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REVIEW: LAST JEDI

REVIEW LAST JEDI (generic spoilers only):
Best Star Wars film since the original trilogy, but marred by PoMo cynicism. In the original trilogy, you could celebrate the defeat of the Dark Side unironically, shout “Harelukiah!” with the Ewoks with unmixed joy after the destruction of the Death Star. Now we have to question whether there is any real difference between Jedi and Sith, whether it really matters who wins. In one way, this is an improvement, because the original’s unironic battle between Good and Evil (as if they were ultimately really different) was inconsistent with the metaphysics of the Star Wars Universe, where Light and Dark are merely two sides of the same “Force.” The latest installment is more consistent with its own premises than the original–but less consistent with the moral order of the real universe. There are positive aspects to the new perspective: It is good for a Jedi to question his own hubris–but not to the point where he questions whether there is a real difference between Good and Evil.
 
Contrast Tolkien, who is no Pollyanna. He has good people being corrupted (Theoden almost, Saruman and Denethor finally). But he does not have Gandalf ever wonder if the battle against Sauron is worth fighting or leave the readers wondering if there is really any difference between Gandalf and Sauron. That kind of moral clarity is only possible in a universe with the biblical foundations of Middle Earth. Star Wars can only get there by cheating with its own metaphysical foundations. In the 21st Century, it remains to be seen in episode 9 whether it can get there at all.

Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College.  His most recent books include Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Broadman, 2006), Stars through the Clouds (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), his collected poetry, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., revised and expanded, and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

Order Stars through the Clouds ($15.00), Inklings of Reality, or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

 Also, check out Dr. Williams’s latest book:  Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, 2016)!

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Listen Up, Readers! Emperor Palpatine and the Redemption of Milton

For the longest time, I could not stand to read two particular authors. Any time someone mentioned their names or quoted from them, I would shrug and roll my eyes. These writers are John Milton and C.S. Lewis.

The latter I couldn’t like on principle. I started disliking him in high school when I began reading the Harry Potter series, and a conservative Christian teacher recommended Lewis, not because he was a better writer than Rowling but because his Chronicles of Narnia are allegorical. Lewis wrote about the Christian story, don’t you see this? Later, I became tired of defending my love for children’s fantasy to Christians by using Lewis and Tolkien as the standards of good art that I gave up on these authors altogether. Other Christians have written wonderful works of literature. Why don’t we laud their merits? Writers like Augustine, Dante, Aquinas, Bunyan, Milton—

Oh, wait, Milton is the second guy I can’t stand. But I couldn’t like him on taste. I just never got into Milton. What’s so special about this guy? So, he wrote about the fall of man? Is this another Christian allegory or sermon masquerading as “good literature”? You could imagine my chagrin when I had to read Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost in grad school.

Then, I had to teach Milton to my high school students. I almost considered skipping him. But I had already neglected too many others, and my responsibility to these students dictated that I at least expose them to important authors, even if I did not like them.

We had excerpts of Paradise Lost in our textbook. A fellow teacher recommend my students read the selections aloud. I knew they would do better listening than trying to wade through the language, so I turned to YouTube for help.

And I found the greatest version of Paradise Lost ever. This rendition, slightly abridged in some places, was actually a BBC radio broadcast. The show had a main narrator and different actors to represent the characters. Oh, and Ian McDiarmid, the actor who plays the evil Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars fanchise, voices Satan. Very apt, no? I gained a new-found appreciation for Milton because of the experience. McDiarmid’s Satan was deliciously manipulative and appropriately conjured feelings a contempt and disgust for Milton’s main antagonist. The author’s genius with language also became more apparent as the narrator and actors read his epic with fluidity and clarity. My students also enjoyed the audio and stated they would not have understood the text if they had read it to themselves. I myself look forward to reading to the entire work in the future, if anything but to hear the slippery voice of McDiarmid.

