2020/07/20

Moral Grandeur

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Star Wars is dead, the Witches who've co-opted the franchise hate us, and you know my take on supporting such.

That said, one of my mutuals on Twitter recently steered me toward an Orthodox archbishop's review of Return of the Jedi.

This review was written during the movie's original run, soon after His Eminence watched it in the theater. His keen theological explication of what I suspect were George Lucas' accidental spiritual insights gave me a new appreciation of the original trilogy's moral value.

Just as importantly, the Archbishop's glowing assessment of the original trilogy's sublime spiritual lessons drive home exactly how much the Death Cultists at Disney have taken from us. The vandals' evil is directly inverse to the splendor of the beauty they've defaced.
The basic plot of the Star Wars series is simple: an evil dictator has conquered a small galaxy and abolished its former pan-galactic democracy. He is proclaimed emperor, and his forces are attempting to destroy the remaining resistance to his rule. While the general battles are fought with standard science fiction weaponry, this is only the superficial part of the story, because the actual battle is being fought in the human conscience and will. Surprisingly, delightfully, the real story is one of the immense struggle between the dark and the good side of that universal nature of which man is a part - the fallen nature of man and the universe. In the movie series, this nature is called "the force." In many reviews, "the force" has been interpreted as an unsavoury parody of God. After a careful examination of the real plot of the Star Wars series, however, I was led toward the conclusion that "the force" is that universal nature, and that the whole theme of the movie and the energies of the plot line are directed at the struggle within the fallen nature between co-operation with the dark side of that nature or with its "light" side that law of contradiction which Apostle Paul speaks of as warring within us, and upon which Orthodox monasticism is based.
His Eminence's interpretation of the Force as a universal nature instead of a pantheist deity resolved an apparent contradiction within Lucas' world building that always rankled me. Yoda and Kenobi consistently refer to the Force as contingent, not absolute; therefore it can't be God, and the Jedi way can't be a religion in the proper sense.

But if the Light Side of the Force is viewed as nature perfected by grace, and the Dark Side is fallen nature in thrall to the powers of sin and Satan, the mystical and moral framework clicks into place.
The hero of the series is Luke Skywalker, a pure, highly moral young man who is a true hero, rather than the modern anti-hero image so often lauded in contemporary films. He remains a virgin throughout the film and his growth in spiritual leadership and strength is directly linked with this. The main hero-anti-hero of the series, Han Solo, is reformed and gradually converted to nobility by the direct influence of Luke Skywalker's moral purity and self-sacrificing love.
Making the Jedi explicitly celibate is one ingenious background element Lucas doesn't get nearly enough credit for. The prequel critics who sneered, "tEh JeDi cAn'T ScReW!?" and the pop cultists who whined, "Why no Mara Jade in TLJ?" both missed the necessity of Luke's virginity to his moral core.

