Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace - More Thoughts from Another Story Geek

Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Additional Thoughts from Another Story Geek

Written by Cody Sherer

(This blog post serves as a companion to the two-part Story Geeks podcast. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 on Podbean, iTunes, and Stitcher. Be sure to subscribe!)

Jay and Nathan are always encouraging people to write in with their take on the movies discussed in each podcast. As a huge Star Wars fan (and former Star Wars fan wiki editor), I will be writing a series of blog posts that brings my own in-depth analysis of the Star Wars saga and expands on some of what the Story Geeks podcast has discussed.

Warning: This blog post contains spoilers for The Phantom Menace as well as other movies in the Star Wars saga.

My Ratings for The Phantom Menace

As you may know, the Story Geeks always rate the film based on three separate ratings categories. Here are my ratings for each plus commentary:

  • Quality Rating: 6
  • Story Depth: 3
  • Likelihood to Refer: 4 (unless the person is a fan of the original trilogy, then it becomes an 8)

Note: The argument could be made that each rating should be raised by a point or two because one cannot truly gage a Star Wars movie without seeing it as part of the whole.

To further expand on these ratings, I’ll make a list of what I consider to be the pros and cons of the movie itself.

Pros (in no particular order):

  1. Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn - Liam performance is excellent. His character brings a depth to the Jedi that we don’t really see in any of the other Star Wars movies. The other Jedi are interesting, but they--with a caveat in Mace Windu--seem to have the same views of the force. Qui-Gon Jinn introduces us to the concept of the Living Force (more on this later) whereas the rest of the Jedi have a slightly different approach to the Force.
  2. The Podrace is Awesome. Granted, it's essentially a giant CGI-fest, however, the sound gives us a real feel for how this could be a real race. And we're watching from the stands with everyone else.
  3. Sound Effects. This impacts my second point a great deal. The podrace, the spaceships, and the lightsabers really benefit from the great sound effects throughout this film. We see an entire world in Naboo where the background sounds, etc. fit with what we see in the scene. It helps to immerse us in the world of Star Wars.
  4. Musical Score. Without the strong score, we are left with a movie that is interesting and fun, but not quite the all-encompassing powerhouse that is Star Wars. A great score adds emotion, and in this particular case, nostalgia, to a film.
  5. Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. We are introduced to an elderly warrior monk in Obi-Wan Kenobi back when A New Hope came out. In those movies, he inhabits the role of a mentor for Luke Skywalker. Ewan McGregor steps into the role of young Obi-Wan in such a way that it feels like he really does fit. He fills the shoes of the excellent actor, Sir Alec Guinness. Add to this the fact that Obi-Wan is one of our most interesting characters moving forward, it is hard to point to anything negative that he brings to that role.
  6. Visual Effects. Despite the years piling on, as Nathan mentioned in the podcast, the movie still holds up. Sure, there is some overkill in this area, but the quality of the effects is hard to match for its time.
  7. Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. Perhaps the best role in the entire movie. Not only does McDiarmid play the role perfectly, but his character is one of the most entertaining parts of the film.
  8. Ray Park as Darth Maul. Up until this point, we have two Star Wars villains. The mysterious Emperor Palpatine and the “more machine than man,” Darth Vader. Palpatine is our mastermind, working behind the scenes to ensure that the Empire is indeed feared by the entirety of the galaxy. Meanwhile, Darth Vader is our menacing villain that could be the best villain of all time. Now we throw in the quick and deadly Darth Maul. Unlike the other Sith that we see, this guy is ferocious and aggressive. He brings another dimension the Sith that we have not yet seen at this point.
  9. The lightsaber battles. Qui-Gon vs. Maul in the desert is an excellent intro to our new villain. We’ve seen him before, but until this moment we don’t know what he's capable of. Pow! Right off the bat he comes flying in on his hoverbike and flip attacks Jinn. We see some ferocious fighting that gives us a preview of the epic lightsaber battle to come. When we add Obi-Wan into the mix, we get something that feels somewhat akin to a martial arts movie, except with a sci-fi twist.

Cons (again, in no particular order):

  1. Jar-Jar Binks. I didn’t find him funny, and most of his parts just become annoying. As mentioned in the podcast, his role is very much one of forced comedy. Aside from that, we don’t see a whole lot of purpose from the character.
  2. The Acting/Directing/Dialogue. There are a lot of painful lines that are delivered in ways that don’t quite measure up to what we’ve come to expect from Star Wars.
  3. Forced Plot Lines. Trade disputes do not really make for an interesting plot, however, this does right itself (to some extent) throughout the movie.
  4. Disappointing Space Battles. We're used to high-quality space battle from our previous Star Wars movies, but The Phantom Menace's space battle doesn’t cut it for me. In A New Hope, we're treated to Luke and company facing off against the Death Star and its fleets of TIE fighters. The Empire Strikes gives us a chase in an asteroid field. Return of the Jedi culminates in a massive space battle with all manner of spaceships as well as another Death Star run. In The Phantom Menace, we have a handful of pilots, droid starfighters, a space donut, and Anakin destroying the droid control ship by luck. Compared to the originals, this does not have the same gravity or even just pure enjoyment.

Things That Could Have Been Better:

  1. The Gungans. We're introduced to them through Jar-Jar Binks, which is a travesty. However, it moves beyond that to Boss Nass as well.
  2. The Ground Battle (Gungans vs. the Trade Federation). The setup for this fight is epic. We have these massive droid transports delivering battle droids into the battle. The Gungans have their massive shield generator beasts. For all of the machines that the Federation brings, we have interesting creatures to fight them off. But, instead of an interesting battle, we get Jar-Jar’s hijinks and the droids shutting down after a short and somewhat lackluster battle.
  3. Midi-chlorians. While I don’t particularly care that much about their introduction, they add pretty much nothing to the movie. All it tells us is that Anakin has more Midichlorians than Yoda. We aren’t told if that automatically makes him more attune to the Force, if it just means he needs less training than other Jedi, or if it means something else entirely. This could have been expanded in a way that really gives us a look into how the Jedi work and how their hierarchy uses this to choose potential apprentices, etc. That having been said, either Lucas should have expanded that a bit more or not gone to the trouble of adding it at all.