Now, we’re studying The Screwtape Letters, and we are using audio. Joss Ackland is a enticing Screwtape. Most importantly, I have grown in my appreciation for Lewis. There are certainly aspects of Christianity and the war between Heaven and Hell for the souls of men that I have hereto never seen before. Now, I want to read — or listen — more, to add to my List of books works that not only broaden my love for literature but strengthen my faith. And I chuckle at the irony — to gain a new respect for two Christian authors I hated, all I did was listen to the devil.

In Search of the American Myth: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

star-wars-berkey“A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” I remember seeing the 1997 restored version of Star Wars in elementary school with my father and reading those lines for the first time. I think every day for recess we pretended to be Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo zooming across space and and battling the evil Darth Vader and the dictatorial Empire.

As an adult, Star Wars has become less important in my life, but I see its impact in our culture, especially to our American mythology. In fact, Star Wars and science fiction films have almost become quintessential American myth tales, though they America did not originate the science fiction story or film. Again, we can thank Europe for that. Tales by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne remain some of the best science fiction literature to date, and Germany’s Metropolis practically is science fiction’s capstone film.

luke__skywalkerBut these films, like Westerns, seem to fit well with our paradigm of expansion, progression, and independence. While Westerns look to the wild west to fulfill these values, science fiction looks to the stars. Indeed, Luke Skywalker embodies any typical young American: an average Joe who leaves his home to fulfill his destiny to become something greater. Interestingly, the story practically begins in the desert with our young hero encountering two rustic droids, a old wizard, and a space cowboy with a furry friend. They enter the cold, metallic belly of a vast space station (which represents technology and innovation put to evil purposes) to rescue a beautiful, yet fiercely capable princess, who provides female audience members a role model of aptitude and independence. The underdog rebels then turn and destroy the the same spaceship, a symbol of oppression and tyranny. Sounds like our own Revolution to some degree, right?

Speaking of another scifi-western connection, did anyone besides me notice how Avatar closely resembles Dances with Wolves?

Speaking of another scifi-western connection, did anyone besides me notice how Avatar closely resembles Dances with Wolves?

Thus, as Disney and Westerns have incorporated so well, Star Wars and many science fiction films capture the American ideal and contribute its mythology. Recent success in science fiction films is evidence of this. Avatar is the most successful film to date and the newest Star Trek films have shown that science fiction films can be stylish, yet thought-provoking storytelling. And do it need to go into detail about the moral and cerebral depth of films like Blade Runner, Brazil, E. T., Aliens, The Matrix, and Inception? Although Disney may have established the American myth and the Western may be the nation’s mythic original, science fiction films would probably remain America’s most beloved and well-received myth.

 

Friday Night Movie Marathons

I have a love hate relationship with movie marathons.  I love getting a group together and watching ALL THE THINGS!  But I hate how I feel for the days afterwards, the stress of hearing all my friends analyse my favorite movies until I almost don’t like them (friends or the movies) any more, and of course the quoting – always with the quoting.  I am guilty on all accounts! The more I think about it the more I realize that Movie Marathons are perhaps a problem, one that perhaps take a toll on friendships and even the films I love.  But it hasn’t stopped me

That is part of the fun – the quoting – the analysis – getting completely absorbed in the world that you forget reality…at least for a little while.  So here is a list of marathon worthy movies/TV shows for brave and daring!

1. Star Wars

StarWars

I personally really only enjoy the originals.  It could be that I am partial to Harrison Ford or that I just found the love story between Anakin and Padme a little ridiculous (and when I say ridiculous, I mean unbelievably painful to watch).  Yes, I know that in the book the story was much more believable and so much less painful, but the movie versions are not my favorite. But don’t let my opinion offend you if you really like the prequels, go and enjoy them, make them part of your movie marathon. But as for me, I’ll watch the originals, marvel at the ingenuity of the cinematography, and laugh at all the cheesy lines excellently executed.

2. Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings

About every year to two years since the extended editions came out I have gathered my friends together and we do an all day/night marathon for these fantastic films.  Yes, the books are better, but what Jackson did was incredible. And let’s face it, we all enjoyed them.

