Join us as we follow two Jedi knights to Tatooine as they look for repair parts and we look for Christian themes in “Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace.”
The Phantom Menace: “Unpopular” but Exciting and Necessary
So it may not be your favorite installment, but Michael and I both contend that The Phantom Menace has a solid place within the Lucas canon.
Michael was ecstatic when the first Star Wars films came out (yes, he was alive back then), but he knew there was more and couldn’t wait to see it.
I, on the other hand, was born into a world in which the first trilogy was a cultural legend already. And I, too, needed more.
Imagine our joy when The Phantom Menace opened in 1999. Michael was excited because something from his childhood had been given new life. And I was pumped that my generation now had a role in one of the best film series ever (as pictured above).
And even though most fans of the original movies were disappointed with it, we both agree that The Phantom Menace is a good beginning to the saga.
The Jedi Mind Trick and Temptation
I know the Jedi Mind Trick isn’t exclusive to The Phantom Menace, but something unusual happens in this film: it doesn’t work.
Remember when Qui-Gon tries to convince Watto to take his Republic credits? Remember how he fails?
Why is this? Watto believes it’s because he’s a Toydarian and thus immune to the mind trick. But apologist Jimmy Akin has another reason.
In his article The Star Wars Films: Moral and Spiritual Issues, Akin says that the mind trick only works on the “weak-minded.” He describes it as follows:
…[a] person who complies with the suggestion of a mind trick would be at least partly responsible for his actions in that he wasn’t doing something he was strongly opposed to in the first place.
Thus, to be “weak-minded” is to be easily persuaded to do something because you were already partial to doing it anyway.
Isn’t that how temptation works? Our partiality to sin is the desire we have for the temporary pleasure it brings. Desire then becomes a downward slope, as James explains:
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)
So if we want any chance to defeat that desire, our solution should be to be “strong-minded.” I like Paul’s metaphor:
Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
Helmets keep us looking forward and protect us from harm at the same time. The “hope of salvation” – or, being back home with God via Jesus – can do the same thing, but only if it’s our only focus.
Therefore, let us stay forwardly focused and adamantly resolute on that ultimate pleasure: being back home with God. Because when that’s our prize, we won’t need to sin to feel good.
Jar Jar Binks and the Human Condition
How can you not like Jar Jar Binks, the Gungan outcast that teams up with our two Jedi heroes?
Although many folk see Jar Jar’s presence in The Phantom Menace as arbitrary and childish, Michael’s thoughts go deeper: he believes that Jar Jar exemplifies the human condition. For example, do any of these sound familiar?
- His well-intended clumsiness resulting in his being exiled
- His need to be saved (from the Trade Federation Army)
- His salvation as provided by a higher power (Enter: Qui-Gon Jinn)
- His owing of a “life-debt” to that higher power (so that he won’t be “PYOO-nished”)
If that isn’t enough of a mirror for us humans, I don’t know what is. Okie-day?
Think about it: ever since we’ve been separated from God, we’ve been trying to return. But we continue to clumsily miss the mark and thus continue to need saving. The prophets of the Old Testament say it best:
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6)
Listen! News is coming even now. The rumble of a great army is heard approaching from a land in the north. It is coming to turn the towns of Judah into rubble, places where only jackals live. Lord, we know that people do not control their own destiny. It is not in their power to determine what will happen to them. Correct us, Lord, but only in due measure. Do not punish us in anger or you will reduce us to nothing. (Jeremiah 10:22-24)
And yet our salvation still comes from a higher power – in fact, it comes the Highest Power: God Himself.
Because now, instead of imperfect humans making imperfect sacrifices to return to a perfect God, we have a perfect God that made the perfect sacrifice (Jesus) to make us perfect again.
And Paul reminds us of our “life-debt” in his letter to the Corinthians:
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
Jar Jar’s existence in the Star Wars universe reminds us of our human condition here on Earth, not only in our distress but also in the realization that we can’t save ourselves.
Question: Queen Amidala
What do you make of Queen Amidala’s decision to disguise herself as the lowly servant Padmé? Is it an image of “stepping down” that we’ve seen before? Is it just a really smart political move? Maybe it’s similar to the story of the Old Testament queen Esther? All of the above? None of the above?
Let us know in the comments below!
Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.
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