Review: The Gospel According to Star Wars by John C. McDowell

A book that entails philosophy, religion (mainly Christianity with very little Buddhism), politics through the explanation of Star Wars, seems like a most read to my inner Star Wars dork and student of world religions and their impacts through their media outlets. My professor in religion spoke a lot of the all the religions and symbolism in Star Wars in the four classes I had with him. We even watched the “Revenge of the Sith” in my World Religion in Pop Culture class. When you become aware of dialogue and actions of characters in these movies and how religion/philosophy interplays within and beyond the movie itself, you see the concepts/practice alive right before your eyes.

The author John C. McDowell writes 20-30 page chapters (around 8 chapters total I believe) on the movies, books, extended literature and cartoons beyond the 6 major theatrical releases. McDowell really tries to drill into how the two trilogies fit together and goes to great lengths defending the prequels. The prequels, of course, have been thrashed by critics and fans for the acting, dialogue, storyline, suspected political agenda by George Lucas, etc. Reading through the book I realized how much I’ve forgotten the specifics/nuances of Star Wars. I especially don’t remember a lot of the detail in the prequel but that may have been more due to the fact that I didn’t care for them upon first viewings.

Masterfully done intentionally or not, I had a hard time getting a read on the author’s personal beliefs. He is a theology professor and seemed well versed and or research in the Bible. Although his personal beliefs are not ultimately important, I felt at times he knocked Christianity unnecessarily. Although, he did make some fair points on how some Christians approach salvation, the church, and sin. What I felt was greatly missing from this book was how Buddhism meshes with Star Wars. Buddhism is so present throughout the Star Wars series and it is barely mentioned in this book. Maybe it was the intention of the author to focus more so on the Christianity aspects of the movies and how the two parallel each other.

McDowell brought some interesting concepts to light that Christianity is more extensively present in the movies than I had originally seen or thought. This was an interesting book and definitely got me thinking and wanting to go watch the whole series over to pick out and dissect what McDowell describes in his book. He made me either want to see his arguments and connections that I was not all aware again and most importantly, try to give the prequels another chance.

So far in my re-watching of the series I find myself coming up with more questions than the confirmations to the connections McDowell tried to present in “The Gospel of the Force”. Yes I do have a better understanding of the character of Anakin Skywalker and his portrayal by actor Hayden Christensen. I don’t think Hayden did as bad of job acting and can appreciate his ability to bring out the darker, more evil elements of Anakin’s character out. But he does seem to be a tad bit whiny and immature at times and honestly, I don’t understand what his future wife, Padame would see in him as husband material. McDowell talked though of why Anakin was portrayed the way he was due to the following factors: Obi-wan not the best fit as a mentor/father figure for him, no father, high expectations placed on him from an early age, (from everyone including his mother that he was cut out to be “The Chosen One to bring balance to the Force”) and the Jedi teachings being a little too strict to mold Anakin into this mindless robot of sorts. I do agree with a lot of this reasoning and that’s why I can cut Christensen more slack in the way he played Anakin.

Here’s when things get confusing for me……

As I was watching Attack of the Clones (2nd prequel movie), The Jedi Council is having a sobering and sort of disturbing discussion. They spoke of knowing that something was amidst in the politics, planning and motives to push for a war. They were convinced that the Sith were behind this trouble, but were unable to find the source because of “the cloud” of the dark side of the force. Apparently the dark side of the force clouds everything and makes it hard for the Jedi to see into the future, use the Force or whatever to guide their paths. Reasons for the lack of clarity can be explained with anger, hatred, fear and that those emotions produce unpredictability, which definitely would hamper the flow of how the Force guides everything. So often throughout both the original and prequel movies, (Yoda and Mace Windu especially) they could identify the feelings and signs of the dark side within people.

How come they couldn’t detect anything going on with Senator Palpatine even though the obvious signs were there he was up to questionable things or at least investigate him much sooner before he entrenched himself as the Supreme Chancellor? I mean, you have all these wise Jedi masters sitting around talking and doing little else, but with there combined efforts they still couldn’t pinpoint something odd, worth serious intervention in researching Palpatine?

My theory on their failure to detect anything deals with the fact they were in the “belly of the beast” in the capital and caught up in all the politics,bureaucracy. The Jedi Council became caught up in all the politics. trying to influence the Senate and therefore was cumbersome to react to the reality that a Sith Lord was in their midst the entire time. If the Dark side of the Force was clouding their vision or whatever, then maybe a couple should have put some physical distance between themselves and Senate, rest of the Jedi Council and meditated to gain better clarity on what’s going on. Then watching the Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi Council finally wants to investigate Palpatine and sends Anakin to watch his movements. However it was too late to act and to send Anakin to investigate a man he calls a friend and respects greatly. Palpatine had already established a solid relationship, even if was built on deceit, unlike the Jedi Council who have been wary of Anakin. The Jedi Council have does their best to control Anakin because even though he could bring balance to the force, they know the anger and fear in him that could spin him off to the dark side working against them at any moment. Anakin tries to be obedient to the Jedi Council but his dreams of losing Padame during childbirth, scare him to aligning himself the Sith Lord Darth Sidious (Palaptine) against the the Jedi at the most crucial juncture of the Jedi vs. Sith war.

Well this book was pretty interesting and showed me how little I knew about Star Wars along with a lot of things I forgot since my childhood days of fantasy in mimicking the powers of the Force. There is no doubt you would need to have at least a basic understanding of Star Wars to be able to read this book. I would go as far to say you should be very interested/fascinated by Star Wars or enjoy reading religion in pop culture to grasp everything this book is saying. A good read but a very targeted audience since it focuses on Christianity. Rating 6/10

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