December 17, 2015

Constantine, Star Wars and me going full-on dork!

When I decided to start blogging again I went in and stripped down the design of my website, simplified it. I also changed my profile photo. In the new one, I’m wearing a t-shirt that reads “Constantine is dead.” And, let me tell you, that shirt has received more attention than anything I’ve written over the last month. Several people have loved it, asking where they can get one–I made it myself. Others have asked if its a reference to the comic book–no, it’s not. Others have simply said to me, “What’s that all about?!”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in a few days. I’m thrilled! I grew up on Star Wars. Collected action figures. Had the pajamas, the sheets on my bed. It was a big deal. I’ve passed on the interest to my kids. They have seen all the movies, first watching episodes 4, 5, and 6 in that order ... as any decent parent would!

If you’re not a nerd, a sci-fi geek or Star Wars aficionado this may all seem pointless to you. Tough. I can barely hold it together until I get to see The Force Awakens. So, I’m using Star Wars to explain the dumb t-shirt. Deal with it.

There’s a scene from the original film Star Wars: A New Hope that has been long debated. [Spoiler alert to those that have been living under a rock for many decades!] Han Solo is sitting at a table in a cantina talking with an alien named Greedo. Greedo threatens Han. He wants to collect a bounty on Han Solo. But then Solo slyly shoots Greedo from under the table they are sitting at.

Years later, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars digitized the film, some editing and this scene was changed. Greedo shoots at Han first. He misses, hitting the wall behind Han. The alien creature still dies but this changes the character of Han. Han doesn’t shoot first. He acts in self defense. Fans were in an uproar. The slogan “Han Shot First” became a thing. George Lucas changed the narrative of Star Wars when he changed this scene. Why? Because he could! After all, the Star Wars franchise was his.

I remember as kid that after seeing the first film, I wasn’t sure what I thought about Han Solo. He wasn’t the pristine good guy that Luke Skywalker was. Solo would just shoot a guy while sitting in a bar! He seemed darker, less trustworthy. This one scene shaped how you watched him from that point on. If your introduction to Han Solo was through the edited version, he’s different. He’s defending himself. He’s still a pirate but his character is introduced in a manner significantly less cold-hearted than the first version of A New Hope.

Now, I’m reaching here (because I’m a dork) but the emperor Constantine did much the same thing in the fourth century that Lucas did when he changed that scene form A New Hope. Constantine changed the story of Christianity. Under Constantine’s rule of the Roman Empire, Christianity became a religion of power, dominance and uniformity that looked significantly different than those that held this burgeoning tradition before his rule. This is not to say that Christianity was not the same religion before and after Constantine. Just as Star Wars is the same before and after the edited cantina seen. It’s the same in many ways. But these (not so) subtleties change too much for we fans/adherents to keep quiet.

The influence of Constantine has been long lasting. But at the beginning of the 21st century, we can begin to see it waning. Christianity is less and less a religion of power, uniformity and dominance. And I am convinced that this is a good thing. Christianity was not intended to be a religion of power and dominance. It’s time to return to the story of the Gospel unencumbered by the influence of empire. Constantine is dead. Jesus isn’t. That’s what the shirt is all about.

George Lucas isn’t dead. And even though many of us weren't too fond of the changes he made to the films (and really abhorred episodes 1, 2 and 3) we still wish him no ill will. But someone else (J.J. Abrams) is at the helm of the Star Wars franchise now. I think this is a good thing. Its time for someone influenced by the original narrative to bring some of that back. Episodes 1, 2 and 3 made it clear that we needed this. Here’s hoping that The Force Awakens delivers!

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