“You must unlearn what you have learned.”
— Master Yoda to Luke, “The Empire Strikes Back”
Everyone who knows me knows what I mean when I say, “I never met a Star Wars film I didn’t like.” (They also know that the same thing applies to pizza, etc. as well.)
The impact of George Lucas’ imagination on my own is impossible to measure. He and Spielberg are the godfathers of my creative inner life when it comes to visual storytelling. From the moment the opening John Williams musical theme entered my senses and the Star Wars opening crawl worked its way from bottom-to-top in Franklin Gothic typeface, the neurological wiring of my entire psychological disposition rearranged its structure, and I was no longer mentally in the theater seat I seemed to occupy.
Friends and I drove to Rochester in May of 1977, immediately upon its release, to see “A New Hope.” I was forever transfixed by the spell Lucas cast when the first words of that golden crawl scrolled by and the camera panned down, peering through that eerie music into star-speckled space. The experience blew the doors of my imagination wide open, throwing it into hyper-drive.
A “suspension of disbelief,” as Coleridge once put it, asserted itself within, allowing me direct access into the heartbeat of the story itself. Since that day, this ability to “suspend disbelief” has become a veritable superpower for me as concerns making things of a “fantastic” nature real. My limited belief in a mere physical universe was forever suspended. An invisible door was thrown open and the universe of unseen things came prominently into view, much as that Empire Star Destroyer had on that movie screen long ago.
Ten years or so later, on Dec. 10, 1987, I sat alone in front of my fireplace in Manhattan Beach, California and my sense of disbelief was again suspended, this time, as concerns the “myth” of Jesus of Nazareth being God incarnate ... and I believed. My belief in the natural universe was simultaneously overwhelmed by belief in a super-natural universe. In that moment, a tear in the universe was instantly healed and all was right with the world, spiritually speaking. Thirty-some years later I believe that metaphysical reality as sure as I believe the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.
On Sept. 17, 1931, J.R.R. Tolkien questioned his then-agnostic friend, Jack “C.S.” Lewis, regarding his love of myth: If, when he encountered a sacrificial death in mythology, he admired it, then why could he not transfer this unquestioning appreciation to “the only ‘true myth’ that ever actually happened,” as he put it: that of Jesus of Nazareth’s sacrifice for the sin of the world? On Sept. 22, Lewis, in the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by his brother, Warnie, on the way to the zoo at Whipsnade for a picnic, appears to have had his own experience of a “suspension of disbelief”: “When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”
Life is like a story. As Paul writes to the believers at Ephesus, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against ... the [unseen] powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” And if a willing suspension of disbelief allows us access into the heart of a story, why wouldn’t it also allow us access into the heart of Heaven itself? For me, it did and continues to do so. I believe that God gave us the gift of imagination to help us find our way home. So, thanks, Mr. Lucas, for the creative warm-up. The cinematic battle against the Empire helped launch me to places beyond any galaxy, no matter how long ago or how far, far away. To include that “parallel world” known as Heaven.