Saturday, November 29, 2014

Landscapes & Lightsabers: The Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens Trailer

Keep in mind, the film isn't finished, they just completed production a few weeks ago, and the greatest and best special effects are still being worked on, but what this first trailer does--besides proving that Disney doesn't suck for just letting a few theaters get to show it this weekend--is confirm the "presence" (we can't really say "role" or "character return" yet) of the Emperor (originally portrayed by Clive Redill, possibly being portrayed now by Andy Serkis). The events of Episode VII take place about 30 years after the end of The Return Of the Jedi, and no one has seen Luke in all the time due to self-imposed exile (more on that below).
Let's talk about the very first thing the trailer chooses to show us: landscaping. For whatever reasons, we haven't really discussed scenery, background, or the landscape as "characters" in films; if you have ever watched any of John Ford's classic westerns with John Wayne, you know that the scenery and landscape are always a "character" in the film; how? Take the 1948 remake of 3 Godfathers: as these three criminals run from the law through the desert, they find a woman about to give birth who is dying; they deliver the baby and vow to keep it alive, in spite of their own regrettable circumstances. As they make their way across the desert, it's clear this is a purgation period for them, and the desert (in this case) becomes a metaphor for the presence of God working on their souls to soften them and turn them from their life of crime. How does this relate to Star Wars?
As we have mentioned before, there is a resurgence of polar oppositions re-entering public discourse and that's a good thing. In the 1960s-1970s, groups identifying themselves as "minorities" applied principles of deconstruction to the basic foundations of Western civilization, man and woman, black and white, rich and poor, us and them, good and evil, right and wrong, etc., and complained that in the polarities, one is always valued over another (man more than woman, white more than black, rich more than poor, us more than them) and that very process of thinking creates un-equal and racist tendencies throughout society at all levels, so public discourse has been censored of the right to use such dichotomies. With that, however, have gone the notions of "good and  evil," "right and wrong," because rioting and looting might be wrong for "white people," but to black people it's right, and you aren't in a position to judge a minority group. Marvel films are doing a great deal to bring polarities back into public discourse, and with this subtle and simple narrative in this trailer, we see Abrams doing the same: "The dark side,... and the light." This is a huge victory, a resurrection of the weapons of free speech and a massive crack in the towering censorship leveled against Americans by liberals. Really. This is big.  Liberals want to collapse all the differences between "light and dark," "right and wrong," because they know their political agendas can't possibly stand a chance when there is a discourse that has recourse to morality, and censoring what kinds of words can be used, is a erasing of morality from public debate (on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, drug legalization, career welfare recipients, the massacre of thousands of innocent Jews and Christians in the Middle East, the right to worship freely, the right to free speech, the right to collect rain water in your own backyard!) because wherever there is morality, there is a loss for the liberals because they always choose immorality over morality.
As we hear the voice (possibly the Emperor) say, "There has been an 'awakening.' Have you felt it?" we also hear something else, the wind. Let us not err in underestimating this. What is "the Force?" It's a force, it's not tangible, it's like energy (in the 1981 film Excalibur, Merlin tries explaining it to the young Arthur) it is, what Christians would call, the Holy Spirit, and some are able to feel it, to sense it, even enter into it and become a part of it and it become a part of them. In and of itself, it's not a person's destiny, but without the Force, a person can't fulfill their destiny (more on this below). So the wind we hear in the background is similar to the Force "calling" us, and stirring us, just as hearing the familiar theme song stirs excitement and adventure within us, and as seeing the Millennium Falcon soaring into the sky gives us a sense of hope and courage. Why do we need to hear the Force?
Because of the desert.
The rumored beginning of the film is that a ship of storm troopers attacks a village and destroys it; it is possible this is a clip from that scene, but we know nothing else at this time. It is reminiscent of when Luke donned a storm trooper outfit to save Leia, so we can hope John Boyega's character is a good guy, but names haven't even been released for most of the actors, so we just don't know who is doing what in what capacity.
This blog was founded for Christians so that, those of us living in Jesus Christ would be able to enhance and protect our spiritual struggle with art. The desert the camera lingers upon in the opening scene is certainly nothing exotic, but it is "other-worldly," and that's because it's meant to portray the reality of the soul. Like most symbols, deserts have both positive and negative meaning: the "negative" meaning of a desert is when a person has been living a worldly life and enjoying pleasure with no regard for their inner, spiritual life, so they have exhausted all the life within them (the barrenness of the desert). The "positive" meaning of the desert is when someone has forsaken the world and retreats within themselves to do battle with the lurking demons and not give sin an opportunity to grow, fester and take over the person. There are two examples of this.
