Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Force AwakensYes, I just saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, there WILL be some spoilers in this post. But opening weekend is now over, so I’ll risk it. I’m not posting them to ruin your movie, but this movie is absolutely worth talking about. I’ll even go so far as to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens could be the best movie of the generation.

Of course the score itself is iconic (who doesn’t love a John Williams score?). The acting is superb. Not only do the old actors bring back their characters with perfect delivery, the new additions to the story are well-written and well-performed. I understand there was some hullabaloo from racist fans about having a black Storm Trooper, but that’s ridiculous nonsense.

The story was perfect. J.J. Abrams has outdone himself. The story is a perfect blend of homage to the original trilogy while moving the story-line forward in a new direction. As a fan of the original three (but not so much Episodes I-III), I thought this new episode honored the original spirit and character of the first films and passed the torch to the new generation (an amazing feat J.J. Abrams also did with his Star Trek reboot).

But the biggest take-away I had from Star Wars: The Force Awakens went far beyond the story, acting, or special effects (which were pretty sick). For me the biggest take-away was the issue of identity.

Identity is a theme that plays from the beginning to the end of the film. Every character wrestles with the question: Who am I? This theme is even jokingly referenced when Han Solo comes face-to-face with C3P0. Han is speechless and C3P0 says, star_wars_vii_force_awakens_c3po“You probably didn’t recognize me because of the red arm.” We never know why the droid has a red arm, but it’s a humorous way of pointing out the theme that will weave in and out of every character’s plot.

Let’s look at how identity plays out:

kylo-renKylo Ren – he’s the new villain, the new Darth Vader. But he’s never talked about as a Sith Lord. Instead he’s the leader of the Knights of Ren. But the audience is never clued in to who these mysterious knights are. Ren himself wrestles with the question of identity during a moment of prayer/introspection where he is talking out loud to the damaged helmet of Darth Vader. Ren confesses that he can feel the light Vader Helmetcalling out to him.

At the beginning of the film, Ren is talking to the leader of the Resistance who says that, even though The First Order (The Empire 2.0) comes from the Dark Side, Ren does not. Still, Kylo Ren wants to continue in the tradition of Vader, his grandfather, and asks Vader for the strength to continue in the power of the Dark Side of the Force.

RaeRey – The new heroine in the Star Wars saga. She’s a mystery. All we know is that she’s been abandoned without parents on a planet made up of a lot of sand (hmmm…kind of like a young Skywalker we knew in Episode IV). The Force is strong with her, and when she touches Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber she has some stranger vision/revelation.

At the end of the film, Rey is left standing face-to-face with Luke Skywalker and holds out his lightsaber to him. Aaaaaand that’s when the credits roll. What?!? Wait, who is she? Is she Luke’s long-lost daughter? Is she some other connection? The “Who am I?” question fills Rey’s story is one that will continue through the next movie(s).

Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-John-BoyegaFinn – I like Finn a lot because he has a very real struggle with his “Who am I? question. He starts out the film as a Storm Trooper. When Kylo Ren orders his Troopers to kill an entire village, Finn freezes. He knows that the order is immoral, and he cannot carry it out. He then helps a Resistance pilot escape from The First Order because “it’s the right thing to do.”

This is one of the strongest identity stories in the film because Finn does a complete about face: he moves from being a foot soldier for the First Order to openly defying an evil organization and fighting to bring about its downfall.

Han and ChewieHan Solo & General Leia – The first identity issue is clearly seen with Leia. Those who grew up with the original trilogy know that “Princess Leia” just seems like the right title. Now we can’t call her that – she’s a general in the Resistance. There are a few references to the “Princess” throughout the new movie, like when Han and Leia get into a fight and C3P0 looks at Han and declares, “Princesses!”General Organa

But the biggest element of their identity story comes out as they work through some of the issues of a relationship that is strained after dealing with the loss of their son, Ben Solo.

The loss of a child is a huge strain on marriages, and, unfortunately, many relationships are unable to cope with the loss and the couple ends up splitting. Such is the case with Han and Leia. Finally reuniting after a long separation, Han tells Leia that they all had to deal with it in their own way – so he went back to doing what he does best. Leia replies, “We both did.” Smuggler, rebellion leader, husband, father, back to smuggler. Princess, rebellion leader, wife, mother, back to noble leader fighting an evil regime. Their identities are in flux as their lives go through chaos (which is actually normal and very human). In a heart-wrenching scene when Han comes face-to-face with the lost son that tore his marriage apart, Han tells Ben, “Come home. We miss you!” His identity as father overrides all other identities and concerns.

The father/son identity has always been a strong motif in the Star Wars saga, and is in The Force Awakens just as much as it was in any of the others. It’s also one of the strongest motifs in the Bible.

In fact, the issue of identity is seen from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Identity is one of the eternal human quests. “Who am I?” is a deeply profound question every human wrestles with at some point.

