Christianity Today’s Readers Pick… Well, Duh….

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And, for those who like to play Guess the Oscars, you can compare your picks and preferences with me and my CT colleagues….

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  • Peter T Chattaway

    I’ll understand if casual moviegoers are frustrated by “Expanded Universe” explanations, but it seems that the movies are simply the core of the story now, not the sum of it.

    Ah, well, as I explain here, one of the few things I love about the prequels is the way they have spat in the eye of certain aspects of the “expanded universe”!

  • Peter T Chattaway

    In “Empire Strike Back,” Yoda tries to stop Luke from saving his friends, saying that the Dark Side will consume him. Yet it is precisely those acts, and those in the final movie, that save the galaxy. If Lucas did not mean for us to be somewhat conflicted about the Jedi, there would have been no reason to include those lines. So I think we’re meant to see Luke as neither fish nor fowl — he ends the Dark Side’s presence, but also disobeys the creed of the Jedi.

    I agree, pretty much. As I have written in a number of places (e.g. here), one of the things that surprised me about these prequels — especially Episode II — is how they have underscored the fact that Luke’s rebellion against the instructions he got from Yoda and Obi-Wan was a good thing. Yoda’s suggestion that Luke should “sacrifice Han and Leia” was just an extension of the deeply erroneous “attachments are bad” philosophy espoused by the Jedi Order — and it is because Luke places his “attachment” to Han and Leia over Yoda’s orders, and because he discovers that Vader is his father, and because he therefore harps on his “attachment” to his father and thereby saves his father’s soul, that the prophecy comes true and the Force is balanced in the end.

    The thing is, while Yoda is obviously a hinderance to the balance of the Force, and while Yoda is definitely part of the problem that needs to be resolved, Lucas insists on depicting Yoda as wise and good and virtuous, etc. When Yoda gives his speech to Anakin about attachments leading to jealousy and death being a natural part of life, I do not think Lucas is expecting us to think, “Gosh, Yoda, your dogmatism on this point is just pushing Anakin even closer to the Dark Side!” I may have to see this scene again, but I remember thinking we were supposed to be receiving Yoda’s words as some sort of wisdom.

  • Brian Friesen

    A few thoughts on characterization that come from the questions above:

    One of the (few) complex character developments I liked in Episode 3 has to do with Obi-Wan. He, more than any of the other Jedi, is capable of the kind of desire, compassion and grief that the audience needs to relate emotionally to this story. There seems to be a real struggle in Obi-Wan to achieve the kind of desireless state of, say, Mace Windu or even Yoda. What are we to make of the difference between Yoda’s and Obi-Wan’s responses to the killing of the younglings? Yoda is as close to cool acceptance of Anakin’s “conversion” and actions as the viewing audience might be able to tolerate. Obi-Wan, however, presumably wages an internal battle as much as an external one with regard to his former apprentice. Lucas might have developed the complexity of Obi-Wan’s struggle a bit more. The less Jedi-like Obi-Wan is with regard to his duty, the more interesting his character. The same is true of Yoda, who stoops for a moment to lament his failure. The more that love (or at least, desire) works in Obi-Wan or Yoda, the more interesting they are and the deeper the sense of loss in the story (for of course, this episode is meant to be a very tragic part of the overall story). Since desire is the stuff of drama, characters can largly be defined by their desires and by what internal or external barriers exist between these desires and the fulfillment of them. Love is O so much more interesting than the achievement of desirelessness. Characters are often only as interesting as their desires are interesting. Anakin’s desire for Amidala is in conflict with his ambition and his desire for power.
    The success of the characterization largely depends on how interesting these desires are to the viewer, and how well the conflicts are played out. Somehow, along with Obi-Wan, I was able to see and feel some of the tragedy of Anakin’s choices, especially in light of his final choices in Return of the Jedi.
    And yet, it is ironic how absolutely conclusive (even judgemental) Lucas is able to be with regard to his characters in this episode compared to the other Star Wars films.

    My desire for a more human Obi-Wan speaks to the even greater need for more earthy characterizations in all three prequels. These films desperately need a Han Solo or other such character that aims more closely for an “every man” that we can root for. Gungans fall too far on the slapstick side to be sympathetic. How much sorrow can we muster for deaths of the passionless, sterile Jedi? I can never quite get over the sense, in almost all these prequel characters, that I am watching the doings of officials exercising varying levels of officiousness and who are limmited by their various roles. If any of these characters had been frozen in carbonite, would we have cared?

    I was never so moved in this film as when that one youngling fought back against the clone troops with a lightsaber. Kids with lightsabers! Would it have been too much to ask that this kid (or a few others) be able to survive? (Presumably, since Obi-Wan was able to stop the deceptive message from being transmitted from the Jedi temple, there are other Jedi who did not fall into the trap and ended up surviving.) Why not (briefly) follow a couple of these kids?