Is this a piece of junk or what? What. Because it's not junk, it's a perfect example of "tinkering" and the DIY spirit of Americans. We have seen this MacGyver mentality in at least two previous films, Oz the Great and Powerful, with the class of tinkerers who help Oscar save Oz from the evil witch, and a little film called Iron Man 3, when Tony Stark tells Harley, "I'm a tinkerer, I build things," "So build something," Harley tells him to calm his anxiety attack. Sure it lacks finesse and design, but it works.  The second factor we should consider is that she's wearing gray. Why is this important? Gray is the color of the novitiate, someone who is new and just starting out. They are trying to leave the world and find their destiny, but they haven't realized yet what is required of them to fulfill that destiny.   
The first is in the original Star Wars, when young Luke is on his home planet of Tatooine and he dreams of being a pilot in the resistance, but is, instead, stuck,... in the desert. His uncle tells Luke to help him get the crops in and then he can go to pilot school (or something like that) and the real crop that Luke is supposed to be "getting in" is his patience and self-control, as we learn from Yoda reflecting on this time in Luke's life in The Empire Strikes Back. Now, don't get me wrong about this: Luke is a good guy, he is destined to be one of the very, very best, but the bigger a person's destiny, the more room there has to be within their soul to absorb virtue and strength.
If this looks like Tatooine, Luke's home planet, that's because it does. We don't have confirmation that this is where we are, but if it is, there would be several good reasons for it. The Dutch philosopher Soren Kierkegaard postulated in his theory on spiritual development that after the soul has completed its designated journey, it "returns home," and everything it experiences is experienced on a far deeper and more enjoyable state; how? Because the person encountering the experience is more pure themselves, so they have the ability to enjoy the experience or sensation simply for what it is, but also fully for what it is. If Luke has completed his journey, it would make sense for him to go home; on the other hand, because this is the desert and it's the best place for a person to learn what will need to be learned for their future battles, it also makes sense that this would be where we find the hero(es) of the next generation, starting out at the same place where Luke did. If Luke ends up "coming home," we have to remember the last time Luke was home: in the Return Of the Jedi, when the Sarlacc is going to eat them after Luke tried busting Han out of Jabba's prison. The Sarlacc is, again, a symbol that has a positive and a negative connotation: for those who, like the enormous Jabba, who have fed their every appetite, they are "consumed" by the pit with giant teeth and it becomes their hell; for those who, like Luke, have sought to free themselves from the pit, they have been consumed, but only to make them emerge stronger. 
In other words, the soul is much like a vessel--but an immortal one, created in God's own image--and either poison or grace can be poured into it, and it's sin that determines which of the two we are accepting. Luke's time in the desert is good for him, he is ready to risk his life to help save the galaxy (we can compare him to the mostly self-serving Han Solo) but there is much more to still be done within him (see caption below).
An image from The Empire Strikes Back when Luke has gone to train under Yoda. The swamp is, in every way, the exact opposite of the desert, but the desert symbolizes one part of Luke's soul, while the swamp symbolizes another. One of the priests at the graduate school I attended told us at a Mass that, the reason we kept struggling with the same sin over and over is because, each time we committed that sin, we committed it on a deeper level. For example, someone who commits the sin of gossiping, each time, they are going deeper into their soul along the root that is the cause of that sin, and each time they go and confess that sin, they are chopping off a part of that sin's root so it can't grow again; but you have to keep going deeper and deeper. Being in the swamp, in this part of Luke's journey, is like that for him, and he finds, literally, his "roots": his father was the greatest Jedi, but also the worst enemy of the galaxy, and this is a root that Luke struggles with  that threatens the prosperity of, not only his existence, but--if he turns to the Dark Side--that of the galaxy as well. So, in landscape symbolism, a swamp is just as important as a desert (another great example of a man wrestling with his sin in a swamp is Perseus in the 1981 classic Clash of the Titans which can be found at this link, The Medusa Within).
The second example of the desert being good is what we will see, more or less, in the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings. Moses leading the Children of Israel into the wilderness, i.e., the desert, is so they can be purged of the attachments they have made to the practices and customs of Egypt. We cannot learn how to "grow" virtue in our souls until we have learned to "weed out" the sin within us, and by entering into the desert, there is no place for the demons to hide, they expose themselves much more readily. So, why does all this matter, regarding why we hear the wind and it being a metaphor of the Force? Because when we are in the desert, we need the encouragement of the Force (the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete who comforts us) encouraging us on the way to go, or our hearts would grow faint and we couldn't go on. This is the same reason, on a cultural scale, that the trailer has been released so early. The first image is of a desert because America is in a desert, nothing (especially the economy) is growing, much like what we see in the frozen world of Disney's Frozen. What about the second landscape?
