We all have a screen saver on our computers, but do we see screen saviours on our movie, television or computer screens?” I see these saviours, often, so I would like to share something of this with you.
Speaking of saviours, we will all celebrate the birth of the Saviour on 25 December, Christmas Day. However, millions of people around the world will be having a celebration a week earlier, 18 December, a celebration of cinema salvation – the opening of the new Star Wars movie, the beginning of a new trilogy.
This may be difficult for some readers to believe, but there was a time when the world had never heard of Star Wars! Admittedly, that was almost 40 years ago – and the teenagers who were excited then (and probably remained excited all these years) are now grandparents. Star Wars certainly introduced a different kind of awareness, and not just to moviegoers. Ronald Reagan, as US president, referred to a defence system as "Star Wars".
From 1977, everyone knew that Luke Skywalker was something of a saviour, along with his sister, Princess Leia, and his friend, Han Solo. The Star Wars series was mythmaking about our world and about the galaxies, the conflict between good and evil – and everyone knew about Darth Vader and became aware of the Dark Side. Of course, everybody had also heard, “May the Force be with you.”
The Star Wars films opened up different ways of thinking about values, using popular images and metaphors. These had the potential to lead us deeper into our understanding of human nature, of our world, even of the transcendent world. Many of us call this the world of God. There were some complaints at the time that this was all very New Age and not particularly Christian – but the point was that these entertaining films opened up new horizons and offered the possibility for exploring Christian belief and understanding the Jesus of the Gospels, sometimes more profoundly.
This kind of mythmaking will mean that for moviegoers and Star Wars fans, December 2015 will be an important month.
On my shelves there is a book called Saviours on the Silver Screen. It is a book introducing us to the main films about Jesus and how they portrayed him as both human and divine, sharing our human lives with us, a Redeemer and a Saviour. The authors wrote about The King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ Superstar. And, since The Passion of the Christ, there have been many more ‘Jesus films’. One could recommend Son of Man, made in South Africa, with a black Jesus. So, these are obvious places to look if you want to begin to understand something about screen saviours.
I also have a book on my shelf called The Gospel from Outer Space. It was quite exciting when it came out in the early 1980s, based on a series of lectures by Robert L. Short, who wrote books explaining the message of the Peanuts cartoons.
This was the time of Superman the Movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Empire Strikes Back, more Superman movies and a film popular with people of every age, Steven Spielberg’s ET.
Robert Short pointed out that a lot of these superheroes − Luke Skywalker, Superman, ET − all from outer space, came down to earth, shared our lives with us, enabled us to be our better selves, took the side of good, even of grace, and tried to conquer evil.
When ET was released in 1982, one of my students remarked that he knew that there was the OT, the Old Testament, then there was the NT, the New Testament, and now there was the ET, the Extra Testament! In fact, there is a scene where ET receives a blood transfusion from Elliott, then comes to the back of the ambulance, his red heart beating through his white gown – and somebody wondered whether this was a new version of an image of the Sacred Heart!
Another quip that Robert Short made was that Star Wars, with its hero, Luke, and its creator, George Lucas, was providing a “gospel according to Luk-as”!
I believe if we are able to look at ‘the movies’, not just with a ‘multiplex mentality’, an entertaining night out, but also alert to the possibilities the stories, this myth-making, offers, we will find we are enjoying the way the stories open us to an appreciation of our values, our principles, our moral stances, our admiration for heroes and a deeper awareness of pervading evil and how it can be destroyed.
This might even be called “salvation”