Deeper Discussion Points

Let’s now take a deeper look at The Phantom Menace (just like the Story Geeks always do). This section will cover some of the themes and problem areas from this film as well as draw upon the Star Wars saga as a whole for a more in-depth analysis.

The Galactic Republic and the Jedi

The Phantom Menace does a good job establishing the Galactic Republic, but there are a handful of questions that I would like to examine more closely. Our first glance at how things work is a planetary blockade by the Trade Federation against the planet of Naboo. As the movie continues, we see that the Supreme Chancellor has tasked our Jedi to fix the problem. However, we also see some pushback from members of the senate. The second issue with the Republic that stands out at me is how (despite a massive galaxy-wide Republic with Jedi to keep the peace) we still seem to have a lot of ungoverned areas. The Hutts have established themselves on Tatooine (as well as several other planets according to other Star Wars sources), yet the Republic doesn’t seem to care a great deal about this. The Jedi are seen as an arm of the Republic or maybe a tool that the Republic can use. A lot of the Republic’s layers are further fleshed out in Episodes II and III as well as the Clone Wars (both the movie and the series). We see a level of corruption that Palpatine is able to latch onto and use to bring about his rise to power. At the same time, the Jedi have a level of arrogance that prevents them from seeing this problem unfolding before their eyes. We see a lot of push-and-pull between Qui-Gon Jinn and the other Jedi, but things are left with enough ambiguity that we aren’t really sure exactly how the Jedi should be acting, just that there are some issues within the council that seem to reveal a weakness. What I would have liked to see is a bit more of what the Jedi should have been. Hopefully, we'll get to see some of this in the upcoming movies.

The Living Force

The Phantom Menace introduces us to the concept of the Living Force, which we later see fleshed out in books/tv shows/movies/video games/etc. In short, the difference seems to be more of a “we can tap into force for our benefit” as opposed to “the force will guide us to fulfill its will.” The latter seems to be where we are going with The Force Awakens and onward. I’m very much interested in seeing whether or not they use this moving forward. If so, then Qui-Gon Jinn becomes an even more interesting character than before.

Bringing Balance to the Force

We are first introduced to the concept of "bringing balance to the Force" in The Phantom Menace. Essentially, we’ve got four options for what it means:

  1. The Dark Side is Chaos and the Light Side is Order. Therefore, in order for the Force to be in balance, chaos must be removed from the universe. If this is what we're looking at, then technically, Vader does bring balance. We’ve got Kylo and Snoke in The Force Awakens, but they're not considered Sith, which might mean that Vader did bring balance by getting rid of “the plague that is the Sith.”
  2. Balance Means an Equal Number of Sith and Jedi in the Universe. Technically, this also happened because Vader tore apart just about every single Force user (sometimes through clones, other times himself). By the end of the originals, we’ve now got one Jedi (who barely has any training). Push forward 30 years and we have two dark siders and two light siders (three if you include Leia, and four if Finn is a secret Jedi).
  3. Balance According to the Clone Wars Series. In the Mortis storyline, we see a family of three. Daughter is a light sider, Son a dark sider, and Father is something of a mix (Grey Jedi perhaps?). Father holds the two of them "in balance" to ensure that neither is too powerful. How does this one work? Vader’s lineage includes Luke and Kylo/Ben. If this is indeed the option they are moving toward, we could see Rey as our light side “Daughter” (which could also mean she is indeed Luke’s daughter) and Kylo as our dark side “Son” and Luke as our Greyish “Father.”
  4. The Grey Jedi. A balance of the Force lies within each force user. They use both sides of the force as a tool for good. The line from The Last Jedi trailer, “It is time for the Jedi to end…” could point to this. Then again, it could also be a red-herring.

Jedi, Fear, and Mindfulness

In the podcast, the Story Geeks look at fear as an integral part of Anakin’s journey. My personal take on this is: Is it even reasonable for the Jedi to expect people to live without fear? Whether or not we can use fear to our advantage is, to me, secondary. Instead, it seems to me that the Jedi are asking the impossible of their apprentices. Tacking on to that, does fear lead to hate? I don't think so. Fear can keep us from living our lives to the fullest, but it can also protect us. To ignore fear seems foolish to me. I could open up a can of worms with hate and suffering, but I'll instead say that when they are inflicted upon others, that is asking to be led down the path to the dark side (often times for both the inflictor and the inflicted).

Do we witness our intrepid hero, Obi-Wan Kenobi, lapse into using the dark side? My answer, yes we do. Upon Qui-Gon’s death, we witness what appears to be a rage-filled Kenobi rushing to destroy Darth Maul. Thankfully, we also appear to see him regain his cool and dispatch Maul in a more Jedi-appropriate manner.

What are we seeing with the mindfulness? Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Yoda (according to Obi-Wan), and Darth Sidious all tell others to be mindful. Obi-Wan mentions that Yoda says to be mindful of the future, to which Qui-Gon answers that it should not be at the expense of the present. This is once again the Living Force vs. the more mainstream Jedi view. Mace Windu later tells Anakin to be mindful of his thoughts. This one appears to be a two-fold message. Jedi (and perhaps Sith) are aware of what others are thinking or feeling. It also shows us that the Jedi frown upon Anakin’s thoughts dwelling too heavily on his mother. Then, we have Qui-Gon telling Anakin to be mindful. Which appears just to be his way of saying that he won’t be able to explain why he's doing what he's doing. Finally, Darth Sidious tells his apprentice to be mindful of how aggressive the Queen is acting. I am left wondering if George Lucas just likes the word mindful or if there is indeed a Force tenet that wants people to be mindful. It certainly makes sense within each conversation. I think what we are seeing here is a training aspect that Lucas wanted to bring into the series.