  • In the Garden of Eden, the serpent convinces Adam and Eve that they shouldn’t let God hold them back – that their identities could be more powerful if they chose their own path, if they were their own god.
  • On the mountaintop, Moses asks the God in the burning bush, “Who should I tell the Israelites who sent me?” God’s answer, “Tell them, ‘I AM’ sent you.”
  • When Jesus is baptized the heavens open up and God declares, “This is my son.”
  • In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus characterizes God as a father who is distraught at losing a son and is willing to go to extreme measures to celebrate the lost son’s return.

See? Identity. It’s the question we all want answered. This is the reason why Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a tremendous story. It’s not about the effects or the acting or any of the other stuff (that DO, indeed, contribute to making it a terrific film).

This is a great film because it asks the question we all ask. Who am I? And how we answer that question determines our path – in this life AND the next.

DVD Review: Whiplash – A Conversation With My Father

My wife and I recently watched the award winning Whiplash.Whiplash It is a phenomenal movie and stirred something in me. I found at times that I was holding my breath and my heart was racing. I watched a few scenes over again and had the same effect (you can watch one of my favorite scenes at the end of this review). If you’re going to watch it, though, know that the language is raw and graphic – clearly a reason the movie is rated-R. After making a comment about the movie on social media, my dad, Paul Linzey, mentioned that he and my mom had also recently watched it. Then I had a great idea: Why don’t I co-write a review with my dad, looking at some of the themes of the movie from a biblical perspective? So today’s review is actually from an ongoing email conversation he and I have been having over the past couple days. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and hope you find some value in it. 🙂

Chris: I’d like to kick off with the theme of relationships since I’m doing this with my you. There are three primary relationships I can identify in the movie:

– Andrew and his dad
– Andrew and his girlfriend
– Andrew and Fletcher

I think it’s pretty clear that Andrew’s relationship with Fletcher overrides the others. Here’s what I find interesting, though. While the girlfriend moves on and finds someone else, the dad is constant throughout Andrew’s ups and downs. They go to movies together. Dad stocks Andrew’s apartment with snacks. When the lawyer is trying to convince Andrew to testify against Fletcher, Andrew asks his dad, “Why are you here?” Dad’s response? “Don’t you know there’s nothing in the world I love more than you?” Even when Andrew returns to play with Fletcher for JVC after both had been kicked out of the conservatory, his dad was at the performance and ran backstage to hug the son in his most embarrassing moment. I’m very much reminded of the father in the Prodigal Son story. No matter what the son did, the dad is still there to throw his arms around his son and proclaim his love.

Paul: Yeah, the relationships are a powerful part of the story. And at times they’re pretty painful. Like in the scene at the family dinner table. It’s obvious the whole family is so proud of the football star and totally unimpressed with Andrew’s musical ambitions. You can feel his pain and anger when he points out that the football player is merely at a Division III college. In other words, it’s not worth bragging about. But nobody gets it, and Andrew is still considered the oddball whose goals and values are meaningless. But you’re right about the dad’s loyalty. Even though he didn’t understand his son, he was always there, like you pointed out. There’s a verse in the Bible that says

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he grows up he will not stray from it.”

Some commentators point out that the terminology in the text is farm language, agricultural terms, specifically having to do with shaping and growing trees. If this is so, they believe the point of the verse is that good parents will find out their child’s interests, callings, and personality and adjust their parenting methods to bring out the best in the child – to help the child discover his or her direction in life. It’s not telling parents to make sure they raise the child the way they want the child to turn out. There’s more to parenting than that. It’s an art. It requires diligence, attention, getting to know the child intimately. It calls for relationship patterns that allow the child to explore and experiment. And the wise parent guides the child in the process of becoming. I didn’t see Andrew’s family fostering this kind of emotional-psychological freedom to be. We typically use that verse to tell parents how to raise their kids, and to tell our kids what we want them to do. Very controlling, very heavy-handed, very condescending. But maybe it was actually designed to liberate parents and liberate children, freeing all of us to discern what the Lord might want us to do, and to become. And then support each other in that process.

Chris: Let’s talk for a second about Andrew’s intense desire to be the best. In one scene, he tells his girlfriend, “I want to be great.” She responds, “You’re not great?” He comes back, “I want to be one of THE greats.”

Paul: Why are people who excel in almost any field edgy, quirky, OK — weird? Do we have to be so intensely focused and driven in order to be the best? Is it even possible to be “normal” and still be the best in the world at something? It’s true that in order to succeed, we have to make sacrifices. We have to prioritize. But is there a limit to how far we should go?

Chris: I was really pondering this one. I had a friend some years back who thought that all competition was contrary to Christ-like behavior. I’m not inclined to go that far, but I see his point. When you hear Jesus using expressions like “servant of all,” “the last shall be first,” and “the least of these,” it’s easy to see that Jesus has a heart for the underdog. The question is, “How far do Jesus’s teachings call us to care for the underdog vs. how far do Jesus’s teachings call us to BE the underdog?” I’m don’t think Jesus is calling us to eschew success, but there needs to be a healthy balance between success and humility, and my personal opinion is that such humility prevents us from ever achieving the status as “best in the world.”