    Perhaps I am getting too far afield from the larger story that needs to be told, but I am looking for a way into these films – a way they might have gotten under my skin more than they have. As it is, I am ready to move on when I would rather be compelled to watch them again.

    On a different note, I was quite surprised at how unconvincing some of the CGI was in this film (lava planet). Lucas has milked *mis en scene* about as far as he can here: the more stuff you can cram into the frame, the better. Partly, this brings a certain innocence to the movie, harkening back to the era of silent films. On the other hand, the stuff you don’t actually see within the frame is often the most compelling. The suggestion that happens in *montage* is eschewed in these prequels in favor of showing it all: creating a different kind of wonder than that offered by the sharper edges of mystery…

  • Thom

    Someone on Peter David’s board suggested “Sipha Dious = Sidious (sound them out.)” in regards to who ordered the clone army.

    There are also suggestions that Leia is better at seeing the past than Luke(Luke only sees future in 4-6). Oure conjecture, but not absolutely absurd either, as someone pointed out-she doesn’t remember picnics or anything with her mother.

  • W.A.S.

    FYI – The mystery of Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas is covered in the novel Labyrinth of Evil by James Luceno. I’ll understand if casual moviegoers are frustrated by “Expanded Universe” explanations, but it seems that the movies are simply the core of the story now, not the sum of it.

  • tWB

    I think the argument that the Jedi are not, ultimately, the “good guys” in Lucas’ arc is correct. To deal with question (3) (on the “absolutes”), I think that a “close reading” of the arc (which I do think it merits on the grand themes, even if Lucas obviously contradicts details between the two series) sets up a conflict between ethical systems.

    Again and again, we hear the strange prophecy that Darth Vader (nee Anakin) will “bring balance to the Force.” This can be read in two different ways: first, he fulfills this prophecy by killing off virtually all the Jedi and bringing the Sith back to dominance after what one assumes is a very long time in the wilderness. But to buy this argument, we have to assume that Lucas is essentially morally-neutral on religious genocide and fascism, which I don’t believe is merited by his obvious emotional involvement in the idea of democratic decline and fall.

    If bringing about the ascent of the Empire is not Vader’s primary destiny, then the only other destiny must be his relationship with Luke, which is borne out by interviews with Lucas. But what does Luke do that “restores balance?” He destroys the Empire and (presumably) recreates the Jedi order, but that just puts us back where we were around Episode I.

    I suspect that Lucas set up the conflict between the Light and Dark as a conflict between deontic and teleologic ethics respectively. The Jedi are exceptionally concerned with the morality of actions-in-themselves (and “good” Jedi are supposed to know the difference innately), whereas the Sith look to the ends to justify their means (e.g., Vader telling Luke that together they can restore order to the galaxy). Neither side is in balance, because they have taken conflicting and ultimately insufficient views on ethics.

    As we see the Jedi in Eps. I and II (and, I assume, III), they’re powerless to prevent the fall of the Republic, and in fact end up triggering it. The Sith, on the other hand, end up creating a fascist state in the pursuit of order. I believe that Lucas’ point is that deontological ethics are unable by nature to prevent unwanted outcomes, whereas teleological ethics do not have the moral grounding necessary to prevent immoral acts.

    In “Empire Strike Back,” Yoda tries to stop Luke from saving his friends, saying that the Dark Side will consume him. Yet it is precisely those acts, and those in the final movie, that save the galaxy. If Lucas did not mean for us to be somewhat conflicted about the Jedi, there would have been no reason to include those lines. So I think we’re meant to see Luke as neither fish nor fowl — he ends the Dark Side’s presence, but also disobeys the creed of the Jedi.

    But what Luke displays is individual virtue; his actions are not always in accordance with whatever the Jedi way is, but he triumphs because, in a sense, his heart is pure — he is Parsifal redeeming the wasteland (and some of Wagner’s more annoying sexual metaphors are present in Lucas, too). Thus, we see in Luke a balance in the Force that privileges virtue above the sterile realm of deontics and the dangerous slope of teleologics.

    So, do the Jedi deal in absolutes? Certainly. How to explain Lucas’ dialogue? It’s a swipe at the current political situation, which he sees as dangerously similar to that which America was coming out of when he made the first movie in his arc. This disrupts our close reading, but sometimes we have to accept that an artist’s jigsaw pieces just don’t fit as snugly as we like.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Actually, Jeff, this series has become so muddled that I actually don’t care to sort through some of the various theories and whatnot. However, I shall jump in where certain assertions can be easily proved or disproved…

    6) Leia probably remembers a wetnurse or similar nanny which she mistakens as a memory of her mother.