Galactic Slavery?

This is obviously a tough topic to tackle (which may explain Lucas’ reluctance to do so). However, I am going to try to leave aside the more obvious points about this and draw forth some things that perhaps others haven’t considered in the watching of the movies. First of all, while I understand slavery is a heavy topic for what is essentially a kids movie, I still feel it was glossed over. Anakin seems to be closer to a child "indentured servant" than a slave in the sense that we often see when we use that word. He has friends, they appear to be able to keep a good portion of their earned money, we don’t actually ever see Shmi working for Watto, and they're able to own a protocol droid and a pod for podracing.

I’m not trying to suggest that Anakin is living it up on Tatooine, but for an existence on a desert planet, they seem to have it really good for "slaves." Plus, we don’t really see a huge negative impact on Anakin for having been a slave. We do see him have problems with being without his mother and later losing her, but all Jedi are taken from their families. To make matters worse, he goes from being a slave to joining a group that use the same terminology in their hierarchy. What sort of psychological impact would it have on Anakin to be freed from his master only to have to answer to a master of a different sort? Add to this the manipulative workings of Palpatine and you’ve got a recipe for an incredibly strong fall to the dark side.

This could also have greater impact on the Confederacy vs. the Republic. As things stand, the Separatists get most of their evil from Count Dooku. The Clone Wars series addressed this issue to some extent, but I think we could have had a more powerful ideological showdown had Lucas made slavery more of an issue. The other interesting part, which my brother points out in the podcast, is why doesn’t Qui-Gon (or even Padme for that matter) seem to care that Watto owns slaves. Sure Amidala points out that the Republic doesn’t allow slavery, but she doesn’t ask either of the Jedi to do anything about it...

Conclusion

You may wonder why I keep emphasizing Qui-Gon Jinn. Two reasons: (1) This is his only movie, and (2) Star Wars appears to be moving back in the direction of the Jedi being more accepting of Qui-Gon’s point of view. Whether this is a red herring or not remains to be seen. Why is this important for the upcoming Star Wars films? For starters, if Luke is becoming more of a Greyish Jedi, then perhaps we'll see him abolish the Jedi Order and establish a more Greyish Jedi Order in which both Kylo and Rey would be welcome. Perhaps he did fall in love, and perhaps Rey is indeed a Skywalker. Maybe Luke disagrees with both of sides of the Force. This could lead to confrontations with both Rey and Kylo.

I'm excited for the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. I'm hoping we see that more epic and meaningful battles (like we saw in the original trilogy) while still building upon some of the mythos from the prequels. Other Star Wars stories have done a lot to bring the prequels and the originals together in a more seamless manner, and I would like to see The Last Jedi build upon that and use it as a foundation to launch into something that's familiar, yet can still be explored and extrapolated upon--what we missed out on with the previous movies and something entirely new.

What are you looking forward to?

 

Geek Movies Released in 2016

Here is a list of eligible movies released in theaters in 2016. You can also write-in a vote if you think we missed one:

Be sure to vote for your favorite films here: https://palidod.wufoo.com/forms/m7a48qc10oao5l/

  • The 5th Wave
  • The Monkey King 2
  • The Mermaid
  • Deadpool
  • Midnight Special
  • Gods of Egypt
  • Knight of Cups
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane
  • The Divergent Series: Allegiant
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Jungle Book
  • The Huntsman: Winter’s War
  • Ratchet & Clank
  • X-Men: Apocalypse
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
  • Warcraft
  • Independence Day: Resurgence
  • The Legend of Tarzan
  • The BFG
  • Ghostbusters
  • Star Trek: Beyond
  • Batman: The Killing Joke
  • Suicide Squad
  • Pete’s Dragon
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  • Max Steel
  • Doctor Strange
  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Rogue One
  • A Monster Calls

Thank you for voting! Stay tuned for our award show in late February!

The Theology of Star Wars vs. The Gospel

A side-by-side comparison of two spiritual perspectives with the intention of finding hope.

Where do we find hope?

Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope

The Star Wars canon has had a global impact. The popular space opera has changed economies, revolutionized technology, and influenced culture in ways George Lucas probably never imagined. That’s not surprising given the impact stories have on our society.

But, why does Star Wars resonate with hardcore and casual fans alike? For many, the saga showcases elements of truth—truth about the human experience, the cosmos, the character of a hero, and the nature of life itself. One could go so far to say that it parallels the greatest collection of stories ever told—the Bible. And, if the Gospel message is truly good news, would it be all that surprising to see similar ideas pop up in the Star Wars saga?

Let’s explore the similarities, and perhaps more importantly, the differences between Star Wars and the biblical narrative. In doing so, we create space for spiritual conversations that will hopefully lead us all to—as Star Wars so often espouses—hope.

The power that binds everything together

In A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that, “[The Force is] an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Similarly, the Apostle Paul declares that there’s “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all,” and that Jesus Christ holds all things together. In both narratives, the implication is staggering: from the smallest particle to the expanse of space, this power is all-consuming and arguably unfathomable.

The channel for the supernatural

In the Star Wars saga, Force users “become one with the Force” and let it “flow through them.” Throughout Exodus, God performs many signs and wonders through Moses. He transforms a rod into a snake (twice), changes all the water in Egypt to blood, and more. And Moses isn’t alone; many of the Bible’s characters participate in works of the Spirit (e.g., the many signs and wonders of the apostles, the destruction of the wall at Jericho, etc.). Both spiritual perspectives hold that supernatural acts aren’t performed by people, but rather that the supernatural manifests through people.