The fact that a leftover hippie somehow wrote an iconic hero who refutes the keystone of the Sexual Revolution qualifies as a minor miracle.
Jaba himself, a veritable symbol of gluttony, is a page from The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St John of the Ladder described him well, and accurately predicted his ultimate condition. This gross degenerate enslaves shapely women and forces them to dance nearly nude on the end of a chain. Then, instead of taking sexual advantage of them, he fulfills his passions by casting them through a glass top trap door and watching in lascivious delight while the monstrous beast devours them in a most agonizing manner. The close relationship between gluttony and inner depravity is clearly portrayed, the link between unbridled passions and hideous sadism, sexual passions and death and torture are dramatically set forth. Jaba the Hut is the very personification of the passions of the fallen nature. He and his minions are practically a summary of the teachings of the desert fathers, and particularly of St John of the Ladder, on the subject. At last, Raithau, the troublesome "Step 5" of The Ladder of Divine Ascent seems supremely reasonable. Jaba and his domain of depraved passions is finally destroyed by Luke Skywalker. Brother Luke ascends another stage toward true monasticism, toward becoming a true Jedi - receiving the spiritual skhema.
Spiritual discipline and holy virginity defeat gluttony and avarice. The fact that this victory over vice  concludes Act I of RotJ makes me wonder how much Lucas really did understand about spiritual warfare.
Luke is convinced that Darth Vader, the deluded and corrupted former "Jedi" has enough of a moral conscience left within him to be redeemed. The sense of the value of rescuing and healing this cruel, unyielding enemy totally overcomes any feelings vengefulness or hatred which might have been lurking in Luke's own soul. When the dying Elder Yoda, in his cell deep in the northern forest, reveals to Luke that Darth Vader is actually his father, and that he and the emperor have planned to trap Luke and pervert him to the service of the evil force also, Luke is filled not with hatred or a sense of physical self-preservation, but with a wave of compassion and love. He is told that he must fight Vader to the death, but his response is to offer his life to redeem his father from bondage to the evil side. Luke surrenders himself to Vader and is taken before the emperor. The tense scenes that follow are magnificent. How can the emperor enslave Luke to the service of the dark force? By causing him to yield to his passions, by leading him to transform his love for his companions in the resistance to an act of hatred and vengefulness. The emperor, like his master, the evil-one, can afford to be hated, since one who yields to hatred and vengeance is already his servant even while he hates him.
Just popping in to note that diagnosing the sin that caused Vader's fall as delusion--a type of fatalism that led him to despair--rings true. Listen to how often he talks about "destiny", specifically to deny any hope of redemption.
The emperor tries to provoke Luke to take his weapon (a "light sabre" - a kind of laser device) and either attack him or Vader. Finally, when Vader attacks Luke in a fury of frustration, Luke dispassionately defends himself, being careful not to injure or take advantage of Vader. During the fight, he attempts to awaken in Vader the hidden moral conscience that he instinctively knows is there. Though we cannot at first see it, Luke does not fail.
The fight ceases. It has no advantage to the emperor because Luke is only defending himself without passions. Now, Vader and Luke are out of earshot of the emperor. He does not hear Vader say, "If we cannot corrupt you, then we will easily be able to corrupt your sister. Hearing this, Luke lunges into renewed battle with great strength. The emperor who did not hear the conversation, beams in lascivious delight. "Ah, young Skywaker has yielded to the passions," he thinks "He is fighting from anger and vengefulness. He is ours now!" But the emperor's defeat is sealed. He does not understand that Luke is fighting now from co-suffering love - he is laying down his own life for the moral safety of his sister - not for her physical life, but for her spiritual life, for the sake of her soul. Darth Vader does realize this, and the overwhelming moral force of the fact finally converts him. When the emperor comes to realize what is taking place and steps in to kill Luke, Darth Vader once more becomes a father, and gives his own life to save Luke. He kills the emperor, but is mortally wounded.
Greater love has no man than this ...
In the closing scene of the film, the allies are celebrating their final victory - not entirely aware that the victory was actually won by Luke Skywalker's defeat of the passions in his own life, and his ultimate choice of co-suffering love over the temptations of power, anger and malice. Luke observes the worldly celebrations from a distance - he is disconnected from all this, dispassionate, already on a higher plane, his moral grandeur and virginity intact, he has become a "Jedi", a true monk. He has received the Skhema and the real victories in his galaxy will be won by him, and those who may follow him.
Time and again we see that the real battle is fought and won on the moral level. It was the irresistible moral force of Luke's self-emptying love that redeemed Anakin. Only by embracing and living such sacrificial love after the model of Christ can we defeat those who hate us for His sake.

