The Star Wars nativity story

Every epic story needs a central character and he has to come from somewhere.

So the key moment in the cosmos of mythmaker George Lucas is when Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn asks Shmi Skywalker to identify the father of her mysterious young son, Anakin, who will someday become the evil Darth Vader.

"There is no father," she replies, in Terry Brooks' novel "Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace," which is based on the screenplay by Lucas.

"I carried him, I gave birth to him. I raised him. I can't tell you any more than that."

It seems the slave boy was "conceived not by human contact, but by the essence of all life, by the connectors to the Force itself, the midi-chlorians," a form of life living in the blood. "Comprising collective consciousness and intelligence, the midi- chlorians formed the link between everything living and the Force," explains the novel.

This leads to the final details in this nativity story. The priestly Jedi have long pondered an ancient prophecy that "a chosen one would appear, imbued with an abundance of midi- chlorians, a being strong with the Force and destined to alter it forever." The chosen one would "bring balance to the Force" -- balance between the darkness and the light.

Once upon a time, Star Wars raised one big question for parents and clergy: Is the Force the same thing as God? Now, the first chapter of the saga that many scholars believe has shaped a generation is raising more questions, even if Lucas scoffs at believers who dissect his work.

Why use the title "chosen one"? Was this a miraculous conception? Is Qui-Gon a John the Baptist figure? Perhaps Anakin Skywalker is the Moses who will liberate his people? If the Force is God, and the midi-chlorians help channel the Force, then what are the midi-chlorians? Did Lucas shred the Holy Spirit and then inject the results into his characters' blood streams?

"When you look at literature you find myths and messiahs and saviors everywhere. That's fair and everybody does that," said Alex Wainer, a Milligan College colleague of mine whose doctoral work focused on mythic archetypes in popular culture, including Star Wars. "The problem isn't that Lucas is creating a heroic myth and using religious symbolism. But he has taken all of the religions, put them in a blender and hit the button."

While many critics will say that the gospel according to Lucas is too vague, the problem for many traditional believers will be that his story has become too detailed. The use of the virgin birth motif, and the title "chosen one," may even cut through the entertainment fog that envelopes most consumers when they enter a movie theater.

"Lucas is getting so specific that his work is losing its metaphor quality," said Wainer. "He isn't just using an occasional religious theme. He is creating a whole religious system and the more questions he raises, the more he's going to have to answer. He's on the verge of de-mystifying his own myth and he may end up killing the whole thing. It's like he's trying too hard."

For years, Lucas has said that his goal is to create a framework in which children can learn about good and evil, right and wrong. However, he also is painting a picture inside this frame. While he clearly believes that children need moral guidance, he also urges them to follow their emotions, not religious dogmas.

As Qui-Gon tells the young Skywalker: "Concentrate on the moment. Feel, don't think."

"I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct -- that there is a greater mystery out there," Lucas told Bill Moyers, in a recent Time interview. "I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, 'If there's only one God, why are there so many religions?' I've been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I've come to is that all the religions are true. Religion is basically a container for faith."