My brother and I were out on a soccer field playing with our sons. It was a special time, but not particularly memorable.
Then I got a message on my phone. It became a moment I won’t forget. The second trailer for the new Star Wars movie had just been released. We stopped playing soccer and all watched my phone in silence.
In so many ways there is nothing special about it. Special effects are no longer special in the digital age. Twenty-six simple words are spoken; the longest sentence is seven words. It features an unknown actor and an old pro.
It’s a bit like the Bible: if you don’t get the narrative, most of it will be lost on you. To the one who does not have, even what little they have will be taken away from them.
Here are the 26 words in the trailer: ‘The Force is strong in my family. My Father had it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power, too,” says Luke Skywalker, who is unseen. Then, at the end, after seeing the Millennium Falcon dodge some Tie Fighters, Han Solo turns to Chewbacca and says, “Chewie, We’re home”.
To those who have, more will be given. Right now, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens is playing in theatres.
Yet this seventh instalment of the Star Wars series raises many questions. Why, almost 40 years since the first movie came out, do so many people eagerly await the release of the new one in a way that seems unparalleled with any other movie franchise?
Of all the things that happened in the ’70s, and of all the movies that could have captured the popular imagination, why has this series become a such a pop culture phenomenon?
Why is it that Star Wars seems to define an entire generation (of boys at least) in the way The Beatles and Harry Potter perhaps define others?
And should Christian parents be concerned about a series of movies that are fantasy, and seem to assume the existence of almost occult-like spiritual powers?
Of course, for Star Wars fans the big question is: now that George Lucas has relinquished control of the franchise to Disney, and J.J. Abrams has been appointed as director, will The Force Awakens be as captivating as the original trilogy, or as disappointing as the prequels released at the turn of the millennium?
The answer to each of these questions, in one way or another, relates to the strength of the narrative established by the first two movies. The original Star Wars film was marked by unmatched (at the time) special effects, good humour, a better score, some killer lines and swashbuckling fights.
But it was the simple plot of the good underdog dressed in white overcoming the evil and seemingly ultimate bad guy dressed in black that made the fun and fantasy carry some significance.
But when, in the sequel (The Empire Strikes Back), the bad guy was revealed to be the father of the good guy, the damsel who’d been in distress was his daughter, and the bad guy seemed to have all but won but at least the kids hadn’t given in, Star Wars touched on themes which resonated so deeply that even after the four reasonably ordinary movies that followed, the potency of the original epic remains.
That the movies were set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” masked the obvious fact that it was fiction and the Force isn’t real. Yet the fact its major theme was the quest for justice through good triumphing over evil (personally and collectively) made it fiction Christians could cheer about and, indeed, even identify with.
It is generally agreed that what made the prequel movies less impressive than the original trilogy was that they relied too much on dazzling digital effects – which, ironically, got boring; the narrative was weak. In short, to the fans, George Lucas had too much to do with them.
This is why the same fans are excited about The Force Awakens.
My brother and I literally gasp as Harrison Ford finishes saying, “Chewie, we’re home”. For a moment we are all in stunned silence, and then we go delirious.
The experience of being captivated by a Star Wars sequel. I have had it. My brother has had it. Now our sons will have it, too.