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Patricide: The threshold of the dark side


The Star Wars franchise has set all sorts of records, and has achieved a new one this year: the earliest spoiler.

starwars After some 10 days and a $ 1 billion box office, it seems quite impossible to spoil the new Star Wars film for anyone interested, but for those who do not wish to know what happens, please join those who skip this column as a matter of routine and turn elsewhere.

The Star Wars franchise has set all sorts of records, and has achieved a new one this year: the earliest spoiler.  It came out 38 years ago and was called Star Wars (Episode IV).  If you saw it then, you have already seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII).

The new film is nothing more than a remake of the original, with enhanced special effects.  Fans who worried about what might happen to their beloved franchise without the involvement of creator George Lucas needn't have; this new film uses the same screenplay as the original, which means the credits are rather churlish in not listing Lucas as the screenwriter.

To their credit, the screenwriters were sufficiently embarrassed by their lack of imagination that they inserted jokes by Han Solo to the effect that, while this time 'round, the Death Star is even bigger, there is "always" a weak spot.  Sure enough, the "dark side" loses its third Death Star to the intergalactic equivalent of a mosquito, the X-wing fighter, exploiting that persistent and pesky design flaw that, when hit just right, sets the whole planetary edifice alight.  For the finale in Episode IX, I suppose we can expect a Death Star so big that it might take two X-wing fighters to start the fatal inferno.

The reprise that drew my attention most was the father-son dynamic, a fruitful subject for meditation at Christmas.  In the original film, before we know his backstory, Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Kenobi.  We later discover that the preVader Anakin Skywalker, mysteriously generated without a father, sees Obi-Wan as a father figure.  This time, the villain is Vader's grandson, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, who wears a voice-altering mask, not because he needs one, but apparently in homage to his grandfather.  Kylo Ren is the name, and he kills his actual father, Han Solo.

At the heart of reality — which is what we mean when we speak about God — is there a father who shows mercy, or a tyrant who exploits?

Patricide is the threshold for the dark side.  The archvillains are willing to kill their fathers.  Luke Skywalker, the true Jedi, Vader's son and Leia's twin sister, refuses to kill his own father, despite ample reasons to do so. This could be nothing more than Psychology 101 with lightsabers, but at Christmastime, one is inclined to think about something rather more profound than that.  The father as a rival to be bested, or even a tyrant to be slayed, can be reduced to dime-store psychology, but it also speaks to a theological view of reality in its fullest depth.

At the heart of reality — which is what we mean when we speak about God — is there a father who shows mercy, or a tyrant who exploits?  Is the proper response one of reciprocal love or abject fear?  To the degree that the force is some sort of reflection of created order, that's the question at the heart of Star Wars — at the deepest level of reality, do we discover a father who is good, or a tyrant who is evil?  Special effects and the allure of space travel aside, that is one reason why the films still attract viewers as they head toward their fifth decade.

"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him."  So instructs Psalm 103, bringing together both dimensions of compassion and fear.  In countries of Christian heritage, we find it easy to think of God as a Father, for that is how Jesus Christ reveals Him to us.  But that idea was once revolutionary.  In the world of the ancient near east or, for that matter, in the new world of the Aztecs or Mayans, great and impressive civilizations worshipped gods who were always rivals and often tyrants.  They were to be feared and, one hoped, appeased.

Into that world, the idea of a God who is like a father in His care for man was a radical departure in the revelation to Abraham and the Jewish people.  The Christian confession that God in fact is a father, and that a merciful father, not a jealous tyrant, is at the heart of reality, is the principal goods news of the Christian gospel.

"God so loved the world that He sent His only Son … that the world might be saved" — that's the reason for Christmas.  Only a real father can send a son.  A merciful father seeks the salvation, not destruction, of his children.  That's the story of Christmas, even older than that of the Jedi and the Sith.



NationalPostFather Raymond J. de Souza, "Patricide: The threshold of the dark side." National Post, (Canada) December 29, 2015.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

The Author

desouza Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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