The Death and Resurrection of Star Wars

The first question my friends asked me after seeing The Last Jedi on opening night was, “Did it go the way you expected?” After stumbling over some incomprehensible words, I couldn’t come up with an answer. Not because I had a hard time following the film or enjoying it, rather, because the film Rian Johnson created is completely unexpected and yet embraces the established mythos of the Star Wars saga.

Warning: major spoilers ahead

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A Re(new)ed Hope: Rogue One and the Little Guy

Last December, we were transported back to a galaxy far, far away and were reacquainted with some familiar friends. For some, The Force Awakens was a little too familiar, as though J.J. Abrams and Co. we’re treading on hallowed ground. It was an almost impossible challenge facing Abrams; trying and meet the massive expectations of a rabid fan base while telling a new story in a complex mythos. To his credit, Abrams delivered a thoroughly enjoyable film that extended the Skywalker saga for a new generation. But with all these things in mind, it’s no wonder he played it safe by sticking close to the original trilogy in tone and structure.

Rogue One was a much riskier proposition. Director Gareth Edwards was tasked with creating the first Star Wars film unconnected to the Skywalker saga. This required a film with an entirely different structure, and since it was a direct prequel to A New Hope, it needed to be steeped in the sights and sounds of 1977. Moreover, this film had to prove that stories unconnected to the Skywalker saga were worth telling.

Rogue One is a triumphant addition to the Star Wars universe. Not only does it add layers of depth to A New Hope (an almost 40-year-old movie) but it also serves as connective tissue between the prequel trilogy, Star Wars: Rebels, and the original trilogy. It does all this while telling a gripping and inspiring story about the fledgling Rebel Alliance.

The most compelling message found in Rogue One echoes a line from last year’s The Force Awakens. As Finn is rescuing Poe Dameron from the clutches of the First Order, Poe asks him why he’s doing what he’s doing. Finn responds, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” This theme—doing the right thing in spite of the circumstances—is what drives our characters forward in Rogue One. For our main heroine Jyn Erso, it’s easy to see how she’s inspired to do the right thing during the course of the movie. A glimmer of hope, her father’s love, and the full reality of what the Empire is capable of is all it takes to push Jyn back into the fray.

Ultimately, the film isn’t really about Jyn Erso though. Its true poignancy lies with all the other characters around her. Rogue One is an homage to the unknown soldiers, the X-Wing pilots, and the cargo haulers. These background characters—some even have names like Chirrut, Bodhi, or Baze—are all thrown into the middle of this galactic conflict. They’re not heroes like Luke Skywalker; they’re not going to save the galaxy by defeating Darth Vader or the Emperor (which is made plainly clear in the final scenes of the movie). But each one of them makes a choice to do the right thing, to defy the inescapable oppression of the Empire. And though none of these characters survive their suicide mission, their small individual contributions are collectively vital to the greater Rebellion and inspire great hope in others.

The title of Episode IV (A New Hope) certainly points towards Luke’s role as the last Jedi but now it gains an entirely new layer of meaning. The entire Rebel Alliance, fractured and on the edge of despair towards the beginning of Rogue One, draws on the heroic sacrifice at Scarif to rally in the face of mass destruction and terror. I think that’s why Rogue One is so successful. It’s a story about how the collective actions of a few determined people can inspire hope for the galaxy. It’s a story about you and me making a choice to do the right thing in the face of terrible circumstances.

Lucasfilm and Gareth Edwards unquestionably proved that there are compelling stories to tell in a galaxy far, far away. The Skywalker saga will always give us the epic conflict of good versus evil. These new stories will help fill in the gaps, whether they’re stories about the little guy like Rogue One or origin stories like the forthcoming Young Han Solo film. The Star Wars universe is ripe for new and different themes and narratives. I’m excited to see what Lucasfilm can come up with next.

I’m Tired of Moral Gymnastics in the Church

When I was in fourth grade, I started attending a public elementary school, leaving behind the Montessori school that I had known since Preschool. For a shy kid like me, entering the public school system felt like I had stepped into the wild unknown. I didn’t know anyone in my class. I was alone and afraid.

I remember an identity project we did as a class early in the year, a get-to-know-your-classmates exercise. We were asked to create a poster with a brief personal history and a few things we liked. When it was my turn to present, I stood up in front of the class and introduced myself as “Jacob Michael Mailhot” and continued with my presentation. No one batted an eye and nor should they have. To their knowledge, nothing was amiss. My full name is Jacob Michael Ngan Mailhot.

Today, I’m very proud of my second middle name. It’s my mother’s maiden name, and therefore my Chinese family name.  It represents an aspect of my identity that, as a nine year old, I desperately wanted to hide. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to fit in. So I tried to hide my heritage from my new friends, as ridiculous as that might seem. I was denying a public-facing piece of my identity because of its social implications.

***

In light of the results of this election, I’m afraid to claim part of my identity again. I’m not afraid to call myself Chinese-American today. I’m ashamed to call myself a Christian. Not because of the values Jesus stands for but because those values are being twisted by the church that represents Him on earth. I don’t claim to have a perfect understanding of everyone’s position, I’m just a imperfect man trying to makes sense out of a broken world. But when four out of five white evangelical voters chose to elect a man who has shown himself to be morally reprehensible, I’m dumbfounded. Those evangelical voters chose to look past his racist, misogynistic, and homophobic rhetoric and instead looked to the promises he made while on the campaign trail. The amount of moral gymnastics some evangelicals went through to justify their support of Trump was astonishing. It breaks my heart to know there are people out there who believe a Trump presidency is a victory for Christianity.

