DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     May 25, 1999     vol. 10, no. 101


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          Today we begin a special brief trilogy on the Star Wars mystique from a spiritual standpoint presented by ZENIT International News Agency. The first is an interesting virtual twist in which ZENIT brings us an interview between George Lucas, producer and creator of the Star Wars phenomenon and Pope John Paul II, Vicar of Christ who guides Our Lord's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - the only true Church in the universe whether on earth or on Tatooine. The interview is patterned after the actual interview reporter Bill Moyers conducted in a recent article for Newsweek Magazine.



      VATICAN CITY/SKYWALKER RANCH, MAY 21 (ZENIT).- At midnight Wednesday, May 19, thousands attended the long awaited release of the Star Wars Prequel: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, which has already broken records and continues to bring in what some estimate will be the largest box office income in history, not to mention profits from licensing everything from laser toys to hamburger promotions.

      By now the main elements of the original trilogy have become household words and are also found in the new movie. The "Force" is obviously with little Anakin Skywalker throughout the plot as he seeks to balance the cosmic forces in order to save humanity. Myth and faith, belief and self-control are mixed and mingled and often interchanged in what some critics have called a "pseudo-religious" drama and "Zen Lite."

      Halfway across the globe, on the very same day, tens of thousands gathered under the early morning Roman sun for another global event. Here there was no one donning laser swords or Darth Vader outfits. In fact, there was not even the slightest mention of the "world premiere," actually limited only to the U.S., among those gathered for the occasion. For these people it was a non-event.

      They had come to the weekly general audience of John Paul II to listen to the leader of over 1 billion Catholics exhort them to live their faith, mature in their beliefs and to deepen their prayer life in the tradition of centuries of mystics and saints. Nothing lite or pseudo-religious here. And yet, several of the themes and topics discussed had more than a few things in common with the underlying contents of the new movie just released on the other side of the world.

      Call it destiny or cosmic coincidence, but the fact is that the parallels are uncanny and impossible to ignore. The Vatican of course issued no public statement or press release on the Pope's opinion of the new addition to the Star Wars series, and there was no featured movie review in the L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

      That doesn't rule out that the Pope will eventually watch the sci-fi thriller, as he has the first three, or even add a copy to his already immense videoteca which includes originals of recent works such as "Schindler's List," "The Prince of Egypt" and "Life is Beautiful," as well as two of his own plays written before he was elected Pope that have been made into full-length movies.

      So, given the fact that a face-to-face encounter is something that seems hard to imagine in the near future, we have decided to take a page from the same world of virtual reality that made the movie possible and, using the digital method of "cut & paste," we'd like to present an imaginary dialogue between George Lucas and Karol Woytila about religion, faith and belief.

      No, we are not making this up. While the encounter never actually occurred, all the words are very real indeed. Lucas' words have been selected from an interview with Bill Moyers published in the April 26 edition of Time Magazine on the "Theology of Star Wars" and the words of the Pope have been translated directly from the original text of the general audience on May 19 mentioned above.

      While this dialogue may not get morphed into any upcoming edition of the remaining two movies of the Star Wars trilogy, at least it might serve as food for thought for the rest of us, too often "spiritual aliens."

MOYERS: Is one religion as good as another?

    LUCAS: I would say so. Religion is basically a container for faith. And faith in our culture, our world and on a larger issue, the mystical level -- which is God, what one might describe as a supernatural, or the things that we can't explain -- is a very important part of what allows us to remain stable, remain balanced. (...) I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct -- that there is a greater mystery out there. I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, "If there's only one God, why are there so many religions?" I've been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I've come to is that all the religions are true. (...) I think there is a God. No question. What that God is or what we know about that God, I'm not sure.

    JOHN PAUL II: The Acts of the Apostles offers us Paul's discourse to the Athenians which is very appropriate for the religious pluralism of our time. In order to present the God of Jesus Christ, Paul takes advantage of the religiousness of his listeners with words of appreciation: "Athenian citizens, I see that you are very religious. In fact, as I walked among your sacred monuments, I came upon an altar with the inscription: 'To the unknown God.' What you adore without knowing, I have come to announce to you." (Acts 17:22-23)

          At the foundation of the Church's encounter with world religions is the discernment of their specific character, or the way in which they approach the mystery of a Saving God, the definitive Reality of human life. Every religion presents itself as a search for salvation which proposes itineraries in order to reach that goal (CCC.843). One of the suppositions of this dialogue is the certainty that man, created in God's image, is also the privileged "place" of his salvific presence.