The Death Cult knows it, too. That's why they spent billions to mar this iconic trilogy--especially the Christ figure's triumph at the end.
He is now the Elder. As he turns his back on the festivities, he sees in an aura a vision of his sainted Elder, Yoda, his spiritual father Kenobi who, after his own self-sacrificing death, became Luke's patron saint, and Luke's father, Darth Vader - all smiling benevolently. Darth Vader with the two saints? Of course, for such is the power of repentance, such is that love which grants to him who wrought from the eleventh hour together with those who wrought from the first.
The Death Cult cannot countenance a redemptive ending like this, because in their twisted cosmology there is no and can be no forgiveness. That is why their imitation of Star Wars was both a clumsy remake of the first trilogy and a cynical hollowing out of it at the same time.

And Star Wars is far from the Cult's only victim. They're sullying and degrading every speck of beauty in Christendom.

But as the Archbishop shows, the minions of the Evil One can be stopped. Doing so will require you, me, and all Christians to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Christ.

Once the great moral victory is won, our temporal enemies will fall like dominoes.

41 comments:

  1. I liked the Luke/Mara relationship, as well as some other stories that fall apart with universal celibacy (Nomi Sunrider), but if you're going to highlight the Jedi as spiritual figures, celibacy really is a good idea at the very least. Unfortunately, Lucas' implementation in the Prequels tended too far towards Buddhist detachment and Gnostic contempt for the material world (hints of this go back to Empire), rather than Christian renunciation of a lesser good for a greater one.

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    1. A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are the only Star Wars.

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    2. That's where you're wrong, kiddo:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRLyJ2g3d0M

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    3. I also want to give some props to the original Clone Wars series. You could also add some of the video games and Zahn stories into the Star Wars mythos. As for films though, I think the original trilogy is all you need.

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  2. Ironically, given how thoroughly The Last Jedi worked on debunking the Jedi, and Luke especially, as moral and spiritual guides, I'm surprised they didn't go with "Luke was a 'love them and leave them' sort" in the film or the ancillary material, given that 'fans' seem to think that's permitted under Jedi rules.

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    1. It's not ironic. They turned Luke into an effigy of their presumed "basement-dwelling incel" fan base.

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    2. Ah, good point. I think I was bringing too many of my own assumptions to the table about "how to denigrate and slander Luke Skywalker and the Jedi," forgetting the long tradition in Hollywood SF (thank you, Gene Roddenberry) of casual, loveless sex being held up as the ideal.

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  3. "It was the irresistible moral force of Luke's self-emptying love that redeemed Anakin."

    Another point that Lucas doesn't get nearly enough credit for is the contrast between Luke's love for his father and Anakin's love for Padme. Luke's is fundamentally selfless and self-emptying; Anakin's is fundamentally selfish and possessive. Listen to how many times Anakin uses "I" when talking about Padme.

    In another irony, one of the best quick takes on this subject came from a stronghold of the Death Cult: Wizards of the Coast, in their [i]Dark Side Sourcebook[/i] from 2001. (Although that was written by Bill Slavicsek, who more or less ran both the early WEG and WotC Star Wars game lines.)

    "A character who acts out of love is in no danger of falling to the Dark Side, but a character who acts out of the [i]need[/i] for love risks everything."

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  4. "Yoda and Kenobi consistently refer to the Force as contingent, not absolute"

    And Robot Chicken justly lampooned them:

    https://youtu.be/pSOBeD1GC_Y

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    1. The whole point of His Eminence's review, and my post, is that such lampooning is not justified.

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  5. While the Archbishop makes great points, I think there is indeed a hint of passion in the fight between Luke and Vader after the moment in which Vader hints at corrupting Luke's sister. The battle with the passion ultimately ends when Luke comes back to his senses having cut off the cybernetic hand of Darth Vader and he realizes once more his own falleness. That is when Luke throws the lightsaber away refusing to kill Vader.

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    1. That beat strikes me as Lucas' synchretistic flirting with Buddhism muddying the waters. Righteous anger per se is not a sin.

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    2. The disputing readings of this scene were what provoked the digging up of this review in the first place. Lucas' intent appears to have been Luke walking on the edge of the Dark Side, but there is room to take it the other way.