I feel a dissonance in my heart. There is an identity crisis in the church. The second greatest commandment Jesus gave to the church was “to love your neighbor.” But the politicization of the church has led to widespread support of a candidate who has legitimized and normalized expressions of fear and hate. The amount of arrogance, pride, and hypocrisy in the church is sickening. We traded one kind of evil for another and the response has driven people farther and farther away from the church. It often feels like the church is more interested in righteousness than compassion. What happened to the church’s moral authority?

Whether we like it or not, the church is a political entity because its members are part of the polity. We assume that voting for particular candidates or a particular political party will eventually lead to the ratification of Christian morality. This is simply not how the American political system works. Ross Douthat is a New York Times columnist and author. He recently wrote a book titled Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics where he chronicles the politicization of the American church. (Here’s a talk he gave at Regent College a few years ago based on the book. You should definitely listen to it.) Douthat argues that as the church has grasped for more and more political authority, it has lost all of its moral authority. In the American political system, there will never be a candidate who will align perfectly with Christian values. To engage in the political process, a Christian must make certain moral compromises to rationalize voting for any particular candidate. “This candidate is pro-life, and even though I don’t agree with everything they stand for, they represent the issues I value most.” These types of compromises are a hallmark of democracy—no one candidate can represent every position perfectly. But when the church tries to speak into society from a place of moral authority, these compromises undermine that message.

This crisis in the church isn’t immune to the vast racial, socio-economic, and geographic divisions that are tearing our country apart. The church’s support of Trump is just the latest public outworking of these divisions that have festered beneath the surface for generations. But let’s be clear, a Clinton presidency would not have magically erased these divides either. The cultural and institutional privilege that white evangelicals enjoy is a barrier to showing true empathy and love towards anyone on the outside. But turning inward and separating from society to reconcile these divides isn’t the answer either. Spouting off platitudes like “Jesus is in control” is dangerous and dismissive of the real fears some in the church are feeling.

So where do we go from here?

First, I’d like to apologize on behalf of the church to those who feel marginalized, to those who feel targeted by hate. I’m sorry that the church has misrepresented Jesus to you. I have not forgotten you. I love you. I desperately want to listen to your fears and hopes. I need help to reconcile these divides that have driven us apart.

Second, there are good people in the church doing good things in the name of Jesus, and I’m proud to call them brothers and sisters. Do not stop striving after what is good and right and just in this world. Be encouraged that standing up for those on the margins is exactly what Jesus did and commands us to do.

Third, the church is a broken and beautiful institution. I’m angry and disillusioned with it but I’m not running away from it either. Church, we can do better. We must do better. Reach out to those on the margins. Listen to them. Be compassionate. Show empathy. Do not act out of fear but act out of love for your neighbors, especially when they look, think, or speak differently.

I’m not going to hide from these divides. More than ever, I want to step into the mess to begin this process of reconciliation. I don’t know what that looks like yet. I think it starts with listening and praying.

On the Road with the Mailhots: Day 5

Starting Point: Anaheim, CA
Destination: Disneyland
Miles: 0
Drive time: 0
Hours listened to The Lord of the Rings audiobook: 0
Hours spent at Disneyland: 11
Rides rode: 17

Main Street, USA

Megan’s first ride: Indiana Jones

Halloween Time at Disneyland

Gotta get Dole Whip when you’re at Disneyland

After four long days of driving and a full day at the park, we’re going to take a break for a day and relax.

On the Road with the Mailhots: Day 4

img_2370Starting Point: Sunset State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA
Destination: Anaheim, CA
Miles: 383
Drive Time: 8.5 hours
Hours listened to The Lord of the Rings audiobook: 3 hours, 50 minutes (Finished The Fellowship of the Ring!)

A morning treasure hunt on the beach

 

First stop: Monterey Bay Aquarium.

We spent all of the morning exploring the aquarium. We saw three feedings, penguins, open sea, and kelp forest, and met a very curious octopus.

Big Sur

 

Second Stop: Bixby Canyon Bridge.

This part of the drive was incredible, and if we stopped at every lookout or vista point, we would have never made it to Los Angeles.

Third Stop: Elephant Seal brooding grounds

These guys were so loud and funny, Megan couldn’t stop laughing

Final Stop: Anaheim, CA

We got into our hotel very late but it was worth the excellent drive. Tomorrow: Disneyland.

 

On the Road with the Mailhots: Day 3

Starting Point: img_2325Humboldt Redwood State Park, CA
Destination: Sunset State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA
Miles: 333
Driving Time: 7.5 hours
Hours listened to The Lord of the Rings audiobook: 3 hours, 55 minutes

Waking up on Endor

Highway 1 wound its way inland to the coast. Megan got very car sick because of all the ups and downs and turns. Once we got to the coast it got a little better but we spent most of the morning focused on getting to our first destination rather than taking pictures.

First Stop: Ft. Bragg, CA

Treasures on Glass Beach

Second Stop: Marin Headlands, Marin, CA

Third Stop: Lucasfilm, San Francisco, CA


Final Stop: Sunset State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA

On the Road with the Mailhots: Day 2

img_2290-1Starting Point: Newport, OR
Destination: Humboldt Redwood State Park, CA
Miles: 345
Drive time: 7 hours
Hours listened to The Lord of the Rings audiobook: 5 hours, 4 minutes

South beach, Newport, OR

A morning stroll on the beach

Cape Perpetua

First Stop: The Sea Lion Caves

The largest sea cave in the world

We made it to California

Megan’s first California beach

Final stop: Humboldt Redwood State Park

Driving through Endor on my speeder bike