My kids have seen TPM, but I have forbidden the other two prequels. Instead, I played through Lego Star Wars with them so they could get a sense of the story from start to finish. Speaking of the prequels, I have some serious issues with the way the Jedi treated Anakin’s mom. No wonder the guy blew a fuse. I have even more issues with Padme’s character in Episode 3, there is very little if anything redeeming there.

    I wish the prequels had been done by someone other than George Lucas. I have some reserved hopes for JJ’s telling of Episode 7. Hopefully its at least good enough, I can take my kids t it.

  21. David Brin’s book “Star Wars on Trial” has some very interesting discussion about Yoda, or as Brin calls him “that vicious little oven mitt”. If you have never thought of Yoda as evil or to be generous, misguided, the book will open your eyes to a new way of looking at Yoda and the atrophy that is the Jedi Council in TPM. I never considered it before, but it makes TPM much more interesting to watch when viewing through that heretical filter.

  22. The ninja Yoda is the worst thing Lucas did in the prequels. There, I said it. The worst.

  23. it made a mockery of everything Yoda was — didn’t Lucas remember Yoda in Empire?

  24. By the way, I agree with Ronan on Shadows of the Empire.

  25. Our family was excited for the prequels, but when young Anakin wins the pod race, not because he is such a hot shot pilot, but BECAUSE HE WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO DIDN’T CRASH AND BURN, the magic was left the atmosphere. And then I laughed out loud at the theater in Episode 2 when HC and NP have what I call their “Sound of Music” moment (remember them coming over the grassy hill with the swelling music?). At that point, I lost my faith, which was only confirmed the previous messing around with the OT (Han’s ridiculous unnatural defensive jerk when Greedo shoots, and H*****C********* appearing at the end of Jedi). I have hopes that JJ Abrams can rescue this epic mythos from the hands of the greedy heretics, raised on the Gospel of Lucas. And I always thought the M************ in TPM was a direct import from Calvinism.

  26. ~sigh~ “the magic left the atmosphere”

  27. I love KoTOR- bet thing to come out of Star Wars since ROTJ. The Heir to the Empire Trilogy is a close second. Do not start me on those non-canonical prequels. I will not have that in my home.

  28. J**J** was definitely an import from Calvinism.

  29. I think the worst point was in the movie where they went back in time to save the whales and Spock wore a headband to cover his ears.

  30. Many people here sound like they wanted more from the text and its author than they could reasonably be expected to provide. As is usually the case when faith meet disappointment, disappointment wins out.

  31. Star Trek is, and always has been, superior. Stop worshipping the golden calf!

  32. Ronan, a perfect example of this Correlation effect has just been brought to my attention in the Old Testament manual (where, frankly, much of our Correlation impetus takes place as we almost neurotically try to go in an provide ad hoc explanations for bizarre or disturbing events and things recorded or narrated there to make sense for our society and moral sensibilities at the present time).

    Chapter 11 in the manual contains this gem:

    In Genesis 35:22, Bilhah, one of Rachel’s handmaids, is referred to as Jacob’s concubine. Elder Bruce R. McConkie provided the following explanation of the use of the term concubine in the Old Testament:

    “All down through the history of God’s dealings with his people, including those with the house of Israel, concubines were legal wives married to their husbands in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. … Anciently they were considered to be secondary wives, that is, wives who did not have the same standing in the caste system then prevailing as did those wives who were not called concubines” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 154). (emphasis added)

    This is a similar example to the way the Wookipedia folks and the EU felt there was a need to retrofit and provide a “correlated” explanation for the Cave on Dagobah and explain “why” there could be such a strong presence of the Dark Side in that cave. (Nevermind that it was a Kobayashi Maru type test bespoke for Luke by his ancient master Yoda.)

    As to the Elder McConkie quote — the answer to why he made that statement is simply Correlation — the impulse to try to collate everything into one harmonious piece when reality and history manifestly are not structured that way. It’s obvious that in this case, Elder McConkie was trying to harmonize Old Testament practices with D&C 132, which acknowledges that many people in ancient times had many concubines in addition to their wives but that it did not count against them as sin because God allowed it. D&C 132, however, does NOT say that the concubines were “legal wives married to their husbands in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” Wives and concubines are different. They are different words with different meanings. The word “concubine” in the Old Testament means what it means. We lose something when we try to artificially smooth over the messiness of events and history by redefining words like this.

    An ancillary point: it is unfortunate that this piece of speculation from McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine is included in the current Old Testament manual (which was published in 2001). As is widely known, President McKay was opposed to McConkie publishing that book of his personal doctrinal speculations under the title “Mormon Doctrine” as if the opinions printed therein represented official doctrine of the LDS Church and Restored Gospel. President McKay assigned Elder Mark E. Petersen to review it and between the two of them, they had found more than 1,000 errors, and President McKay had requested Elder McConkie not to publish it.

    In fact, one could argue that much or most of Elder McConkie’s corpus of writings is a coherent systematic apologetic for a type of hierarchical worldview stretching back into the pre-existence and constructed specifically around support for the (now firmly disavowed) speculation that buttressed the priesthood ban. In other words, much of the speculation weaving through Mormon Doctrine and Elder McConkie’s other voluminous writings, for example particularly his 1967 A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, constitutes an explicit apologetic attempting to buttress the logic that justified the priesthood ban: the speculation that some people were less valiant or earnest or enthusiastic in siding with Christ in the War in Heaven than others and therefore “merited” disadvantages ranging from racial inferiority to injustice to being born into a low caste on earth.

    This is evident in the quote above from Chapter 11 of the Manual in this very disturbing sentence: “Anciently they were considered to be secondary wives, that is, wives who did not have the same standing in the caste system then prevailing as did those wives who were not called concubines.” Elder McConkie exhibits no moral condemnation of this state of affairs in this chillingly clinical observation. It is as if no objective morality exists under which separating people into different classes and being secondary citizens is wrong no matter what societal norms prevail. But being a secondary wife in the “caste system” (which other selections in Mormon Doctrine show that Elder McConkie justified through the same logic he implemented to buttress the priesthood ban) fits into this coherent systematic apologetic speculation: these women who ended up as concubines merited this lower status in earth life because of their supposed lesser valiance in the War in Heaven.

    In 1978, however, Elder McConkie specifically said to forget everything that had been said before on the subject of the priesthood race ban because it had been said without the further light and knowledge that had now been received in 1978. Should this not be interpreted to include the whole framework of his and others’ systematic apologetic buttressing the speculations that justified the priesthood ban (e.g. “fencesitters in the War in Heaven”)? This would encompass much of, perhaps most of, Elder McConkie’s pre-1978 writings, at least such writings pertaining to such speculations or the overall apologetic framework into which such speculations had been incorporated as a way to “explain” myriad social injustices and moral evils present in the world.

    Now, after the Church’s release of its December 2013 statement about the priesthood race ban, it is no longer a matter of “how should I interpret Elder McConkie’s statement to forget everything that had been said before 1978 on the matter?” — now the Church has much more directly and forcefully than ever before specifically disavowed any and all such speculation that had previously been taught (by Elder McConkie and many other General Authorities) as immutable doctrine, including in a 1949 First Presidency Statement, no less. This must also apply to the whole speculative systematic apologetic construct stemming from the theory about people being less valiant in the War in Heaven as an explanation and justification for racism and inequality on earth.

    As such, the 1966 quote from Mormon Doctrine seems very out of place as input for this Gospel Doctrine lesson in Chapter 11 of the 2001 manual. Since it is primarily accessible online, that material should be removed from the manual so that it is not included in people’s lessons going forward.

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