Jesus, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the Stormtrooper’s Daddy

stormtrooperFor my birthday last week, Amy got me the special edition DVD of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” Basically, the original Star Wars movie that started everything off, and my personal favorite (It’s the archetypal Hero’s quest, after all).

But the best part was watching it with my two-and-a-half-year-old son, Grady. He’s already very familiar with the entire Star Wars universe, because I’ve read him all the story books we could find. He dressed up as Luke Skywalker last Halloween (longstanding family tradition, actually) and has his own plush-cloth lightsaber (although he prefers mine). But up until last week, he had never actually seen a Star Wars movie. He was thrilled, to say the least.

But it’s a mixed blessing for me. My Dad was a Star Wars fan too, so I love that this is a passion shared and passed down through the generations. But even though we held off on showing the movie for 2.75 years, it still might have been too soon. Let me explain.

We’re very careful with introducing “violence” concepts to Grady, and after watching the movie, everything he touches is now a “blaster” he uses to shoot pretend stormtroopers. We did have a great talk about what happens when you shoot a stormtrooper, and how even stormtroopers have Mommies and Daddies who are sad when their children get hurt. That seemed to hit home to him…for all of about five minutes.

So my new challenge (at this phase in my life) is to find the teaching/parenting value in Star Wars. I think it came to me when we were watching it for the third time in as many days: It’s the moment right before they escape the Death Star, where Obi-Wan Kenobi is fighting Darth Vader (we call it “doing the lightsaber dance” in our house) and looks across the hangar to his young student, Luke Skywalker, who is earnestly looking on. At this point, Kenobi does something very counter-intuitive for a science fiction movie borne of a violent culture: he stops fighting, in a very deliberate way, at the cost of his life (sort of).

In that one moment, I see Christ, Gandhi, and MLK reflected in Star Wars — the idea that sometimes a non-violent and sacrificial gesture will go much farther and become much more influential than conquest over flesh and blood. Or maybe its the idea that winning is losing and losing is winning — another concept Jesus talked about. Grady may not be able to fully grasp that concept just yet, but at least I know which direction to steer the conversation next time it arises. And it’s nice to know that a good story can grow and change with you over the years.

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6 Responses to Jesus, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the Stormtrooper’s Daddy

  1. Good post!

    But…wait…I’m not enough of a fanboy to know this definitively, but aren’t Stormtroopers just supposed to be clones? They’re grown in pods to fight for the Empire. They don’t technically have a mommy or a daddy.

    My boys also have been reared with Star Wars in the background, and while they chase each other around the house with blasters, they also gather their stuffed animals together for “daycare.” So…they’ll be empathic nurturing warriors.

  2. Ginger says:

    You’re right on target with the philosophy parallel. LOVE IT!

    I think a Star Wars philosophy discussion is exactly what bonded Rich and my English friend, Mark, together. After that conversation I kind of felt worried about my marriage for some reason.. 🙂

    Hey, I could really use your input, if you have a sec, on the Face to Faith post on my blog. I think you are much better than me at debate and Biblical knowledge and could therefore offer some insight that seems to be missing in that discussion thread and in the one going on on Michelle’s blog (under a post with the same name). In other words, this same Mark is being a bit intmidating to all of my blogging buddies with all of his Star Wars type questions and activist lingo. I’m not sure how to moderate it well.
    I have a feeling you would be more wise in your response than I know how to be.

    But more importantly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY NEAL!!

    We should all hang out soon..

  3. Juan Carlos says:

    So I was just stopping by your blog and read this Star Wars post. Reason why I’m commenting is because of what you said about Ghandy, MLK, and such. Well I don’t know if you saw it, but last Memorial Day the History Channel had this special on the history of Star Wars. I didn’t get a chance to see it, but I though you might want to look into it, if you haven’t already. Oh and Happy-late-Birthday!