Frame grab from Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Frame grab from Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

The importance of meditation and prayer

Qui-Gon Jinn meditates during the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. In Rogue One, Chirrut and Baze offer audible prayers. And, during his training on Degobah (and throughout his journey as an apprentice), Luke learns the power of serenity and prayer. Likewise, meditation and prayer are core spiritual practices for Christ-followers. David used meditation and prayer throughout his life, becoming known as a man after God’s own heart. The Star Wars saga and the Bible encourage us to spend time in quiet, spiritual reflection, especially in the midst of trial or tribulation.

The institution can impede the movement

Movements require organization, but institutions can draw the focus away from spiritual prompts. In the prequel trilogy, the Jedi Council has become a key player in galactic politics. But, as the trilogy unfolds, the Council appears to value institutional preservation over the promptings of the Force. Qui-Gon Jinn tries to buck this trend, but to no avail. Similarly, the church has also, on occasion, placed institutional preservation above spiritual prompting. The Catholic church became a political powerhouse after the Middle Ages, and the evangelical church flexed its own political power in the United States in the 50s, 60s, and 80s. In both the Star Wars saga and our own history books, the result of putting the institution above the personal spiritual relationship is ultimately that people turn away from the institutions or the institutions crumble.

The miracle of the virgin birth

Jesus was born to Mary without Mary ever having sexual intercourse. The Holy Spirit worked in Mary’s body to produce the baby Jesus. In The Phantom Menace, the Force works through the midi-chlorians in Shmi Skywalker’s body to produce Anakin Skywalker. While neither the biblical account nor the Star Wars saga describes this miraculous event in detail, both stories tell of significant figures who are born out of supernatural, spiritual intervention.

The problem of fear

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering,” Yoda says to a young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. Fear is the path that leads to the dark side. The biblical narrative states that perfect love casts out fear, and there are many verses about the negative impact of fear. Fear, according to Star Wars and the Bible, prevents us from experiencing healthy spirituality.

The spiritual powers available to disciples

Jedi and Sith disciples have access to numerous Force powers. Light side powers tend to have altruistic applications while dark side powers are intended to harm or control. The biblical narrative doesn’t contain as many parallels with the dark side, but several light side powers are very similar to the power of the Holy Spirit referenced in the New Testament. Both Star Wars and the Bible show examples of supernatural powers, like: healing (Force Healing), concealment (Force Concealment), possession (Transfer Essence), perception (Force Sight), and at least three or four others supernatural powers. The Bible even goes so far as to say that the Holy Spirit will display these powers through Christ-followers today, though this is open to some interpretation.

Skye (played by Marianne Haaland) uses Force Push in Star Wars: Rivals, a fan film produced by the Reclamation Society.

Skye (played by Marianne Haaland) uses Force Push in Star Wars: Rivals, a fan film produced by the Reclamation Society.

The definition of evil

Star Wars characterizes evil as the pursuit of selfish desire. Each example of evil, from the Imperial leadership to the Sith Lords and acolytes, is exemplified by the pursuit of power born out of self-ambition. In the Bible, evil exists prior to sin in the form of Lucifer and the other fallen angels who selfishly seek power apart from God. After sin enters the world, evil is generally defined as a focus on self as opposed to loving God and loving others.

The origin of evil

While Star Wars and the Bible both teach that selfish ambition is the root of evil, they disagree on the origin of evil. In Star Wars, the light side and the dark side maintain balance with one another, perhaps even complementing one another (similar to the concept of yin and yang). While the Star Wars saga has yet to explain the origin of the Force, we know that the dark side represents evil and that it exists in the spiritual fabric of the galaxy. In the biblical narrative, evil arises when Lucifer defies God. God doesn’t create evil, nor does he want evil to persist, but He does allow for His created beings to choose evil (i.e., selfish ambition).

The experience of life after death

Here is where we start to see key differences between Star Wars and the Gospel. While both worldviews allow for life after death, Christ-followers believe in a more personal experience. In the Star Wars universe, sentient beings either become “one with the Force” or become a Force ghost. The former means being assimilated into the Force itself, whereas the latter refers to Jedi masters who have discovered how to live on as ghostly apparitions. But, in the biblical narrative, the spirit of the individual lives on in heaven in communion with God and others, or in hell eternally separated from the Creator. The significance of this difference rests in our choice of faith. Whereas all beings are assimilated into the Force regardless their spiritual pursuits during life, the Bible declares that there are separate paths for Christ-followers and nonbelievers.

Frame grab from Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope.

Frame grab from Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope.

The goal of a spiritual life

Perhaps the biggest divergence between the Gospel and the Force lies within each perspective’s spiritual objective. In Star Wars, the overarching spiritual goal is balance. While this concept is not well defined, it appears to be the most sought-after outcome. Balance can perhaps be best understood by exploring the contrasts found within the Jedi and Sith Codes. While Jedi pursue peace, knowledge, serenity, and harmony, Sith acolytes seek freedom by chasing passion, strength, power, and victory.

In the biblical narrative, love is the spiritual objective. God is love. God created us in love and wants us to love Him, so much so that the greatest commandment for Christ-followers (our “Code,” if you will) is to love God and love others. The basic message of the Gospel is that God loved humanity so much that He sent Jesus to Earth to pay the penalty for our sins, resurrect, and now advocate on our behalf. The goal isn’t to balance evil and good, but rather to overcome evil with good and connect every human being to God through love.

Balance cannot rectify the injustices we experience in life. Balance will not make life meaningful. The love of God, however, attributes immeasurable value to humanity, giving purpose to and hope for our existence.

The Importance of Spiritual Conversations and Exploring Hope

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the topic; it is meant to be a starting point for deeper conversations.

