• Star Wars, George Lucas and…text criticism?

Apr
17
Star Wars, George Lucas and…text criticism?

Hi Dojo readers,

So today I came across a fascinating article over on the Atlantic about the lengths to which Star Wars superfans have gone to reconstruct a version of Star Wars that is identical to the original theatrical release.

As you may or may not know, since it’s release in 1977 George Lucas has continued to update and make many additions and “corrections” to the original version for its subsequent releases on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray. Lucas believed that the original film was far from what he envisioned it to be and the advance in technology has made it possible to finally be able to present the film in the way he always envisioned it in his mind’s eye.

This would be great news for Star Wars fans…IF the original version that they grew up loving was also available as well. BUT…Lucas has refused to make that version available since the alterations were made. Thus the ire of the superfans and the hundreds of hours of painstaking shot-by-shot editing on the part of a zealous few who have the ability and time to see their beloved 1977 “despecialized” version made available to future generations.

If you think this is a simple or easy process…think again! Look at this 10 min documentary on just what has gone in to this painstaking process and the level of detail involved in recreating the original version despite all the changes and all the variants in the later versions they had to work from:

 

Wow, right?!

Who would take the time to sift through all that film minutiae in order to piece together the “original” version–which is no longer available? And how would they know that the “corrections” they are making to “restore” the film are accurate to the original if they don’t have the original?

As I was watching the video I was struck by this simple idea: What these geeks (I use that term lovingly and as one myself!) are doing is exactly what Biblical text-critical scholars do every day!

Like Lucas’ carefully guarded original version of Star Wars, we no longer have access to the original texts of any Biblical book. Not because of ideological hoarding on the part of their creators, but because they have literally disintegrated within the sands of time. The parchment or papyrus that, say, Tertius penned the words of Paul and sent by Phoebe to the Roman Christians (which we now know as the book of Romans), has long since turned to dust. All we have are thousands of hand-copied versions from all over the Greco-Roman world in a couple of different languages–none of them original and none of them exactly the same.

As critics like the agnostic Bart Ehrman are fond of pointing out, there are more discrepencies in the existing New Testament manuscripts we have access to than there are words in all of the New Testament. This seems an insurmountable problem…but as I have shown previously (using another epic cinematic masterpiece, John Carpenter’s 1986 gem Big Trouble in Little China!) it is not, in fact, an impossible situtation. We CAN know with a staggering degree of accuracy what the original documents penned by the Prophet, Apostle or scribe actually said.

You see, Biblical text critical scholars go to ASTOUNDING lengths to catalogue and preserve every extant manuscript of every biblical text from the first millennium of Christian history. Just ask Dan Wallace and his colleagues as the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (http://www.csntm.org/) who travel the world digitally preserving and making available to the public online such versions as the Chester Beatty Papyrus (p46), a “Late second century or early third century manuscript of Paul on papyrus; 86 leaves, single column, 23–26 lines per column“…

ChesterBeatty

 

ChesterBeatty2

 

 

This the biblical equivalent to the “Despecialized” version of Star Wars…times ten thousand!

Whereas superfans like Harmy are relegated to working on reconstructing the original Star Wars print in their own homes on their spare time, entire university departments around the world have been dedicated to reconstructing the Biblical texts for the past few centuries. This is fitting, since the content that is being reconstructed is–if it is what it actually claims to be–the most important thing ever written in all of human history. Star Wars is awesome…but not quite that awesome in comparison.

Urban legends abound that the Bibles we read today are copies of copies of copies of copies of…on and on, and that therefore they are no more reliable than the message conveyed in the children’s game of “telephone.” But that is exactly what such claims are: urban legend. The Biblical text we have today (such as the Nestle-Aland 28th edition or the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia 5th edition) possess an overall degree of accuracy to the original texts that dwarfs even the “Despecialized” version of Star Wars.

So the next time you sit down to have your quite time, or pull out your English Bible to follow along with the sermon on a Sunday morning, realize that what you are holding in your hands (or on your smartphone!) is the culmination of MILLIONS OF HOURS of cumulative work that makes the level of detail found in the “Despecialized” version of Star Wars look like a connect-the-dots coloring book.

May the Force Spirit be with you.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Rick

    Good article. I heard a similar discussion on NPR regarding the issue of “canon”, and how it is decided. The history of the Bible’s canon was analyzed with that of Star Wars (“are the Star Wars books part of the canon?”), Star Trek (is the animated series part of the canon?”), etc….

    [Reply]

    Comment by Rick on April 18, 2015 at 9:14 am

  2. Kevin Bushnell

    Good piece, JM.

    It reminded me quite a bit of Telford Work’s article in Books & Culture years ago: Synoptic Star Wars.

    http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2002/marapr/1.6.html?paging=off

    [Reply]

    Comment by Kevin Bushnell on May 14, 2015 at 4:47 pm

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