Tuesday, June 2, 2015

(Star) War(s) is Hell

I suppose it's not very BenOp of me, but I let my toddler watch Star Wars. She's pretty obsessed with it now. "I want watch bobots" is pretty much a nightly refrain around here: she does like her daily dose of Luke, "Dark Hater" ("He's Luke's daddy; you're my daddy"), and especially "Bobot Fett"--kid has great taste already. (It's also probably not very traditionalist of me that I'm proud of her for wanting to be a Jedi instead of a princess, but she does, I am, and that's that.)

Anyhow, I've had a lot of time lately to ponder all six episodes of Lucas' magnum opus. (If you had told pubescent me that it was possible to get sick of Star Wars, he wouldn't have believed you. He would have been wrong.) In addition to their surprising usefulness in teaching my daughter to stay the heck away from fire (Anakin's fate in Revenge of the Sith:"fire hot; give him bad boo-boos; I not touch fire") and electricity (Luke's torment in Return of the Jedi: "tricity hurt Luke; Emperr not nice"), the third and sixth episodes contain some perhaps useful object lessons about evil.

In particular, one of the thoughts I've had watching (and watching, and watching) all this Star Wars is that there are a two moments in Lucas' hexad that neatly encapsulate some of C.S. Lewis' insights about Satan.

First, consider the two main villains Luke Skywalker encounters in Return of the Jedi: first Jabba the Hutt in his palace and on his pleasure barge, and then Emperor Palpatine (along with Darth Vader, of course) on his Death Star. 

The corpulent Jabba looks like gluttony incarnate, and his palace and "pleasure" barge host his lustful, perverse penchant for keeping enslaved dancing girls. Jabba embodies the sins of the flesh. He's also rather easily defeated.

Now consider Palpatine. Hatred, pride, envy--those are the sins to which he tempts, enthroned in his cold technological lair. And defeating him is much, much costlier--Luke nearly dies, and his father does die.

That contrast in Return of the Jedi reminds me of this passage from Lewis' Mere Christianity:
The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.
Second, consider the infamous "Do Not Want!" scene near the conclusion of Revenge of the Sith. Palpatine, the diabolical puppet-master of all six films, tempted Anakin Skywalker to the dark side by promising that if only he would give in to Palpatine's temptation, Anakin could employ dark arts to save his pregnant wife, Padme, from death during childbirth. Anakin turns to the dark side, chokes his wife nearly to death out of jealousy and rage, and gets himself brutally burned after pridefully challenging his erstwhile Jedi master in a duel. Awakening as a shell of his former self, mummified alive in a cybernetic life support suit, Anakin (now Darth Vader) asks, "Where is Padme? Is she safe? Is she all right?"

Palpatine replies with perverse nonchalance that, "It seems in your anger, you killed her."

Vader says, "I...? I couldn't have! She was alive... I felt it!" He bursts the bonds holding him to the operating table, and lashes out with the dark side of the Force to crush much of the bric-a-brac in the operating room--empowered to rage so, but impotent to bring back the woman, and the wonderful life, that he cast aside. As Vader yells "Noooooo!" in one of Lucas' tale's moments of deepest pathos (and film's moments of deepest bathos), Palpatine's cowl hides a smirk.

Despite the bathetic lapse in mood of Vader's endless "Noooooooooooooooo!", this scene is about the best cinematic representation I've ever come across of a key passage from Lewis' Screwtape Letters, in which the demonic tempter instructs another demon in the dark arts of temptation thus (keeping in mind that for Screwtape, "the Enemy" is God, and the "Father," the devil):
In the first place I have always found that the Trough periods of the human undulation provide excellent opportunity for all sensual temptations, particularly those of sex. This may surprise you, because, of course, there is more physical energy, and therefore more potential appetite, at the Peak periods; but you must remember that the powers of resistance are then also at their highest. The health and spirits which you want to use in producing lust can also, alas, be very easily used for work or play or thought or innocuous merriment. The attack has a much better chance of success when the man’s whole inner world is drab and cold and empty. And it is also to be noted that the Trough sexuality is subtly different in quality from that of the Peak—much less likely to lead to the milk and water phenomenon which the humans call “being in love”, much more easily drawn into perversions, much less contaminated by those generous and imaginative and even spiritual concomitants which often render human sexuality so disappointing. It is the same with other desires of the flesh. You are much more likely to make your man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne when he is dull and weary than by encouraging him to use it as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive. Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart. And the troughs are the time for beginning the process.
Palpatine gets Anakin's soul and gives him nothing in return. Palpatine is among the most purely satanic characters on film. And miserable, duped Anakin among the better object lessons for us sinners.

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