Dr. Eugene Gan is faculty associate of the Veritas Center and professor of interactive media, communications and fine art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States. He is the author of Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media, a guide for understanding and engaging media in meaningful and healthy ways in daily life. His website is eugenegan.weebly.com.
Even if you’re not an enthusiast, you’re likely aware that Star Wars has a huge international fan base spanning a wide range of ages. And while the same fan base has been heretofore somewhat disenchanted by the new Star Wars offerings since Disney took over the franchise, the new Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian has, by the looks of online polls and discussion forums, been widely applauded as true to the spirit of the original trilogy.
Conversations about this new addition to the Star Wars mythos are likely to come up around the dinner table this holiday season, and as Christians we can joyfully join in the conversation to help bridge these conversations to the meanings of our lives. Be ready, St. Peter reminds us, to give an account for our hope (1 Peter 3:15).
Some notable Christian website reviews have classified The Mandalorian as having no spiritual content, but I think they have defined “spiritual content” rather narrowly. As Catholics, we understand that to be holy is to be fully human, or as St. Irenaeus put it: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Having watched the episodes that have been released so far, I submit that scripts like these can help us, steeped in modern culture and ways of thinking, to better recognize Our Lord. This isn’t meant to be a review so much as a springboard to an amazing conversation about how good, well-written screen scripts point to our place in the salvation story.
Spoiler alerts apply.
The Mandalorian is at heart a cowboy western set in the Star Wars universe. We’re told that, as one of the practices of his religion, he neither removes his helmet nor lets another remove it. This becomes a challenge for the show: how do you get your audience to relate to a character whose face you never see?
Recall that when we get to the last emotionally-charged scene in many superhero movies in which the hero is generally masked, we’re given several glimpses or straight out full views of the hero’s face for that added emotional punch. Ironman’s heartbreaking death scene at the end of Avengers Endgame and Spider-man’s torn mask in the duel with Norman Osborn as Goblin at the end of the 2002 Toby Maguire movies come to mind.
We can’t help it. We’re human beings who look into the faces of other human beings to better relate to one another. It’s tough relating to a helmeted character whose face we never see. So how do the writers of The Mandalorian get us to relate to the main hero of the show? Certainly body language helps, but it’s so much more powerfully communicated in his actions and his choices in the situations he’s placed in.
Now consider this: every Christian who seeks God with a sincere heart, at some point in his journey, has had or will have a great longing to see God’s face (Psalm 24:6). The standard images of Jesus that seem to be everywhere don’t satisfy anymore. We deeply desire to be with the one we love.
But how can you love someone whose face you’ve never seen? Is it even possible? Yes! We love Jesus in response to his love which is so manifest in his actions in the situations and circumstances he’s placed us in or allowed us to be in.
Even in the trials we can and must thank God because he brings all things to the good of us who love him (Romans 8:28)! And 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
God’s presence becomes more evident to us when we make time for inner silence to prayerfully take note, journaling perhaps, and pondering his actions in our day. We will still feel the longing to see Our Lord’s face, but we can be assured that this longing will be fulfilled (Revelation 22:4)!
Consider this too: The series pilot opens with our titular hero walking into a bar where scum and villainy mingle. The typical western bar scenario plays out and the scene in the script is clearly to set up our lone gunfighter as tough-as-nails-don’t-mess-with-him.
How do the scriptwriters get us to feel for the hero? They show his humanness. By the end of the first episode, he’s holding out his finger to a little baby Yoda nestled in a crib.
In the next two episodes titled “The Child” and “The Sin,” Mando is placed in various situations that are designed to show that he is like us, not always appearing the hero in every circumstance. The almost comical scene where he’s trying to ride a Blurrg (think trying to ride a horse that hasn’t been broken in), or when he’s tossed out of the cave and dragged in the mud by the Mudhorn (rhino-bull like creature), or when he’s zapped by little Jawas and falls unceremoniously off the sandcrawler are cases in point.
Consider God’s story. How has it been revealed to us? The one true God is not to be messed with. His power and might are evident throughout, especially in the Old Testament. Yet how does the Author of Life choose to help us relate to him? He presents us with his humanness.
Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is in our midst, just like us in all things but sin. He’s tossed out of the Temple and dragged through the mud. We’re given clues all throughout the story that God is coming. Then we’re given the inside scoop, as it were, that he did no wrong – look at all his actions in all circumstances, witnessed by so many – and still he chose to die for you be because he loves you.
How can you not be moved? Jesus, God himself, pleads with you as he reminds you of your story with Him:
My people, what have I done to you or in what have I offended you? Answer me. What more should I have done, and did not do? I led you out of the land of Egypt, and you prepared a cross for me. I opened the Red Sea before you, and you opened my side with a lance. I gave you a royal scepter, and you have given me a crown of thorns. With great power I lifted you up, and you have hung me upon a cross. My people, what have I done to you, or in what have I offended you? Answer me. [From the Reproaches of Good Friday, ancient hymn and drawn from the Old Testament]
For all of us who from time to time tune out the readings at Mass thinking that we’ve heard the story a dozen times before, perhaps it helps to look at our own salvation story with new perspectives.
A good script can’t help but point to God’s story because a good script engages our humanness. It catches us in our emotions and our fears, and ultimately in what we long for and what we’re made for: Love.
I hope that you’re encouraged to either write good scripts or join in the conversations about movies and media that inevitably arise with friends and family. Just remember that every good script is but a mirror of the real story that God has already made you a part of.