    Not so. The official databank entry ( for Leia states: “Leia has few memories of her true mother, Padmé Amidala. All that Leia can recall is that she was beautiful, but sad.” So Leia is talking about Padmé Amidala in that scene in Episode VI, not someone else.

    This leaves us with the question of why Leia can remember Amidala but Luke, who is evidently stronger in the Force, cannot.

    The important thing to realize is that in the prequels, the Jedi order is already corrupt and arrogant. They are asking to be destroyed. They are not an evangelizing force for justice in the Republic, merely the defenders of a comfortable status quo.

    Quite so. Which makes the Star Wars series essentially nihilistic. How do we “bring balance to the Force”? By destroying the evil status quo, and by destroying the evil destroyers of the status quo. And what do we replace these things with? Gosh if anyone, especially Lucas, knows.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    You guys rock.

    (Counting the seconds until Peter’s inevitable reply to these answers…. tick… tick… tick…)

  • Chris Durnell

    My friends and I have a game called “The Movie is Never Wrong.” The purpose is to explain all plot holes as if the movie had presented all the information necessary, but we were simply too stupid to notice it. Sometimes we can come up with very elegant solutions, but other times it’s very tortured.

    In this case, even without havign seen Sith, I can hazard some guesses.

    1) The Force has a will, but truly sensing it is obviously a matter of true mysticism. That’s why Qui Gon Jinn could sense even while the “political Jedi” on the Council do not.

    2)Can’t answer this one. Need to see the movie obviously. But again, I would guess this is a matter that some Jedi can do it, but not all.

    3) I agree that Dooku was likely Sifo Dyas/Siphedeus, who either killed him before ordering the clone army, or merely used his name after he was dead.

    4)Obi-Wan is sure Vader is lost because of his anger at betrayal. Both he and Yoda are convinced Vader is irredeemable because of their own failures. It’s a failing (but understandable one) on their part. Luke was better than his teachers which in a big way is a credit to Obi-Wan and Yoda.

    5) I’m not concerned about the claims of Shmi that Anakin had no father. All that’s important to the story is that Anakin had no actual father, merely father figures in the form of Watto, Qui-gon, and Obi-wan. It could simply be a case that he has no father, ie Shmi is simply an unwed mother on Tatooine and that Anakin’s actual father moved on. It is Qui-gon who assumes it’s a Virgin Birth because of his obsession with the midichlorians, whose existence might only be correlated to the Force, not causative.

    6) Leia probably remembers a wetnurse or similar nanny which she mistakens as a memory of her mother.

    7) Darth knows about Luke and not Leia for obvious reasons. Luke has the last name of Skywalker. Leia does not. And likely if Vader had simply bumped into Luke somewhere that alone would not be enough as last names do not always connote a family relation. However, the obvious presence of Obi-wan confirms any suspicion.

    The important thing to realize is that in the prequels, the Jedi order is already corrupt and arrogant. They are asking to be destroyed. They are not an evangelizing force for justice in the Republic, merely the defenders of a comfortable status quo.

  • Tobias

    Attempting answers to these questions reminds me of the old Marvel Comics No-Prize. The editors would award the astute reader that could provide a reasonable explanation for any apparent incongruity within the comic book story. This was fun. And I love your blog.

    Perhaps Kenobi’s emotions betray him when it comes to Anakin? We cannot take all of his speech at face value. The Jedi obviously believe in absolutes. Why would they attempt to thwart Palpatine’s efforts if not for a belief in certain moral standards? Kenobi did not see Anakin’s betrayal coming. Even in his later years, he is still wounded from the whole matter.

    Was Palpatine not insinuating in one of his coversations with Anakin that the Sith possessed the power to direct the midi-chlorians? An overarching plan to create Anakin does seem odd, though we have witnessed Palpatine’s early plans for the Death Star and gross manipulation of the Trade Federation. He defintely has a penchant for long-term machination.

    Numerous Lucasfilm-approved novels address the matter of Force-senstive children. Could it simply be from the result of memories imprinted on Leia in the womb? Recall Luke’s nighttime dialogue with Leia in the trees of Endor before he turned himself over to Vader. She recalled sad memories of her mother. Of course, Episode III reveals that Amidala died after giving birth. Apparently, some of those feelings and memories of her tortured relationship with Anakin carried over, such that Leia believes to have witnessed her mother’s sad state directly. I am sure you are correct about Lucas’ original plans for the story concerning Owen and Anakin. However, we are only left with Lucas’ final project (until he changes them again!) with which to work. I chalk up any seemingly inconsistent details to Kenobi’s selective explanations and possible off-screen interactions between Owen and Anakin from the Episode II timeframe.

