Faith and Fandom
To Boldly Go Into All the World, Preaching the Good News...Where No One Has Gone Before

George Lucas

Failure at the Cave

Right in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), there’s a surreal scene that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the sci-fi blockbuster’s action-packed storyline. The film’s breakneck pace slows down for just a moment during Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) Jedi training on the swamp planet Dagobah. Due to the vignette’s subject matter, positioning in the plot and stylistic filming, it’s clear that creator George Lucas and director Irvin Kershner intended to set the episode apart from the rest of the film for a specific reason, which invites a close examination of the sequence.

To set the scene, diminutive Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) has been drilling Luke with a series of physically demanding exercises. During a break in training, Yoda initiates Luke’s next challenge…a psycho/spiritual exercise designed to test the young initiate’s character.

“That place,” Yoda indicates with his withered wooden cane, “is strong with the Dark Side of the Force.”  

The Force is the mystical energy that “surrounds us and penetrates us” (pantheism) and grants magical powers to those skilled in its use. The Dark Side is the embodiment of evil, and the cave that Yoda is prompting Luke to enter is saturated with it.

Concern evident in his voice, Luke asks what he’ll find inside the pit. Yoda’s cryptic response is, “Only what you take with you.” This seemingly innocuous line, delivered by the green-skinned alien as he draws circles in the muck with his walking stick, has huge implications for Luke’s impending test.

As a precaution, Luke picks up his weapons belt and prepares to face the unknown. But Yoda, ever the intuitive instructor, senses Luke’s apprehension and says, “Your weapons, you will not need them.” That statement generates the only moment of levity in this otherwise serious and dark passage in the film.  Luke tosses Yoda a skeptical look, as if to say “Yeah, right!,” and continues fastening his utility belt around his waist.

Standing at the mouth of the cavern, Luke reaches a crossroads…you might call it a crisis of faith.  Will he enter the cave or not? What will Luke find inside the “domain of evil” and will he be ready to face it?

As Luke descends into the dank, reptile-ridden pit, he comes face-to-face with the manifestation of his greatest fear…the black clad Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader. There are a couple important points to consider in this scene. First, Vader activates his lightsaber only after Luke does; a defensive posture. Secondly, and most importantly, Vader makes no serious effort to either attack Luke or defend himself against Luke’s assault (the contest is comprised of just three lightsaber clashes). Due to Vader’s feeble resistance, Luke decapitates him within a matter of seconds. In the aftermath of this short-lived duel, Luke sees his own face inside Vader’s helmet, which, of course, sets up the haymaker revelation later in the movie.

The brief battle is shot at a pseudo slo-mo speed and has a dreamlike quality to it. This visual aesthetic, which is highly effective in creating an atmosphere of palpable dread, is cunningly symbolic when considering Luke’s earlier statement about boggy Dagobah resembling something out of a dream.

The cave confrontation confirms Yoda’s unheeded advice since Luke could’ve completed the challenge far quicker and without any violence had he entered the grotto sans his weapons. Ironically, even though Luke learns the lesson, he still fails the test.  This fact is confirmed later in the movie when Yoda says, “Remember your failure at the cave.” 

Luke’s conscious decision to shun sound counsel recalls many similar situations in the Bible where ostensibly righteous men chose to ignore, reject or modify God’s will in order to suit their own purposes.

Remember the Sunday school story of Jonah and the whale (Jonah 1&2)?  God called Jonah to teach in Nineveh, but obstinate Jonah jumped on the first ship headed in the opposite direction.  Jonah eventually ended up preaching in Nineveh, but not before he was tossed into a stormy sea, swallowed by a whale and vomited onto a beach. That’s what you call learning the hard way.

Or how about when Moses struck the rock with his staff instead of speaking to it as God had commanded (Numbers 20:11&12)?  Moses’ moment of anger prevents him from entering the Promised Land.

And what about mentally tortured Saul, who, after failing to hear God’s voice, consulted with the witch at Endor (who must’ve been short and furry) to conjure up the spirit of departed prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 28:7)?

Luke’s disregard for Yoda’s instruction smacks of the same kind of disobedience demonstrated in these Biblical examples. Even though Luke’s hesitation over entering a potentially dangerous situation without any defenses is completely understandable, the way he responds to the situation, by taking matters into his own hands, is still an act of rebellion against his teacher.