      (Hey, if we can get told that "Frodo & Sam are gay!" is a legitimate reading of the text, why not turn it around on them? I should write up my allegorical reading of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe … :) )

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    3. It's why I've stopped trying to jam anything pop culture into Christianity. So much more beneficial to read the saints and the Scriptures instead. Though Tolkien was explicitly Catholic.

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    4. The good thing about the Inklings is that there's no need to read Christianity into their work, because they worked from a Christian worldview. Even in Williams, who is obscure and esoteric compared to Lewis and Tolkien, I can find the Christian understanding of virtue and vice, damnation and salvation.

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  6. This is terrific but I think the prequels favor the Buddhist interpretation.

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    1. Which is why I maintain that the original three films are the only real Star Wars stories.

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    2. By the time of the prequels, Lucas had developed an ambivalence towards the fictional universe he created. That's why you get self-absorbed Jedi, a Republic that tolerates a gangster running a planet, and a space queen who can't even raise a little money to buy the mom of the kid who saved her planet out of slavery. George didn't like the world that refused to let him pretend he was still a rebel film maker. So yeah, the original 3 are the real Star Wars.

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    3. Chris,

      So the Prequels are a symptom of the Bommers' inability to let go of their revolutionary self-image?

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    4. In Lucas' case it certainly is. There are a number of interviews where Lucas complained about becoming the corporate guy he despised in his youth. That kind of attitude has to infect the creative process (at least subconsciously) and find its way into the story.

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  7. I have a theory that fans who like the prequels or sequels have simply never read or watched any other sword and planet or space opera story.

    Their flaws are even more pronounced when you've seen the roots of the genre the original movies were drawing from.

    They aren't just bad on a narrative level--they are a betrayal of the medium itself.

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    1. There's a good story at the base of the Prequels if you can mine it out of the bad dialogue and faux-profundity, and enough ear and eye candy to make them enjoyable on that level.

      I offer no defense of the sequels.

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    2. Although on reflection, the Prequels only work as space opera as an attempt at backstory for the Original Trilogy--they're too dark to stand on their own. This is part of the problem with the Sequel Trilogy, and I was picking up on it as early as the TFA novelization.

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    3. It's genuinely sad to hear otherwise based and red pilled Zoomers gushing over objectively ugly and soulless entertainment product like the Marvel films, gangsta rap, and current AAA video games.

      As you alluded to, JD, this isn't a case of crotchety old folks shaking their heads at these young whippersnappers and their loud rock music. We have the originals that their empty, 97th generation copies are pale imitations of.

      In many ways, the Zoomers came up during a cultural Dark Age. They don't even know what was forgotten.

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    4. Mr. Niemeier, at what point did Mr. Cowan or ML Martin mention the Zoomers? Am I missing something?

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    5. That's why we have to teach it to them. Don't give your kids the same kind of crappy books that schools make them read; give them Burroughs. Give them Baum. Give them Lang's Colored Fairy Books. Give them Homer, even. Then grab the original Flash Gordon serial, available in its entirety for free on the Internet Archive, and let them watch some real sci-fi swashbuckling adventure.

      I had a talk with my twelve-year-old son about the new trilogy. He started with The Phantom Movie and watched them chronologically. He liked TFA (Totally Friggin' Awful) and watched The Lost Jedi. I didn't finish that one because it was so horrible.

      Anyway, we're walking the dogs and I asked him, 'Which character in the new Star Wars movies is most like you?' He thought about it for a moment, then realized that he didn't identify with any of the characters at all. The closest he could get was Poe. I asked him, 'What did Poe do in the movie as a hero?' Again, he had no answer. It was an eye-opening conversation. Now he understands why the new movies suck so bad.

      One step at a time, but he's coming around. Next up: We finish watching the Batman (1966) movie, then on the weekend it's The Adventures of Robin Hood, Errol-Flynn style. I'll learn him good yet.