3. Super Hero Marathon – Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Avengers

the_avengers_movie_2012-HD

Take your pick, really but I personally love the idea of watching the origin stories of these superheroes and working my way to the Avengers. I loved the Avengers.  It was a brilliant film with witty dialogue, epic action, and glorious purpose!

4. Firefly

fireflycast

As the memes will say…10 hours and 58 minutes of bliss, a lifetime of withdrawal. And don’t for get the movie Serenity.  “Burn the land and boil the sea but you can’t take the sky from me.”

5.Sherlock

Jeremy Brett

To be honest there are many versions to choose from.  I have my favorites.  I grow up on Jeremy Brett as Sherlock.  He was brilliant.  But there are the newer version that are just as amazing.  Robert Downy Jr.’s interpretation at first was a little alarming, but once I realized that his Sherlock was designed as an action film and not so much a mystery, I discovered how much I loved his films. And I cannot forget Benedict Cumberpatch’s Sherlock, which is spectacular!  Take your pick you won’t be disappointed.

So grab some popcorn, some pillows and enjoy your next movie marathon!

Movies that Age Well

The other night Melissa and I feeling nostalgic sat down in the midst of class prepping and story editing to watch an old favorite, The Princess Bride.It was glorious (as usual).  We laughed, cried, quoted, analysed and generally enjoyed ourselves way too much. I may or may not have stopped breathing at one point as I laughed uncontrollably.

I know my reactions to things are rather extreme, but at least you know how I feel.

Princess-Bride-m02A common theme to that movie experience was the joy we shared over the movie and remember what parts we loved as children, watching for the first time and the parts that we love now as adults.  The trio – Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, Fezzik – are funny characters, cleverly written, and masterfully delivered. But there are lines that as a 10 year-old I just didn’t get: “you hippopotamic  land mass” was funny but I didn’t know why.  Now that I do…I laugh all the more.   So this clever conversation about how Inigo and the man in black’s sword fight is indeed a commentary on the male ego, sparked a question in my mind.

What are other movies that have this same quality, that even as an adult I can laugh and enjoy?

Pixar comes to mind.  Generally I love Pixar – Toy Story (all of them), The Incredibles, Finding Nemo.toy-story_o_1241587

What makes them good:  Excellent story telling both in the dialog and cinematography, charming characters, and clean humor.

nemo

Hayao Miyazaki – I’d call him the Walt Disney of Japan.  The man is a brilliant animator and story teller.   Unfortunately, I did not discover Miyazaki until my 20s. Spirited Away

However, I have had the pleasure to sharing several of his films – Spirited Away, Howls’ Moving Castle, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky – with a dear little friend of mine.  She just turned seven and her face lights up every time I mention one of these films.  Now to be clear Miyazaki’s films are not as lighthearted and carefree as the Princess Bride.

howl But the magic and whimsy, morals and truth that are expressed are so compelling that there is nothing but joy in the watching and re-watching of a Miyazaki film.

As I start to think about non-animated films that have this same quality, I realize  that there aren’t that many, or maybe I am just drawing a blank.  There are definitely movies that are in the great when I was a kid, enjoyable as an adult but I am struggle to find think of clean movies that have that subtle this is both humorous for children and for adults. So like the Miyazaki films I am going to branch out into the not so humorous but equally delightful movies.

Star WarsA_long_time_ago

It was innovative, smart, and at times funny (intentionally and unintentionally. I remember the first time I saw it.  I was supposed to be in bed but I had sneaked down stairs and was hiding behind the couch.  I was mesmerized by the stars, the creatures and the awesomeness that was/is Han Solo.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

aZ1syD4eJuiCBamt7JK8BnBVJa3Another one of my roommates and my favorites.  It has nearly everything that the Princess Bride offers – Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…well, minus the giants…there are some monstrous men if that counts.

I’d love to hear some of your favorites.