After John Boyega's panicked scene, we next see this little panicked robot. Much like the vehicle the female rides above, this little guy looks like he was put together from spare parts. In Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, we just saw TARS, a robot made out of all rectangular pieces, whereas this little guy is made out of all circular pieces. The important point to be made, at least for the moment, is that robots are very much a part of the future, but they haven't replaced humanity; it's possible that those in the future would rather have robots as companions than other humans, but even when it's just a robot, like R2 and C3PO, they are far more human than robots produced by the Empire, because the rebels and humanity in general, value their individual humanity and (like God passing on his image to us) so we pass on our image to those we create, seeing and knowing that it's good in us, we bestow it upon our creations. When we see this little robot in, what resembles a state of "panic," it's endearing because someone programmed it to resemble and imitate humanity in that capacity, so it's showing us a side of our own selves as opposed to the lifeless junk in the background. 
After we get out of desert shots, we see the exact opposite at 0:45, the exact opposite: water and mountains, growth and foliage. The essence is still the same. With the star fleet fighters (Oscar Isaac in the close-up) the fight that is taking place in the desert (and we see the glorious Millennium Falcon in the desert at the end of the trailer also fighting in the desert) is taking place, albeit on a different scale, in the watery region of some other planet. Enter speculation: Warwick Davis is in the official cast. Just because this talented actor portrayed an ewok once upon a time, does not mean that he is being called back to portray an ewok again; he could be doing something totally different; or he could be an ewok again and this scene of the fighter planes on the water denotes that planet where the ewoks lived. Finally, onto the juicy part.
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llweyn Davis) as a fighter pilot. If you will notice, there is a red symbol on his left side helmet and his left side vest in black. I have no idea what it means or to what it refers, however, it's a symbol. Symbols always mean something. Where there is one symbol, there is going to be another symbol. When you have a group or organization--in this case, the film makers--employing symbols, it means they value the greater meaning and significance and we should be on the look-out for other places where symbols are appearing.
We do not know who it is, or at what part of the film it is (it could be Skywalker, it could be Adam Driver's character--rumored to be one of Han's four children with Leia who turns to the Dark Side--or it could be, as someone has suggested, an old Sith who has awakened with the Force) but we can detect that this character is in a "bad place" spiritually (or, at least, in terms of the Force); how? The snow, darkness and barren trees. In a word, this character is experiencing the "dark night of the soul." Everyone else seems to be focused solely on whether or not this is a viable lightsaber; that's a legitimate question, but I think they have "missed the forest for the trees," so to speak.
Snow, darkness and the forest; what does it mean? The "Dark Night of the Soul" refers to a period of intense spiritual purgation when  a person is completely without relief or spiritual nourishment of any kind and is working towards a greater, deeper union with God, although the person feels they have been abandoned by God, not being able to feel His presence at all. Even though, quite frankly, it's horrible to experience, it has a positive end; there is, however, another "dark night of the soul," and we can say it's when darkness completely fills a person's soul to keep them away from God, the lowest point they can possibly fall to and remain without working their way back to God. This latter state is probably what the character above is experiencing. If the lightsaber blade were blue, green or white, we could make a reasonable deduction that it was Luke or another Jedi, but this seems clear that it's a Sith or other agent of Darkness who is descending even further into Darkness. This is another great use of landscaping to describe the characters. The darkness symbolizes the "lack" of illumination, and the snow indicates the frozen quality of the scene, like Frozen where nothing can grow because it's so cold (the "warmth" of love is absent). The trees, rather than being "trees" with leaves on them, are more like skeletons because they can't do what trees do, provide shade, food and shelter for animals in spring/summer. Lastly, the flying snow suggests an element of "blindness" to this moment because it's more difficult to see when snow is in the air. So, the desolate, barren landscape above is very much like the desert we see in the beginning of the trailer; given that this character is most likely a Sith or other agent of Darkness, we probably should not feel sorry for them, but learn a lesson that this is what happens when he harbor feelings that are detrimental to our spiritual growth and development. 
In the GIF file above, please note the unruly "lunge," and stabbing gesture with the lightsaber; these aren't the gestures of someone who is calm, collected and in charge of their emotions and reactions. That this is a red lightsaber means it is probably a Sith, or at least someone on the Dark Side (the Sith tended to use the red crystals because they thought the Dark Force made them stronger than the crystals used by the Jedi). We can't see anything, anything that would warrant withdrawing a lightsaber in self-defense, at any rate, so the question is, what is this darkly clad character doing in this forest? The saber itself might answer our question.