Paul: It seems clear biblically that the Church will be the underdog societally, especially as we move towards the Eschaton. It’s also true, if I understand James 1:27 correctly, that we are called to care for the underdog. And it is true that we are called to be servants of all. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are called to be underdogs, impoverished, or less than the best in our chosen vocation. To follow that logic, each of us would need to be orphaned and widowed to truly be Christian. But that is clearly not the case. Jesus told at least one person that he would need to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, but there were quite a few other rich people he did not tell that to. In fact, there were some wealthy folks who supported him and his disciples so they could do the work of the Kingdom. Same with Paul and his ministry team. I don’t think humility per se is contrary to being the best. Many would agree that Moses would be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. Yet Numbers 12:3 specifically says he was the most humble man in all the earth. I think you and I would agree that Jesus was the greatest person of all time. Yet, he was humble, according to Philippians chapter 2. And St. Paul was a pretty impressive apostle. Perhaps the best? Yet he displayed some impressive humility. Perhaps understanding of the word “meek” can be helpful here: “Power or greatness under control.” So I don’t believe that humility ought to prevent a Christian from being the best at what he or she hopes to achieve in life, whether as a musician, an athlete, a teacher, a pastor, a plumber, or anything else. In fact, the Bible says,

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

Don’t we usually understand that to mean “do your best”?

Chris: I don’t think humility NECESSARILY prevents us from greatness, only when pursuing greatness requires trampling on others.

Paul: Absolutely. I agree. And this is what we see happening in Whiplash. People trampling all over each other. Dog eat dog. Get mine. do what it takes to self-promote. I guess you could say Osteen’s teaching applied to the music industry. It’s all about you.

Chris: BWAHAHAHA! Joel Osteen applied to the music industry – now that.is.funny. Making sure that “I get mine” regardless of how it affects others flies right in the face of biblical principles:

Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them (The Golden Rule) Matthew 7:12

and

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Switching gears again, how did you guys respond to the language? It was incredibly harsh.

Paul: The profanity was indeed overwhelming. But we knew going in that the main reason for it’s R rating was raw language. More importantly, however, being in the world means we rub elbows with real people, real heathens, real scoundrels. We’re called to be in the world, though not “of” the world. Jesus didn’t avoid sinners. That included prostitutes, tax collectors, and cussers. Besides, there’s not a single word or phrase in the movie that I haven’t heard in the Army . . . . . . . or in the church! An aspect of human existence that I thought the movie showed pretty well was that every one of us has our own pain, our own problems, and our disillusionments. This was true of just about every character in the show. Would you comment on that?

Chris: You hit the nail on the head. The director has even said he approaches life from a dark place and I think the characters reflected that. But each gets so caught up in his own trouble he fails to find the relief that can be found in community. It’s the attitude that greatness only comes through suffering and, while there may be some truth to that, authentic relationships can help heal wounds.

Paul: And that’s where art and the gospel begin to intersect.

Chris: Thanks, Dad.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
As always I welcome your thoughts and opinions. did you see the movie? What did you think?

Paul Linzey is a pastor, writer, and mentor. A retired Army chaplain, he and his wife live in Lakeland, Florida.
Paul Linzey is a pastor, writer, and mentor. A retired Army chaplain, he and his wife live in Lakeland, Florida.
Chris Linzey is a husband, dad, pastor, and writer. Currently an Army Reserve Chaplain, he and his family Illinois.
Chris Linzey is a husband, dad, pastor, and writer. Currently an Army Reserve Chaplain, he and his family live in Illinois.

No Matter How Many Times I’ve Seen It, I’ll Still Watch…

Movies

I’m a movie fanatic.

Truly.

In fact, there could be a movie with the worst production value EVER on tv but I will ultimately be drawn to watch.

If the tv is on there is a weird pull. I think it’s genetic. It must be, because my children suffer from the same affliction. If the tv is on and I need to talk to them I have to turn it off (putting it on mute doesn’t work).

And there are some movies/shows that I will sit and watch no matter how many times I’ve seen them. So, as I often do, I turned to Twitter:

Seems I’m not the only one. EVERYONE has that movie they will watch over, and over, and over, and over again!

And they kept pouring in.

It made me think about our attitude towards the Bible.

There are certain verses, stories, and passages to which we always turn. Preachers often find themselves preaching from the same handful of texts over and over again during a career in ministry. But even the church member in the pew (or chair, if that’s how you super hip churches roll) has a few key verses.

Usually it’s the passage that really resonates with us, or helped us get through a rough time.

They have a special place in our hearts. Cherish them.

But there’s a lot of other good stuff in the book, too. So change the channel.

Read part of the Bible you’ve never taken the time to read before. And when you come across something that makes you scratch your head, write your questions down and go talk to your pastor. Most of us LOVE when people approach us with questions about the Bible.

How about you? What’s story or passage from the Bible speaks to your heart? Where can you turn no matter how many times you may have seen it before and still find enjoyment?