In a world overwhelmed with information and burdened by complexity, meaningful conversations can get lost in the litany of distractions we encounter each day. But, as we reflect on the true desires of our hearts and purposes for our lives, we must come to terms with deep spiritual matters: What is the objective of spirituality? What, if anything, can we put our hope in? Will we become one with the Force, or will we join God in heaven? And do we seek balance or love?

Star Wars and stories like it allow us to explore these questions and reflect on what we truly believe about the universe and humanity’s role in it. Consider starting a meaningful conversation and ask someone, where are you placing your hope today?



Author’s Note: It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of Carrie Fisher—Princess Leia, and later, General Organa. My hope is that Carrie knew a hope beyond The Force and that Jesus has welcomed her into heaven with open arms. May the Force be with you, Carrie, and may your soul rest in peace with our Lord and Savior.

Rogue One - A Reclamation Society Review

Rebellions are built on hope.

...and so are the spending habits of Star Wars fans! We hope every movie will be awesome, and we've been lucky, because Star Wars has given us some of the best movies of all time. But, is Rogue One in the top tier of Star Wars films? I think so! Here's my review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

The first part of this review DOES NOT have spoilers, but the second part DOES have spoilers. Which means, if you don't want to be spoiled, stop reading when you see the spoiler warning!!!

Rogue One: Summary of the Review

I've only seen Rogue One once thus far. Obviously, that's not enough for me to be definitive. But my gut feeling is that Rogue One will fall into one of the top three Star Wars films. Right now, here's how I'm ranking the series (scale of 1-10, 10 being best):

  1. The Empire Strikes Back - 10/10 (keep in mind that ESB is my favorite film of all time)
  2. Rogue One - 9.85/10
  3. The Force Awakens - 9.75/10
  4. A New Hope - 9.5/10
  5. Return of the Jedi - 9.25
  6. Revenge of the Sith - 7.5
  7. The Clone Wars - 6
  8. The Phantom Menace - 5.5 (this movie has some awful parts, but I love the pod race and the fight sequence at the end between the Jedi and Maul)

Rogue One comes in at #2 on the list! And maybe that's just the "newness" talking. I'm not sure yet, which is why more viewings are required. However, here are some of the reasons I love it:

It Feels Like It Belongs

It makes sense in the canon. It also fits perfectly into the timeline. Whereas the prequels felt "off" to me (the aesthetic didn't match my expectations), this feels perfect. It nails the style of the original trilogy, even when it's replacing what once were models with CG. It didn't make me feel as though the creators were trying to "break the mold." But...

It's Not Your Traditional Star Wars Film

It's a war film. It's also darker and grittier than traditional Star Wars films. This feels more like "real life" and less like space fantasy. I LOVE that aspect of it. That said, it still possesses fun moments, and it's not all doom and gloom.

It Explores Spirituality

At the Reclamation Society, we always prefer it when films dig a little deeper into spirituality. And Star Wars has been a little "all over the map" in this regard. Sometimes the Force is explained in scientific terms (#ThanksQuiGon), while other times its spoken of in terms of "feelings" (#ThanksObiWan). This is the first film in the Star Wars canon that feels more relatable in regards to how people like you and I might view spirituality. It seems to go a little deeper, and I love that (though, granted, it could go even deeper).

It Begins Well

I really like the beginning of the film. Everything is as it's supposed to be, but we suddenly get the sense that something's wrong. Tension immediately fills the screen. That tone sets the stage for the rest of the film, and it does so brilliantly.

It Ends... Magnificently

This is one of the best movie endings of all time, particularly for Star Wars fans. It's amazing. From the beginning of the third act all the way to the last second of the film, Rogue One NAILS the ending. After the movie ended I sat there thinking, "Wait, you have to rewind that! I must see that again!!!" It's extraordinary.

The Not-So-Good Parts

It's not a perfect film. The middle, for me, was a bit slow. Some of the dialogue is a bit "on the nose" and/or excessively expository (though, this has been a complaint of mine for multiple Star Wars films), and some of the humor seems a bit forced, particularly given the darker/grittier feel of the film.

Most of the effects are astounding, though there are a couple that are distracting (which is often the case when a film is trying to break creative ground).

One of the biggest criticisms I have (which, to be fair, I need to test on a second watch) is that the film seems to put plot above character development. This is where films like The Empire Strikes Back, The Force Awakens, and A New Hope have a leg up on Rogue One. In those films, we see the development of the characters. They change significantly. In Rogue One, some of the characters shift their opinions and change their actions or attitudes, but we don't see major emotional/value system changes (again, upon first watch--I need to watch it again!).

And now, let's talk through some of the more specific parts of the film...

[SPOILER WARNING - STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ROGUE ONE!]

Darth Vader

The first scene with Vader, when he's talking with Krennic, was okay. I love that they used the costume from A New Hope. That part was fantastic. But, to me, Vader seemed a little "verbose." He used a lot more words than I think he needed to in order to make his point. He also seemed somewhat less imposing than he did when we first saw him in A New Hope. But, those are minor complaints, especially because...

HOLY $*%&. THE SCENE WITH VADER AT THE END OF THE MOVIE IS PHENOMENAL!!! That scene, at the tail end of Rogue One, is the best scenes in Star Wars history. It's AMAZING. I loved it. It was the Vader we've all wanted to see since Return of the Jedi!

CG People

What did you guys think of Tarkin and Leia? I loved that they were included, and it really bumped the nostalgia up for me, which I really liked. However, I have a feeling that upon multiple viewings, Tarkin and Leia will be somewhat distracting for me. The CG is outstanding, but it's still not totally human-looking. It still looks fake. I liked it, and appreciated the nostalgic aspect of it, but CG still needs to get better before it can replace a real human being and not have it be obvious.

More About That Third Act

One of the things that makes the third act so good is the ever-increasing threat of failure. The pacing of the end is nothing short of artful. At every turn, the level of intensity rises. One minor thing becomes a major thing. One enemy goes down, and a more powerful enemy steps in to take its place. The AT-ACTs are fantastic. The ground battle is amazing. And the space battle is outstanding. There are so many great parts to the battle footage, including the camera angles and "surprises."