    MOYERS: Some people have traced the notion of the 'Force' to Eastern views of God -- particularly Buddhist -- as a vast reservoir of energy that is the ground of all of our being. Was that conscious?

    LUCAS: I guess it's more specific in Buddhism, but it is a notion that's been around before that. When I wrote the first Star Wars, I had to come up with a whole cosmology: What do people believe in? I had to do something that was relevant, something that imitated a belief system that has been around for thousands of years, and that most people on the planet, one way or another, have some kind of connection to. I didn't want to invent a religion. I wanted to try to explain in a different way the religions that have already existed. I wanted to express it all. (...) I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people -- more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery.

    JOHN PAUL II: Certain practices originating from the great oriental religions are especially attractive to contemporary man. To these, Christians should apply a spiritual discernment so as never to lose from sight the concept of prayer as it is illustrated in the Bible throughout the whole history of salvation. This necessary discernment does not impede religious dialogue.

          Then there is theological dialogue in which experts try to deepen their understanding of each others' religious heritage and to appreciate their spiritual values. Nevertheless, encounters among specialists of different religions shouldn't limit themselves to look simply for a minimum common denominator. They have the final goal of lending a courageous service to truth, highlighting both points of mutual agreement as well as fundamental differences, in a sincere effort to overcome prejudice and misunderstandings."

MOYERS: One scholar has called Star Wars "mysticism for the masses." You've been accused of trivializing religion, promoting religion with no strings attached.

    LUCAS: That's why I would hesitate to call the Force God. It's designed primarily to make young people think about the mystery. Not to say, "Here's the answer." It's to say, "Think about this for a second. Is there a God? What does God look like? What does God sound like? What does God feel like? How do we relate to God?" Just getting young people to think at that level is what I've been trying to do in the films. What eventual manifestation that takes place in terms of how they describe their God, what form their faith takes, is not the point of the movie. (...) When the film came out, almost every single religion took Star Wars and used it as an example of their religion; they were able to relate it to stories in the Bible, in the Koran and in the Torah.

    JOHN PAUL II: Prayer, as an adoring acknowledgement of God, gratitude for his gifts, imploring his help, is a special means of encounter, above all in those religions which, even though they have not yet discovered the fatherhood of God, nevertheless "have, in a certain sense, their hands outstretched to heaven" (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 53). Nevertheless, it is more difficult to establish dialogue with certain contemporary religiousness, in which prayer is reduced to the increase of a vital force, which substitutes salvation.

MOYERS: In authentic religion, doesn't it take Kierkegaard's leap of faith?

    LUCAS: Yes, yes. Definitely. You'll notice Luke uses that quite a bit through the film -- not to rely on pure logic, not to rely on the computers, but to rely on faith. That is what that "Use the Force" is, a leap of faith. There are mysteries and powers larger than we are, and you have to trust your feelings in order to access them.

    JOHN PAUL II: Dialogue about religious experience is also becoming ever more important. The exercise of contemplation responds to a growing thirst for interiority which is indicative of persons with spiritual desire and helps believers to deepen their understanding of the mystery of God.

          Nevertheless, mysticism can never be invoked in favor of religious relativism, in the name of an experience which diminishes the value of God's revelation in history.

MOYERS: You're creating a new myth?

    LUCAS: With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs. I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that exist today. The more research I did, the more I realized that the issues are the same ones that existed 3,000 years ago. That we haven't come very far emotionally. (...) Myths tell us these old stories in a way that doesn't threaten us. They're in an imaginary land where you can be safe. But they deal with real truths that need to be told. Sometimes the truths are so painful that stories are the only way you can get through to them psychologically. (...) I'm telling an old myth in a new way. (...) I guess I'm localizing it for the end of the millennium more than I am for any particular place.

    JOHN PAUL II: ...Christian truth allows the spiritual, moral and social-cultural values found in [other religions] to advance. (...) As disciples of Christ we feel the urgency and the joy to witness that precisely in him God has manifested himself, as the Gospel of St. John tells us: "No one has ever seen God: it is the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has revealed him" (Jn. 1:18).

          This witness should be given without any fear, but also with the conviction that the action of Christ and of his Spirit is already mysteriously present in all those who live their own religious experience sincerely. The Church, together with all truly religious people, continues its pilgrimage through history towards the eternal contemplation of God in the splendor of his glory. ZE99052123

Tomorrow: The Mystery Man behind the Myth of Star Wars

May 25, 1999       volume 10, no. 101


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