Jeremy Williamson already had listened to the audio book version of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith before he stood in line Wednesday for the movie's midnight opening.
"(It is a) "powerful story of choice, failure and redemption - powerful," said Mr. Williamson, a co-host of the teen-oriented RocHouse Cafe, a syndicated program produced by Christian television station WBPI (Channel 49) in North Augusta. He also founded the Grovetown-based youth ministry Elect Movement with his wife, Nikki Lynn.
Though Mr. Williamson preaches on the Christian themes he sees in the epic struggle of the noble Jedi knights and the evil Sith lords, critics say the movie is a mixture of religious notions - some Christian, some not.
Revenge of the Sith is the last installment in George Lucas' Star Wars series that began in 1977, but is the third chronologically in the six-part series.
It is the tale of how the Jedi Anakin Skywalker, seduced by his power and a thirst for revenge, goes wrong. Dark forces bubble within him. He gives in to them and crosses a line as he decapitates a defenseless enemy. Though conscience-stricken over his un-Jedi-like action, he completes his evolution as the evil Darth Vader by the movie's end. He is then out to destroy the Jedi.
Anakin allowed himself to be manipulated by a lie, and it cost him everything - he got nothing in return, Mr. Williamson said. Vader was so consumed by darkness that he wore a black helmetlike mask to shield him from light of any kind, he said.
"He was stuck in darkness forever," Mr. Williamson said.
"Lucas intentionally designed Star Wars with spiritual themes drawn from Christian and Eastern ideas of spirituality," said the Rev. Otis Moss III, the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church. That spirituality is expressed in the Force, which is said to bind the universe. It extends to the Jedi Knights, who are priests who take a vow of celibacy, work in a temple and are committed to peace, the Rev. Moss said.
Why people are drawn to the dark side has many theories. In St. Augustine's view, humans are fallen or broken with a tendency to sin; other traditions hold that "it is our world which is out of balance with God, and this puts pressure on us to be in balance with God or in balance with the world we created," the Rev. Moss said.
The weight of peer pressure and the need to be accepted also push people down a path away from God, he said.
The emergence of the robotic-sounding Vader is made bearable for the Star Wars faithful, who remember that the Jedi's innate goodness reasserts itself in an ultimate gesture of self-sacrifice at his life's end.
Good wins out, more or less.
Star Wars has spiritual undertones, but not necessarily a Christian message, said the Rev. Paul Perkins, the minister of students at Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez.
Instead of a personal God, the Force represents some type of universal consciousness.
"Christianity is very clear about focusing on Christ and a person's relationship with God," the Rev. Perkins said.
Ogden Tabb, the Augusta-area director for nondenominational Young Life, said Star Wars plays on New Age and neopagan philosophies.
"Lucas has a strong interest in Eastern religions that fueled his ideas," he said.
Star Wars heroes and villains can channel the Force to accomplish their aims. In Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, the Jedi Master Yoda has Anakin's son, Luke, fight a lightsaber battle with his eyes closed. Luke allows himself to be guided by inner vision rather than by his eyes, thereby altering his consciousness to achieve power, Mr. Tabb said.
In the moral economy of Star Wars, the Force permeates all things, yet it is neither all good nor all bad. It is both. The conflict between the Sith and the Jedi is caused by the struggle to maintain balance between the light side and the dark side of the Force.
Mr. Tabb said he didn't have any concerns about young people seeing the movie. If Revenge kicks off some spiritual discussions, he sees that as a positive, he said.
"While George Lucas' intent is not the same as mine, by any means, I think that (a spiritual discussion) is the greatest benefit to me," Mr. Tabb said.
Reach Virginia Norton at 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.