Hats off – or should I say helmets off – to Lincoln Gaskin of Melbourne, Australia, who was the first (worldwide) ticket buyer for The Phantom Menace. To win this title he had to camp out on the sidewalk in front of Mann's Chinese Theater for thirty-six days! So now he has joined that great crowd of witnesses who were there when the first celluloid frames began to roll through the projector. Here's to you, Lincoln Gaskin, for some are mentioning your name alongside Lindberg (the first to cross the Atlantic by air) and Columbus (the first to do it by ship). It's always good to be first at something really important.
And this must be important, based on those Phantom Menace dollars rolling in to the Lucas organization. Princess Amidala is more popular than the Taco Bell Chihuahua. Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn is staring out at us from Pizza Huts (no relation to Jobba The . . .) and Jar-Jar is a big name at Toys R Still Us. And so are live-action dolls (remember that two-thirds of the word "dollar" is "doll") and droid warriors (a better way to fight wars where you end up with a lot of scrap aluminum instead of blood and guts).
I was there opening day and was well entertained for my senior-citizen discount ticket, and I for one was not much menaced by The Phantom Menace. I must confess, I like Star Wars, Episode One or any episode. It was good entertainment and, besides, it's what the culture talks about between football seasons. It was free of illicit sexuality (I wish the world were as lust free as Artoo-Detoo and Cee-Threepio make it seem).
But I was a bit confused – by the cosmology. I know that anyone who looks for a serious worldview in a Hollywood production, probably has problems that even Yoda could not solve. The Force was with me all through the film, as far as I could tell. But though I eased my grip on my popcorn bag and "let go and trusted the force" I still was at some pain to figure out who the Force is. In the former films, I thought I knew. In the earlier Star Wars trilogy (which was really the latter Star Wars Trilogy, only it came out before the first one, if you know what I mean) the Force was the summation of the life power of all living things. That's easy enough – Eastern but easy. Then I learned that Darth was really Luke's Father. No problem with that; it's a little Freudian and a whole lot Oedipean, but Jedis have a lot to contend with and who am I to criticize their family relationships. Good is just the light side of the force, and Evil is just the dark side of the force. I can understand that as well. It's the Yin and Yang principle of all things Eastern. On that basis I can understand how Anakin will in time bring balance to the force. I don't even mind knowing that Anakin will in time be Darth Vader, breathing emphysematically into his black celluloid helmet (athsmatic monsters do have a special appeal). Still, knowing who Anakin will become is like going to see Titanic. While you know how it's all going to end, it's nice to hear all the interim screaming, gurgling, and the like.
But the biggest part of my confusion was theological. Just when I thought Obi-Won was a transcendental meditator . . . well . . .Oops! Here comes Anakin, whom Qui-Gon Jinn says is the chosen one. It all sounds pretty messianic. My grandson, Jared observed, "Anakin has no father." No father! Somebody sing a magnificat! This is not so Eastern anymore. It's as if someone dropped Buddha and Jesus in the same blender and pushed the puree button. Anakin's mother sounds like she's been reading St. Luke, "He has no father . . . I carried him, I gave birth to him, I raised him. I can't tell you any more than that," she says. Thanks a lot, mom! If you're going to give Anakin birth, it would sure be nice if you could mention Gabriel or give us a little sci-fi double-talk on parthenogenesis (Greek for "virgin birth").
And these midi-chlorians? When you have a lot of them, do you have a special relationship to the Force? It would seem so. One secular reviewer said it sounds as if Mr. Lucas shredded the Holy Spirit and wrote him into the DNA. Anyway, Anakin sure had a high midi-chlorian count, so he must have a special relationship to the force – maybe even a Trinitarian relationship.
Lucas has no fondness for all those who try to read theology of any sort into his work, but it's real hard not to do that. After all, artists display within their own particular media who they are. L. Ron Hubbard created scientology out of his own artistic, sci-fi myths. But Lucas told Bill Moyers in a recent Time magazine interview: "I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, 'If there's only one God, why are there so many religions?'"
"Religion," as Terry Mattingly said in a recent column, "is basically a container for faith." How true. And most of us are open-minded enough to want to know everybody's way of understanding their particular faith. But little Anakin has us all confused. He seems to represent a brand new, synthetic way of believing that has something for just about everybody. And that may be too wide a framework to be really understood by anybody.
Oh, well, it's only a movie – or is it? If millions of America's children are probably going to study Anakin Skywalker before they read John Calvin, maybe parents ought to see the film with their kids and think through when a movie with Christian themes has too much Buddhism in it, or vice versa.
Still, I'm a moviegoer and I recommend the film; especially for parents informed enough to have an evaluation time at the pizza parlor after the movie. But don't expect to meet any good Christian theology in the film. Take 'em to church on Sunday for that.