There is a wide controversy spreading and it's ridiculous. This is the problem with social media: just because someone has an outlet, they think they ought to say every single thing that crosses their mind, and just because it has crosses their mind, they think it's legitimate. We are in the presence of a great artist, JJ Abrams, and he deserves respect because he's earned it. There is a very good reason the light saber is as it is. We probably won't know until we see the film, but the position of the saber, and the delayed activation of the sidebars suggest that this is a symbol of this character's "holy war." It might be a single character that we never even really get to know, or it could be Luke Skywalker towards the end of the film. What I do know without a doubt is that there is a purpose and a meaning to this saber design, and we will receive a far greater, and more enjoyable degree of engagement with the film, if we trust Abrams that there is a purpose to it and not just something he thought "might look cool" like some untried director would. 
Red, the color of the saber, is the color of blood and has two meanings: either you love someone to the point that you would spill your (red) blood for them, or you hate someone to the point that you would spill their (red) blood for your wrath. The character we see above, has probably gone over to the Dark Side and is in a state of wrath (that is what generally causes the conversion over). Now, a lot has been made over the "crossbar" at the hilt of the saber, and whether or not that is an effective placement for two more saber blades; I don't think, personally, that is the right question to be asking. Quite simply, the two additional blades make a "cross," meaning, that the character has made a "religion" of their wrath/hatred, and plan to pursue their end with devotion normally given to worshiping of God. Now, what about the last part?
In all this time, the Falcon hasn't changed, and neither have the tie fighters, the Empire's ships. As we saw with films being resurrected and remade from the 1980s, like Evil Dead, Red Dawn, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, GI Joe, Superman (Man Of Steel), etc., the art that defeated socialism then, at the height of the Cold War, will defeat socialism again today.  The Falcon was a vehicle of individuality and freedom, a fighter ship that helped defeat the Empire and aide the rebels, and it will again at a time when we need it most, just Charles Xavier being resurrected in X-Men Days Of Future Past, and James Bond in Skyfall or Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness, we need these heroes so they keep coming back to help show us the way to go and how to stay on the right path.
Just as we noted the symbol on the pilot's helmet and uniform above, so the Millennium Falcon is a symbol of,... of,.... well, American bravado. At the moment when the narrative voice says, "The dark, and the light," and the screen goes black, then the glorious Falcon rises up into the sun (and we see Abrams' sun flares against the image). The cockiness of Han Solo and his vehicle of freedom symbolize the invincible American spirit. Why is this important? Just as the "enemy" of the dehumanized storm troopers hasn't changed (the perfect symbol of socialism we also see in The Hunger Games' peacekeepers) so the vehicle of freedom to fight against the storm troopers hasn't changed. In this sense, the Falcon (as a vehicle) bares a lot of resemblance to the cars in Fast and Furious 7 as they instrumental in the advancing of the character's identities, but also the cars themselves (please see Furious 7 for more).  But, overall, there is a glaringly obvious fact about the Falcon,...
Some concept art has leaked online, however, it hasn't been verified that it has made it into the film. There has been a "new" storm trooper in black, but we see the original versions clearly in the trailer; why? The storm trooper is a perfect representation of what happens to people under socialist rule: dehumanization. All your individuality is taken from you (consider the androgynous character of Seneg in World War Z, and how all we ever learn of her is her name; she is the "ideal" of what all of us are to become under socialism). White, like other symbols, has a positive and negative: the positive symbolism is the person's soul is "spotlessly" white in faith, hope and innocence; the negative symbolism is that the person is completely dead to faith, hope and innocence, all virtue being drained from that person (a corpse turns white as it decays and so it represents what happens to the soul when it is dead to virtue). The large black areas where the eyes should be verify that the men inside the suits believe they have no souls because the eyes are the windows of the soul; the heavy black lining around the jaw lines accentuates the mouth, which is the symbol for the appetites (there are good appetites, like an appetite for justice, but given the white body suit, it shows they have appetites only for worldly things and not virtue). 
It hasn't changed.
Neither have the storm troopers.
Why not? It's been 30 years, hasn't anything advanced in this society? But we have all ready been addressing this for more than a year now. The reason so many things won't change in Star Wars VII is because we had the same enemies then that we have now, and Abrams, in identifying the same enemy--none of this has changed, he's telling us--validates that the socialist threat symbolized by the Death Star and Emperor then, has been "awakened" in America today, but--and this is the thesis--that just as the darkness has been awakened, so has the light, and the Falcon is an enduring symbol of that. I CAN'T WAIT FOR MORE!!!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner