By Peter Malone
Where is that text in Matthew’s Gospel about not calling anyone Master or Rabbi? It is there in chapter 23, Jesus being really fierce in his denunciation of the behaviour of the religious leaders, urging that we do what they say but not what they do.
He says we are all brothers and sisters and we have one master, the Christ. He can be called a Master and, with Mary Magdalene in the garden at the resurrection, she calls him Rabbi. This is a way of introducing a screen Master, and a worldwide acceptance, now for decades, that in a galaxy far, far away, there was a place for a master and mentor, an archetypal sage, admired by everyone. He is that Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
George Lucas said the role required a certain stability and gravitas and needed a very strong actor to play the part. The choice was Alec Guinness, but Harrison Ford, as Han Solo, said, “It was, for me, fascinating to watch Alec Guinness. He was always prepared, always professional, always very kind to the other actors. He had a very clear head about how to serve the story”. So, the older Alec Guinness, bearded and veiled, with his resonant, familiar voice, became the exemplar of the Master.
And what is the role of a Master? The Master instructs, guides, accompanies, inspires and serves as a mentor to his followers, disciples. Obi-Wan Kenobi was a mentor to the older generation of Jedi Knights, including Annakin, and it was to his distress that, even though Annakin was trained in the light, in the power of the Force, evil was more attractive and he chose the Dark Side. (Not every Master had 100% success when one thinks of Judas.)
So, Obi-Wan Kenobi had to emerge from his hidden life, from his seclusion as a hermit, in old age, to instruct Annakin’s son (and perform the dreaded task of revealing to the son his father’s dark side), Luke Skywalker. With “Wars: in the title, and continued battles in space, it was inevitable there would be weapons. (Even Jesus said we had to find weapons to confront and challenge people.) And every boy from 1977 knew what a laser sword was.
Obi-Wan Kenobi was also a rescuer, a saviour against the attack of the Black Star, giving his life for his disciples, bequeathing a heritage, but living on in spirit, his voice ever-present, inspiring. But, of course, we should be considering The Force. In many ways, religious educators were rather pleased that during the 1970s, the possibility of a transcendent power, something of the divine, even of God, could emerge in Star Wars. It did lead to a kind of Deism, a general sense of a transcendent presence. It even led to a number of enthusiasts proclaiming Jedi Knights as a religion, even for census purposes.
And it had that parallel to the liturgy greeting, “The Lord be with you”. But, it is not a bad thing to hope that The Force, whatever it be, whatever powers it had, would be with us. And of course, we might say that in world conversations, “going over to the Dark Side” means the choice of evil.
But The Force also introduced a wider consideration of the Christian tradition of the Trinity, especially a focus on the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, after his death and continued risen life, was in the spirit, communicating that spirit to Luke.
And we remember the language of Jesus, filled with the spirit, promising the spirit, breathing forth on the disciples his spirit. Jesus and inspiration, inspiration having its basic meaning with breath and breathing life. At the beginning of the Jewish Scriptures, the spirit hovers over the void, but then creates every aspect of the world.
Of course, this is all symbolic. It is all allegory. There are indications and suggestions, religious elements, evocative elements – and it would be interesting to read a very serious study on the meaning of The Force and how it influenced cultural thinking and religious thinking over the past few decades.
Alec Guinness, a devout Catholic convert himself, impressed younger audiences as a Jedi Master of integrity – and perhaps to more serious audiences, a touch of credibility that Obi-Wan Kenobi could be seen as something of a Christ-figure.
Extract from Christ Figures – Gospel Values In Film (Coventry), by Peter Malone