    Because she was raised in the House of Organa on Alderaan. We can reasonably assume that with the purge of the Jedi from the Republic-cum-Empire, she would have no exposure to Force-training whatsoever. The films imply that many beings have Force-potential. Yet, unless trained from an early age (recall the Jedi younglings in the Temple on Coruscant) one could seem as ordinary in the Force as any other. To address your “princess” comment: Episode IV reveals her serving in the Senate (before its dissolution by Emperor Palpatine, at least). Alderaan’s political structure could be similar to Naboo with its elected office of Queen. Perhaps she had been nominated for higher office?

  • Nicholas

    After last night, I think I’m convinced that I don’t care about any of these points. The three children I ended up sitting next to certainly didn’t care, and I’m pretty sure, judging by the amount of times they gasped at the screen, they had a pretty memorable time.

  • Anders

    To the question of “Sifo Dyas”, I thought it was pretty evident, even from Attack of the Clone that “Sifo Dyas” was merely Count Dooku taking the identity of a dead Jedi Master to order the clone troops. Or possibly even Palpatine himself. The whole point was to create the clone army for the Republic, without the Republic’s knowledge.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Actually, I just realized something. I’m not sure Darth does “sense a connection” with Luke. He senses that “the Force is strong with this one,” yes, but he does not make the connection between Luke and himself until sometime between Episodes IV and V — presumably, Luke becomes a celebrity for his role in destroying the Death Star, and the Empire picks up this bit of information.

    (It is even possible that, if TIE fighters are not long-range spacecraft, Vader may have had to land his vessel on Yavin 4 and hide there while the Rebels evacuated and the Empire sent in reinforcements; this would have been more than enough time to snoop around and learn a thing or two about Luke’s identity.)

    That still leaves the question of why the Force wasn’t “strong” enough with Leia for anyone to sense it, though. Like I say, it must be because she was never allowed anywhere near Obi-Wan or the spirit of Qui-Gon.

  • Peter T Chattaway


    If the Force has a will, what does that mean? Can Jedi discern that will? Can they appeal to it?

    Qui-Gon Jinn evidently felt he could discern it. And since it is he — and apparently only he — who figures out the “immortality” thing (has no other dead Jedi Knight ever figured this out prior to him? really?), I guess we can take him seriously on this stuff.

    (Incidentally, is this supposed to be how George Lucas explains why Qui-Gon’s body remained but Obi-Wan’s and Yoda’s vanished? Did Qui-Gon figure something out after he died that enabled Obi-Wan and Yoda to do something different before their own deaths? And what do we do with the death of Anakin, which apparently leaves a body behind, yet still allows his spirit to return in the end?)

    If dead Jedi ‘become one with the Force,’ why are we told that they go to the netherworld? And what does it take to escape?

    I don’t remember this particular reference, and must obviously watch the film again just so I can answer this particular point.

    If only a Sith deals in absolutes, why is Obi-Wan so sure that Darth Vader is a lost cause in the original trilogy?

    Heck, he even calls Anakin “lost” in Episode III! And in the very same scene (or sequence, at least) that he makes his claim about Sith “absolutes”. So that tension, that contradiction, that confusion if you will, is there in that very scene.

    How did that virgin birth of Anakin happen?

    Technically, I must point out that we do not know whether Shmi Skywalker was a virgin. All we know is that Anakin (whose name might mean something like “no family”) has no biological father.

    Six years ago, there were some interesting theories to the effect that Anakin had been genetically engineered — now that Episode I had revealed that the Force was mediated through and/or controlled by midichlorians, it naturally made sense that someone might have tried to manipulate these midichlorians scientifically, and thus might have created Anakin for whatever reason.

    But obviously, these kinds of theories assume a certain level of coherence and curiosity that appears to be absent from Lucas’s approach to world-building.

    Why does Leia remember her mother but Luke does not?

    Because Lucas, despite everything he has said, is not telling us the back-story that he had in mind when he made the original films.

    See also Obi-Wan’s comment in Episode IV that Owen Lars “didn’t hold with your father’s ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved. . . . I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damned-fool idealistic crusade like your father did.”

    Doesn’t all of that dialogue presuppose that the real relationship between Anakin and Owen was just a wee bit different from what we see in the prequels? Or is this just another example of Obi-Wan lying to Luke (in which case, what purpose would be served by these lies)?

    As you can see, I am quite happy to regard the prequels as non-canonical. So when people get all excited about how Episode III will show us “how it happened”, all I can say is that it does no such thing. It’s even less true to its source material — less “historically accurate”, if you will — than The Passion of the Christ.

    Why does Darth sense a connection with Luke, but not when he tortures Leia

    Presumably because she is weaker in the Force somehow — maybe growing up so close to Obi-Wan (and the spirit of Qui-Gon!) had an effect on Luke that was missing in Leia’s case.

    What I wouldn’t mind knowing is why Leia is called a “Princess” if nobody is supposed to know, now, that her mother was a “Queen”. Is Bail Organa some sort of royalty?