Turning away from the Master (Romans 3:23) is something we all have in common with Luke. However, the fact that we can glean insight from a mishandled mission (just like Luke does) is a reassurance that God’s plan can still be fulfilled in spite of our selfish motives. But how much more could we accomplish for the Kingdom if we did things God’s way instead of ours?

So have you ever had a failure at the cave?  Have you missed out on God’s best by relying on your own wisdom instead of His (Proverbs 3:5)?  Have you tried negotiating (or wrestling, as Jacob did in Genesis 28:10-17) with God only to discover that your efforts were in vain and that things would’ve worked out far better had you just done what He asked from the start?  Do you find that the guilt you experience over past failures keeps driving you back to the cave time after time in a habitual cycle of shame?

Whatever challenge the cave represents in your life, know that God will never allow you to face a trial that you can’t overcome with his power (1 Cor. 10:13), nor will He abandon you in your darkest hour (Deuteronomy 31:6).  In fact, He has promised to protect you and lead you through life’s many dangers and pitfalls (Psalm 23).  So, whenever you’re faced with a cave moment of your own, prepare your heart in advance to learn the lesson God is seeking to impart.  Or, to tie the moral of the story back to Luke’s training, always do what the little green guy says.

February, 5, 2016

Heading Out to Eden

The original series Star Trek episode “The Way to Eden” follows the misadventures of a small band of space hippies. Jonesing for harmony and easy living, the far-out free spirits steal an Enterprise shuttlecraft and head out to a paradise planet named Eden.

Living up to its reputation, Eden is a verdant world, abundant in beauty and natural resources. However, when the cosmic misfits finally arrive at their new paradise home, they discover a horrifying truth—everything, from the soil on the ground to the fruit on the trees, is composed of acid. The hippies learn, too late for many in their group, that the planet is no paradise after all and that constant exposure to the poisonous environment will soon claim their lives.

The seekers of paradise in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) are subjected to a different kind of divine disappointment. Spock’s half-brother, Sybok, hijacks the Enterprise, steers it past the Galactic Barrier and parks it in orbit around a blue-green tie-dye planet known as Sha Ka Ree (the Vulcan word for Eden). Whereas the space hippies yearn for a paradise without God, Sybok seeks a paradise with God.

Unfortunately, Sybok makes the costly mistake of listening to the wrong voice. The entity they encounter on Sha Ka Ree isn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but claims to be “one god [with] many faces,” revealing numerous religious figures from Earth and other planets. The rapid-fire display of visages infers that true religion is a mélange of beliefs a la the precepts of Joseph Campbell’s comparative mythology (the philosophical bedrock for George Lucas’ mystical Force in the Star Wars movies). This thinly veiled brand of heresy preaches an all-inclusive gospel that stands in direct opposition to the Bible, which emphatically states that there is only one God (Eph. 4:6) and one way to heaven…Jesus (John 14:6).

In lieu of the one true God, the landing party has discovered a deceptive, diabolical energy being with formidable powers and an all-consuming desire to escape the ages-old prison it’s been banished to—presumably to commit acts of terror on an epic scale throughout the universe. The evil demigod schemes to take control of the
Enterprise under the guise of conducting intergalactic missionary work, which prompts Kirk’s classic query, “Excuse me…but what does God need with a starship?”

When it becomes evident that Kirk isn’t going to yield control of his ship, the belligerent creature attacks the landing party. Though the entity shakes off the effects of a photon torpedo, it fails to bear up under a point-blank phaser beam barrage courtesy of Spock aboard a commandeered Klingon Bird of Prey. One less false god in the universe!

These two Trek tales pose some salient questions about the nature of God and an eternal paradise, such as: does one really have to travel millions of light-years to find God? Also, why is everyone looking for God in Eden—God resides in heaven, not in that ancient utopia.

The characters in both stories proceed from a false assumption that Eden still exists: Eden was destroyed when Adam and Eve sinned and God evicted them from the garden (Gen. 3:23 & 24). Ironically, those who seek the enticements and infinite pleasures of Eden unwittingly seek their own destruction, for when Eden’s gates were sealed, two other eternal destinations were forged…heaven and hell. Bottom line: no matter how spectacular it appears in the brochure, any paradise without God is just beachfront property around the lake of fire.

Instead of searching for some fabled Shangri-La, the characters in these stories should’ve been seeking first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). So, when others are heading out to Eden, I’ll be heading out to heaven. Yea, brother!

July 1999