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  8. bUt jOhN c. wRiGhT DiDn'T LiKe the last jedi, AnD He'S SmArTeR ThAn yOu.

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-KEvhG6QtOGc/VXjVLPSRxlI/AAAAAAAAlTc/e_BzDjAgAio/s1600/John_C_Wright.jpg

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    1. You are confusing Return of the Jedi with The Last Jedi, which John C. Wright is exactly correct about.

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    2. He said that he gave it a pass "because of speeder bike chase scenes," but I'll let you be the judge:

      http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/12/the-force-awakens-and-hits-the-snooze-button/

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    3. Wow. I'm not John C. Wright's keeper. I've had some very nasty disagreements with the man.

      But this is straight up dishonest. John has talked about RotJ many times on the blog; as I do read him regularly, I will indeed "be the judge". He is absolutely correct that it is the worst film of the OT. He is absolutely correct that it is hugely flawed.

      The ewoks were a terrible idea from the start. Leia as Luke's sister was a terrible lazy way to resolve the love triangle. The length of time Like was training to when he rescued Leia was left deliberately vague because Lucas didn't have a clear timeline. What the movie did right were, yes, speeder bike chase scenes as well as it's handling of the main conflict between Luke and Vader.

      Now, if you read John regularly, and see him interact in the comments, you in fact would know that John is a big fan of RotJ and has praised the interaction between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor as being exceptionally well done.

      Now John did not see all of this Christian theology in there, true. Most people didn't! Or not explicitly. That's the reason Brian shared the post!

      I don't know what John did to make you mad but maybe don't mock random people who are on your side because they offhandedly criticized a movie you like.

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    4. I'm not Mr. Wright's keeper, either. If I can post a link to Mr. Wright speaking badly about THE LAST JEDI, then why can't you link me to a comment in which John explicitly expresses his huge fondness for RoTJ (post 2015)? Literally nothing but the speeder bike comment in the OP implies that Mr. Wright is a "huge fan."

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    5. Because I'm not going to dig through John's comments to White Knight on his behalf; however, as a regular reader, what you did was not honest.

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    6. Not to mention, all of those criticisms I gave are real and accurate issues with a flawed movie.

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    7. May 2020

      "And the stories are boring and badly crafted. Compare the magnificently satisfying plot-twist and death of Emperor Palatine in Return of the Jedi with the silly chump-death of Snoke in Last Jedi."

      http://www.scifiwright.com/2020/05/uncreativity/

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    8. I hate to be autistic about this, so this is what I will post. Regardless of whether or not Mr. Wright likes a movie as a whole, as opposed to bits and pieces, I am aware that people can change how they feel about media. It is also correct that I am out of the loop, because I have not kept up with Mr. Wright since 2018.

      This is precisely why I am thanking Mr. Luke for "white-knighting" for Mr. Wright. Whenever I insult a man, I prefer to insult him with accuracy—even over something as frivolous as a movie that I don't even enjoy anymore. It is never good to libel a man who has not the presence to defend himself, and this goes doubly for a brother in Christ like Mr. Wright.

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  9. Modern movies come in two flavors:
    a) Nihilistic, depressing crap everyone pretends to like for being edgy and 'realistic.'
    b) Movies about heroes written by people who don't know what makes heroes heroic. They wear Christian morality like a skin suit.

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    1. "They wear Christian morality like a skin suit."

      They do. Because there's no alternative.

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  10. As is often the case with staggering works of heartbreaking genius, Lucas' muse wrote better than almost any of us realized.

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    1. Tom Simon has a pretty darn good analysis of why the prequels didn't work well where the OT mostly did. I think it's also relevant to the discussion: http://bondwine.com/2013/03/12/creative-discomfort-and-star-wars/

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    2. Like most of his pop culture analyses, Mr. Simon's diagnosis of the prequels' ills is on point.

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