  4. anniem says:

    I’ve also wrestled with this. Star Wars is definitely the most violent thing the kids have ever seen. Lego Star Wars and Rogue Squadron are also the most amazing video games and clearly the kids’ favorites. There’s no getting around the kids’ awareness of the violence. Aidan loves to draw the ships and when he does, they’re always shooting. We’ve had _the talks_, where I try to draw their attention to the other aspects of the film, where we discuss myth and reality, dead on TV versus dead in real life. They’re all just remediations for our decision that watching violence is justified if we like the movie enough. As a result, we have to adapt our rules to their play interactions based on the movies. Kids aren’t very good at judging relative rules so we make solid hardassed rules like don’t make gun signs, even if you’re playing Star Wars. We tell them it’s not ok to even pretend to hurt someone.

    John heard a radio show the other day discussing the differences between Harry Potter and Star Wars, and how each iconic myth reflects on British and US culture. You can guess that it came down to violence. Makes me feel a lot better about their relationship with Harry Potter books and movies. I wasn’t able to find that discussion online, but I did find some other fun comparisons:

  5. Neal Locke says:

    David: I just knew someone would bring up the clone thing! Here’s my take on it: There’s at least one example of a father/son relationship among clones — Jango Fett, the man from whence all the clones came, adopted a clone (Boba) and raised him as a son. Who’s to say other similar relationships didn’t emerge? Actually, the father I referred to in this post, who shared with me his passion for both computers and Star Wars, was not my biological father, but my adopted father. Who knows but that stormtroopers don’t choose mother and father figures as they progress through their lives? As clones, they aren’t robots, but are fully human, with human emotions and attachments, too.

    Also, in the films (I’m not so sure about the expanded universe) the original stormtroopers were clones, but they were all destroyed at the end of the clone wars. There isn’t necessarily anything conclusive that proves the second generation stormtroopers were clones. Finally, like all stories (especially religious ones) we bend and mold them to suit our purposes. So, in my son’s world, stormtroopers have mommies and daddies — at least until he grows into enough of a fanboy in his own right to challenge me on the point, which I’m sure he will!

    Ginger: I read the post and then got absorbed in the comments on the original guardian article and didn’t have time to respond. I’ll try to do so shortly. Of course I’m interested in the subject and would love to dialogue ;-).

    Juan Carlos, I haven’t seen the History Channel special (since we don’t have cable), but I’m pretty familiar with the history of Star Wars, and have followed much of it as it actually “became” history. I was my son’s age when the very first film came out, and have been a fan ever since my dad took me to see “The Empire Strikes Back” in the theater. Although there are certainly symbols in the films that harken to Christianity (especially in the prequels), my understanding is that Lucas was influenced more by Joseph Campbell, and the idea of mythological archetypes that are universal to all cultures and faiths. Of course, I would argue (as your former English teacher, of course) that all great literature does this.

  6. Mark says:

    My son was three months old when his uncles (my brothers) presented him with the original Star Wars Trilogy on tape. Then they proceeded to put “A New Hope” in the VCR and play it, with him on his blanket on the floor in front of the TV! That’s when I turned off the TV and said, “Let’s wait until he’s a little bit older.”

    My son claims that he remembers that experience years later.

    I didn’t allow him to watch it again until he was five. He LOVED it. He asked for more, dancing around the room, wielding anything that could pass for a lightsaber.

    So we let him see Episode 1 (which he called “Epee-sott One”) when it came out on video. He watched Qui-Gon and Darth Maul’s deaths fearfully through his fingers…but he watched. Galadriel’s little “postal” moment at the mirror (“In place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen…”) terrified the snot out of him literally for years, but he quickly recovered from seeing Qui-Gon being skewered and Darth Maul being julienned, both by lightsabers. Before the credits rolled he was whipping around the room, battling Sith Lords with the best sound effects a young boy could muster. (Did I mention that my son has ADHD?)

    So went the pattern after each of the final two movies was released on DVD: begging, pleading, watching (sometimes through his fingers), and dancing around the room like a manic little padawan with his toy lightsaber.

    He’s now ten and an avid (rabid?) Star Wars fan. His uncles have further contributed to his condition by sending him Star Wars magazines and memorabilia. The last two Halloweens he’s dressed up as young Anakin. In the last week he’s seen “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi” both for the first time. “The circle is now complete.”

    Star Wars arguably has a much more vivid hold on my son than anything he experiences at church. Considering the fact that I’m the pastor as well as his father, I find that to be disturbing.

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