Imagination cannot exist in a purely material world and what is life without imagination? Not human life that’s for sure.
We are the only species that has a mind designed to allow us to conceive of that which logically cannot exist. (Imagination). Moreover, we are aware of that ability and thus can leverage it to innovate, to….create. From my Christian perspective, I see that as evidence and example of what the Bible means by us being created in the Image of God.
I have been thinking about this after listening to one of the most fascinating podcasts I’ve ever heard. You can listen to it (here). It is the latest episode of ‘the movie proposal’ in which Skye Jethani and Josh Lindsay talk about the latest Star Wars movie: ‘Solo’. It is something of a history-making movie for all the wrong reasons, it is the first Star Wars movie to be a commercial flop. Even typing that sentence doesn’t feel right.
This reality leads Skye and Josh into a conversation regarding what is going on with the Star Wars franchise in general and how rubbish it’s becoming. Especially when compared with the other big-budget film franchise at the moment: Marvel/Avengers which is absolutely kicking butt. Even if you’re not a full-on fanboy, stay with me here because the lessons are deep.
Of all the comments made (which I won’t go into here) what really interests me is Skye’s statements around how frustrated he is with the Star Wars franchise’s obsession to tell the backstory of everything that was in this wonderful original trilogy. It’s not just that the blanks are being filled in, but it’s being done in a way that is not consistent with the mythology of the original trilogy. (I’ve written on this before in a previous blog that you can read here.) As we move into the 21st century, Star Wars is feeling less like a fairy tale and more like a new HBO series trying to make a commentary on our cultural moment.
Simply put; somehow, Disney of all companies has managed to reduce the room in Star Wars for your imagination to run wild. They have done the impossible, more content has not expanded but somehow shrunken the star wars universe.
How and why has this happened? Well when compared to Marvel, Star Wars has a completely different narrative structure. Marvel Studios are producing a saga that ultimately stands on the ‘character development movies’ of each individual character. Each phase is replete with 5-6 solo character movies (which also develop their own sub-universes) and then those characters occasionally come together in a big Avengers movie. When that happens they bring the richness and the story development that has already happened in into the even bigger blockbuster.
Now think about Star Wars. The big blockbuster has already happened. Episodes 4-6 released between 1977 and 1983 are still what everyone thinks of when they think of Star Wars. Ever since these, every single subsequent Star Wars Movie has been ‘dining out’ on the success of the originals. Moreover, no new characters have been introduced. Before you say ‘yes they have Peter’, let me tell you that it is a big difference between introducing a new character/story and simply just seeing it on screen for the first time.
My point is; the prequels (episodes 1, 2, and 3) were all about Anakin Skywalker and how he becomes Darth Vader- which we know obviously happens. It’s not a new arc. Episodes 7 and 8 have so far largely hung off what happens to the ‘older versions’ of the classic Han Luke and Leia characters. Ok, you may have Rey and Finn….but who’s training and mentoring them and how different are they really from a 21st century reset button on the same story? Now we have the back story of….you guessed it Han Solo. Rouge One meanwhile, was telling the story of something that was hinted at in the (yet again) first trilogy: the stealing of the death star plans. I hear that we now have a Boba Fett backstory coming out.
The genius of the originals was that they achieved something that I think only Tolkien ever did as well; they portrayed a universe that suggested a lot more than what you were being shown. So many bizarre creatures and characters that walked on and walked off with no backstory allowed your 12 year-old imagination to fill in the blanks.
It wasn’t just a movie trilogy. It sold so much toy merchandise because what Lucas created was a structured play-pen for your imagination. Now, with every backstory that is being told and every explanation that is given in those backstories…there is less and less room for your imagination to play. (I mean, finding out the force is simply tiny bacteria-like creatures in your blood? Thanks, Episode 1?!)
Marvel keeps expanding their universe by not telling you just as much as they explain. Star Wars is filling the blanks in their existing one.
And that sucks.
I believe that it is also the reason why ‘Solo’ was a financial flop.
Before I move on, how much is that a metaphor for the post-enlightenment world? We have more answers to more problems today than we ever had yet somehow most people’s ‘universe has gotten smaller, drier, less satisfying.’ I remember something written somewhere about dry cisterns? I said earlier that imagination cannot exist in a purely material world, The fact that eradicating space for imagination is such a turn off suggests to me that this world is indeed not simply material.
Here’s why I find the above discussion comparing so interesting. God doesn’t make the mistake of filling in too much back story. (Perhaps because he’s not trying to sell movie tickets.)
In fact what astonishes me the most about the Bible is how short it is. Seriously, there is so, so, so much that is going on in the world over the time of its authorship just isn’t……..there. Moreover, most of the stories we do know, contain unanswered questions. For example: God never actually answers Job’s questions. One of the most famous parables of Jesus in Luke 15, ‘The parable of the prodigal son’ simply finishes with loose ends that are yet to be tied up.
God is not here to answer every question and tie up every loose end. I’m always fascinated by Dueteronomy 29:29:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
Let me translate: There’s stuff God tells us, and there’s stuff he doesn’t and it’s the tension which provides a platform for obedience…and a relationship I might add.
This is reflected by the famous words in Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
In the New Testament, Paul repeatedly comes out and repeatedly calls the gospel a mystery. Here’s one example:
Eph 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
God, allows mystery. In doing so, he is inviting us to engage our imagination in a journey with him. Don’t miusunderstand me, I’m not saying that God wants us to imagine him in the way that we want, completely unguided by scripture. In fact it’s the opposite, it’s that by not filling in every single blank God does two things, first he awakens the curious drive in all of us to pursue him albeit guided by the boundaries of the gospel narrative. Secondly, (and oh so preciously) he creates room for surprise in a domesticated world.
Ever noticed that every major God encounter in Scripture happens in a slightly diffenrent way? (It’s not always a burning bush). Do you think that Paul was expecting a flash of light on the road? Or Zacheaus expecting Jesus to look right up at him in the tree?
Isn’t it wonderful that you absolutely cannot predict what God is going to do? Or indeed when he’s going to do it? The imagination is relaesed to fill in the blanks…only to have even those pictures and predictions blown out of the water.
What we’re eventually talking about here is the mental atmosphere of a vibrant and spacious prayer life. Something I long to seek more and more of. I say this becasue the book with the most imagery, allegory, poetery and hyperbole in all of the bible is……
Thats where I’d go to begin the journey towards a vibrant prayer life.
It seems after all that you can’t beat a classic.