It Happens to Everyone

What did you think about everyone dying? I loved it. I really expected several of the characters to live (most especially Jyn and Cassian), but they didn't! And each character died appropriately. They didn't all die in the final explosion (in my theater, everyone gasped when Bohdi died). I thought that was perfect way to handle these characters. It fit the overall tone and feel of the movie, and it proved that it costs to rebel. There's a price to be paid. Freedom isn't free.

Cameos

The cameos were really fun, and some of them were unexpected. What was your favorite cameo? Mine was Red Leader. I believe they used the same footage from A New Hope, but I'm not sure. He was a really fun addition, though.

Faith and the Force

I appreciated how they treated Chirrut and Baze's faith. Chirrut stepped out in faith, and he was rewarded for it, even though it didn't "save" him in the end (he still had a time to die). Baze, on the other hand, seemed to have a doubting faith that became stronger when he witnessed Chirrut's faith in action. That was cool.

Conclusion

Well, that's about it. Expect a more detailed dive into the movie, including it's thoughts on spirituality, human nature, relationships, and its stance on government policy and procedure when the movie is available for purchase. Until then, be sure to check out our Star Wars fan film, Star Wars: Rivals! In fact, we'd love to do a sequel to Rivals. And you can help us make it. Just cruise over to www.reclamationsociety.org/give and donate to the Reclamation Society. We're a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means your gift is tax deductible! Another way to support us is by purchasing a pair of Urban Vinyl headphones! For every purchase that's made through our special link, Urban Vinyl will donate to the Reclamation Society!

Don't forget to follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Imzy) and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Podbean! In fact, coming up on December 24th, our podcast will be Podbean's "featured podcast!" How cool is that? Special thanks to Podbean for that.

Be sure to leave your thoughts below! Let us know what you think of Rogue One, and may the Force be with you!

My Mom's Death and the Biggest Question of All

"To die would be a great adventure." - Peter Pan (from Hook)

I'm writing this on what would have been my mom's 62nd birthday. I wish I could say that I'm watching her smile and make fun of my brothers and me. I'd like to report that we're all digging into the spice cake that she used to make, or watching her open presents (only things from the list she would have given to us prior to her party, of course), or even taking fun selfies.

Unfortunately, we're not.

Instead, I'm writing this blog post, reminiscing about her, and feeling incredibly sad. I'm sad because, as you have probably guessed by now, my mom passed away four-and-a-half years ago. Her breast cancer showed up in her spine, and eventually moved to her brain, and that eventually took her into the next life.

Which prompts the question: what in the world does that have to do with the Reclamation Society?

Good question. But see, my mom's death is essential to my own personal journey. I'm writing this blog post because my mom's death is, in large part, what makes me so passionate about the Reclamation Society. It's why I started the Reclamation Society (alongside Nathan) in the first place.

Death prompts us to think beyond our present concerns and issues. Death breaks through the hustle and bustle of everyday life and demands that we consider our own mortality and the mortality of those around us. Put simply, it cuts through the bullsh*t.

Death drives us to deeper thinking and leads us to more important questions: What happens to us when we die? Where does our energy go? Is there anything beyond mortality, or is it only the void? What is my purpose in life? What really matters? The questions keep coming, sometimes in rapid succession, and other times in long beats of silence. But, each question drives us deeper into our own soul. Those questions weigh on us, because we don't have complete answers. But those very questions (and many more just like them) engage our emotions--fear, wonder, anxiety, joy, etc.

DO YOU FIND HOPE OR DESPAIR?

Peter Pan's quote from Hook catapults us to the very reason the Reclamation Society exists. His statement promises something more. Death isn't the end. There's more than the void. Better yet, there's another great adventure. And that's why the Reclamation Society produces podcasts. It's also why we create our own stories. Because if this life is all there is, where is the hope in that?

Long before my mom passed away, when she had breast cancer for the first time (at the far too young age of 39), I used to watch Star Wars and Indiana Jones and read Batman and Spiderman comics all day long. I loved those stories. They taught me a lot, and they asked me to dream and imagine exciting, fantastic things. But, when I would go to bed, and when I'd lay there alone in the dark, I was confronted with something else. I was confronted with the fact that those stories only gave me hope in life, but they gave me very little hope in death.

In the stories you love, do you find hope or despair? Why? Our goal is to delve deeper into sci-fi, geek, comic book, and fantasy stories (including those we create) in order to uncover truth. Truth that will lead us to hope.

We agree with Peter Pan. And beyond just a great adventure, we believe that death can force us to consider life in greater depth and provide answers for us now.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

Are you spiritual? What do you believe? Do you believe in reincarnation? Resurrection? Heaven? Hell? Karma? Limbo? Purgatory? Valhalla? Jannah? The Summerland? Something else?

We discuss comics and movies to discover Truth. What truth do these stories contain? And how will those truths shape our life today?

I have hope. And I am spiritual. As I consider my own narrative, I believe that my hope lies in Jesus Christ. Maybe you agree, maybe you don't. Either way, we should be able to have a healthy conversation about it. Because there are no greater mysteries to ponder.

And so, as I sit here and reflect on my mom's life, I'm sad, but I'm not without hope. Do you have hope? Want to discuss that with us? We'd love to chat with you. Tune into our podcasts, leave us a comment, or shoot us an email.

Ask questions. Delve deeper. Discover the Truth. What will we discover together?

Top 5 Comic Book Movies - Do You Trust the Data?

I recently wrote a blog post for Prose and Cons where I dove deeper into the comic book movie war between DC and Marvel. I wanted to know if the common sentiment on the street, that "DC movies suck!" was really true. In order to understand it better, I looked at Rotten Tomatoes (for both critics ratings and the audience rating) and Box Office Mojo (for monetary results). Here's what I found...

Marvel is Winning

Whether or not "DC sucks" is open to debate, but what's not open to debate is the success (both critically and monetarily) of Marvel's movie franchise (all movies produced by and in partnership with Marvel):

MARVEL MOVIES

Since the year 2000, Marvel comic book movies have averaged a score of 62.4% from critics and 67.8% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. The average score increases within the last three years. But the real kicker is the box office results: $3.39 billion dollars in sales.

DC MOVIES

DC hasn't fared quite as well, though the results are mixed. Since the year 2000, their comic book movies have averaged a score of 56.2% from critics and 68.8% from audiences (you'll note that this is higher than Marvel!) on Rotten Tomatoes. The biggest problem is the last three years. Critics have not liked DC's movies at all, despite audience support. And, they've earned less than a third of the revenue Marvel has earned, but that's primarily due to the number of films each company has been a part of (Marvel has produced far more films).

Top Films from DC and Marvel

What are the top five films from DC and Marvel since the year 2000? I'm glad you asked. Here's the list according to critics (based on Rotten Tomatoes ratings):

  1. The Dark Knight (DC) - 94%
  2. Iron Man (Marvel) - 94%
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel) - 91% (tie)
  4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (Marvel) - 91% (tie)
  5. Captain America: Civil War (Marvel) - 90%

The critics definitely prefer Marvel. Here are the top five films from Marvel and DC since the year 2000 as rated by audiences (also from Rotten Tomatoes):

  1. The Dark Knight (DC) - 94% (tie)
  2. Batman Begins (DC) - 94% (tie)
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel) - 92% (tie)
  4. Captain America: Winter Soldier (Marvel) - 92% (tie)
  5. The Avengers (Marvel), Iron Man (Marvel), Deadpool (Marvel), X-Men: Days of Future Past (Marvel) - 91% (tie)

DC has the top two films, but Marvel cleans up after that. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Marvel has made way more movies than DC has.

What are you top five comic book movies? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Star Wars: Rivals - Character Profile - Skye

[WARNING: This post may contain spoilers! Please watch Star Wars: Rivals before reading!]

Character Profile: Skye - Star Wars: Rivals

Skye is the central character in Star Wars: Rivals, our latest (and first ever) Star Wars fan film. Played by Marianne Haaland, Skye is the pivotal character in the film who goes through the biggest transformation. Let's take a deeper look into Skye's personality and background.

Marianne Haaland as Skye in Star Wars: Rivals.

Marianne Haaland as Skye in Star Wars: Rivals.

Skye's Background

If you've seen the movie, you probably picked up on a few important pieces of information:

  1. Skye and Kel share a father (who, as the movie begins, has passed away).
  2. Skye and Kel have different mothers.
  3. Skye's mother is a "Sith sorceress" (in Kel's words).

What's implied, but not explicitly stated, is that Skye's father (who is named Drake) had an affair with Skye's mother. The backstory is that Drake used to be a Jedi Knight, but was forced to leave the Order because of his affair with Skye's mother, Syndra-Tai, because of her affiliation with the Sith. After being forced out of the Jedi Order, Drake stole Skye from Syndra-Tai and raised both of his daughters on the remote planet of Lothal (as seen in our film). He trained them both in the ways of the Force far from the prying eyes of the Jedi and the Sith.

But, Drake's affair had grave implications beyond the negative impact on his knighthood. Kel's mother (his wife), Illiana, had been devastated by her husband's affair. She became sickly in her grief, and eventually passed away when Kel and Skye were young girls.

Drake mourned for years, but Kel was severely impacted by her mother's death (more on this when we release Kel's bio!).

Skye's Abilities

Skye trained under her father's tutelage, but did so carefully. She enjoyed being alone and reflective. Her abilities in persuasion, mindfulness, and Force telepathy blossomed, but she never excelled in physical Force powers...

Marianne Haaland Force pushing her sister, Kel, back in Star Wars: Rivals.

Marianne Haaland Force pushing her sister, Kel, back in Star Wars: Rivals.

  ...until she starts to use dark side powers (as seen in Rivals). Part of this ability stems from her connection to her mother, Syndra-Tai, a Sith acolyte. Skye allows Syndra-Tai to supplement her own abilities.

Skye's Journey

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

As we can tell from the film, Drake's death sends his daughters into a time of confusion, anger, and sadness. Kel, already struggling to accept her half-sister, becomes a bully. Skye, on the other hand, begins to fear her sister, and then becomes angry. And, as the quote listed above (from Jedi Master Yoda) suggests, this is the path to the dark side.

We see it when she's constructing her lightsaber and begins to get frustrated. And then again in her interactions with Kel, who shows her a completed lightsaber. Her mother's influence begins to twist her fear into anger. And soon, partially in self-defense, but also to prove herself to her mother, sister, and Cuthar, we see her use the red lightsaber and even use Force choke!

Marianne Haaland as Skye using Force choke in Star Wars: Rivals!

Marianne Haaland as Skye using Force choke in Star Wars: Rivals!

Skye's Journey Continues...

What do you think will happen to Skye? Leave us your comments below! We want to hear from you. Also, please consider supporting us financially. Additional funds will give us the opportunity to tell more stories just like Star Wars: Rivals!

Fear, Injustice, and Corruption - Why Batman Begins is Relevant Right Now

The Truth in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins

Terror attacks. Gun violence. Police shooting African American men. The threat of economic collapse. Sounds like I'm reading a new Batman series, right? Except, I'm not, I'm just reading yesterday's headlines. Perhaps now, more than ever, Christopher Nolan's film, Batman Begins, has something very important for us to explore--fear, injustice, and systemic corruption. In this podcast we cover important topics, like:

  • Justice (and injustice)
  • Fear
  • Corruption
  • Evil

We also take a stab at guessing what each character's spiritual belief system looks like. Who's most likely to be agnostic? Christian? Other? We cover those as well.

