Having watched Star Wars III opening night at midnight, and read Instapundit's catalog of reactions, I could not help but think back to 1977 when the original was released. Then it seemed so modern and visionary. George Lucas was using a sci-fi form to explore mythology and religion.
Today, the mythology surrounding the Jedi and the Sith seem strangely shallow and non-descript. I kept thinking about The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films during the show. As in LOTR, the struggle between good and evil in Star Wars is real. Yet, even with the focus on Anakin's personal struggle, the depth of myth and/or religion is strangely lacking. Is this because Lucas didn't think about it after drafting his original plan? Is it because their is no shared ritual that connects the Jedi to average people, ur, beings? Is it because there is really no community as such, just individuals inhabiting a diverse, political, quasi-mythological world?
I know that there have been claims that the religion in Star Wars is essentially Eastern in nature. But I don't see it. The myth is of the contemporary sort that there is some indecipherable life force that inhabits all people, and is left with that. It isn't really a moral universe, as it is a universe with some convenient moral affirmations - May the Force be with you. But the Force must be of pretty pale Deist sort if the Jedi couldn't tell that they were about to be ambushed, or that their young-lings were about to be massacred. This treachery seemed to have a reality about them that nothing else in the film had. It was what captured my emotions. The stealth of the Palpatine and the mediocrity of the Jedi.
What I left with in the end is that the Jedi were ultimately no match for the Dark Side, and it is only by their own individual force of will, training, and ingenuity that they succeed. Whatever there is to believe in seems shallow and banal. Is this really a picture of the contemporary church to Lucas? If so, what then does the Sith represent? The church's secular counterpart, the political realm of power?
As a leadership development specialist and planner, I enjoyed watching the film from this point of view. It occurred to me that the Jedi Council is a rather dysfunctional board. Sure they deliberate, but based on what criteria? Their feelings? Ultimately, the leadership is a reflection of George Lucas himself. The Jedi govern based on intuition and personality. Palpatine on Machiavellian force of cunning and will. As I have reflected on this the past couple days, I am surprised at how poorly the Jedi are portrayed. They are master individualists, but they do not seem to know how to leverage their strengths as a team.
It makes me wonder what would have happened if Palpatine had gained control of the Ring. Poor Sauron...no match for the Emperor.
Finally, what is missing from these last three Star Wars is what was present in the first three of the series -- a joi de vie, most explicitly characterized in the romanic tango between Princess Leia and Han Solo. The woodenness of the characters stands in stark contrast to the characters in The Lord of the Rings. In that series of three films. the core of the film is on the relationships between members of the Fellowship. They care for each other, are willing to sacrifice for one another, and are a picture of genuine diversity. In Star Wars I, II and III, the relationships exist like online instant messenger acquaintances. Relationships based on the slimmest common interest. This certainly isn't the picture of the relationship between Frodo and Sam. Even Ewan McGregor, one of my favorite actors, couldn't produce the same level of pathos needed to become a real person.
What Stars Wars proves is that George Lucas is the master of the visual effect, and Tolkien the master of myth and character. One is viewed as an escape, the other as a validation.