Monday, December 29, 2014

Ten Films That UUs Should Watch: A Long Time Ago ...

I was fourteen when my parents dragged me to see a movie which, from viewing its TV commercials, I was convinced would be a schlocky excuse for science fiction. When we got to the mall where the theatre was located, the line for tickets went across the parking lot. We managed to get in, the theatre completely crammed – admittedly my least favorite way to watch a movie.

And then, it started …

It’s hard to watch a film like Star Wars in a crowded theatre and not get caught up in the excitement, which is why I insisted on seeing it on my own in a matinee when there were few people around. Something about the film resonated in me, and still does. Roger Ebert, in his initial review, praised it for its “pure narrative” – but there was more to it.

Star Wars and its two sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, give a remarkable balance of elements that transcend traditional storytelling. The characters are archetypal, the conflict elemental, and the setting both distant yet relatable to a modern audience. The trilogy is not just epic narrative, but mythic, so much so that when Joseph Campbell discussed it with Bill Moyers in their PBS special, anyone who had seen the films instantly connected with what he was saying.

But this trilogy isn’t just about heroics and hyperspace – it’s about redemption, about summoning our better selves to bring about what is good and right. The most obvious example is that of Darth Vader, born Anakin Skywalker, enslaved to the “dark side” yet able to throw off his chains to save his son and the Rebel fleet. Yet there are other examples as well. Han Solo, the seemingly amoral smuggler, comes back into the fray to save Luke, then joins the Rebel cause. His friend Lando Calrissian first betrays him and Leia, but then turns against the Empire to bring Leia back to the Rebel fleet, rescue Han from Jabba’s lair, and then lead the charge in the final battle.

But ultimately, this is Luke’s story, and his path from ordinary farm boy to leader and redeemer is all too familiar to us. Consider his response when Obi-Wan Kenobi asks him to come to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force:
Listen, I can't get involved! I've got work to do! It's not that I like the Empire, I hate it, but there's nothing I can do about it right now. It's such a long way from here.
How many times have we been called as he was, and responded as he did? And while the slaughter of his family is an extreme plot device to set him on his quest, it underscores how the injustices which seem so remote to us ultimately touch our lives as well.

The Star Wars saga also demonstrates that redemption is not merely individual. Communities and societies have been and continued to be called to set things right. Often this process is begun by a mere handful who fearlessly question why things are as they are, envision a better way, and strive to bring that vision to reality.

So, as the New Year approaches, consider renting all three movies for a marathon session. Set aside time to watch them back to back. But don’t watch as escapist heroic adventure. Watch mindfully, as a prophetic narrative. And … May the Force be with you!

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