Special thanks to Daryl Smith for joining me on this episode (and for several upcoming episodes as well!).

Listen in on iTunes or Podbean! We'd love to hear your thoughts on Batman Begins as well. Please comment on this blog post or send us an email at reclamationsociety@gmail.com.

Thanks!

Two Shockingly Accurate Portrayals of Christian Characters in HBO's Deadwood

Christian Characters and Hollywood

First, I apologize if the title of the article is clickbait-y, but I stand by it, because I was shocked and moved. Hollywood and Christianity have had a tenuous relationship at best. From the Passion of the Christ to The Last Temptation of Christ to God's Not Dead to Book of Eli, films and Christianity have a sordid history of intrigue, betrayal, jealousy, and backstabbing (maybe even eye-gouging).

This means you tend to get one of two portrayals of Christian characters:

  • The Christian Propaganda Film Character(s). These types talk about how awesome it is to be Christian, how ignorant and insensitive atheists are, and how a character's instantaneous conversion changes her life and solves every problem she's ever had. These films are easily recognizable because at some point Kirk Cameron's name is likely to be associated with them.
  • The Hypocritical Christian Supporting Character. This character's black-and-white, moralistic thinking forces him to eat his own words when his fire and brimstone, self-righteous message comes crashing down around him—usually because he has an affair with another character who isn't his wife.

If we're being honest, it's usually the second type of character that feels more familiar, or sad to say, more true to life. Why? The reason is a scientific one (point one for the rational atheist!): we observe the hypocritical scenario playing itself out far more frequently in the world around us. A large number of people who call themselves Christians are merely moralists, not Christ-followers. For one thing, every human being is a hypocrite, but it's especially noticeable when said hypocrite is loud-mouthed, uncaring, and judgmental.

Because of all this, when a truly well-rounded Christian character appears in an HBO drama, it's a little surprising. But, the Season 1 finale of Deadwood has not one, but two such characters: Doc Cochran and Reverend H.W. Smith.

[SPOILER ALERT] Before you keep reading, be warned that there are spoilers!

The Dedicated, Doubting Believer

Reverend H.W. Smith is a kind, compassionate, and helpful person. He's meek, friendly, and well-mannered. He's also peculiar—though not in a creepy way—and in the town of Deadwood, he stands out like a sore thumb. Where others swear, carouse, and fornicate, he offers assistance, prayer, and a helping hand. And, shockingly, he's never judgmental, which is why when he gets a brain tumor, I was certain the writers would have him grow to resent God, become spiteful, and eventually turn away from Christ.

As the tumor's impact on his life worsens, the reverend grows increasingly frightened. He wonders if God has abandoned him. He seeks solace inside the Gem saloon, not in the company of prostitutes or to drown his sorrows in alcohol, but rather to listen to the piano, because it helps his mind focus and reminds him that there's beauty in the world. As he loses his eyesight and becomes increasingly confused, he seeks the company of friends.

And, though he wonders aloud why God would allow him to experience this pain, he continues to preach in the street. He continues to praise his Lord and Savior. And he continues to try to help others while he still can. He never turns his back on his hope. He keeps the faith all the way to the end. Despite the pain, despite the mental fog, and despite the temptations that assail him all around, he continues to love his Savior.

It's beautiful, really, and poignant. I often hear Christians talk about death in light terms. They'll say things like, "It was so easy near the end. Grandfather just sort of passed on." But, in my own life, my mother's death was horrific and painful (she also had a brain tumor). Despite that, she remained a Christ-follower until the end when she went to meet her Savior.

See, I had seen Reverend H.W. Smith before in my mom. Not the spiteful, resentful, loathsome Christian who has a crisis of faith in light of hardship, but rather the patient, helpful, and intentional Christ-follower who knows no other hope than Jesus Christ. Of course Christians have doubts and of course some have crises of faith, but we rarely see the ones who display grace in the midst of affliction. It was hopeful to see one portrayed on screen in this way.

The Stressed Seeker

Then there's Doc Cochran. In contrast to the Reverend, Cochran has no outwardly obvious signs of faith, except that he gives of his own time and serves the city of Deadwood, providing medical care for all who need it. He appears more interested in the health of his patients than any sort of moral code. He's surly and unfriendly at times, stressed out, and generally disagreeable. But, underneath that, he helps people, he points them in the right way, and he advocates for them. His work is difficult and demanding, but he does what he can. It might even be a stretch to call him a Christian at the outset, and he certainly doesn't indicate that he is one, until...

As the reverend continues to suffer on his deathbed, Cochran (in the very same episode) falls on his knees and calls out to Jesus, pleading with Him to let Reverend H.W. Smith die. He even asks, "What purpose can his suffering bring?"

Perhaps you've never had this experience. Maybe this doesn't ring true for you at all. But to me, this was a poignant scene because I have prayed the very same prayer, on my knees, calling out to God and wondering what His purpose could possibly be. And I'm willing to bet you know someone who has done something similar.

How Did HBO Get It Right?

If you've ever seen Deadwood, you know it's not a morality tale. (In fact, my wife read somewhere that it had the most frequent use of the "F word" in the history of television.) And yet, the writers managed to showcase two authentic Christian characters in the midst of trial and tribulation. Fascinating. I'm not sure I can say the same thing about most Christian media!

The Reclamation Society generally analyzes sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book stories, not westerns, but I wanted to mention this because it speaks to what we're doing. HBO wasn't preaching to anyone. Nor did they have any apparent "message" to communicate. They just wanted to tell an authentic story with honest characters, and they did—and I applaud them for it.

What characters have you seen on television or in film that appeared authentic based on your experience? They don't have to be Christian. They could be Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion. Let us know in the comments!